Archive for February, 2008

You can’t not do a safari in Africa and you can’t go to Africa and not do a safari!

Friday, February 29th, 2008

Saturday Febuary 23rd Day One

Its day one on our five day safari and it was absolutly amazing! New creatures we saw include;
– A wild elephant
– A hippo(matatamus ­čÖé )
– A giraffe
– Tons of Baboons
– A vervet monkey
– Warthogs
– A Dik dik (which is a tiny gazelle)
– Some mongeese
– And a couple different kinds of birds
The giraffes were very tall! And cute in their own extended way. I just can’t get enough pictures of them! We took a TON (!!!!!) of pictures. It was lotsa fun because we were in a jeep with a raised sunroof thing so we could stand on our seats (in the park only) to get a veiw and pictures. I spent 95% standing up through the sunroof. I think most of my pictures are of the giraffes, they are just really pretty.

Sunday February 24th 2008 Day Two

Today we took a very bumpy tour of a HUGE ( the crater!!!) national park, which is in a crater. Today we saw our first,
– Close zebra
– Close Water Buffalo (wildebeest)
– Lion(ess, no guys)
– Lion cub!! (so cute!!)
We also saw some Zebra babies, and found out that the younger the zebra, the lighter there fur. The babies have brown stripes and the older ones have black stripes. The lion cub was soooooooo cute (even though it would love to snack on your leg!). We only saw one dead animal which was a zebra, near our first Lion(ess’ not one male showed up, except for maybe the cub, but we don’t know). The guys actually stay home and let the ladys do all the hunting. I’m pretty sure. We are very lucky to be able to charge things in the car, I’ve been using about 3 batteries a day! Back to the dead zebra (just for a moment) I think we spent a lot of time ┬ôstudying┬ö (shall we say) it. I made sure to get lots of pictures and video on the guts coming out and of where the tail USED to be. (WARNING!!! not for the squirmish! the video). Riding without the roof in the jeep is fun, its a free rollar coaster!

Monday February 25th 2008 Day Three

Today we saw a leopard! We only could really see the legs and part of its body, but we still saw one. We also saw more mongeese and got closer to a warthog, and a HUGEMONGUS (hehe I made up that word) herd of wildebeest. I kinda feel sad because they were kinda doing a practice run, but one of the babies got separated. Which means that it is going to die. Most likely a lion (so we were told). We also saw some more Giraffe. Last night we made friends (after we wrote our log), a Zack and May from France. We had TONS (!!!!!) of fun! We sang lots of songs (mostly badly ­čÖé ) and exchanged jokes until 9 pm (ish), when we could delay our bedtimes no longer.

Tuesday, February 26th 2008 Day Four

Today we saw our first male lion! He was hiding behind a tree and a bush, so you could only see him from one side and the front. I got a really awesome picture of him looking right at me! We also saw the remains of a baby wildebeest up in a tree. The leopards will do that to keep their catch away from everyone that wants it except the scavenger birds. there was a lot less animals, even though we were safariing twice as long. We also saw the usual, Zebra, giraffes and wildebeest. When we got back there was lots of new people and Luke immediately went around to see who to make friends with. In the end we were chitchatting to 2 girls and a guy, Amanda, Dezz(aray) and Jim (don’t put everything in bold on the blog) an we had tons of fun! It was kinda funny because I let it slip how spaghetti is Luke’s favorite and when he finished his supper, he went to talk to them, and in the end he got to have spaghetti. What made it even more funny, we had something Luke doesn’t like that night! They had marshmallows, but in the end we couldn’t have a fire, so no marshmallows or smores. We even had crackers and this really good chocolate which has milk chocolate on the bottom layer and white chocolate on top.

Wednesday February 27th 2008 Day Five ,final day

Yay! This morning we got to roast marshmallows. No time for smores though. We are now on the bumpy ride back to Arusha. We didn’t really see much Wildlife, but thats just because we were heading back. But we did see a big(ish) herd of zebra. But on our way home we went by a volcano, and it started to have a mini eruption! There was lots of ash coming out of the top, and every once in a while the ash would break and we think we could see lava! It looked more like lightning, but we’re not sure what it was. It was waaaay awesome! Then a little bit after that we saw a HUGE (!!!) sand devil (aka mini twister, mini tornado). Now to our list of natural Disasters we have experienced (harmless, no damage inflicted) we have: tsunami warning, 2 earthquakes (in the same city), an erupting volcano and a mini tornado. Thats a pretty good list! Then we sat through the rest of the ride, occasionally saying ┬ôdad the charger is unplugged, AGAIN┬ö. Once we got back it was dark. It was very nice though, because dad booked us into a different hotel then the one we were in before. And it was much nicer! Luke and I don’t have to share a bed! The pillows are also very comfy. Well I guess ANYTHING would be comfier then sleeping on an airplane pillow, like I did on the safari!

S’all for now, bye-bye! Alex

Claudette’s Safari Experience

Friday, February 29th, 2008

February 23rd, 2008 Safari Day 1 = Maryana Lake National Park

We were picked up from our hotel in Arusha at 9:00 AM by our guide/driver Thomas. on the way out we stopped at the grocery store to pick up water. I didn’t go in with Rick & the kids but I think I should have as they spent $90 on apples, carrots, potato chips, chocolate bars, 30L of water, and 2 bottles of wine.

We then travelled to a small village, Mto Wa Mbu, which is just outside Lake Manyara National Park. We are staying in tents on the grass of one of the local hotel/guesthouse. We had a quick box lunch after dropping off all the tents, food, luggage etc. We then left for our afternoon safari drive through the national park where we saw baboons, elephants, giraffes, impalas, hippos, warthogs, and dik-diks. One of my greatest fears before agreeing to go on a safari was that I feared the animals may have been fed or corralled into central areas so that the tourist could have a good look at the animals. It was with great satisfaction that in my opinion these animals do indeed look wild and unhasselled by the tourists driving by.

The scenery on the drive to and around the park was fantastic. It was surprizingly very calming and soothing. I can only hope that the next few days will be more of the same.

February 24th, 2008 Safari Day 2 = Ngongorororo Conservation Area (Ngongorororo Crater)

Today we left Lake Manyara NP at 9:00 AM for NCA. We stopped ATM in the village of Kanuta so we could get the final 400,000 to pay for the balance of our safari. Rick also asked if we could stop at the local internet cafe so we could transfer some money to cover the VISA cash advance.

The drive took about 2 hours when we reached our campsite we unloaded the truck again, and then took off for the bottom of the crater. We stopped near the bottom so that we could eat our boxed lunch before proceeding. We toured the crater for about 4.5 hours. We saw zebras, wildebeests, lions including 2 lion cubs, a leopard, thomson gazelles, elephants, and numerous kinds of birds.

The view from our campsite at the top of the rim of the crater is spectacular. I can’t wait to see what more lies ahead.

February 25th, 2008 Safari Day 3 = Serengeti National Park

We woke this morning on the rim of the crater at about 2400 metres. Needless to say in was a little chillier than we are used to. We all got a fairly good sleep, eventhough I was woken up in the middle of the night by an animal (assume it was a Zebra) eating grass right outside our tent.

We hit the road shortly after 9:00 AM again, after a quick stop at one of the local stores for more TP (toilet paper for those of you who weren’t sure). On the way we saw a herd of Wildebeest that must of numbered in around 5000ish, that was crossing the road in front of us. Our second stop was a few kilometers into the park at the Naabi Hill Gate Park office, so that the driver could pay our entrance fees. After a long delay we decided to drive straight through to our campsite near Seronera.

After lunch we did our afternoon safari drive. One of the first animals we saw was a Warthog which was just on the side of the road. We saw many more of the animals we’ve seen on the past few days, however the new animals we saw included a topi, waterback, mongoose and a leopard up in a tree.

Seeing the animals has been a great experience although I think that the grass plains are even more spectacular. I expect that the great plains of Alberta must have looked exactly the same 150 years ago.

February 26th, 2008 Safari Day 4 = Serengeti National Park

We have been spoiled a bit on this tour, as Richard, our cook, has insisted on letting us sleep for the kids. So again this morning almost all of the other safari tours have left before we’ve gotten out of bed. We did 2 game drives today. The morning drive we saw more of the same animals we’ve seen on other days, however the afternoon drive was another story. We finally got yo see our first male lion up close.

Camping has been reaaly nice although we can’t shower here in the SNP as they don’t have enough water, and now that it’s been really dusty on the roads my hair is like straw (Yuck!!!).

February 27th, 2008 Safari Day 5 = Serengeti National Park/Mt. Lengai (Volcano)

We hit the road fairly early this morning, which was good as we saw quite a few more animals on the road as we had on earlier safari drives. I’m sure it’s because it’s cooler in the morning, and the animals are more active at the time. Before leaving the SNP we saw 4 cheetahs lying on the side of the road, and a serval cat cross the road far ahead of us. I have now seen every animal I could have hope for.

Our driver Thomas has agreed to take us by a volcano which has been active on and off for the past few weeks. In order to do that we have gone north through the SNP, and the road out of the park it not even on the map. Truth be told I’m not even sure it’s a road as in places it looks more like a dried out creek bed. The road/trail is very rough, dry and dusty. After about 5+ hours on the road we stopped for lunch. We could see the mountain, but the locals said that it had erupted earlier in the morning but that it was dormant now. We were initially disappointed but after about half hour back on the road as we were approaching the volcano, it erupted again. The eruption must have lasted almost 1 hour as we followed the trail which skirted the base of the mountain. What a spectacular sight, I have added this to my list of natural wonders we’ve experienced.

Overall, I will have to admit that I was very wrong, as I intialled did not want to come to Africa. I have really enjoyed our time in Tanzania and the safari experience was worth ever penny. I would say that everyone should experience at least once in their lifetime.

Rick – Five Day Safari Log (long, but really interesting and insightful!)

Thursday, February 28th, 2008

SAFARI, DAY ONE ┬ľ Lake Manyara National Park

We had planned for a 9:00 pickup by our safari driver and managed to make that. We had booked the tour through WILDABEAST TOURS in Nairobi (Kenya) that is run by an Aussie couple. They advertise the ability to take VISA or MC, and then sub-contract all Tanzanian tours to Arunga Expeditions & Safaris based out of Arusha, ( http://www.aruexpedition.com ). Unfortunately they changed their minds about remote charging on our credit card and we found out the night before leaving that we had to come up with US$3,400 in cash. The ATM’s only allow $400 per transaction, (each one with a lovely $5 Royal Bank fee of course) and $1000 per day maximum withdrawal. So last night we got a bit, this morning we got a bit more, and tomorrow we’ll have to get the remainder. The extra fees involved with this wound me to the very core of my being. Adjacent to the ATM was a supermarket where we were asked to go and buy our own water and any booze or other treats we wanted. Naturally the kids stopped off at the produce section first and we loaded up with carrots, grapes and apples before proceeding on to chips and chocolate bars. At the till I put the grapes back when I saw the price of $8.50 for jut under 1 kg! I managed to grab a couple bottles of wine too, but skipped out on the Bailey’s figuring that would put us over the $100 mark and make Claudette poop! Many other tourists were in there loading up as well, but mostly with cases and cases of beer. It was almost like Uncle Den & Terry going out to Germain Lake for three days with a dozen flats of beer and leaving some essential food behind.

After shopping we drove for about two hours further North to a village just outside the Park and dropped off our gear and the cook, before heading into the Park. There were some huge birds at the entrance a few dozen baboons just inside the gates posing for pictures. When we’d stopped at the camp area the guys had also popped the top up of our Land Cruiser. The rear has four bucket seats, and a cap that pops up to allow us to stand and get a great view of everything around us without actually interacting with any animals that would want to bite Luke. Or in the case of the kids and Claudette they can stand on the seats.

All my previous years of watching Loren Green (or even watching some of the current animal planet shows with the kids) did nothing to prepare me for the stunning vistas and exotically abundant wildlife all around us. Of course we an elephant about 80m away downstream at a creek crossing and stopped for fifteen minutes for all kinds of pictures and video. Then about 15 or 20 minutes later we rounded a corner with a small herd of seven or eight elephants right on either side of us, and incredibly close. Several minutes of more pictures naturally ensued. The same thing occurred with Giraffe’s. There was one alone on a section of the plains that we were (well, especially I was anyways) enamored with and shot and videoed from every different angle possible. Then of course a half hour later we were on a treed road just on the edge of the plains and we stumbled upon a herd (? I don’t know if that’s the correct term with Giraffe’s?) of about seventeen all around us. This allowed for some amazing video and close-up shots, not to mention wondrous gazing (again, possibly mostly on my part). We saw many other incredible animals, (which hopefully the others will mention more thoroughly) but my main purpose in wanting to take a safari was to see some giraffe in the wild. These first couple of hours fulfilled that fantasy of mine in spades. Later at the camp, others were talking about looking forward to getting to the Serengeti where they could get to see some Lions, but I quickly vocalized my fulfilled desire to mainly see giraffe.

So today was absolutely worth the money as I was worried about yesterday. An amazing experience really indescribable with words. And best of all, there’s four more days of these incredible experiences to come!

