Category Archives: Africa

VIDEO: Unemployment Tour 2011

Just a little video of my backpacking trip in 2011 to Maldives, India, UAE, Kenya, Tanzania, Mozambique, South Africa, Zambia and Botswana. Enjoy!


Watch in HD

Thanks Mike, Tamara and Antonio for the videos and for being awesome travel buddies!
Song: Get Free by Major Lazer

Advertisements
Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

To Baz Bus or Not To Baz Bus

For those planning on traveling around South Africa, there is a very convenient backpacker-geared transportation service called Baz Bus.  Basically, they provide transportation between backpackers/hostels in major destinations with door-to-door service.  They also sell a type of ticket which allows you to hop on/hop off wherever you want for a fixed price.  Personally, I decided not to go with Baz Bus because I wanted to get a local feel of South Africa by traveling as locals do.  However, I would say 90% of the people I met used Baz Bus to get around.  Here are some pros and cons that I found with Baz Bus (having to take it occasionally out of necessity):

Pros

  1. This is the most convenient way to travel around South Africa and allows you to spend more time enjoying your vacation instead of planning your transportation.
  2. Great for meeting new people.  The majority of backpackers use Baz Bus so you’ll meet fellow backpackers and get great tips on what to do, see, eat, stay.
  3. Some of the drivers act as a tour guide, pointing out sites along the way and providing tons of information about South Africa.
  4. Safe, reliable and comfortable travel.  The minibuses they use are very new and easy to fall asleep in.

Cons

  1. More expensive than coach buses or other minibuses (I found on average it was double the price for Baz Bus).
  2. Takes some of the fun out of traveling for me which is independently finding/planning transportation from point A to B.
  3. Less flexible since Baz Bus has only 1 bus per day going in each direction.  Coach buses usually had 2-3 options per day so you can depart and arrive at a time that suits your schedule.
  4. You might miss out on meeting and seeing how local people live since you’re interacting mainly with backpackers from foreign countries.  There’s a backpacker bubble and you may end up traveling with the same people for your entire trip.  Most of the people I met who took Baz Bus ran into people they met previously on the Baz Bus later on in their trip either on another Baz Bus trip or at the hostel.
  5. *New* (thanks Valerie!): It takes a long time to go from Joburg to Cape Town and vice versa because there is no direct route.  You will have to stop multiple times and it can take around 3 days whereas coach buses have direct routes.  Maybe try hop on/off going one way and a direct coach bus on the way back to get the best of both worlds!

My advice is to try a bit of both and see what suits your style of traveling.  Either way, you’ll get to experience South Africa and all that it has to offer!

Baz Bus website: http://www.bazbus.com

Tagged

South Africa’s Transkei: Fear and Loathing in the Wild Coast

Coffee Bay, Wild Coast, South Africa

So as a way to procrastinate for job hunting, here’s another blog entry from 2 months ago.  Enjoy!

Although it was hard to pry myself away from Neville’s hospitality and comforts in Southbroom, the scenery in South Africa’s Wild Coast or Transkei was definite worth it – they don’t call this the Wild Coast for nothing!