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SAFARI, DAY TWO ┬ľ Ngorongoro Crater Conservation Area

What an incredible second day! First though, I should breifly relate a bit of last night for my own journal’s sake. they (our cook and driver) had set up tents with a thin foam mattress and sleeping bag for us. The tents were heavy canvas, but fairly small. Only slightly larger than a pup tent, this one I could just kneel up in. We split up as girls and boys into the two tents. Disparingly, the cook had a concrete hut to sleep in along with our gear that they wanted locked up. There were rooms all around the parking lot and a grassy area for tents. These room’s only seemed to house the various driver’s! All of the tourists were housed in tents oddly enough. Even worse yet, there was a swimming pool adjacent to the grass with all the tents, but it was empty. We settled in anyways, and Luke fell into an immediate sleep while Alex and Claudette followed an hour or so later. I was unfortunately kept awake until about 3:00 AM by a bar playing fairly loud music a few blocks away.

After waking up we drove barely a couple of hours to the next park. We had to stop on the way to get the remainder of the money from an ATM. I also spotted an internet cafe and asked for a fifteen minute stop to transfer money around. Since we had done a bunch of cash advances on the VISA, I desperately wanted to put an excess of money on my VISA before the bank started killing us with daily interest. I also took the opportunity to send off a quick e-mail to my RRSP manager asking for another $15,000 I don’t know how much I actually have left, but we’re burning through it pretty quickly before even getting close to Europe! I would’ve liked to have made a blog entry but everyone was waiting in the truck to carry on. This remote village was the most expensive we’d been to yet! Most have been around 50 cents to a dollar per hour, but this place was $4/hour! Fortunately it was also the fastest net connection we’d encountered since Zanzibar, and WAY faster than any place we’d been to in Arusha or Moshi. Luckily the night before I’d given Tim a quick call asking him to throw up a short update on the website.

Driving to the crater’s rim from the main highway system was quite a ways up. Then we came to a balcony and saw the view of the whole crater…. ABSOLUTELY BREATHTAKING! It really was quite a stunning view across the entire22 by 26km expanse. Thomas pre-warned us that there would be no giraffes in the crater at all. The crater’s sides were too steep for the giraffes to be comfortable walking up and down. Even female elephants di not venture into the crater. They had to stay behind and mind the young ones. Navigating the sloping sides were too treacherous for the younger elephants apparently. As soon as males were large enough, the older adult males would lead them to the crater and show them this awesome oasis of food and water.

Among all the spectacular animal sightings we were privy to, was a recently killed zebra near the top of a small hill. We saw a couple of female lions resting in the shade beside a small creek at the bottom of the hill at first. That lead Thomas to suspect a possible kill nearby and continued driving (after we took a bunch of pictures first of course!) around the area looking. The zebra was only partly eaten with it’s innards spilling out on to the grass. It was obviously a very recent conquest and they were all still resting after the tough chase. There was one lion at the top of the hill keeping watch over their food. Many buzzards were sitting and waiting at a safe radius away for the lions to finish eating so they could swoop in for some scraps.

During the rest of the day we encountered lots of great wildlife. Among these were many close up (and VERY large) elephants. There was also a 200 or so head or wildebeests wandering along. Three mischeivious hyenas were periodically chasing some of them, seemingly just for the fun of watching them run scared. that’s the way it looked to us anyways. After a little while eve they grew tired of chasing and lay down to relax and catch their breath as the rest of the herd of wildebeests sauntered past. Lastly of note we saw some jackles. They were interesting because they were so small compared to the jackals and what size I (also we) expected them to be.

Near the end of the day’s tour we saw a couple of lions just sitting and relaxing in the grass adjacent to the road. While stopped to take pictures and video, we saw a small cub come out from the shade of a culvert about 5m away. They did look very cute and cuddly as the kids high pitched voices chimed from the back seats. We still refrained from exiting the safety of our nice jeep.

At camp that night we met up with an American woman and her French (from France) Husband plus their two kids that were roughly Alex & Luke’s age. The kids got along great and we ended up eating dinner adjacent to each other. I had joked earlier while talking to the Mom about the US not being a great place to be from for a few more months until Obamma got elected. She readily agreed. Later at supper though the kids were talking about some zombie movie, and one questioned the others about what kind of horrible monster they each thought the people would turn into once affected by the disease. I quickly interjected with my guess and burst out, ┬ôGeorge Bush!?┬ö and a simultaneously quizzical and sarcastic tone. The kids laughed (even hers) but she quickly berated me that I ┬ôshould be more careful about making jokes about George Bush in public like that for want of possibly offending someone:. I was naturally rather stunned, but quickly defended myself by saying that ┬ôI would happily debate the merits of either George Bush with anyone in the room.┬ö I was about to continue by saying that I would even go so far as to look forward to a debate over ANY Republican government in the US in the last thirty years. Before I could though she replied to my offer of a George Bush debate with an excuse that maybe no one would openly support George Bush now, but barely a few years ago things were different. Clearly this poor woman was trapped in a Republican supporters body, but knew in her heart that the leaders she looks up to are completely indefensible. That must be a hard pill to swallow, and I felt pity and remorse for her blindly following ideals that make no sense, ┬ôjust because┬ö. I therefore let the topic end at that, much against my yearnings for a good ┬ôconversation┬ö with her though.

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SAFARI, DAY THREE ┬ľ The Serengeti

Last night was a little quieter, after all the other campers settled down by about 11:00PM. Our safari company actually has two different 4 person groups out right now, and the other group stole two of our sleeping bags. Well, we found out afterwards that the cook’s helper had taken one each out of our two tents and put them in the German guy’s tent. This was going to be our coldest night since we were at a fairly high elevation at the rim of the crater. We discovered the missing bags too late, (only right before bed time) and didn’t have a clue what tent our driver and cook were sleeping in to find out where the missing bags were. instead we just jumped in our very light equatorial bags, snuggled up close (Luke & Rick in one tent with Alex & Claudette in the other) and draped the single heavier sleeping bag over top of us. The previous night I didn’t even bother closing the canvas flaps over the screens to keep warmer. This night we certainly did though. We had climbed about 400m up to the crater rim, and I was fairly surprised by the temperature difference that created. It was another 600m (that sounds too much to me, but that’s what the brochure said) to the floor of the crater below.

Today’s drive between parks was only a little over an hour and a half, but it was a bumpy gravel road the whole way. In between the central areas of the two parks we came upon vast herds of wildebeests. They must have numbered about three to four thousand, and was a pretty cool sight to see. When we got close to some at road crossings, it was difficult for me to look at them and not chuckle. All I could think of seeing them was Captain Kirk’s foreboding voice planning world domination. Shatner did that role (from the movie, ┬ôThe Wild┬ö) so well that it is completely ingrained in me it seems. We talked to the driver and the cook about our own herds of a few thousand bison back home. We showed them pictures from the tourist pamphlet Claudette had brought along and they both enjoyed seeing the close up, and aireal views. Both guys seemed more impressed by the pictures of dogleds though. They couldn’t fathom that they were just normal North American dogs, and figured they must have been crossbred with water buffalo somehow to enable them to pull so well. Bringing the book along was a really great idea. Most guides and people we’ve met are keenly interested in learning a little more about our cultures, backgrounds and home environment. Every single person we’ve shown it to have shuddered in visible horror at the pictures of snow though. Well, except for in the +43 degree desert conditions of Dubai where they are a little more used to it though. For Craig or any others reading, make sure to do this, (bring along pictures or tourist brochures of your home cities or areas). Make sure they showcase cultural aspects rather than historical ones though. these guys in Tanzania are most interested in the wide variety of animals we have and in the pictures of aboriginals and their anthropological origins.

There were no giraffe’s in the crater park due to the difficulty of climbing down. The first day on the Serengeti made up for the previous day’s deficiency though. I am unable to get enough of watching these incredible majestic creatures walking around in the vastness of their home plains. Their distinctness is truly captivating. I recall someone when I was quite young telling me that giraffes would starve if they lived on grass plains since their necks couldn’t bend down that far, and they could only eat the leaves from trees. I was probably always a tiny bit skeptical of this but that person was my elder and I was compelled to respect the information they were feeding me. I am now deliriously happy to report that this was a complete load of mis-information! They easily bend their necks down to eat grass or from shrubs low to the ground. Most all the trees they eat from have long (8cm or so?) very pointed needles all along the branches which must make leaf retrieval rather difficult. I seem to recall reading somewhere (a long time ago of course) that their tongues are incredibly tough to account for this though. I took some pictures closer up of a dead branch with only the needles, and another of a live one with the leaves still on it.

One really interesting thing we noticed was the stages of coloring for zebra’s and giraffe’s. Young zebras have white bodies with brown stripes, and as they get older the brown turns to black. Giraffe’s however start out with black patches on a light beige base. As they got older the patches turn to brown. And yes, for those of you still wondering about that first sentence, Zebras really are white with brown/black stripes. On the underside of the body, the darker port6ions dissipate to a point before the hair color is solid white. That’s certainly something I’ve always mildly wondered about, and am now happy to now know the answer to.

After supper this evening I asked Claudette to come on a short little nature walk with me, but she was leary of the beasts that might jump out at her. Thomas heard me ask her to go for a walk, and reminded me that we weren’t supposed to leave the campground area at all since a lion (and some poisoniss snakes) could easily e hiding in just a meter of grass. I explained to him that I didn’t plan on taking her far; just on the other side of a tree at the edge maybe, and then he caught my meaning. he chuckled, and then still said ┬ôNo, it’s still not a good idea even just there┬ö. Bummer…

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SAFARI, DAY FOUR ┬ľ The Serengeti Part Deux

Last nights campground was actually inside the Serengeti park. We’re staying two nights here and the park fees per head are $50 per day. Vehicle permits are an extra $40 per day and to camp inside at a park campground is an extra $10/day a head. Most other campers and guides are incredibly rude though and carrying on full volumed conversations until at least 10:30 to 11:00 at night. Worse to me though is the abundance of loud conversations that start at about a quarter to six every morning irregardless of their fellow campers who don’t have to be up for another hour and a half. Claudette refuses to allow me to speak to any of these mostly Europeans or try and shame them into having just a bare amount of common consideration. I suspect our first night back in a hotel room in Arusha will involve an early night to bed, coupled with a pretty late sleep-in.

The company we ended up choosing has been pretty decent so far, (other than the cook’s helper ┬ômisplacing┬ö (I think he was bribed by the German guys though) two of our four sleeping bags on the cold night adjacent to the lip of the crater). It certainly wasn’t the most expensive company, but it seemed to be a little up from the bottom too. We were constantly asked in Dar es Salaam and in Arusha we were bombarded by tout’s promoting safari trips. Many seemed rather shady and I’m very relieved to have had a good recommendation from Patti. The only complaint that I have is we are eating on camp stools instead of a full backed folding chair which would be so much more comfortable. Companies with full backed folding chairs seem to offer everything else in a pretty deluxe manner though, which would probably make the overall cost out of reach. So, the lesson here is to check beforehand, and they don’t supply them, just go and spend $10 each yourself on the camp chairs. The benefit of comfortable eating will easily outweigh the determent of leaving them behind when you jump on a plane to go home, (or to your next destination).

Another Canadian young couple we met from Winterpeg had just completed several months of volunteer work in Ghana, and arranged a ┬ôbudget┬ö safari. The jeep that picked them up on that first day took them out into the Park, found another jeep from the same company and transferred them to it. Then the new jeep barely spent another half hour in the park, before driving to town to take two other passengers to the bus station. After that they simply returned to the campsite rather than getting some more touring in. Bummer for them that first day. Then the next morning they discovered that their jeep had a dead battery and needed a to be pushed by another vehicle to get started. This meant that during animal sightings the driver couldn’t shut the engine off, and the diesel engine would be shaking quite a bit. That shaking makes decent zoom photography pretty near impossible and they were skunked on two accounts. They had tiny, flimsy little nylon tents as well, and overall they were pretty un-thrilled about the company they had chosen. They were still paying $140/day/person for this though!, (versus our $170).

Our driver, Thomas, is a great guy who is 51 years old, and has been guiding for just over 21 years now. That’s the huge benefit about touring with kids, we are often given the most experienced guides. For whitewater rafting, driving the crazy hectic roads of Northern India for a week, or out here on safari this seems to have held true. Many (sadly, most) of the other driver’s we have seen drive too fast such that they would miss things, or scare animals away, or have rollovers (apparently). A few years ago the government began lightly regulating the qualifications for safari drivers since companies were grabbing any old idiot off of the street and paying him peanuts to be a guide. As would be expected, many unhappy tourists and accidents ensued, not to mention quite a few drivers getting lost and needing more fuel and a ranger escort out of the park after dark. Thomas has the intelligence (or some would say maturity) to just do simple smart things like turning around at night in the parking lot so he is facing ┬ôout┬ö and can leave the parking lot without hassle the next morning. Most other drivers just pull straight in to get close to the kitchen in a big semi-circular fan formation. That naturally makes for a very chaotic departure for everyone but us the next morning. This company is also quite professional in other simple things like our vehicle maintained confidence factor. Some of these rust buckets with practically no suspension left would make for an incredibly uncomfortable ride. Yet another thing that speaks to how well (or how luckily) we picked a safari company is how our crew works together to make things happen quickly and efficiently. Something as simple as unpacking and packing the vehicle including setting up and taking down camp is done by our crew very well. Other groups.. well it’s a bit funny for us to watch them go about these simple but necessary tasks, but is probably pretty frustrating for their clients. Some of them would be arguing about how to position bags, or how tight the straps should be. Meanwhile the clients stand waiting, sometimes helping to hoist tents and luggage up to the top of the vehicle just to get things moving.

The Serengeti itself has given us far less animal concentrations (and thus sightings) than the previous two parks. The incredible vastness of this huge ecosystem is still incredibly worthwhile seeing unto itself. While we’ve heard from other tourists that they seem to be driving in areas with many other jeeps close to the campground, they are seeing less animals than us. Thomas claims to thoroughly know all the roads (and even little dirt tracks) in this expansive 14,850 square kilometer area. We easily believe him. The ┬ônew breed┬ö of guides are hesitant to learn new things, and prefers to stick to a few main areas it seems. Thomas has taken us all over the far reaches of the Serengeti with only a couple encounters during the day with other jeeps. Lastly I should mention that the park pretty much has full coverage of cell phone service, even though we have seen no towers at all except for one at the campground, and another beside the research center. There are a few 40-70m bedrock hills that spring up here and there. These would make excellent locations for stubby cell tower antennas that would be difficult to see, and thus would be nicely disguised. It’s only a theory of course… ­čÖé

I believe that the kids are more so relating specifics of animal sightings than I have been. I should mention here though that we’ve seen a bunch of ostriches at different times and they are HUGE! They are certainly bigger than even the ones we have seen on ranches at home or even at the Australia Zoo. They are not only taller, but very round and large in the body. Their food sources in the Serengeti must be quite abundant. We asked Thomas about them sticking their heads in the sand and he acted very puzzled by such a crazy question. We also asked him about Rhino’s stamping out campfires as the self appointed Smokey Bear’s of the Serengeti (as ┬ôtaught┬ö to us in The Gods Must Be Crazy). This bizarre question he treated with complete disbelief that we were even being serious! I guess we can rank these ones right up there with the great Lemmings Leaping documentary shown in so many North American schools as kids that lied to us.

========================================

SAFARI, DAY FIVE ┬ľ A Volcano! & The Long Drive Back

Our final night camping was a little more peaceful than the previous ones. We had scheduled our first early morning (breakfast at 6:30 AM!) since we had a long, round-a-bout route to travel back to Arusha. Instead of heading straight South we are going North to a park gate, and then around to a road South that runs parallel to the one in the park. This was take us by Mount Ol Doinyo Lengai (Mountain of God) a recently re-active volcano. It is actually spewing lava, and we are hoping to get to a vantage point to see it. On the way, and just out of the Park a little ways we stopped for a commelian crossing the road. It was gently springing (nice use of an appropriate oxymoron eh?) back and forth, while occasionally moving its legs a little bit, one at a time perhaps every forth or fifth swing forwards. This made its overall progress painstakingly slow, but very enjoyable to watch. As we crept closer in the jeep to within about 3m, it changed its mind about trying to disguise its movements and just scurried to the road edge where it began the forward and backwards swaying motion once again. ( There must be a better word to describe the movement they exhibit, but nothing comes to mind right now.) As per its species name it changed color as soon as it entered the sparse grass on the very edge of the road. A little further in to the grass and it became completely green to blend in fully. VERY COOL!

We spent the morning heading North with more wildlife sightings than the previous day and a half. That was of course most likely due to our early morning departure as anything else. The previous three days we’d only left camp by almost 10:00 AM, well into the heat of the day when practically all of the animals are much less active. There was one point where a very large giraffe was standing in the middle of the road, squared off and directly facing us with his legs slightly spread out in a very firm, braced stance. We stopped, watched and waited. He simply stood and stared us down for a few minutes, unmoving. It was really the coolest thing, and we were too far back (about 40m) to be afraid or anything. Eventually, a slightly smaller giraffe beside him ambled across the road from one side to the other. As soon as she (well, presumably a she?) was safely on the other side of the road, he straightened his stance, turned, and followed her across the ditch and into the tall grasslands.

Just before leaving the Park we saw a huge herd of zebras which was very cool. It probably numbered at a little over one hundred head. After leaving the park we drove by a couple more herds of around fifty. Later in the afternoon once we had looped around South and were back in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area again (this time on the other side of the mountain rage) we saw another large herd. This one was really spread out over the plains and probably numbered over three hundred. It was really amazing to see.

In order to drive by the semi-active volcano, Thomas asked for an extra $40 in gas money for the extra distance we would have to travel. Either the Land Rover we are in has way better gas consumption than North American Models or he underestimated the extra distance a bit I think. We were on the road by 7:15 AM and didn’t pull in to Arusha until 8:00 PM! If traveled directly this route should normally take only five to six hours. That’s a lot of extra kilometers! When we rounded the corner of the valley with the Volcano, it was quite a site to see. A broad, wide beautiful valley with this gorgeous monstrosity almost in the middle, (in truth the valley turned at that point we later discovered). It was very impressive to see up close, but I still secretly wondered if all the extra time traveling was actually worth it. We had lunch at a campground about 5km away. After lunch when we started driving again I asked Thomas to stop so we could take a few pictures of the five of us in front of it. He found a decent spot and we started piling out. Just then, the cook’s apprentice (who was riding to Arusha with us) exclaimed that it was erupting! We all turned to look, and then I quickly grabbed the camera. The ash plume grew very quickly and we got some incredible pictures and video footage. It was yet another amazing event we were fortunate enough to witness. It’s unclear to me how many more times on this trip I can get away with using the word ┬ôincredible┬ö to describe something, but that word truly applied here this time. Nightly news reel footage of Mount St. Helen’s spewing huge ash plumes and then later erupting once again did little justice to the real thing. As we climbed back into the jeep and continued to drive closer the ash plume became simply massive! Luckily the prevailing winds were blowing to the opposite side of the mountain that we were traveling on. We all stared at the ash cloud at the top and frequently saw flashes of light. at first we assumed it was breaks in the ash cloud showing spurts of red hot lava inside. The more we gazed though, the more it looked like lightening. There were these huge static electricity zaps within the ash plume, about twenty meters up from the crest, and there were NO OTHER CLOUDS IN THE SKY! This was a really bizarre phenomenon that I’d never heard of before and will have to research further. Luckily I did capture some video footage of these ┬ôstrikes┬ö on the video camera for future reference. Simply amazing… I’m unable to think of any further words to describe it. The pictures will have to do the job once I finalize the disc and get about 8 hours straight to do all our African pictures uploading.

It was a very long day of driving, (not to mention over absolutely terrible, rough roads for the most part) only made better by stunning scenery everywhere and great tunes. Thomas had mentioned that he really liked regee music. When I asked why he never played the newly installed in-dash cassette deck, he quickly replied that they’re not really allowed to with clients in the jeep. For today’s ride I asked this morning if he wanted me to play some of my reggae tunes, to which he enthusiastically replied in the affirmative. I started off with two double albums. One was called ┬ôRegatta Mondatta: A regae Tribute To The Police┬ö and the other was called ┬ôMellow Dubmarine: A reggae Tribute To The Beatles┬ö. After those were done he expressed a fondness for the Beatles that he hasn’t heard in quite awhile. I told him that I had every Beatles Album ever, and offered to play those. He readily agreed and I had the rare opportunity to not just listen to one or two albums, but the entire 200+ song collection! I say rare simply because The Beatles are not very thrilling to Claudette. she’ll listen to a few songs sometimes, but not as her first choice. I think everyone should listen to 90% of the Beatles collection (at different times of course) once a year. That’s just me of course… Anyways, it made for a great ride back.

========================================

African Safari Summary

Without any doubt, I am VERY glad we chose to choke back the extra heavy costs and make a trip to Africa (not including Egypt) and do a safari. The sights, sounds, smells and incredible experiences were beyond comparison to any documentary I’d ever seen or any Zoo I’ve visited. Not to say that those things aren’t absolutely valuable of course. Just that experiencing the real thing greatly intensified those other experiences, and was even more valuable than I would have thought possible. While the Edmonton Zoo probably does its best with limited resources to showcase a bit on the animal kingdom to it’s citizens, the very large Calgary Zoo easily eclipses it. The absolutely massive sprawling San Diego Zoo similarly blows the Calgary Zoo out of the water. Nothing can come close to comparing with seeing these magnificent creatures in their expansive natural habitat though. I am sure that this is hardly an original thought for most people out there who want to travel. For anyone who wanted to travel even just a little bit, I would urge you to place Africa at the very top of your priority list. There are so many things in this world that are worthwhile to see, but prioritize your list and work them off from there.

I am not a huge bird fan by any means, (except for the Fort Smith Family version of course!). As a matter of fact, the intense devotion that the Mark Bradley’s of the world exhibit towards bird watching rather mystifies me. In our Peruvian jungle tour there was a strong emphasis of getting up early to see birds (and a ┬ôlittle┬ö bit of other wildlife) in action. While it was mildly interesting to me, they all sort of blended in together after a while to my unsophisticated mind. Africa however has sparked a few appreciative synapses in my brain a bit. The colors are really fantastic to see on a wide variety of shapes and sizes of birds that we have seen. What makes it more interesting than ever before to me I think is the closeness that they come to us. They fly adjacent to and within a few meters of the jeep sometimes. Other times, when we are stopped they come very close, and don’t seem to mind us at all. This far outweighs having to search for and watch them through binoculars. The only other place where I found the birds generally this interesting and accessible was in the Galapagos islands.

The Massi are the Tanzanian people that still live in dirt huts and herd livestock. I’m not sure how their economy functions, other than not needing money for daily life, and still giving animals as a dowry for a daughter’s marriage. Sadly, (VERY sadly and shockingly in fact) female circumcision is still practiced by most of these tribes. The Federal government has officially outlawed the practice, but it continues on anyways. The government has also offered fair sized monetary rewards to the ┬ôpeople┬ö (monsters???) performing this ┬ôgenital mutilation┬ö if they hand in all of their ┬ôinstruments┬ö and promise not to ┬ôpractice┬ö anymore. All of this as described to us by Thomas, but it is unclear how successful the amnesty reward program has been. On our first day, as we drove he pointed out a Massi village on the hillside with a bunch of huts. Some women were out working in the fields and kids were hanging around by the roadside watching the tourists go by. Apparently this one village was only for the chief of the region. Each of his 38! wives had their own hut, and he had 168 (or so?) children.

Thomas did not speak fondly of the lifestyle practices of the Massi Tribes. Apparently the women are virtual slaves all their lives. They go through the ritual clitoral circumcision (an amputation really) just before puberty and thereafter do chores for their chief (or father or local male elder) until death. It sounds absolutely tragic, but there are various groups working to eradicate the practice. In one restaurant in Moshi we saw a poster of the Mount Kili Climbing society who was putting on an informations session regarding the modern day genital mutilation of thousands of Tanzanian women. Later, on our second day while entering the crater there were some Massi men selling various handicrafts and trinkets to tourists at the entrance gate. A couple of them (and some of the shepards we’ve passed by) are wearing cheaper store bought sandals on their feet. Most however have homemade sandals with animal hide bottoms or tire treads with two straps coming around the top of the foot. Probably about half of the men we saw have recycled cut up tyres (local spelling of course) for footwear. The kids are almost always barefoot.

The men at the gate were selling all kinds of stuff, and one even seemed to know English very well. He had a cowhide mosaic wall hanging (very similar to ones I’ve seen Inuit do from two different colors of sealskin) of a giraffe on the plains with one tree that really captivated me. The work was very artistic and sweetly done. Just as we were driving away he came down to my price of $10, but Thomas did not stop again. He later explained that the women would have made all those crafts, but the men sell the items and use the money to go to town and buy booze. They don’t share anything with the women or children apparently. Females have to work and simply fend for themselves (and their children) to survive. This all sounded so harsh and foreign to us, but it is indeed current practice in these very parts of the country. It actually strikes me as more harsh and urgent than even all the poor and cripples begging in the streets in India. Completely overwhelming really…

Tanzania, Week One

Sunday, February 24th, 2008

While Dubai was nicely warm, landing in Tanzania was immediately oppressingly hot and very muggy again. This was to the extent that we haven’t experienced since Singapore, or maybe even Fiji. Most all guidebooks and other travelers that we’ve met have given the advice to get out of Dar es Salaam as soon as possible in order to see the ┬ôReal┬ö Tanzania. Amid 48 hour rotating fevers from me to Luke, then Alex, we took a ferry over to Zanzibar and spent a few days there. We didn’t really get the opportunity to branch out from Stonetown to other parts of the island though. After everyone was well again we did take a ┬ôSpice Tour┬ö for a half day, and then went to a beach on the West shore, just a little North of Zanzibar Town.

The spice tour was enjoyable and very informative. There was an incredible variety of plants and trees and shrubs that either were or smelled like their originals. These included: Lemon Grass, Ginger, Tumor, Cinnamon Tree, Chocolate Fruit, Coco seeds, nutmeg bark, vanilla beans, and sweet curry leaves. Sadly though, nothing we encountered was indigenous to the Island (or even the region for that matter). Everything was introduced from India & South America by Portugese or British settlers from the 1500’s and up. all along the walk there were several boys weaving and making all kinds of leaf adornments to give to the tourists for money. I accepted a leaf wrapped as a cone, and stitched closed with a narrow gauge twig to hold my samples in. Our children however were wildly enthusiastic about accepting all kids of neat (but un-keepable) things like rings, weaved buckets, a huge hat, a tie, and a intricately done frog on a string necklace. When I reminded them that we would have to be paying in tips for everything, they started slowing down in readily accepting everything thrown their way. Alex was still a little more discerning than Luke though. I gave them each a LITTLE bit of money to give to the children for when collection time came though. In the end, Luke gave most of his items away to some much younger children we encountered in a small poor village, much to their great delight.