I hoped on a Greyhound bus for the 6 hour journey and found it very comfortable.  The further we got into the trip, the less populated the outside world was.  After chatting with the hyperactive child sitting beside me, I finally got a chance to look up and enjoy the ride.  As I looked out through the front-of-the-bus-second-level window, all I saw were rolling hills covered in green grass everywhere, dotted with small palm trees and indigenous shrubs and forests.  Scattered throughout the hillside were small villages of brightly coloured concrete houses and rondavels.  There were cattle and sheep and goats being herded by children and men.  Also, all along the road, there were people hitchhiking holding signs with acronyms on them.  I got “PE” for Port Elizabeth but what or where is “XB”? After being dropped off at a gas station on the side of the road, I met Rob the driver from Coffee Bay who herded myself and a bunch of grimey backpackers who had just arrived on the Baz Bus (**more on that here) into a small minibus for the 1.5hr ride to Coffee Bay on the coast.  Thank god I got to sit in the front and chat with Rob.  I mean, one of the backpackers was walking around the gas station barefoot playing a ukulele! And the conversation in the minibus highlighted everything I don’t like about backpackers.  Yes, they are the most laid back, fun and interesting people you’ll ever meet.  But occasionally, you get a bad apple like those backpackers who brag about how “hardcore” they’ve been traveling, all the drugs and alcohol they’ve been ingesting and how little money they’ve been able to live off of.  I was just happy to be sitting in the front talking to Rob about his family while he taught me about his people, the Xhosa.  When I first heard him speak, I was so amazed! Remember when Russell Peters made those jokes about Africans speaking in clicks? Well, he probably met a Xhosan because “Xhosa” is actually pronounced *knocking-click sound*-sa and the birthplace of Nelson Mandela is Qunu but pronounced *click*u- nu.  The road into Coffee Bay was windy and up-and-over the hills – it was beautiful! The only thing that detracted from the beauty was the truck in front of us with young men sitting in the flatbed.  One of these comedians saw a van full of foreigners, decided to drop his pants and moon us.  Welcome to Coffee Bay!

When I finally arrived at Sugar Loaf Backpackers, I was given the best welcome ever – a sundowner (yummy cocktail drunken at sunset) by 2 old drunk Afrikaan men and a lesbian couple who run the place.  Again, welcome to Coffee Bay! The rest of the night was spent eating a delicious dinner at the dining table and talking with Wilson, Vernon (the 2 old men), Linda and Joet (the lesbian couple).  Wilson and Vernon told us stories about the apartheid and how they were conscripted as police or army men.  Talking to them was very interesting and like other older generation Afrikaans I’ve met so far in South Africa, there are still traces of racism and racial tension.  The whites still blame the blacks for their country’s problems and vice versa.  The next day, I wondered around the small village of Coffee Bay.  There are only about 20 huts scattered along the hillside and one paved road that runs through it.  After relaxing on the beach and chatting with a bunch of backpackers who just arrived on a big yellow school bus from AfrikaBurn (it’s like Burning Man but in South Africa), I grew tired of their “Burn stories” of partying and drugs.  I never thought that I would meet people straight out of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas! I should’ve known – apparently Coffee Bay is a drug and backpacker haven because it’s so secluded.  I started hiking up Sugar Loaf Mountain and didn’t make it very far when a little local boy started following me and kept on asking “Do you want to sing?”.  I thought it was some sort of slang for drugs but he actually started singing and dancing over my tired, out-of-breath heaving while hiking up this mountain.  Although it was a tiring hike, the view was amazing! There were huge cliff drops into the ocean all along the coast and behind me were rolling hills for miles, all dotted with brightly coloured huts and rondavels.

Sadly, I had to leave the next day to keep moving or else I’ll never make it to Cape Town! I was planning on changing up the scenery and making a stop in Hogsback up in the mountains.  Along the way, I met a fellow backpacker, Henry, from South Africa who was moving across to Cape Town.  And I thought I was traveling with a lot of stuff – Henry was traveling with 2 backpacks, a duffle bag, a mountain bike, a kayak and paddles! Along the way, Henry pointed out some very interesting sights like Mandela’s hometown of Qunu and a house he built near the freeway which is a replica of the cottage he lived in during his house arrest.  Henry also pointed out the Execution Rock where they used to throw people off and that the Transkei (Wild Coast) region used to be its own country until the end of apartheid.  We finally started moving away from the beautiful coast line and rolling hills to a more wooded region closer to Hogsback.  The small town nestled between the mountains is named Hogsback after the unusual shape of the surrounding mountains which, ingeniously, looks like the back of a wild hog (or a warthog).  The mountains were quite impressive – with tiny waterfalls scattered about and indigenous forests blanketing the mountainsides.  It actually reminded me a lot like Canada and definitely reminded me of the Canadian weather.  It was freezing in Hogsback – not freezing in the Canadian winter sense but cold for Africa.  I think I’ve been spoiled by the fact that I haven’t had to wear a sweater or long pants for the last couple of months that anything under 15C is considered cold now.