After the spice tour we proceeded to a beach near where a Muslim Maharajah had a large plantation and a few hundred black slaves. When the British took over governing Zanzibar from Zanzibar town not too far away, they outlawed slavery. The evil king by then had heard about this large cave in heavy tree cover on his property. He then mandated that all slaves be kept in this cave unless working to keep them hidden from the British. There were a few hundred of them in a cavern that was only about 30m wide by 100m long covered in very uneven broken ground. There were passages at each end that one “could” get out from, but both involved swimming underwater for a little ways. Several slaves did escape but apparently most people of the era were disinclined towards dark, airless cave swimming. One passage was about 500m to another exit point (with extensive belly crawling involved) while the other was 3km of twisty turning passages. The main hole over the cavern did not have walls adjacent to it, so the guards merely had to leave some food (never enough for all) down below and pull up the ladder for the night. Thankfully there was a freshwater pool in the main cavern that everyone could draw from, but I have no idea what they did with the waste of three to four hundred people in such a small place for the five years that it was their home.

A ten minute walk from the cave entrance was a gorgeous beach with only a few other tourists. There were 20m high cliffs along this area, but stairs and a passage down through the rock had been cut (probably by those same slaves sadly) to the amazing stretch of sandy beach. Since we were on the mainland side of the island, the waves were nicely small and the water was very pleasantly cool. With the extreme heat and mugginess we had so far experienced in Tanzania (with only one reprieve in a pool thus far) it was very refreshing to be immersed in cooler (in a relative way only of course) water. After an hour and a bit of frolicking, we went next door to our hotel and bought plane tickets to Moshi for the next evening. A 55 minute flight was a welcome alternative to a 2.5 hour ┬ôfast┬ö ferry ride for $35 each (the slow one is 4.5 hours!) back to Dar es Salaam and the mainland. After that, (and entirely depending upon the schedules meshing up) we needed to take a $15 public bus for a 10-11 hour ride North to Moshi. Thrown in there somewhere would be an extra night’s accommodation, likely in some dusty bug infested place along the way. I think Claudette finally became convinced of the preference of a flight when she kept hearing other travelers refer to the bus trip North as ┬ôThe Suicide Route┬ö referring to the irresponsible manner in which the drivers guide the 20 tonnes of metallic coffins along the highways, crazily weaving in, around and through other traffic and general obstacles.

The kicker about flying is that the Kili International Airport is roughly halfway between Arusha and Moshi, and in the evening we got soaked $60 for a 35 minute drive to our hotel in Moshi. It was a fairly new and nice place, not to mention pretty reasonable at $55 per night per room, (we needed two). It had a pool and internet in every room, but the internet connection in the office barely worked never mind the room ones. Still it beat the $65/night we paid in Stone Town which didn’t have a pool. From this hotel and walking around town a bit we caught some incredible views of Mount Kilimanjaro at various times when it was un-clowded. They moved in and out incredibly fast, because I would often go to get my camera after seeing it on a walk to an internet cafe, and ‘poof’, I’d be too late. I don’t think that Alex or I got a decent shot of it for the three days we were there. We made arrangements in Arusha for one night in a hotel before our genuine African Safari was scheduled to start. I have no doubts that this will be very spectacular, but at $670/day for the four of us it had really better be! (To compare, the 15 day Peru, Machu Picchu, jungle stay, Galapagos Islands GAP tour was $934/day for us. One more comparison: to climb Mount Kili costs $680/day for four. It’s almost the same price as the safari cause you’d simply use a bunch of human porters instead of a petrol vehicle.)

2008-02-26
PS: I snuck this post in on a $10 per fifteen minute satellite connection at a lodge when I had to come in for something else. Don’t worry, we have all been typing daily logs on the safari and there will be TONNES! of stuff to read in just a few short days!

RJ

On safari and out of touch

Saturday, February 23rd, 2008

Hi folks! Tim here reporting for the Jameses who are in so wild and remote an area that Internet access is spotty at best, so by way of a hurried phone call they asked me to write a quick post and let everyone know what they are up to.

As I write this shortly after noon on February 23, the Jameses are on safari in Lake Manyara National Park, which by its website looks like a very spectacular place. Here is how it is described:

Stretching for 50km along the base of the rusty-gold 600-metre high Rift Valley escarpment, Lake Manyara is a scenic gem, with a setting extolled by Ernest Hemingway as “the loveliest I had seen in Africa”.

The compact game-viewing circuit through Manyara offers a virtual microcosm of the Tanzanian safari experience.

From the entrance gate, the road winds through an expanse of lush jungle-like groundwater forest where hundred-strong baboon troops lounge nonchalantly along the roadside, blue monkeys scamper nimbly between the ancient mahogany trees, dainty bushbuck tread warily through the shadows, and outsized forest hornbills honk cacophonously in the high canopy.

Contrasting with the intimacy of the forest is the grassy floodplain and its expansive views eastward, across the alkaline lake, to the jagged blue volcanic peaks that rise from the endless Maasai Steppes. Large buffalo, wildebeest and zebra herds congregate on these grassy plains, as do giraffes ┬ľ some so dark in coloration that they appear to be black from a distance.

Now the phone call from Rick was rushed and the connection was poor, but he did say they saw pretty much every type of animal there is to see, with the exception of lions. He said they saw tons of hippos, giraffes, zebras and a fascinating little creature called the dik-dik.

After Lake Manyara, the Jameses┬áare off to Ngorongoro Crater, the largest caldera in the world. Until they can give you a first hand account when they get back to someplace with a connection, you’ll have to be satisfied with this description from the website:

The Ngorongoro Crater is one of those sights you really have to see to believe; It’s the largest caldera in the world; the remains of a massive volcano preserved as a perfect bowl some 18 km across. The ground area is just over 260 square kilometres and within this relatively small space most of the major east African habitats and mammal species are represented. What’s more you have an incredibly good chance of seeing them here on your safari.

Game viewing can begin on the crater rim, where often you come round a corner to find a solitary bull elephant feeding absent mindedly and inadvertently blocking the road and even leopard are occasionally seen shooting across the track on the eastern rim into the dense woodland. From the rim and often from your lodge window you can sit with a pair of binoculars and watch the game far below you.

And it really is a long way down. The Crater is over a third of a mile deep and the scale and perfection of the thing is staggering. Once in the Crater floor, most of the animals at Ngorongoro, whilst totally wild, are very used to vehicles. This means that they all but ignore them (which at time must be very hard to do) and as a result they can be approached fairly easily. This makes the Ngorongoro Crater an ideal first place to visit on your safari and an excellent place to take children as intervals between animals are generally short and the game is often close enough that you won’t need to look with binoculars (don’t leave them behind though).

After that, they are off to the famous Serengeti Plains, where I am sure they see all the wildlife one could possibly hope for. Here is a quick desrciption of what awaits them:

A million wildebeest… each one driven by the same ancient rhythm, fulfilling its instinctive role in the inescapable cycle of life: a frenzied three-week bout of territorial conquests and mating; survival of the fittest as 40km (25 mile) long columns plunge through crocodile-infested waters on the annual exodus north; replenishing the species in a brief population explosion that produces more than 8,000 calves daily before the 1,000 km (600 mile) pilgrimage begins again.

Tanzania’s oldest and most popular national park, the Serengeti is famed for its annual migration, when some six million hooves pound the open plains, as more than 200,000 zebra and 300,000 Thomson’s gazelle join the wildebeest┬ĺs trek for fresh grazing. Yet even when the migration is quiet, the Serengeti offers arguably the most scintillating game-viewing in Africa: great herds of buffalo, smaller groups of elephant and giraffe, and thousands upon thousands of eland, topi, kongoni, impala and Grant┬ĺs gazelle.

After the Jameses┬áare back online, they can let us know if the real thing lives up to the tourism literature! Anyway, that’s it from your snowbound Northern correspondent. I am sure we will be back to proper updates from our favourite world travellers soon enough. Suffice to say, all is well and they are having a great time!

Not Yet the “Wilds” of Africa

Tuesday, February 19th, 2008

Well we’ve been in Africa for almost a week and we have yet to see anything remotely wild animal-ish except maybe a stray cat or two. Our first 2 days we spent in Dar Es Salaam, which is the major economic city in the country. Luke wasn’t feeling well and on the morning we were taking the ferry to Zanzibar, I took him to the hospital to make sure he didn’t have Malaria. Good news was that he didn’t have Malaria, and we made our 10:30AM ferry departure for Zanzibar.

We’ve now spent 4 nights In Stonetown on Zanzibar Island. Everybody in finally healthy as Alex was sick for 2 days after arriving here. Yesterday we took a spice tour and went swimming at a remote beach north of Stonetown. Today we are heading to Moshi, which is at the base of Mt. Kilimanjaro. Originally I wanted to take the ferry back to Dar Es Salaam and then a 10 hour bus ride to Moshi, however Rick finally convinced me that the 55 minute flight was more worthwhile than the 2 days of travelling so we fly out of Zanzibar at 7:55PM tonight.

We are just making the finally arrangement for our 5 day safari through the Serengeti and a couple of other places. The price basically works out to $170/person/day or $850 each for 5 days. I’m sure it will be worth it, and we will finally see the wilds of Africa.

Take care for now, we miss you all.

Tanzania

Tuesday, February 19th, 2008

Now we are in Tanzania! It is quite hot here! We spent 2 days in Dar el Salaam and now we are on an island called Zanzibar. We had to take a ferry to get here. Now we have all gotten sick in the past few weeks with the same thing! I think I almost had it the worst. It stills pains me now even though I ┬ôrecovered┬ö a day ago (or 2?). we went on a spice tour today which was lots (!!!!!) of fun! We first stopped at a few spice farms and saw (and smelt), cinnamon, lemon grass, ginger, coriander, mace, nutmeg, cloves, and a few others. And they was some village boys who didn’t have school then, so they kept following us and making really nice things out of huge leaves. I got a very nice ring, that had an add on so I could put in some stuff, put in some cinnamon and lemon grass (which turned out to be the best combination!). And a basket, bracelet and a few of the spices (that I couldn’t manage to be the last one smelling). In the end they wanted money (which we did give to them) But they really took advantage of Luke, he just couldn’t say no! He got one of everything (except for a ring to put things in like mine and some corriander). He has thing really funky hat, a weaved frog, a basket, a tie (weaved) and tons of other spices and stuff!

After that we went into a cave called the ┬ôslave cave┬ö. It is where one of the kings kept his slaves when the British were in Tanzania. It was very hot underground!! I thought it was going to be nice and cool, but it was almost as hot as above ground! Our guide said he (the king) had 200 slaves in their! I couldn’t believe it! Maybe 100, but not 200! There was a little pool of water where they would take drinks. at both ends of the cave they are these big kinda holes (except they are really wide, maybe 50 meters) and you could escape from there. On one side it was impossible for anyone to survive, because it was so hot, and if you didn’t go at the right time, the high tode would kill you. But on the other side some slaves actually made it out(the ones that knew how to swim. It takes about 3 hours ands it 30 km (I think) when above the cave it takes about 15 minutes! But there was a guard above the cave. Then we went for a swim an it was so nice! The lady who was sitting at the back of the bus with mom let me borrow her goggles and I got some very neat shells! I got on that would be awesome for a necklace, and one that was the beginning of a conch shell and two other ones. S’all for now! Buh-bye!

Tanzania Up Close

Tuesday, February 19th, 2008

When we got into Tanzania I thought this was nothing like India and I was right there is not as much horn honking just as much as fort smith and the Tanzanian aren’t as crazy drivers as the Indian there is not as much pollution as India and definitely not as much dogs I have only seen three !!! We stayed in an O.K hotel for our first two nights in Tanzania the second night we were there I got sick I was having the same symptoms as you would if you had malaria ( dun du dun )
worst of all a very high fever 38.26 . I was having a lot of diarrhea I had to go 27 times in one night mom took me to the hospital the next morning and I got two needles one to help my fever another to test my blood the one to test my blood hurt more . We went on a ferry to get to another Island about a half an hour after I was at the hospital the ride was not smooth but not bumpy. I Had trouble finding the toilette when I did find it I just sat down and went not looking for toilet paper as you probably guessed there was none and yet I only noticed it half way though my poop. Luckily mom had some in her bag and dad brought it to me when we arrived All i wanted to do was lie down to make a long taxi drive short I did . I ended up being sick for a day and a half after the trip to the hospital and still have the sniffles .As I got better Alex got sicker and when I could finally go out to eat Alex could not . my first day I had a meal with mom and dad was breakfast I got a brownie I saved one bight for Alex who was stuck in the room mom had got Alex some toast that alex said tasted like bannock Alex also said that it was the best meal she had had in a while that night we called a few family members and Tim to say hi we gave a little update on what was happening we went to the spice area the next day there were a few boys making leaf crafts for the group We saw cinnamon trees lemon grass coco beans and a lot more the funny thing was the boys just continued giving us stuff I got a hat a tie a frog a necklace a ring and 3 bracelets all for one dollar total in the end I only kept the hat and the tie ( I lost the frog wa wa wa it was really nice ) The hat Is something Ian would LOVE and the tie is just cool anyways I think I’m starting to blab on and on and on like dad so see ya : ) : )

Dubai

Monday, February 18th, 2008

With not a little regret we departed India. Yes the filth, societal attitudes and chaotic life there were daunting to live around. But there is such a long, incredible, historical past integrated with India that makes her so majestic to travelers. Not to fear though, since we quickly discovered that there are an abundance of friendly Indians (men only of course) working and living in Dubai. We knew hotels would be outrageous when we decided to stretch our four hour flight layover between India and Tanzania to three days, but still decided to have the experience. We managed to find a semi reasonable eight story hotel close to the “action” and the airport. It still cost us $699.53 for two rooms, for two nights each. There was another one for about $80 less per room per night, but it was about another 45 minutes (outside of rush hour) taxi ride away to the far East of Dubai near the secondary airport. It also had several very bad ratings on the trip adviser web site. This one even had a roof top pool which we never had time to make it to for the two nights we were there. That evening I bought some milk and disposable bowls to go with the boxes of honey nut corn flakes we still had leftover from India. Mmmmmm. Sure beat paying $15 each for toast and eggs downstairs!

That first afternoon, after checking in we headed to the “Mall of the Emirates” to try and go skiing for a two hour block. It turns out that strong proficiency is a must before beginners are allowed on the hill at all. Those who have never skied before (like Alex & Luke) MUST take a one hour “discovery” lesson first, and then work their way up through five additional 90 minute lessons before they can go on the chair by themselves. Worse yet, we discovered that all lesson slots for that day were full up until about 9:00 PM. Thus we promptly booked a discovery lesson and then a successive (and expensive) private lesson for the kids. We spent the remainder of the evening having a meal and fighting our way through rush hour traffic back to our hotel. We planned on seeing (and taking pictures of) the 7 star sail hotel and the new tallest building in the world in the daylight tomorrow.

The next day we had planned to leave by 10:00 AM for some daylight pictures before needing to be at the ski hill by noon, but it just didn’t seem to happen. Yet another lazy day found us getting out the door barely in time to have a quick bite for lunch at the mall, before needing to get the kids geared up for their introductory ┬ôdiscovery┬ö lesson. After they were good to go and waiting for the instructor, Claudette and I went to get outfitted. All equipment was supplied except for a toque and gloves, which we had to buy. Claudette and I didn’t bother with hats, and Alex still hat her hat and gloves from China that she kept forgetting to send home in parcels. Luke and I had simply (and intentionally) left ours behind at Jim & Letty’s place since we couldn’t fathom needing them again. Alex kept hers cause she liked the colors and style, and wanted to use them at home next winter. The “ski” store had cheap little fleece children’s gloves for $5 or full size adult ski gloves for $22. Claudette could fit the kids ones, and I bought some for myself as well. There was no way my fingers could fit in, but there was also no way I was gonna pay that much for full sized gloves for only a few hours! Thus, after paying, I borrowed some scissors and cut all the tips of the fingers off. The guys behind the till were shocked and then understood what I was doing. The Aussie guy even suggested that he was gonna do that too since his fingers just got too warm and sweaty in the regular gloves. My only reply was that, “Yeah! It’s a great idea and the Chicks really dig it!” gave them an even bigger laugh.

I should make a note here for posterity’s sake about Claudette’s ┬ôfears┬ö. ┬ôSome┬ö women’s irrationality really astounds me sometimes, (and my wife’s asound me on a regular basis). The evening before we were going to go skiing, she was Hmmming and Hawing and generally fretting about possibly joining in the beginner lesson herself! Simply CRAZY!!! It took extensive convincing on my part (with an incredulous voice at first, that I slowly tamed into a soothing, convincing tone by the end of the discussion) before she agreed to give it a try on the hill first. She was worried that after almost fourteen years of not skiing that she would have completely forgotten how. Geeeessh!

I had forgotten the larger video camera, but Alex had remembered to bring her waterproof, shock resistant one along. So Claudette and I took a few runs while the kids were getting prepped and used to their ski legs. We took a bunch of photos and some video of their first forays on skis and going up the conveyor belt lift on the bunny hill. After that first lesson (one hour) we were all even a little cool, (but in a very refreshing way for Claudette and I). The kids private lesson wasn’t for another half hour, and their previous Austrian instructor allowed them to stay on the hill with me until the next lesson. Luke was a little combative about me making him work, but we practiced some more for the next twenty minutes before they had to go and meet their next instructor for the private lesson. That one went REALLY well, and both kids excelled dramatically. With ten minutes left, the instructor suggested we take Alex on the chairlift on the big hill while he stayed with Luke to get his left leg working better. By the end of the formal lesson I stayed with Luke on the bunny hill a bit longer to make him practice, but he was very frustrated with being left behind by Alex’s methodical skill at having mastered turning while in a snowplow.

When the kids cards would no longer work to get them into the lifts, Claudette had already decided to go along with Alex after a few trips to the top of the chairlift. I then managed to take Luke for two runs up the chairlift to get him a better chance of practicing that terrible right turn. On the second run, he got off the chairlift half way (nice and smoothly I should add) and I continued on to the top for the last run of the day. The “last run of the day” for skiers is notorious for including an injury, and this first “last run of the day” for me in over a dozen years was no different. As I was doing something that perhaps maybe I shouldn’t have, I fell in a spiraling cartwheel down the hill. I quickly got up and skied down the rest of the way to where Luke was waiting for me. At this point moving my legs was excruciating! and I barely made it the rest of the way down the hill with Luke, never mind carrying our ski’s in to get changed and leave. By this point, I realized that I had pulled my groin muscle HUGELY, and could barely but one leg in front of the other. When I explained this to Claudette her immediate reaction was not quite support. She lambasted me for doing something so stupid as she was now going to have to do so much more, and work harder carrying things. Ugh!

So after a hot soothing bath that night, I felt a little better. My family (some of them openly, some of them secretly) still snickered at my waddling around the room though. At the airport the next morning after checking in I asked and found out that the check-in gate was a twenty minute walk away. I causally inquired about borrowing one of the several wheelchairs sitting there and then was asked to wait a few minutes. About fifteen minutes later a man came up and got me in one, took my boarding pass and proceeded to wheel me away. I protested saying that my family could push me and that I didn’t need the “attendant” but he insisted that I wasn’t allowed to have a wheelchair on my own. Thus we were sped through a “special” line in security and taken to an elevator just beyond. Upstairs we all boarded an electric cart and rode most of the way though the terminals and gates to a special disabled waiting to board room. There was a sign asking family members of the crippled to wait outside, but the room was empty and so Claudette and the kids came in with me. There we enjoyed a free wifi connection, comfy seats and a distinct lack of noisy crowds. Mmmm… I managed to sneak out of the room and propelled myself across the great hall to the washroom. At the time of boarding I was pushed all the way to the gate while Claudette and the kids rode the moving sidewalks and we boarded. They had arranged a special elevator bus for me too, but I insisted on taking the regular bus and climbing the stairs from the tarmac to the plane myself. Whew!

The flight was not too bad, and I managed not to cramp up too badly. When we landed in Dar Es Salaam I tried to grab a wheelchair just inside the terminal but was firmly rebuffed! Only if I had made arrangements with the flight crew before landing could I possibly enjoy such a privilege I was told. So I sighed and waddled on shaking my head at the grand inequities of a world-class port like Dubai and the backwoods firm rules of Africa. The general friendliness and desire to accomodate in Dubai was very refreshing. This of course reminds me of a little story that one taxi driver had told us. Dubai seems to be a long narrow strip of land adjacent to the ocean. there are about six or seven major 6-8 lane roadways running parallel to the oceanfront at different intervals. Unfortunately there are still just too many cars on the roads. That fact coupled with the generalization that most people work in one half of Dubai and live in the other half make “rush hour” traffic crazy at best, and a two hour almost standstill at worst. This rush hour begins at 4:00 PM and goes until about 8:30 PM though.

So, as we were stuck for an hour and a half trying to take a trip we had previously done in 23 minutes, the driver told us about the sheik there. Apparently he’s a very down to earth kinda guy. We already knew about the sheik’s incredible vision in creating an incredible upscale tourist destination and a fantastic trading/port economy with the tax free zone. The Sheik also drives around in his own car, by himself. No driver, no bodyguards, no escorts, nothing. The only way the “people” know it’s him is from the Dubai license plate, simple “1” instead of the five digit number everyone else gets. There were a few other quaint stories that were interesting as well. the last one though involved the Sheik dressing up in old, dirty clothes. He had arranged for an old beater car, and often went driving around the town at 3:00 AM to see what tourists, the “common man” and his police force were up to. Apparently he’d made this foray into the nightlife many times, and once had caught a policeman taking a bribe or doing something bad. The policeman was fired, and all others were generally on their toes following the news. Sounds like a fun place to live, if one could afford it!

Dubia

Sunday, February 17th, 2008

In all the hubbub about my last log I totallyy forget to actually really write something about Dubai! It was very nice, but quite expensive! I had just the best time at ski Dubai, which (as I found out) is actually attached to a mall. The mall is very big and I think its almost bigger then west Edmonton mall! After just one visit, Cinibon became my absolute favorite store there! MMMMMM! I had one that was sooooo good, it had melted vannila icing, with nuts, and the cinnamon bun itself was warmed up just perfectly! I almost bought a blue (tsk tsk me and my blue things!:)) PSP, that was a slim version. I decided not to because ┬ôit is a bit of a waste of your money┬ö (I’m quoting mom) and because I was tired of having my forehead being burnt right through with moms eyes. In the end I feel I regret it a bit, but I’d never hear the end of it.

One we were finished with our daily shopping ( The only thing we actually bought ((and didn’t return))was stuff for ski dubai and for the movie and something else ((I think))) we took a last minute tour around to see a few building in the city. We stood just outside the gates of the sailboat hotel, and got a nice night veiw, and saw a bit of a laser show. It was very pretty, even though we couldn’t get the best pictures (for example, the entire thing, it during daylight, ect).
We also saw what is going to be the tallest building in the world! It was very neat, because they built it to be the tallest for 20 years. If someone trys to beat their record they just wait, then once the other building is done, they have built it so they can build it taller!
S’all for now, bye!

Slaves in the World Today

Sunday, February 17th, 2008

The snobbish class system we’ve encountered has been startling and frequent within Indian society I’ve noticed. Hotel managers or owners are constantly referring to their “Boys” doing this or that, and it felt like they were speaking of owning their workers. Time and time again I felt as though I was in the deep Southern States a hundred years ago. The poor are REALLY poor, and semi-content to be that way. There is an obvious aloofness or superiority with much of the portion of Indian society that we delt with. Educated tour guides would show open disdain to the poor or beggars that seemed to maraud us starkly caucasian tourists. Only one other situation stands out along similar lines outside of India, (the occasions were too numerous inside India to even discuss further). On our Laos tour, our tour guide was reasonably well educated (but a former Buddhist Monk Novice of twelve years!) and treated the hill tribe villagers we visited with seeming disdain. I was cautious about taking many pictures or walking off the beaten path, wanting to offer these people some semblance of privacy in their grass huts. He somewhat gruffly insisted that I take as many pictures of whatever I wanted, and go wherever I wanted. The exception of course being that I shouldn’t enter any huts. He did insist that I should take and pictures or video that I wanted through open doorways into their private lives. He would also portray slight arrogance as he calmly swept aside villagers in his way while walking, not even addressing them, just calmly carrying on his informative lecture and pushing them aside to walk through. It was a little weird and certainly disconcerting.

Back to Indians now for a moment. I got into a bit of a discussion upon arrival at the Dubai airport with an Indian couple in their sixties. As soon as the plane comes to a stop at the terminal people spring up and push up the isle as much as possible to get a better ┬ôspot┬ö to get off the plane first. This means standing and waiting while crushed by a throng of others for at least ten minutes before the door at the front is even opened! I often don’t take kindly to such ridiculous line jumping, (as some of you might imagine). So, when I need to stand up and get our bags out of the overhead compartment, I simply look the person in the eye and kindly say excuse me. Not being used to direct shaming, they will invariably back up and reluctantly make room. When I hold the entire line up for an extra seven seconds to let my family out of the row, people further back seem to become incesnsed! This minimal description is ALL planes outside of North America so far by the way. Simply astounding the degradation of society elsewhere… (Not to say that North Americans are better in every way of course, I would never say such things about a continent that has produced a lying, thieving scumbag like Jean Cretin or an idiot puppet warmonger like George Bush.)

Now back to older Indian couple. Before waiting in the customs line at Dubai, I had changed our Indian currency for UAE money. They wouldn’t take several of the smaller bills however, and I was left with them. In the line, I turned to the couple beside me and offered them the money (it amounted to about $3 in several smaller bills). They were behind me previously on the plane I think, and still upset, and therefore couldn’t possibly entertain such a ridiculous thought as taking money from me. I was completely surprised by such behavior and then tried to give it to the woman who was closer to me and clearly in charge of the relationship. She tried to hand it back, and for fun I refused to hold out my hand to see how far she’d go to get rid of it. The money dropped on the floor and she lashed out at me that I should really have given it to the poor people in India! I insisted that we did indeed give abundantly to the poor throughout our trip around India. She was becoming more incensed with the money just sitting there on the floor as I continued by saying that perhaps the poor in India would do much better if the arrogant wealthier society took more care to look after them. Oooogh! I hit a nerve indeed. She suddenly took me back to an elementary school playground war of stupid words as she came out with this beauty, ┬ôat least our poor people are content in the ignorance and we need not waste any more effort on them!┬ö My gawd, and she actually meant it too! This attitude had obviously rubbed off from several decades of British rule, but even in current day England I would sincerely doubt that such strong attitudes are still that pervasive in society. This I found absolutely depressing, similar to reading ┬ôBlack Like Me┬ö several years ago and the insurmountable obstacles he encountered with peoples attitudes.

PS: Yes, I do know I’m behind in my posts. I’m almost finished my Dubai one, but we’re already three days into Tanzania!

Housekeeping & Old Posts

Thursday, February 14th, 2008

We try and keep blog posts in some semblance of chronological order. Even though they’re written out of turn occasionally or we have to wait a few days for internet acess to post them. And so with this series of catch-ups there are a couple of posts place previous to newer ones, that some people might have already gone through.

So, if you’re really bored; go back a little ways (February ninth-ish) and read everything!

Unlucky Luckouts!

Wednesday, February 13th, 2008

Thats what we have been having! For example, in Mumbai mom and dad messed up on the day of our flight, so we got there one day late!! On the (very) lucky side, We got to meet the Mcbride family and have dinner with them! And we got to buy new tickets for the same time (next day) when we got there for a very reasonable price! Example #2: When we got to Dubai we decided to go to Ski Dubai earlier, and how lucky we were! It turns out that unless you book ahead no lessons are left! We found this out and immediately booked lessons for the next day. In the end we got very lucky! We had to book lessons by the way because they don’t let anyone on the big hill who has no experience (Even though I am a ski instructor! as dad had to point out). In the end we got one group lesson and one private lesson. Just a sec I’m getting ahead of myself! There is 6 levels (I’m pretty sure) Discovery, Beginner then 1 through 4. Me and Luke have never skied before so we were discovery. They told us you have to AT LEAST (and they really stressed it!) Level 4 before you can go on the big hill. Me and Luke aced the first lesson had a bit of a challenge on Beginner but still aced it. and in the end I got to go to the very top! I still went on the non pro side but, I t was very fun and a challenge! What I do is I lightly brake most of the way down and do a little bit of maneuvering, and whenever I felt I was going to lose control, I try and regain it but if that didn’t work then falling on my bum always does! I guess you can understand why I’m sore! I really feel sorry for dad, because he pulled a muscle. Hes been limping and hobbling around ever since! On our way here he got special treatment because of it, riding around in the wheal chairs and the cars. But it was kinda funny Because when we arrived here he tried to sit in one but immediately was told he had to get out. I think he was very sore after that! We are now in Da rel Salom (I hope thats right!) and it is the hottest we’ve been since about Thailand! Actually were are in Tanzania. S’all for now bye-bye!!
Alex
PS it is ONLY minus 4 in Ski Dubai, we were ready to just go in our t-shirts!

Where was your first ?

Wednesday, February 13th, 2008

Where was your first time down hill skiing ? Mine you ask ? Dubui .
it all started when we were buying the tickets. we had a little trouble getting them because mom and dad had a two hour lesson and Alex and me could only get one hour ones so we had to book a discovery and a beginner lesson but the day we were there the beginner lesson was all full so we pre-booked it for the last day we were there( better late than never )so we went around the mall to buy some stuff in the end we ended up returning the only thing we bought(not including food)
We went skiing the next day it was SOOOO COLD ( – 4 ) we took our lesson and then dad took us on the BIG hill . dad and Alex went around the entire mall his legs were hurting a lot today so when we were at the airport dad got a wheel chair ( I mean come on ) so now were here in Tanzania !!!!!! see ya : )

Mumbai and the End of India for Us

Tuesday, February 12th, 2008

My intestinal disorder had more or less cleared up and we were excited to be in what was formerly Bombay, and also sad that this was it for India. Our booked hotel (Ugh, I don’t even know if we could call it that!) was the diviest of the dives. All of the ┬ômidrange┬ö places ($50-$125) were solidly booked when we had called them from Fort Kochi. The Hilton’s, et all at $150/room at two rooms! were right out of our budget. Especially since we knew that Dubai was going to be in that price range for just a moderate quality place. So, we were stuck with the Volga. At least it had bathrooms in our rooms for $31 (or a shared bathroom for $18). Unfortunately our two rooms were on different floors and this wasn’t the kind of place we felt comfortable with the kids being that far away from us in. Thus Claudette and I split up to the two different rooms for a couple of nights. There were lots of street vendors set up all day long down the main road we were on and there were a couple of pretty good restaurants nearby that we ate at. Mumbai has to be the cleanest city in India that we encountered. Not to say that it’s citizens didn’t just dump crap wherever they wanted, just that the municipality tried to keep up with it more I think. Outside of our room window and one floor down was the rolling fiberglass roof (the stuff we use on greenhouses) of a second floor building below. The apartments on the other side of it from us had been tossing their rubbish out the window for quite a while it seemed and I’m surprised the roof hadn’t caved in. It was incredibly disgusting, but I still forgot to get a picture in the daylight.

We were in Mumbai for three nights and two full days before flying to Dubai. On our first day we walked about ten minutes to the India Gate and had a look around. The shady tour operators gave me some ideas of stuff I wanted to see and do around town. The next day though things seemed to be off to a slow start. Eventually Alex and I took off at about 3:00PM to just get out and do something. We grabbed a taxi to go to the “Hanging Gardens” Park, about 25minutes away. There were no hanging vines or plants in the end, but it was still a pretty nice park to walk around in and escape the massive chaos of 16 million people living together in a city with not near enough roads. (That can describe all cities in India though.) There were many young couples and families having a nice relaxing afternoon, and many hedges were trimmed in the shape of animals that Alex and I tried to guess at before reading the signs. There was an incredibly huge Banyon tree there as well, about 450 years old we were told.

Just down a little ways from that park was another one offering spectacular views of the city and bay below. We had driven up quite a hill to get to the parks and both Alex and I took a bunch of great pictures of the spectacular views. This park had a cool little Bonzai section and kids playground equipment at one end. Following that tour, we grabbed another taxi down the hill and got dropped of at one end of the beach. We leisurely walked along the length of the beach and enjoyed watching all the locals relaxing and enjoying their day of leisure. There was a storm drain outlet about 30cm deep that many people were washing themselves in or with. Yeach! This is after we’ve seen losta people urinate and defecate and dump out all sorts of toxic stuff into the sewers. The one other sad thing we noticed was the cutest little puppy diligently chewing on some sort of food scrap partially buried in the sand and surrounded by crows. Those nasty birds were taking turns walking close and nipping at his tail before running away from his wildly gnashing little puppy teeth. We got close enough to scare the crows away for a bit and give the puppy a little reprieve.

At the other end of the beach was a little fair going on with some small rides. We started noticing the little ┬ôride-on┬ö cars and motorbikes with transistor radios blaring and guys pushing kids around in them. Then as we got closer to the far end we noticed the jumping pillow, circular ┬ôvehicles┬ö rides, (separated into cars, planes, and motor bikes) as well as a mini ferris wheel. We were horrified to see a bunch of guys climbing up the structure and grabbing a car (with passengers inside!) and riding it down to the ground about 4m below. This kept on happening and we wondered how the safety police could possibly let such a travesty happen, even in a sociaety which didn’t really value human life that much. This ferris wheel was going so fast (and partly because it was so small, only about ten cars) that some cars were tipping backwards and going almost upside down. That is to say that they were tipping backwards at about 160 degrees! Of course as we got closer I realized something odd about all of the ride equipment. There were NO hydraulic lines, ANYWHERE. The turning rides were completely human powered! Then I looked closer at the Ferris Wheel and it to was completely human powered! Those guys weren’t ┬ôriding┬ö it down on the outside of the car, they were in fact PROPELLING it!!! This was rather a shock to my somewhat restricted modernized ┬ôWestern┬ö thinking I suppose. But they had come up with a novel concept and adapted it to their capabilities. Inginuitive more than anything really I would think. To slow it down they simply started grabbing the spokes and held them a bit until it slowed down. truly unique and bizarre at the same time.

After we grabbed an ice cream from a beach vendor, we hopped a taxi and asked to go to the museum. We’d read and heard from other travellers that it was a fairly good one, and we figured that we could walk fast through the boring parts. (My apologies to all our friends that are history teachers.) We ended up getting dropped off in a huge crowd and he pointed out a doorway that was the museum. The crowd was due to a big organized show/fair in the small park right in front. I think that we concluded in the end it was some sort of arts festival. People could help out a potter and make their own tiny little bowls, and there was a big coloring/drawing station set up for kids. As we continued down the closed off street, there was all sorts of modern artwork on display. Most was pretty cool and we both took a bunch of pictures. There was a pretty neat multi-artists display along a 100m section of sidewalk of addictions. When I noticed we were running out of time, we headed back around to the museum entrance. It turned out that it was actually the Modern Art Gallery of Mumbai, so I guess the driver didn’t really have a clue. Admission was free and we went in anyways. There was actually lots of very interesting and cool displays, but it was so crowded from the gathering of people outside that made the whole experience intolerable. We caught a taxi back to our hotel, which was only five minutes down the road and around a few corners.

Traffic conditions were superior and far more sane than anywhere else in Indi that we’d been to as well. There would only be four cars and one motorbike wide across three lanes, instead of five cars and four motorbikes across in Delhi and most other places. It was interesting to pick up a local (English) paper every week or two as well. The South has problems of North Indians coming down and stealing jobs and causing problems. In a country of 1.2 billion that has a crapload of states, I guess the long line of tribal tensions still run deep. This is a lesson difficult for most Canadians to grasp.

Claudette’s Impressions of India

Tuesday, February 12th, 2008

Well it’s been a month since arriving in India, overall I would say that I enjoyed it. The most memorable will be the people that we have met although I’m sure in the future we will also reminisce about the many loud sounds, awful smells and places both rich and poor, we’ve seen with our friends for quite a while. In the end I don’t think I will visit India again.

Surprisingly we’ve met a several Canadians while in India. Firstly we met Patti S. from Calgary, she was traveling for 5/6 months. We had a great evening in Jaipur comparing notes and just generally chatting about home. As well we’ve met 2 other Canadian families who are traveling the world for a year. Firstly it was the Gunn family of 6 from Calgary, although we didn’t get much of a chance to compare notes and chat. Check out the blog roll for their blog, listed as the Gunn Family.

Next we met the McBride family, Warren, Janice, Connor (14) and Alannah (12) from Ottawa at an internet cafe in Fort Cochin. We arranged to meet up for supper, where we had a great time comparing notes and swapping stories and the kids had such a great time too. We are going to try and meet up with them in Egypt. Check out the blog roll for their blog, listed as the McBride Family. As you know I’m not someone you usually muses much about fate and destiny however, as it turns out when we arrived at the airport on the 8th we found out that we were supposed to have flown out of Fort Cochin to Mumbai on the 7th. But if we had not missed our plane we would never had met the McBride Family, and as for our missed flight we had no problem catching the plane on the 8th and it only costs us about $100 extra. All in all I figure it was well worth it, as it was just great to have met the McBride’s.

Next we are off to Dubai for 2 days and then we fly to Tanzania on the 13th. I know that I don’t post many messages but please know that we all read all of your comments and we love any news from home. Missing all of you, take care! Claudette

In memories of India : (

Sunday, February 10th, 2008

As you now know We are leaving India ( a few moments of silence please …………………
thank you

ALL RIGHT !!!!! We are now going to bring up a few memories of India . India was a ………. ( two hours later ) and NOW the good stuff !!! When we first got to India I thought it was HORRIBLE all the horn honking and SUPER CRAZY drivers not crazy SUPER CRAZY But if I was to recommend a beach to someone with NO jellyfish, nice digging sand and low price chairs that come with an umbrella for five Canadian dollars. I would tell them about a beach in India called the lighthouse beach in Kovalam the sad thing is it might be the last beach we go to until we go to pine lake ( N.W.T Canada ) The Taj Mahal was great ( but I wrote about that already ) I liked the patterns on the wall .

My Conclusion of India

Sunday, February 10th, 2008

I’ve decided to add India to one of the places I want to go back to. Even though it was very dirty and saddening because of the poverty it is still a very very charming country. It was very funny because we were in Mumbai and we saw a really nice flapper dress and dad joked and said ┬ô I’ve got an Idea! Instead of making the $600 round trip to Edmonton (for 4 people) and buying a $400 grad dress for you, we’ll make a $4000 round trip to India (for 2 people) and buy you a $10 flapper dress for your grad party!┬ö I think that was one of my biggest laughs in India! I think the cleanest place was Mumbai, But the nicest looking place was Kovalam, the beach town. One of the most charming places was Agra (thanks to the Taj) and Delhi wins noiseist hands down! I wish we could have made a one or two day stop in Goa though.
Bye-bye!

India’s Almost Done… (Sadly)

Saturday, February 9th, 2008

While we thoroughly enjoyed the relaxation of Kovalam and the houseboats in Alleppey, it was time to move on to a more ┬ôrobust┬ö itinerary again. We had found a little guest house in Fort Cochin a little further North. Instead of messing around with train tickets and schedules, we arranged a car to meet us at the houseboats. This turned out to be the same price (within $5 I think it was) as buying four train tickets and getting a car to drive us and our luggage to the train station. The difference was that we were not in AC, it was a little more cramped than train seating, and we didn’t have to wait around for about five hours for the next scheduled train. That’s two minor bad points versus one huge positive!

Our place in Fort Cochin was actually a families home this time, (as compared to thousands of other small places in India that call themselves guest homes, but are actually small12-20 room Inns). I had great plans for getting out and around to actually see the place over the few days we were there, but those got scuppered in the end. We started off by finding a tuk tuk driver that gave us a price of $1.35/hr. This was a great price and the only store he mentioned was the spice markets, which we’d read about and wanted to see anyways. The way that most of these guys make money is buy commission from bringing tourists to stores. In fact, just bringing tourists by will often get them a little bit of gas money even. I started off by asking this guy about a specific bank’s ATM, and he said it was very close by. We started off at the Indian Naval museum, adjacent to their large base. An American guy was coming out as we were heading in and told us that it wasn’t worthwhile at all. I quickly calculated the admission, and for three adults and one child it was all of $2.50. Alex and I had both forgotten our cameras though, which was a bit of a shame, even though still and video camera prices were $4 and $7.50 respectively. Yikes!

There was an abundance of artwork and long descriptions of the situations depicted. Naturally the West cost of India has a very long history, and many of these historical stages were described. There was also many little artifacts like old (and newer from the 30’s) ship’s wheels, uniforms and all kinds of hand weaponry. Larger, modern weapons were displayed outside in the courtyard as well. Stingers, torpedoes and sea sparrows along with Russian made radar arrays and anti-missile ships defense systems were all carefully laid out and described. The dark hour came when myself, and then Luke both had to go to the washroom. (Incidentally, they’re NOT called that here. In fact, no one has a clue on what a washroom is! Tourists simply have to ask where the toilette’s are.) I was in urgent need and didn’t have time to stop and think about asking Claudette for the TP she keeps in her purse. Too late I realized this after I had sat down. Normally I would have considered using a couple of 10 rupee bills (about 28 cents), but this ┬ôincident┬ö required something far more substantial, like perhaps half a full roll of the super fluffy from back home. Luke was by this time waiting for me to finish for his turn. I exclaimed that there was no way he could get in here without first getting me some wrap from Mom. I started having nightmares of having to use my underwear and rinsing them in the sink, and then repeating the process several times as required. Luckily, Claudette, Alex and the Tuk Tuk driver went to a store almost 15 minutes away (and just around the corner from our guesthouse we later discovered) to buy a couple of rolls. Thus was I rescued from certain death of possibly being trapped in that bathroom forever!

After this bit of fun time, I wasn’t in much of a great mood to continue touring, but thought I’d try. That’s when the driver lost his marbles. He was driving by a really nice old building and told us it was a former Palace. Then he pulled in to the parking lot, came through the covered round-a-bout and stopped. It turns out that it was now a store, and a very exclusive expensive one at that. I calmly suggested that we weren’t interested. He replied (about eight times) that we should just have a look, no pressure. We refused to get out of the tuk tuk and after a few minutes of a stalemate, he started it up and continued on. We had travelled a fair ways from the hotel by this point and I asked him again about that specific bank ATM. He replied that it was close by, and we would get to it about 4-5 stops later. I then pointedly asked him how much further to get directly to the bank and he admitted that it was about a half hour to three quarters of an hour away. I was visibly angry at these shenanigans now and told him to return us to the hotel immediately. He stopped at two other ATM’s (and one store) on the return trip and insisted I try our bank card. We already knew that it didn’t work at these branches, but I humored him. He dropped us off around the corner from our guest house (I didn’t want him to know EXACTLY where we were staying!) and he begged me to go into one more store across the street. He insisted that I wouldn’t have to buy anything, but that if I even only just went inside they would pay him gas money. I blatantly refused and explained why, (his deceiving us about the bank, and taking us to the other expensive ┬ôPalace┬ö store). He agreed that he was bad, but still continued to beg for either of us to just go inside and look at the store. I felt badly for him, and simply shook my head as I walked away.

There were a couple of internet cafe’s close by and we spent a bit of time there catching up and making a bunch of skype calls. Luke and I got to chat with (and see video of) Lacie, Riley and Emile which was pretty cool. I also arranged with my brother for the kids to chat with Maddie the next morning (evening for them). Sadly, I never made it back the next morning. By late afternoon I was becoming quite feverish, and my stomach was churning up a storm! I then laid down and informed Claudette that there was no way in ┬ôH┬ö, ┬ôE┬ö double hockey sticks that I was going to be able to make supper with the family that night. I then proceeded to lay there burning up like the shuttle on re-entry, and unable to sleep from the aches & pains, and hallucinations. The next morning Claudette took the kids to the net cafe and made the appointment with Maddie. While there she met and talked with another family from Canada who were also traveling the world for a year, and were also just over the half way point. They were a great family (even though they were from Ottawa) and they set up a dinner date that evening for our two families.

I was feeling a bit better later on, and after catching up on a bit of sleep, I joined everyone for some fine Italian food. It was great meeting up and we swapped ideas stories and hints throughout the evening. One thing they had which we’d never considered was a travel smoke detector. They didn’t always use it, especially since most buildings are brick & mortar it seems. But, when on occasion they stayed in a place that did not inspire much confidence (and we have also stayed in some doozies, believe me!) they could use it as a safeguard. For picture backups they were couriering 2GB thumbdrives home every few weeks as they filled up. We are both planning on being in Egypt about the same time and hope to try and meet up with them. They are scheduled on a ┬ôTrek Adventures┬ö tour for a week in there though, so we’re not quite sure what our joint timings will be like.

They next morning we booked a car for the 90 minute drive to the airport for our super cheap web-purchased flight to Mumbai. Of all things funny, we discovered that our scheduled flight was actually for the previous day and we’d missed it. This was rather devastating news considering that I had gotten such a good price, and plastered all over the website and tickets was a big ┬ôNO REFUNDS OR CHANGES FOR THESE SUPER SPECIAL PRICED TICKETS!┬ö Ooooops! Being Jet Airways (a great Indian airline to deal with) he rescheduled us for that days flight with only a $25/person change fee. Whew! in the biggest way imaginable….

Missing our plane also proved to be a bit fortuitous in that we wouldn’t have met up with the McAdams family if we had caught our flight the previous day.

TIME FOR BOOKS, (Lots of it!)

Tuesday, February 5th, 2008

One great thing about traveling is all the spare time. Yeah right; well I mean spare time compared to ┬ônormal┬ö life. We met an American couple one night while on the backwater houseboat cruise that was also traveling. They landed in Mumbai, flew directly to Aleppey to take a one night cruise, and then their whirlwind started. They were next going to Calcutta for a friends wedding, then through Thailand, before finishing in Cambodia (Angkor What) and flying home from there. I asked if they had two months or three to do that in. Hah! They laughed, and told us… NINETEEN DAYS. That’s from home to home. I started calculating in my head, but they gave me the answer of nine days of travel, with barely 10 days of wedding, tours and relaxing. Relaxing indeed! Certainly not by my definition…

On to books then. The rest of this post should be considered completely whimsical and irrelevant, (dare I say maybe even boring?). We have all been reading lots while traveling. While Claudette and I are pretty selective and/or frugal about buying souvenirs and ┬ôstuph┬ö we’re freewheeling in a bookstore. When no used stores were around, we’d even spend full retail prices on stocking up on material to read. Mostly though, there have been a good variety of used bookstores. If there’s no used bookstore in a place, then there is likely no new English bookstore as well. The exception to that is two times (once in Peru, once in SE Asia) where I thought I’d found a nice English bookstore, but it turned out to be a religious materials (typically Catholic) store instead.

Luke has gone through the latter six books of the Harry Potter series over the last five months. The only thing slowing him down is waiting to find the next number of book that he needs. Once we buy it, it’s usually devoured in a couple to several days, depending upon what other ┬ôtourist┬ö things we have planned. Alex has gone through a pretty wide assortment as well. In Thailand I bought some sci-fi books and insisted that the kids read some before going on to their own choices. Specifically I grabbed ┬ôI Robot┬ö, ┬ô2001┬ö and the first ┬ôLucky Star┬ö novel from Asimov. Alex kinda enjoyed I Robot, but I changed my mind about making Luke read it just yet. I want them both to have a desperate fascination and deep appreciation for the genre, and that can only happen by them ┬ôdiscovering┬ö it at their own pace. Alex did also read 2001, and Luke enjoyed the Lucky Star story, but what boy wouldn’t?

In Kovalam I’d picked up 3001 in paperback. I had really enjoyed the first two, (2001 & 2010) when I was younger. 2061 was pretty good too, but I’d always neglected to get 3001. I thought to myself that there was simply no way he could tie them together and make this last one worthwhile. Really though, I think I was just making excuses for not being able to afford the hardcover. Anyways, am I EVER glad I picked it up. the story was masterfully pieced together and with strong scientific fact that Asimov is so famous for. It was such a phenomenal read that I enjoyed tremendously. Most sci-fi authors create alternate realities that you escape too. Asimov immerses the reader in what raelly seems to be the future telling of mankind’s history. He makes everything so seamlessly real and integrated, that we can easily see that this is truly what will be happening to our society. Fahrenheit 451 affected me the same way, for they are seemingly more social commentaries utilizing some sci-fi concepts as a vehicle for that commentary. Gattaca, the movie, (I haven’t had the opportunity to find the book at all yet) also came across that way.

The other cool thing about 3001 was that Asimov took a few pages to describe how the stories all came together. 2001 originated as a relatively obscure short story until Kubrik contacted him to collaborate on something amazing together. I was always under the impression that 2001 had stood on it’s own as a popular novel long before the movie. The copy of I Robot that we originally got in Phi Phi Don, Thailand Alex went through only to discover that the last dozen or so pages were missing. I took it back the next day and demanded (with difficulty too!) a refund. This store was way high priced to begin with, and didn’t give us any sort of deal on buying about eight books altogether, so I was still burned a little from that. After giving me the money back, the girl started taping up the book at the back where the pages were lost from. She then proceeded to put it back on the shelf when I was outside (we were in a rush to catch our ferry in ten minutes). I immediately went back in and started to berate her (in front of many other customers) for trying to sell a book with missing pages at the back. I slyly noticed that ALL the other customers started checking the backs of the books in their arms, and one girl put one book of the three she was carrying back on the shelf. I insisted to the store clerk (in the friendliest possible way of course) that the incomplete book belonged in the garbage, where she eventually gently placed it. I’m pretty sure though that she took it out as soon as I was gone from sight.

I also had grabbed a couple of short story compilations from Bradbury, and have knocked off a few of those here and there when I only had a short time to focus. When we were in Costa Rica, the Alaskan guy we met gave me Heinlein’s ┬ôThe Moon Is A Harsh Mistress┬ö which I still haven’t brought myself to open. I’m not sure why… probably because he was so close to Farmer (Phillip Hose’ Farmer) in the bookstores when I was a kid, and I somehow resented that??? Who knows. The only four-time Hugo Award winner can’t be the least bit bad of an author though, and it’ll be the next one I pick up to read. I’ve also been carrying around a copy of ┬ôCather in the Rye┬ö for quite awhile unread. NO! This does not make me a closet presidential assassin! I finally read it on the houseboat one afternoon. It was rather anti-climactic considering infamous associations of this book. Actually, the entire story was disappointing to the end that he didn’t commit suicide when it was the most likely (in fact almost the ONLY possible) conclusion the story could have produced. Perhaps it was most notable in literary circles for the rapid fire, conversational narrative method used by this ever so ┬ôdepressing┬ö character. Those who have read it, will get the inside on that comment. Now, I just need to find ┬ôThe Great Gatsby┬ö and get it crossed off my ┬ôTo Read┬ö list.

We eventually found another bookstore in Northern Thailand with another copy of I Robot. This one was even better though because it was the 50th anniversary edition and it included all sorts of extra dialog of an interview with Asimov. His thoughts and reflections were as wonderful to read as the original and inspiring story itself. Claudette was incredulous that this book would appear one day in the ┬ôTo Be Mailed Home┬ö pile we were sorting. I tried to explain, but I don’t think I was successful. All she understood in the end was that ┬ôYes, sending this ratty old stoopid book home is, in fact, important to me rather than buying a new one from Amazon after we get home┬ö (As if she would really support me doing so then, never mind the difficulty in finding the same edition). Wives just don’t understand sometimes I guess… (Except for you probably Lacie!) I sure wish Asimov could have been around for the utopic world unified government that he envisioned and wrote about in so many stories for the last half century! Anyways Tim, both 3001 and that I Robot copy are on their way to you (in the next couple of days when I find a post office) for safe keeping (and reading of course) until we return home. AGH! That’s in only five months!!!

Alleppey “Backwaters” – The Ultimate Relaxation

Tuesday, February 5th, 2008

India was hit by a massive internet connection shortage a few weeks ago with an underwater cable problem. Then, a few days ago just after we left Kovalam there was another problem somewhere else which caused even more widespread outages. I’m pretty sure that the government closed down most of all the country except major IT hubs like Mumbai and Delhi that service North America. We stayed one night in Alleppey (sp?) before embarking on a two day backwaters houseboat cruise. Thus we have no internet anyways and are just cruising around in complete relaxation, devouring books and absorbing the incredible scenery. Once we get done the cruise, we still might not have access to the internet for a few (or several?!) days.

The cruise has really been amazing! The city is relatively close to the ocean, but there was a rather large inland lake only a few kilometers in. About 35 years ago the government built earthen dams reinforced with ┬ôplaced┬ö and mortared rock on the outsides for erosion protection. These dams hold in about four meters of water back from vast plains of rice paddies that are about two meters vertically lower than the canal water levels. The system of dikes is comprehensive and truly amazing! They seemingly stretch forever in all different directions. There are ┬ôhomesteads┬ö built upon small patches of raised ground all along the place. Occasionally schools, stores and general ferry drop-off/pick-up piers crop up around different corners. There was even one Catholic church (& rectory presumably) in all it’s brightly painted glory out by itself with nothing else around it but the canal on one side and hectares of rice on the other side. Just now as I’m typing, we passed by a standard highway sign telling us that it’s 79km to Kollam. Very cool! For these waterways are indeed a true local highway system just as in Venice, or the blacktop snaking across the prairies at home. Many guidebooks (and other travelers we have spoken with) have described the experience as an absolute must when visiting India, right after seeing the Taj Mahal. We all completely agree.

The boat we settled on is $125/night including two bedrooms, three meals a day, losta bottled water and a friendly crew of three. This was the least expensive boat I came upon when checking the day before we wanted to cruise. Most were another $50-$75 more, but that was certainly for nicer quarters, plus air conditioning! There are attached bathrooms in each bedroom with a poor excuse for a shower, but we’re all gonna need a good wash after the sweat of the muggy days and a tiny (and noisy!) fan in our bedrooms. There were even a couple of boats that I looked at that were more than double this one’s price. They were opulently decked all out and I presume would serve even more delux meals. Our food was OK, nothing spectacular but hearty enough. The fish for lunch was really great, but the chicken had some very weird bones in it that I’ve NEVER seen before in a chicken. Claudette silenced me immediately so as not to freak out the kids and to not appear rude to the crew. Hah! Me rude to them??? They’re the ones that are serving my family mystery meat!! Claudette also saw a fair sized rat peak it’s head out. During our second night’s meal, I waited until everyone else was done their meat before show & tell. There were many pieces that certainly resembled chicken, but… I got this one little ever so cute side of a rib cage. The little ribs were only about 2.5cm long, and I figured they were just supplementing the chicken with ┬ôother┬ö animals or rodents. After they were done their meat, I showed the rest of the family my little half a rib cage. Horror! Claudette quickly (and forcefully) theorized that Indian chickens were built just a little differently than North American ones. She also then quickly added that it was also a STRONG possibility that this was just a different part of the chicken that we don’t typically use. I’m pretty sure her semi-panicked reactions were almost more for her benefit of keeping her head in the sand than for the kid’s benefit. Anyways, Luke was a little worried about eating a possibly not normal part of a chicken before Alex filled him in on what I was REALLY suggesting. Claudette didn’t tell the kids about the rat she’d seen the previous day. The first morning I heard them scurrying around in the ceiling like crazy, but didn’t hear them otherwise. Maybe that was cause the cook had caught them later that day after I heard them??? ­čÖé

What I also didn’t mention to anyone else was that I went back to the kitchen for a moment on our second afternoon. The ┬ôkitchen┬ö itself was a pretty poor excuse for cleanliness, let me tell ya! If you are booking a trip in the future, always go on the boat and check it before committing. Most people check the bedrooms and bathrooms, but I’d suggest skipping them and heading straight back to the kitchen. Naturally everything will be ┬ôtidy┬ö, but open some cupboard doors and check the cutting board. That will really tell you a story. When I went back, the cook was outside a window on a ledge cleaning fish for supper in the canal waters. Hmmm, OK. Gross I guess but certainly not out of the norm. All day long the locals bath in the canal or swim in it as well as do laundry and catch fish to eat. I don’t even want to consider sanitation. There certainly was no capacity or infrastructure for sewage tank pump-outs in the many, many homes along the canals. That can leave only outhouses. That in a place where the water table is super saturated, and at only 0.5m below the ground level! Never mind the houseboats themselves. I would make a gross presumption that all sewage is in a holding tank and pumped out at the end of each trip, but ya just never know!

We are currently in a car driving from Alleppey to Kochin (or Kochi on some maps). This is only a distance of 65km, and we do reach speeds of 80kph, but… it will still be a 90 minute drive. That’s due to the constant braking, then abruptly speeding up again, before madly braking ten seconds later waiting to pass the next pothole/animal/bicycle/tuk tuk/car/truck/bus. I really need to write a whole seperate, (huge) post just on traffic in India. It realy does boggle the mind. We’re booked in to Kochin for three nights before our flight to Mumbai.There’s a fort here to check out, and hopefully an internet connection and maybe even a swimming pool! (That’d be nice!) In the back of my mind I kind of wanted to all go out and see a movie in India. Even if it was in Hindi with English subtitles, that would’ve been alright, but I’ve not had any luck finding one so far. I’m sure we will in Mumbai, (they likely have English ┬ôtalkies┬ö there) but it would have been cool to find one somewhere else.

BACK ON BOARD

Monday, February 4th, 2008

WOW, we’re finally back on board since the Galapagos. We booked a boat for two nights we are just about to have our second night on board we leave tomorrow morning at 9:00 AM.When we got on the boat we explored the boat I found a part that you could have a good view and a nice place to read . We left the dock at 11:00 AM ( of course you knew that is was AM whey would we leave at PM thats a bit to late to be leave ) and then I read the book harry potter 6 and number 7 now now I have read 1 though 7 it took me 26 days ( it took Alex 2 month to read the first book but she was in grade 2 at the time ) I did not care much for the food it was a bit spicy but the last meal for dinner was the best the meat did not have any sauce . but the bad thing was that the ribs were to small to be a chicken (maybye rat ­čÖü )

really missing everybody,love Luke : )

I really didn’t mean to throw out my sea legs!

Monday, February 4th, 2008

Not that we are on the sea again. We’re just on a house boat (a very nice one I must say!) in Alapie (Alapy?) which has lots and lots of river like canals. There is quite a few small lakes I think if I was in charge I would be desperately lost! It is very fun though (except for all my nightmares about the boat sinking!) The houseboat seems very big! It has a little ladder where you can go up to a roof top lookout thingy. It provides very many pictures opps up there! It has a main kinda deck with some chairs (which is where we mainly are!) then a hallway then a door for mum and dads bedroom, after that (still a hallway) is a little open area for a table and chairs (where we eat the meals) then you go a bit furthers and its me and Luke’s bedroom then beyond that is where the crew members are (theres only three of them) I not sure about their sleeping arrangements but I know that two of them pull out mattresses and sleep in the ┬ôdining room┬ö. I haven’t quite pecked up the courage to go beyond me and Luke’s room but I will tomorrow because I want to get a couple of pictures of the entire ship. Since we’ve been on the boat I’ve had a bit of trouble eating 3 meals a day again but its sorta easy because its all Indian food so I don’t eat as much as I normally would.

We met another Canadain family touring (they said they were voluntouring). I think their last name is Gunn. I just checked and it is. We never really could get down to chatting with them, we only pulled them over on the side of the road to say hi and where we were from and that (we also only really saw them again once). I have to say I am going to miss the beach but this trip is beginning to feel like school. Blink an eye at the start of the year and its christmas. Very soon we are going to be in Egypt! We are almost done India! And it seems like it was years ago when we were in China! So the house boats are really nice! not much else but please make sure to look at the pictures and expect to hear my conclusion on India soon!
S’all for now, bye!!!!!

FIVE MONTHS LEFT!

Saturday, February 2nd, 2008

Past half way…. How absolutely shocking!

Today we left Kovalam, (semi-reluctantly) and took the train a few hours North to Alleppey. Kovalam was a great beach, and we spent a week and a half there! (Instead of the four days we originally planned.) The guide books we had read labeled Kovalam as becoming quite expensive, but we found accommodation there as a rule to be quite a bit cheaper than Phuket in Thailand. It was similar to Nai Young beach (on the Northwest end of Phuket, by the airport) in being relaxed and very uncrowded though. The hotels here were all on the sidewalk as opposed to most of Phuket where a sea view is very unlikely due to typically being set back from the road, across from the restaurants, in front of the beach. At the high end resorts in Phuket, every room gets a sea view, (and a private pool with some) but who can affourd a few to ten grand per night!?!? There are many hotels at lighthouse beach in Kovalam, that are set back behind the ocean front hotels that offer considerably cheaper rates. For a second floor large AC room, with sea view and a nice large balcony and hanging swing, we paid $54/night. In Phuket, we paid $30/night for a kinda gungy, very basic fan room, and was a five minute walk to dip your toes in the ocean. At the same place there, we also paid $80/night for a semi-gungy AC room, same distance to the salt water. A nice AC room was $110/night! and all of these rooms were only two beds, (so we needed two rooms) while in India we got three beds and one mattress on the floor. Here at lighthouse beach, an AC room set back behind the beachfront hotels is only about $30/night, and a four minute walk to the ocean. Restaurant meals were slightly cheaper in Phuket, and alcohol was far more readily available, but the accomodation in Kearla, India gives more bang for the buck overall. If I were wanting to vacation with just the purpose of relaxing on the beach and nothing else, I’d hafta choose India. Yes, even with the craziest driving we’ve seen yet and all the filth & refuse everywhere.

The street vendors in India were far more plentiful and wickedly aggressive than we were used to from Thailand. I got bored with the t-shirt vendors and put together almost an impossible request for a shirt. I said I was only interested in the local beer logo (Kingfisher) in a L or XL tank top. I spent a little over an hour one afternoon going from shop to shop making this particular request (all in the name of my neighbor Dallas). I did actually want a shirt like that for him if someone actually came up with one, but wasn’t in a rush to get one. The purpose of spending this time initially was so that when I was walking by each of them the next day and the harranged me, I could glare at them and remind them that they didn’t have the one I wanted. After two days, I was no longer bugged almost at all. One guy cheekily suggested that all tourists looked alike, and of course I can’t blame him for such an observation. A few of them remembered me and still asked me to come inside and look at all their other stuff. Looking to make myself stand out even more, I began quizing them about their most popular t-shirt. It was the famous semi-profile of Che Guvera with his first name at the bottom. To any vendor who forced me to come in for a second look at their store, I promised to buy twenty Che shirts for a high price. The condition was that they had to tell me anything about who he was: his profession, his ideals, country he was born in, what he did in Cuba or South America or specifically Bolivia, or what happened after he died. Needless to say no one had a clue. Well, one guy knew that Che was a Commie, since the local star & sickle party uses his profile as their logo. (Quick note to Craig or anyone else planning a trip: taking twenty minutes and getting the kids (and the parents) to brush up on a little of his history will serve you all well in similar situations in South America and throughout Asia. Che seems even quite a bit more popular on shirts in Asia actually.

Alex and I also collected some clothes together to take to one of the many tailors around for some repairs. Various rips, holes and weak threads at seams and on buttons just seem to happen more when you’re only wearing two (or three sets of clothes) it seems. My suitcase handle (nylon webbing on cordurra) also needed a corner strengthened a bit after some airport handler had obviously reefed on it a little too hard. So we went for a walk down the beach and found one guy who gave me a pretty reasonable price, ($2.20 for about 25 minutes work on seven pieces). He couldn’t do the suitcase though, and pointed me in the direction of a couple of cobblers who had sturdier machines. The cobbler also charged $2.20 but he had to take apart a dual liner to sew it inside properly, so it was about a half hour of work. Well worth it to me anyways. At the first tailor, I aksed him to try and sew a secret pocket in my Eddie Bauer shorts identical to the one in my Tilley shorts. That was out of the question and far too much work apparently. When I returned to pick up our stuff he said he could make me the secret pocket after all. I was pretty excited and asked how much. He replied that he’d do it for $17. I thought about how much stitching he’d have to carefully take apart to do this propperly and agreed to what I thought was a fair price. Then he takes me in back of the shop where there are rolls and rolls of various material. I told him just make it a close match to the existing shorts. He looked at me funny and suggested that maybe I’d want a different color to have more variety. I was puzzled, but then he also commented that he wanted me to pick the thickness of the material from the huge variety of rolls. I told him to just pick some smaller sized left over scraps from a previous tailoring job. Now he really looked at me funny and picked up a piece the size of which was perfectly suitable for a pocket. He’s semi-excitedly (in a freaky, worried way) shaking the piece and saying, ┬ôI can’t build shorts out of this!!!┬ö The light goes on! He had quoted me $17 for a whole new pair of custom designed shorts, copied from the Tilly’s complete with a secret pocket! Wow! I explained the communication/perception problem and we both got a chuckle. He also made sure to let me know that even for that price he wouldn’t take apart the existing ones and add the pocket. Still way too much hassel and work apparently. The good news is that I have a new, very well done pair of custom shorts (complete with secret pocket) for a great price! He even brought the waist in 4cm to fit me better than the Tilly’s. Life is good…

The train ride this morning was nice but pretty uneventful. We paid extra for an AC car, so it was pretty uncrowded. None of the stops were announced or had signs outside as Malaysia & thailand did. Thus we had to keep pretty good track ourselves or miss out. Our room in Alliepey is really basic, with a bathroom, a fan and no AC. It is also only $23 for four beds though. The main purpose of tourists coming here is for their famous houseboat tours. These are quite large boats, fairly wide and with wicker and thatched superstructures, (by looks from the outside). On the inside though, they are pretty delux mansions to tour around the backwater canals and see country life at a relaxed, pastoral pace. I looked at several before agreeing on one for tomorrow, for a two night cruise. They are about $125/night for four people for fan rooms and three meals a day. AC rooms run about another $40/night. Some of them were decorated more sumptuously than the nicest home I’ve seen, with crafted wood cupboards and wardrobes, and marble finished bathrooms. Those run about $300/night, (including AC of course!). We shall see what tomorrow brings!

In the meantime, I secured a fantastic deal on flights from jet Airways while scouring the net a few days back. This was the same airline we flew business class with just after Christmas, and Claudette had also found that deal on the net. We were planning on a 22 hour train ride from Kochi up to Mumbai, but I found a 100 minute flight for only $10 more each. Hmmm, not a tough decision!