Hogsback resembled the Shire from the Lord of the Rings (yes, that’s a geeked out reference) and had capitalized on this fact by setting up stores called the Ring Shoppe, Hobbiton Shoppe and Fairie Sculptures (the fact that their shops are all “shoppes” makes it fancier in itself).  I stayed at a hostel called Away With the Fairies which is comprised of small cottages along the cliff.   After putting on layers of clothing, I wandered around the garden and discovered a bath tub on the edge of the cliff overlooking the mountains.  How awesome is that?! I would’ve definitely taken a bath in such a unique location except for the fact that I would have to heat up the water by building a fire.  That just seems like too much work for a bath – that was my laziness flaring up again.  I hiked along this trail (in flip flops, not a good idea) and stumbled upon a ladder attached to a tree only to look up and find that attached to the ladder was a tree house 15m up.  Maybe I’m just getting old but the climb up and down that ladder almost gave me a panic attack.  However, the view from the well-built tree house was worth it.  You could see the mountain range, the valley below and just trees for miles and miles.   Once it got dark, it was dinnertime! I was starving so when the chef told me tonight’s dinner was going to be warthog and kudu (like a deer), I didn’t hesitate for a second before saying yes.  The warthog and kudu was surprisingly very delicious – although I tried my hardest not to think of Pumba or Bambi while chowing down.   After dinner, I chatted with 2 guys from Texas who were traveling/working in Africa.  One of them turned out to be an engineer (we’re everywhere!) working in Gabon.  Now, traveling in Africa may be a bit adventurous but working in Gabon is downright ballsy.  Paul, the bartender, was super nice and didn’t look at me funny when I introduced him to the best drink in the world – apple juice and Malibu (Tina and I discovered this and always had both stocked in our apartment).  We traded traveling horror stories (he won with being in a bus crash in Peru where the bus flipped over on the side of a mountain and the driver ran away) and gave us free shots of something called “Shit in the Woods”.  It was disgusting but just being able to tell Tamara that I had a shit in the woods was worth it.

The next morning, I decided to leave Hogsback because it was just way too cold and headed towards Tsitsikamma in the Garden Route.  I’m halfway through South Africa and already, I want to move here!

Tagged , , , , , ,

South Africa’s South Coast: bunny chow, beach and braai

Southbroom, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa

Wow, this post is waaay overdue – yes, I got too relaxed and even lazier than I was before if that’s even possible.  But seeing as it’s a gloomy day in Toronto, I thought that reliving the warm and sunny days of Africa would cheer me up.  So here goes, blog posts from 3 months ago….

I finally landed in South Africa and all I can say is “holy civilization!”.  It’s actually the little things that reminded me of how far removed I was from what we call western life.  Signs that actually light up in the airport, soap in soap dispensers, paying the amount on price tags or even price tags for that matter and being the most vagrant/hobo-dressed person around.  After a brief pit stop in Johannesburg to stock up on amenities like English books, pens and most importantly, activating my BlackBerry messenger (I was literally smiling for the first hour after finally being reconnected), I quickly bought a flight out of there to Durban on the South Coast.  Word of advice: exchange all your local currency before leaving that country.  I learned this lesson the hard way when I tried to exchange all my random UAE Dirhams, Kenyan Shillings, Tanzanian Shillings and Mozambican Meticais at the money changer and found out 1. no one accepted most of those currencies and 2. for the ones they would accept, it was worth so little that I would have to pay them to exchange it!

Once I landed in Durban, I made a beeline to buy a pair of closed-toe shoes since it’s the beginning of winter in South Africa and everyone on my flight was wearing boots and wool jackets.  Here I was, the ignorant Canadian, wearing shorts and a T-shirt thinking that Africa was hot all the time.  I was pleasantly surprised when I stepped outside and it was 20C! Clearly, South Africans have not experienced a COLD -30C Canadian winter.  Back to shorts and T-shirts! Took a quick cab ride to my hostel in Durban and took in the night time sights – it’s a lot like any other western city except there’s no one walking around on the streets (a common theme in South African cities).  The hostel, Gibela Traveler’s Lodge, is the cleanest hostel I’ve ever stayed at hands down.  It’s a beautifully decorated Tuscan house with vibrant walls and African artifacts and is immaculately clean! So clean that I walked around barefoot – I don’t know if that can be attributed to the cleanliness of the hostel or the decrease in my hygiene standards.  Elmar, who runs the hostel, was very helpful with not just Durban but South Africa in general.  For the next few days, I wandered around Durban – had a relaxing afternoon in the Botanical Gardens while trying to avoid hormonal teenaged couples hidden amongst the flora, went shopping (had to satisfy the habit somehow!) and hiked up and down the steep residential streets.  Like most major South African cities, all of the houses and buildings have intense security measures.  There are barbed and electric fences, alarm systems, pin code entry pads, guard dogs and many signs with skulls and crossbones warning of imminent death if anyone so much as accidentally steps on the property.  I heard that crime in South Africa was high but some of the security measures in place probably cost more than the house itself.  For dinner, I wandered along Florida Road which has some of the swankier restaurants and settled for a small Indian restaurant for a local Durban dish, bunny chow (curry in a bread bowl).  Although Durban has the highest Indian population in all of South Africa, it wasn’t the same as the food in India but I guess I’ve been forever spoiled.

After a very peaceful sleep, I packed up all my stuff and boarded a mini bus to Margate further along the South Coast.  When I first heard the words “minibus”, I had a PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) flashback to the horror of the Maputo-Tofo ride in Mozambique but I was ecstatic when I saw this brand new, air conditioned, 1 person per seat minibus pull up.  It was so comfortable that I had to keep myself from falling asleep so I could take in the scenery.  All along the highway, there were small towns on the right and just miles and miles of beaches to the left.  In Margate, a very nice man named Bruce picked me up to drive me to the hostel in Southbroom 20 minutes away.  Turned out that Bruce is a friend of Neville, who owns the Southbroom Traveller’s Lodge, and he told me about Southbroom and all the comings and goings.  Southbroom is a actually small resort town filled with millionaires and their mansions.  There’s even this one ginormous mansion perched on the top of the cliff worth R55 million or $8 million USD.   To be able to stay at a backpackers place in this town was so amazing but even better was that Neville runs his backpackers as if it’s like staying at a friend’s house!  I had the dorm room to myself and the ensuite bathroom even had a bath tub! The common room was actually the living room stocked with comfy couches, hundreds of DVDs and magazines.  Neville, Bruce and I chatted all afternoon and played with the dogs (a bull mastiff mom and her puppies).  When dinnertime came around, Bruce made delicious spaghetti bolognese and fettucine alfredo.  We all sat down around the dining table so it was like eating dinner with friends.  We also had conversations like the ones I would have at home with my own friends – politics, movies and UFO sightings. 🙂

The next day, I pried myself away from the TV (oh how I missed TV) and wandered down to the beach.  The beach is amazing – so clean, soft and spotless! I was so amazed that I even sent my engaged sister some photos as a possible wedding destination.  I was just so content walking along the beach, hearing the huge waves crash onto the rocks in the distance that I didn’t realize until afterwards that I had not encountered anyone else on the beach for the past 2 hours.  After some more walking, sitting and book reading, the sun started setting so I started walking back to the backpackers but because the houses are hidden from the beach behind sand dunes, I actually got lost wandering around on the beach! Who gets lost on a beach?! I finally made it back by following some locals and was greeted by the barking dogs (I don’t know if it was a greeting or more them protecting the property but I took it as a greeting).  For dinner, Bruce started a braai (BBQ for us North Americans) and South Africans sure do know their bbq-ing! We had steaks, boerewors (sausages) and lamb chops – compliments of Bruce the chef.

Although many people say South Africa is “fake Africa”, my first glimpse into this country has been unbelievable – such hospitality and beautiful scenery.  If this is any indication of what the next 3 weeks will be like, it’ll be difficult to move onto the next country!

Tagged ,

Mozambique: a little Portugal of minibuses and palm trees

Tofo, Mozambique

Ola from Mozambique! All that hard work learning the basics of Swahili and now, I have to learn Portuguese.  I’ve noticed that I now speak horrible English – kind of a mix of broken English without pronouns.  I guess that’s what 4 months of travel does to you.  I left Dar Es Salaam and boarded a flight to Maputo, which is the capital of Mozambique.  The flight was expensive since there’s only one airline in all of Mozambique – monopoly at its best! On my flight (which landed and took off 3 times before arriving in Maputo!), I chatted up a man from Washington who’s working for an infrastructure development company in Mozambique linked with USAID.  Hmmm, maybe that’s my next career move – yes, I haven’t forgotten that one of the goals of this trip is to figure out what to do with my life.  I think about that between lying on the beach and spotting animals.

At the airport in Maputo, I waited on the curb for a taxi and thankfully, a nice policeman helped me pick through the legit taxi drivers and the “taxi drivers”.  Everyone here is so nice that a bunch of policemen helped me flag down a taxi from the road.  Thank god they were there or else I would’ve jumped into any car since in Eastern Africa, taxis aren’t marked and can literally be anyone.  I arrived at the Base Backpackers late in the night and settled into my dorm room.  Since Tamara’s gone and my budget is disappearing before my eyes, it’s time to slum it again in a hostel.  Surprisingly, I had one of the best night’s sleep in awhile – totally passed out from my long day of traveling.

The next day, I set out to explore Maputo and was shocked at the city life.  It’s still slightly dirty and the sidewalk breaks occasionally but I couldn’t believe how cosmopolitan the city was.  Everywhere I looked were people in business suits driving fancy cars.  It’s also quite a multicultural city – there were Africans, Portuguese, Indians and even the occasional Asian person! Every time I walked by an Asian person, there was an unspoken nod of “Yay! Another one!” I stopped by a sidewalk cafe and using the little knowledge of Portuguese I have and hand gestures, ordered breakfast.  It was so nice to just sit and watch the busy life pass by – really reminded me of an European city (I guess it’s the Portuguese influence).  There are trees all along the road and little cafes where you can people watch.  I walked through residential areas and stumbled upon an art gallery called Nucleo de Arte.  Pretended to be interested in buying the very nice art on display but I think my eyes bulging out when I saw the price tags gave away my vagrant/nomad-ness.  All of the houses here were very pretty and large but the odd thing was that there’s major security around each of them – even if the house looks less valuable than the security system.  On top of the 12 ft concrete walls, there’s barbed wire, electric fences and CCTV with huge warning signs displaying skull and cross bones.  I didn’t feel that unsafe walking the streets but this show of security measures made me a little uneasy.  Maybe it’s just the culture here.

The next day, I woke up super early and took a minibus up the coast to Tofo.  All I have to say in OMG! The 11 hour bus ride is probably up there in terms of backbreaking and interesting with the bus ride from Lamu to Mombasa in Kenya or the bus ride from Goa to Mumbai in India.  We first stopped by the local bus station and waited for an hour for the bus to fill up with passengers.  And I’m not talking one person in every seat, I’m talking FULL – like every-sit-able-space-has-a-body full.  On a row of 3 seats, there were 5 and even people sitting on the door steps.  It was like human tetris trying to get everyone to fit – skinny people move here, bigger men move there etc.  Through my ever-shrinking window seat, there were so many people buying/selling random things like loaves of bread, sandals, toilet paper and even a woman selling fried chicken out of a tupperware container! It was also very interesting to see the system of filling a bus.  So there’s a driver but also a guy who attends to the bus and it’s his job to get bodies in seats (like a bus hype man).  But he doesn’t do it alone, he has other men on the ground who help him by spotting anyone with luggage who looks like they want to travel and hustling/swarming/hassling them until they agree on a price.  In return, the hype man gives them a commission which was another spectacle in itself.  Men complaining they were getting jipped, trying to reason with the hype man and then eventually swearing and waving their arms around until someone gave in.

Finally, we were off! The landscape in Mozambique is quite different from East Africa – there aren’t any mud huts (well at least not on the road we were on) and most people live in small towns and villages of buildings made out of concrete.  The weird thing is there would still be people randomly waiting on the side of the road in the middle of nowhere – still don’t know how they got there.  Every time someone got off the bus, we would pick up 2 more people and this continued on the 11 hour ride.  At one point, there was a small boy sitting on my lap! Other than myself, there was one British girl from the hostel but she’s lived in Mozambique for the last year.  Her boyfriend is Mozambican and every time we would stop, he would come back on with a new food item – loaves of bread, fried chicken, bananas, a pineapple! It was so funny, I couldn’t stop giggling and would anticipate when he got back on the bus just to see what he bought.  By the time we arrived in Tofo, they had the entire produce department at their feet.  Late in the afternoon, I finally arrived in Tofo and was picked up/driven down a sandy road to Bamboozi Beach Lodge.  The Lodge is hidden amongst palm trees behind sand dunes that line the beach.  The grounds are very nice and the people working there were super welcoming.  I guess it’s low season because I had an entire 6-bed dorm hut to myself! One of the waiters told me that there’s only 10 tourists staying in a place that could easily sleep 70.  I settled in and walked up the dunes to the restaurant perched on the top.  The view from the restaurant was amazing! The beach below with turquoise waves crashing along a crescent-shaped cove was awesome to see.  Also, there’s no debris, development or people on the beach so it was very peaceful.  All of the resorts are hidden behind the sand dunes so it really seems like you’re in the middle of nowhere.

For the next 5 days, I bummed around on the beach trying not to itch the massive mosquito bites I received in Maputo.  I swear, it looked like I had spikes on my shoulders or leprosy – either way, I was just glad I didn’t get malaria.  Every morning, I would start my day with breakfast perched on the sand dune, then would walk all along the beach all while trying to avoid the jellyfish scattered along the beach.  The jellyfish were so awesome to see – they’re transparent and slimy looking with a hint of blue veins.  I met some German ladies who had this awesome 4×4 jeep with tents on the roof and talked to the employees who were always super friendly even if there was a major language barrier.  One night, while walking back from another restaurant down the beach, a stray dog started viciously barking at me while on the phone with my mom.  She probably freaked out because all she could hear was barking.  I don’t know what the dog was barking about or even what it was trying to guard because there was nothing around but I seriously thought I would get bite and then my next thought was “Great! The only shot I didn’t get is for rabies.”  However, I again turned to all those hours watching The Dog Whisperer and stayed calm and assertive as the pack leader and the dog stopped barking after awhile.  On my second last day, I decided I needed to get some exercise in and went for a boat snorkel trip.  It was kind of a flop because we were looking for whale sharks and manta rays on the boat before jumping in but didn’t spot anything.  The cool thing was riding full speed on an inflatable boat over the waves and spotting dolphins a couple meters from the boat.  Also, the beach changes dramatically once out of Tofo and there were all these rock caves along the coast with huge waves crashing upon them.  When not trying to look for whale sharks, I spent the rest of the time trying not to barf from the crazy waves throwing us around in the choppy Indian Sea.  After 1.5 hours of boating around, we decided to just jump in to get some sort of snorkeling done.  It was pretty cloudy because of the waves but I could make out small fish and starfish.  Definitely not one of the best snorkeling experiences but then again, I’ve been spoiled by Maldives.  Trying to get back into the boat was another feat! Basically, one of the other snorkelers had to haul me up and over the boat which ended up with me splayed out on the boat floor laughing.  I really need to learn how to gracefully get back into a boat since that’s the second time that’s happened (another time rafting in Costa Rica).

The next day, I said goodbye to everyone at Bamboozi and drove to the Inhambane Airstrip which is in the big town nearest to Tofo.  The airstrip itself is so primitive – no computers or technology so all boarding passes were hand-written and the security check was by hand.  Waited around for a bit and then boarded my 3 hour flight (via Vilankulos) to Johannesburg, South Africa.  Although Africa’s been amazing so far, a welcome break of Western civilization in South Africa sounds nice after 4 months of traveling!

Tagged ,
Advertisements
%d bloggers like this: