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Arusha and the Ngorogoro Crater

Manyara

Lake Manyara, Tanzania

Part 1: Arusha  

We took a break last week and headed north in the country to Arusha. For the first couple of nights we stayed with some AWESOME HOSTS in the fringe of the city. These are some images I took around there. I’m lazy with the names of plants. If you want to help me out and name things in the comments, I’d be delighted by your knowledge.

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Part 2: Gibb’s Farm

Disclaimer: I am in no way associated with Gibb’s Farm. They did not pay me to write this nor have I made any kind of agreement with them about what will inevitably be a half-assed review of our stay there.

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We arrived at the farm mid-week during the rain season. The rain season in Tanzania has been anything but predictable in recent years. When I speak with Tanzanians in Dar es Salaam, they always seem to have some day pinpointed when they think the rain will begin. And by “the rain”, I mean daily deluges that left several people homeless or dead from flooding last year. It’s serious rain.

However in recent years (at least in the 3 I’ve been here), no one has really been able to predict the rain. The “short” rain season in December is either late or doesn’t come at all. The “big” rain season is usually in April, though as I write this, Dar es Salaam has had a few days of big rain but nothing that would be expected for the season. No one can really predict the weather any more… similar to the stories I’ve heard in South Korea, in Mongolia, in Canada, and in Tanzania. It’s not hard to see the effects of climate change no matter where we go.

Arusha was also meant to be going through their big rain season, but other than a few sprinkles over night and one downpour, there was nothing really consistent with the normal seasons there. The air was cool and refreshing, quite the opposite of what we experience further south in the country. Arusha is higher in the hills, and skirts the areas of Mount Meru and Mount Kilimanjaro. The change from the humidity was most welcome, and we even had a fireplace going in our room at night.

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Back to Gibb’s Farm. This farm is on the luxurious end of things here in Tanzania. That is not to say that it is overpriced for what you get (as we have largely experienced on Zanzibar), because although it isn’t cheap, you actually get what you pay for between the location, the accommodation, and the inclusive meals. Liquor isn’t included.

The farm produces nearly all of the food it serves, so as you can guess, it was garden fresh and served by international chefs. The kitchen was highly attentive and organized, and when I showed up they showed me everything that didn’t include garlic. (I have an intolerance to it.) The breakfasts were fine, the lunches were okay, but the dinners were exceptionally delicious. There was an excellent drink selection (four menu pages of gin, not to mention a decent selection of whiskey, and I lost track on the wine list). Coffee is grown and roasted on site, and is served fresh to your room in the morning at whatever time suits you.

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The rooms were exactly the kind of place where I want to write my next novel but I’ll say no more, and if you want a walk-through of the room just watch this short video. $$$$ WORTH IT.

The farm was full of plant and flower life and all of the bird and insect life that it sustains. In the center of the lodges was a pond with long grass where weaverbird nests looked too perfect to be real. But they were real, and there were exotic birds everywhere. The best part of it that there were no invasive Indian house crows which have taken over Dar es Salaam in the thousands, decimated the local bird population, and are pesky, aggressive and loud through all hours of the day. Up here, we were free of the flying rats and all birds thrived.

I would go back to Gibb’s Farm again in a second. If this is the kind of thing you like, you won’t be disappointed.

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Part 3: Ngorogoro Crater

Volcanic crater, roughly 2 million years old

Entering the caldera

This part of the trip was unplanned. In our three years in Tanzania we have gotten to a few locations, but we were never able to make it to the Serengeti for the epic safari that most people envision when they think of Tanzania. However, bordering the Serengeti is the Ngorogoro crater caldera. It is massive and inside live thousands upon thousands of animals that find just about anything they would need there. As it is so steep to enter or get out, most animals live there year round, though the wildebeest and zebras migrate in and out.

We thought it would be nice if we could spot a nearly extinct black rhino, as friends had spotted them in the crater before. We didn’t really know what to expect, except that it was said that there would be animals everywhere once we got in.

The crater is so massive that you cannot get any indication of the wildlife below as you peer down from the upper ridge. Its expanse is immediately clear, and you can see rain in the caldera from kilometers away. Where the sun breaks through the cloud, it crawls across huge patches of the hillside forest and the grassy plain. As we descended further we started to get an indication of what we were in for when we spotted clusters of zebras.

I’ll let the pictures tell the rest of the story.

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Look closely…

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The legendary black rhino!

she spots some zebras

You see something what?

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(That is a black rhino back there)

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Posted by on April 30, 2019 in Life Abroad

 

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Office Intruder

I was watching something on my computer when I heard the air conditioner start to make a strange noise. Like a clicking because a part was not properly moving. I was watching it, and the cat was watching it too.

After another rattle, something splatted to the tiled floor. For some reason the cat didn’t see it and kept watching the air conditioner. Half a meter from the cat’s foot was a small blob that I couldn’t quite make out in the light of the desk lamp, but then it jumped behind the small fridge to the left of my desk.

I got up to investigate. Stuck to the side of the fridge, on a side away from the cat, was a small tree frog. Somehow it survived the dangers of the air conditioner and a two and a half meter fall. It would not survive the cat; she was a veteran gecko hunter and she thought she was in for another meaty snack tonight.

I tried to find a glass jar but could only find a plastic food storage container. So I collected the frog and got these images.

Then after great effort I was able to shake him out of the container and into the grass out back.

Go live another day, tree frog. Or at least until a snake gets you.

 
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Posted by on March 28, 2019 in Life Abroad

 

Kilwa, Tanzania

Last week I fulfilled my contractual obligations of bringing a group of students to a UNESCO heritage site in Tanzania; the ruins at Kilwa, which for centuries was the wealth center of Eastern Africa. Traders from the Middle East, India and Europe came to trade their goods for ivory, rhinoceros horns, skins, gold and slaves. (Thank goodness times have changed! Right?)

Our excursion was a photography trip where the students learned the basics of manual photography, and how smart phone cameras still suck no matter what the marketing says. We visited the ruins of two islands and a town built by colonialists, and the students had to create photo essays that tell a story of the region.

The crumbling mosques and the local people were sources of great inspiration for our trip, and so I took my camera along as well. Here are some of the images.

Kilwa Kisiwani

A short boat ride from the mainland, you can see the ruins of this fort as you approach the island. The Portuguese built it; the Omanis later modified it. The door was recently rebuilt.

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DSC_9970Much of the fort was built with coral harvested from the area about 500 years ago.

DSC_9935The tomb of a 16th century sultan. Even the most powerful of their time eventually fade to obscurity.

DSC_9921Kids outside of their school.

DSC_0080That Baobab tree is probably as old as those ruins in the background… if not older.

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DSC_0100Selling fruit.

DSC_0102The owner of this kiosk (who kindly let me in to his very small space to take the photo) has a solar panel, which is some of the only electricity in the village. So the villagers pay him 200 Tanzanian Shillings (about 9 cents USD) to charge their phones.

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DSC_0091A student with a baobab tree. This one might be a thousand years old or more
(they don’t have rings like other trees, so it’s hard to tell their age).
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Kilwa Kivinje

A town built at different periods by Omanis and Germans and also a UNESCO heritage site, little has been done to maintain the town and it is basically in ruins.

The students took most interest in the people of the town, who were very friendly and perhaps used to the odd camera strolling through. It didn’t hurt to keep a few small bills on hand for those who asked for payment in exchange for a photo.

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The wall is gone but the root remains. How our cities will look in time.

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These school kids “shhh’ed” our noisy high schoolers. Rightly so.

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The best photo of the trip was of this man, by a student who got a good portrait with a telephoto lens. The light on his skin was beautiful.

DSC_0192This is Bakari. We thought it was a girl, but were then told Bakari was a boy’s name. Still not sure, but it doesn’t matter. Bakari was extremely coy and kept getting called away by an irritated grandparent, but didn’t listen. Despite acting coy, Bakari appeared in various student photos at an intersection, running in front of a building, and in this spot. We suspected that Bakari wasn’t coy after all, and might be photobombing us all.

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A kitten that was asleep on that empty chair bailed as soon as I stopped to take this. It was quite a scene but I got half of it.

Songo Mnara

By Day 3 we were all pretty tired of walking in the brutal Tanzanian sun (at the hottest time of year) and so I didn’t take as many photos. The second island we visited was a full hour away by boat and contained more ruins from the same era.

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Some rich sultan’s house. Pretty nice if you imagine it in its day.

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Mating millipedes (it was actually Valentine’s Day).

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We walked through a murky mangrove swamp to get to our boat.

DSC_0366This was not our boat.

Jimbizi Beach

When we arrived at the hotel, I had a quick look down the beach. The sand extended for several hundred meters through a curved fishing community that ended with stone cliffs and houses atop them.

After our first day I was still in the mood to have a look around. The teens elected to stay online in their rooms instead of demonstrating a spirit of inquiry and exploring the area with me. (I found out later the internet didn’t work. 🤣) So I wandered up the beach and slowly had a look at some small fish laying out to dry in the sun, smelling that fishing village smell. I kept my camera down, and knew to just have a look around for the time being.

Eventually I came to a shack (an open wood structure with a corrugated metal roof) where a few men were sitting in the early afternoon shade. They were having a laugh and so I turned to look at them.

“Hello!” One of them called out.
“Habari!” I said in Kiswahili.
“Nzuri, Salaam”.
“Salaam.”
He waved me over. I didn’t want to tower over these men in a straw cowboy hat and aviator sunglasses so I asked if I could sit down. “Karibu.” The man waved for me to take the spot on the dirt next to him. I took off the hat and glasses.

We talked for a while and his English was pretty good. He asked some questions and I asked some questions, and I told him that my interest in the village was due to my own family fishing history in Canada. A few more men came and went (including the village drunk) and we had a few laughs. I told the man I wanted to take photos on the beach and he told me I would have no problems.

His name was Alabama. He welcomed me to his village and welcomed me to his office, which was the wood shack we were leaning against.

DSC_0301Alabama insisted that I also photograph the construction materials in front of him.

I proceeded with respect and caution along the beach, and took photos where I thought I could.

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Frying fish

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This guy with his boat. I wish I remembered his name.

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I had noticed there was a large gathering of people in front of some huts under a large tree. It was some sort of village meeting, and men stood up one at a time in the center of the crowd to have their say. At the periphery of the group, I stood back and watched the scene. In one of the shacks stood a man who wore neat clothing, taking notes on a piece of paper. Finally, he came to the center to talk and it was clear that he was some representative of a local authority.

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The meeting seemed tense, and as I found out later, the politician was telling the villagers they could no longer catch the little fish that I had seen drying and frying everywhere. He told them that the small fish were meant to be eaten by the bigger fish, and that the bigger fish were fair game. Nobody seemed happy about it. They were no longer allowed to use nets with smaller mesh and would have to use nets with mesh over a certain size.

As I stood there, a boy had taken interest in me. I was clearly an outsider. He floated around in front of me, looking at me, looking at my camera. After some minutes, I plucked my hat off my head and placed it on his. He smiled. I took my sunglasses off and put them on him. They slid down off his small nose. He pushed them back up and I took this photo.

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And those were the highlights of my trip to Kilwa. It was nice to get out of Dar es Salaam for a break. I did not miss the crows.

Here are some nice doves that were on the balcony next to mine.

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Posted by on February 18, 2019 in Life Abroad

 

The Southern Coast of Africa

A couple of years ago we moved to Africa and I haven’t posted much about it since then. We have taken quite a few trips and done a lot of amazing things in the meantime, but I never found the time to write about them.

I will have some reflections on living in Tanzania when we leave this summer, and will post more about that then. For now, I had to write about South Africa. This holiday season marked the second year in a row that we decided to go there, and for so many good reasons. So this post is about why we had to go back to South Africa for two years in a row.

During our recent trip to drive the garden route from Port Elizabeth to Stellenbosch, we enjoyed Christmas and New Year at the beginning of their summer. Tanzania gets quite hot and incredibly humid for the months of November – May, but South Africa is much further from the equator. It was mostly hot during the entire trip, but there was more variation in the coastal weather there. Plenty of midday breeze in the shade made drinking Sauvignon Blancs, Chenin Blancs, Pinotages and Rosés less burdensome. Hard winds kept us up for a few nights as it punched in from the ocean and howled between the buildings lining the coast.

Here is a bit from our recent trip to drive the Garden Route in South Africa.

Port Elizabeth

We landed here and checked into an Airbnb overlooking the beach.

The sand was soft and powdery like the sands of Zanzibar, but in a tan brown colour. It stretched far down the coastline and was filled with people for as far as the eye could see. Few played in the rugged ocean. We found out later that the temperature was not inviting.

We drove through town and admired the historical buildings. Dutch Colonialism is a dark and checkered story, but they did make some nice buildings. We passed through the outskirts of town and through an industrial area that looked like something out of the prologue to a science fiction novel. I was reminded once again that we love our plastic, and that it all goes somewhere.

From Port Elizabeth we went onto Addo Elephant National Park. You can easily make a day trip from PE to spend the day checking out zebras, African buffalos, elephants, warthogs and a bunch of different deer with big horns. We saw ostrich, tortoises and jackals too. It was a pretty busy day for sitings, although we didn’t catch a glimpse of the park’s lions. It wasn’t quite the Serengeti, but it was a great day trip for a family with kids. Just don’t get out of your car. This isn’t Disney World.

During our stay in the park we had some pretty dramatic moments with the pachyderms. Several of them were drinking at a muddy hole and we watched as they drank, cooled off with mud baths, played and then moved on. The mothers protected their young as they passed by the onlookers in the parked cars. It was pretty intimidating when you see their size, and know that they could flip the car if they didn’t like you. But they were the most peaceful animals you might ever see. They passed us by and munched their way into the thick brush on the other side of the road. None of them were in a hurry, and possibly accustomed to the gaping maws of onlookers.

It wasn’t the first time I’d seen elephants at a watering hole, but it’s something that never gets boring and we watched them for about an hour.

 

Knysna

I don’t have any photos of Knysna but it is definitely a charming town at the outset of the Garden Route. My wife had some friends on Thesen island, a waterbird habitat that also hosts several exclusive property developments. It is a very peaceful community, but every home here was built at sea level. I wondered what might happen to them in the coming decades. I would guess everyone has insurance!

Here we experienced our first Braai; what North Americans call a barbecue. We walked around outside the property at the marshy edges where the birds congregated. Our host was incredibly knowledgeable about the name of every bird, and could tell us a bit about each one. Of course I don’t remember any of it now, but here is a photo of one of these cool-looking birds. He did tell me that they appear a lot in Egyptian hieroglyphics.

George

The next day we were on the road again and stopped in George for lunch. Thanks to the miracle of the internet, I was able to choose a highly rated place online and found a charming cottage lunch at the Bay Leaf Café. In the back of the cottage, tables were set out around a fountain and garden. I don’t often take photos of food, but when my flapjacks with bananas, bacon and maple syrup arrived, I was in heaven. You can really tell when the person in the kitchen enjoys their work. And when we saw the fully-aproned chef speaking to some of the patrons, we knew that we had found the real deal. I would highly recommend this cafe if you’re in George!

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Gansbaai

Back on the road, we set out for Gansbaai. It was the longest stretch of our trip at about 4 hours, but I had decided to do something for a rush. I don’t normally seek adventure, but going into a cage which goes into the water with sharks milling about seemed like it was something I had to do. Especially if people keep killing them. I wanted to see the Great White Shark up close and personally, but unfortunately it was not to be. It was likely too early in the season and their migration pattern, but I did see plenty of beautiful copper sharks. When they bit at the bait, their eyes rolled back “like a doll’s eyes” and we got to see it up close from the cage.

Because the sharks were so wonderful I was not disappointed with the excursion. Of course it would have been ideal to see some Great Whites, but I also knew that it justified trying again in the future.

Stellenbosch

All right, this is the real reason we went to South Africa for a second Christmas in a row. We like wine. We like nature and great food. We also like wine.

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We got priced out of Franschhoek (another amazing town in the region that should be booked early) and so we went to Stellenbosh, slightly bigger and with easy access to the property we rented. It was a cottage on a wine estate, because that’s how you spend Christmas in the southern hemisphere, isn’t it?

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We visited a bunch of wineries, had some great lunches and met up with a friend we work with in Tanzania. We also drank wine. Turns out that South Africa has some of my favourite wines ever. Australia will also be our destination one day, for a similar reason.

The ducks go on a daily murderous rampage (or as they call it, a “parade”) at Vergenoegd Löw Wine Estate.

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Maria At Le Petite Ferme, probably our favourite place in the entire Western Cape.

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There were a lot of very relaxed days sitting around the cottage and watching the landscape. It made me so happy that we could have these experiences.

Cape Town

We had a hard time leaving the cottage, but the next stop was New Years in Cape Town.

This year we stayed in Sea Point, which turned out to be just another reason I absolutely love Cape Town. It had been our only destination last year, and it was so great that we had to come back. The more time I explore this city, the more I love it. The integration of cultures, the landscape, the people, the food, and the wine.

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Maria and Marion reunite for New Years in Cape Town

Last year when we visited, we visited the District Six museum, (and stayed on the fringe of the old District Six, which had been razed to build less-inspired buildings.) We visited Bo-Kapp, Company Gardens and the surrounding area, and walked throughout much of the city just to see it, though we were constantly reminded that we should be careful of certain areas. We generally keep a low profile and don’t go out late, so we had no incidents at any point on our trips.

There are endless things to do in Cape Town, but we mostly explored the Sea Point neighbourhood on this trip. It was local and had everything we needed. The more time I spent there, the more I knew I was not seeing the rest of the city. But Sea Point had so much of what I wanted (a re-imagined, winding food court with over a hundred beers on tap amongst endless choices of other food and drink at the Mojo Market). I was happy wandering around Sea Point for days between the beach, shops and places where I could do some writing on my eternally-incomplete novel. I didn’t take any photos here because I was too busy looking and doing.

It was a great holiday and I hope that at some point down the road we can return to the Western Cape, because along with places like Crete and my home Fogo Island, it is one of my favourite places on earth. It has everything I want and certainly something for you, too.

 
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Posted by on January 5, 2019 in Life Abroad

 

Here’s something new

Since arriving and settling in Dar es Salaam, my wife and I have joined the yacht club. That feels pretentious writing that, but it’s a great thing to be able to hang out and do things on the water here.

I started DJing there every month, and so here’s a mix of songs inspired by our nights sitting next to the ocean. (Hint: increase picture quality at bottom right to 720p to get better sound quality too.)

UPDATE 10/12/17

There is now a part two to this mix:

 
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Posted by on March 9, 2017 in Life Abroad

 

One off the Bucket List: Bavaria at Christmas

Many years ago, a German friend of mine told me how Christmas was her favourite time of year, and how Christmas was a very big deal in Germany. As she described it for me, I had images of villages lit up like the ones I’d seen on the mantel at home when I was young. She told me of Christmas markets, glühwein and gingerbread. It sounded like everything there was to love about Christmas, and so I filed it away as a “bucket list” thing to do.

For the six years my wife and I lived in Asia, we celebrated Christmas quietly, but it’s not as culturally celebrated or festive as it is in the west. We had to request Christmas day off as a personal day each year we worked there. There are many practicing Christians in Asia. For them I suppose it’s about the religious meaning, but in general Christmas isn’t shared as much as a cultural tradition or a marketing and consumerist bonanza as it is in the west. Or at least on the same scale as it is in the west.

Whether or not you celebrate Christmas, or are religious or not, you would know that Christmas is a tradition that invokes feelings of warmth and good cheer (if you can get past the shopping and ironic mean-spiritedness induced by seasonal stress.) It can typically be a time of great memories, just as any culture I know of has special traditions that bring them times of joy.

After being away from our traditional sense of the holiday for that long, we thought it might be a good time to go for gold and visit Bavaria at Christmas.

We looked at a map and chose our locations.

Munich

Where we wandered through the Christkindlmarkt and wafted from stall to stall.

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I had been to Munich before, but had never visited Dachau Concentration Camp. It felt like it was time to go. It was so completely wet and cold that day, and it was impossible to imagine what kind of horror life would have been there.


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Grainau

We chose Grainau because it was tucked way down in Bavarian Germany at the foot of the Alps. It seemed like it could be a cozy place to spend Christmas.

We left Munich in a rental. Christmas surprise! They gave us a BMW.

We were going to drive through the Alps in this:

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We stopped for a few photos in Starnberg, on Lake Starnberg, where Ludvig II mysteriously drowned. We would be crossing his path again soon.

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We got off the road again in Schlehdorf, because I thought the lake might give a nice view. It did. It was also the first time we’d seen the sun in days.

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When we got to Garmisch-Partenkirchen, I knew we were in for something special. It was a real-life Christmas village, covered in snow. By the time I took photos a couple of days later, most of the snow had melted away.

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We stayed in Grainau, a smaller town next to Garmisch-Partenkirchen, which was really just up the road. We also drove a little further down to Lake Eibsee. The mountain seen here is Germany’s highest peak, Zugspitz.

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Drove around, visited Wallgau. Bavaria!

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In Garmisch-Partenkirchen, we visited the Partnachklamm (Partnach Gorge).

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dsc_5582At the top of the gorge. We took the cable car down.

We took a day trip to visit Neuschwanstein Castle. What would a trip to Bavaria be without a castle visit? This was built by Ludwig II (referenced earlier at Lake Starnberg). He had spent a great deal of his family’s wealth on his Wagnerian obsession, and mysteriously died before the castle was finished. Many reviews I read of this castle said that because it was unfinished, it’s not worth touring the inside. Untrue! The tour was totally worth it and really fills out Ludwig’s vision and obsession. Book your tickets in advance and avoid a huge line.

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It was a cloudy day. I waited two hours for this little sliver of light. Then it covered over and the light never came back. When you come this far and think about a photo for so long, two hours wait is okay. Special thanks to my ever-patient wife who actually sat there for 90 minutes with me. (Please, no mention of ‘vemödalen‘.)

dsc_5649Hohenschwangau Castle

The trip to this part of Germany was one of the greatest trips my wife and I have ever taken. We would have loved to see more snow (being from Canada and currently living in Africa), but in every way the trip was absolutely amazing. Our visit to Grainau / Garmisch-Partenkirchen was our favourite part of the whole trip.

Austria

Austria was as great as Germany, and was like going a whole degree deeper into the culture of this part of the world. We stopped in Innsbruck for lunch, which was incredibly busy after Christmas / before New Year (a time called ‘Jul’, or ‘Interscotia’, as I recently found out.) The alpine range rose behind the city like a giant salt rock wall, and the architecture of the city indicated that we were in a place set apart from its neighbour to the north.

Now I had this brilliant idea (sarcasm should be noted) that we were going to drive through the Alps. Take the scenic route.

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So the last third of the trip was in darkness since we didn’t get there until the night time – which began around 5pm. However, the first part through the Alps was incredible. I felt like I was in a car ad. I did take a few photos as we drove through valleys, ski villages and around crazy bends that revealed massive panoramas, but I don’t feel any of them did the scenery any justice.

This was one of the only photos I took in Salzburg, in the Salzburg Cathedral. There was a lot to photograph, but there are times on vacation that I don’t want to carry the gear.

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dsc_5801Gingerbread!

Salzburg was a beautiful city, and although we didn’t visit a lot of the cultural landmarks, I would like to go back during a less touristy time and visit again. It was very congested at Christmas, and I can only imagine summer must be intense.

We had returned the rental car and booked a trip to Vienna by train. I was glad to have reserved seats as well, because the train was packed with people cramming the aisles. Everyone was traveling for New Year’s Eve.

Vienna

Vienna! The architecture and vastness of this city are dizzying. We walked for days and saw so much, yet visited so little of the city. This is a place worthy of the hype in its history and grandeur. It’s one of those European cities that you wish you could live in some dream.

dsc_5846The famous Café Central.

dsc_5880The Wiener Riesenrad

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The winter markets in Vienna were similar to the ones we’d seen in Munich, but with an Austrian distinction. We had also seen the winter markets in Salzburg and partly in Innsbruck. They sold a great assortment of hot drinks to walk you through the cold nights, which was a great way to spend New Year’s Eve.

We wandered through the wide, busy streets of the old city, drinking, eating, and dodging massive crowds. Before midnight, in one of the spots we had stopped for some glühwein, a waltz began to play over the loud speakers. Everyone around us suddenly started to dance. It was the perfect New Years in Vienna.

And so Austria, from its alpine spine to its historical city wonderlands (winter wonderlands, for us) was a great way to conclude the trip. If you love Christmas, you will love Germany and Austria!

 

(A final note – I was surprised at the amount of people who smoke in Germany and Austria. It’s a huge part of the culture there, perhaps even bigger than when we were in Asia. It was especially noticeable in Austria where people were smoking in most cafes, restaurants and bars. I read that the law is changing but that it’s been so slow because no one wants to enforce it. Really, Austria?)

 

 
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Posted by on January 9, 2017 in Life Abroad

 

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We Moved to Africa

Tanzania, to be specific.

We’ve just finished our first month of residency in Dar es Salaam. In the past month we’ve gone on safari, had a car accident, and found out what it was like to do banking in the 1950s. Yesterday I found myself stranded on a desert island.

I once thought I would probably never visit Africa, let alone live here. I’m not going to lie – I like comfort. As I get older, I find myself more willing to pay for the comforts that the first half of my life didn’t afford me. The thought of staying in a hostel now gives me shivers. I did all of that in my twenties, into my thirties. Those days are long over. And since I am increasingly fond of comfort, I would have never expected to agree to living in a place where the city roads are no better than the safari roads, nor where you should keep your car doors locked just to drive to work.

On the other hand, I have learned never to say never (I just really really hope I never have to stay in a hostel again.) We’ve lived in Mongolia, and before that, Korea. What? Korea is uncomfortable? It is for a guy with an intolerance to garlic. So I kept my mind open about Africa. Then we moved there.

Shortly after arriving, we visited Mikumi National Park. It’s said to be “about 4 hours from Dar” which really means it’s 9 hours. During our two-day visit, we were fortunate enough to see giraffes, monkeys, zebras, impalas, hippos, crocodiles, wildebeests, warthogs, and immeasurable counts of exotic birds.

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Then we saw the lions. You’re never guaranteed to see lions, but there were four. Three lying about 30 meters from the road, and one young male who was too lazy to leave the roadside – sleeping on his back in the grass with his belly to the sky. Perhaps he’d been rejected by the two females further away, or the male that accompanied them had bullied him out of the trio.

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Just after sunset on both nights, a pack of elephants came down to the hippo pool for a drink. The large crowd of tourists that had chattered fell silent as the elephants lined the water, stepping down into it, and used their trunks to fill their mouths. One hippo wasn’t having it. He slowly made his way toward the elephants in protest of sharing the water space, but by the time he got close enough, the elephants had drank their fill and were ready to move on.

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Life in Tanzania is not always safari. All of the game parks are far from the big city, and the biggest ones are the furthest. The Serengeti is a trip for a later time. Zanzibar is in October. Beyond that, we haven’t planned anything. Currently we’re still trying to adapt to life in Dar es Salaam. The traffic is bad as they say, because people drive as they wish, dodging potholes and speed bumps everywhere. There are no standards on vehicle emissions, so large black plumes of exhaust fill the streets. Masai men lurk around car parks, hoping to make a thousand shillings here and there (roughly 45 cents USD) by providing protection for cars from thieves, or to help people back out onto hazardous roads. You lock your doors when you drive. You never leave bags in sight. You quickly get used to these things. If you get too used to it, you get careless. Mongolia has prepared me to always be aware of my surroundings. I thought it had prepared me for bad roads but Tanzania is definitely worse. Who are worse drivers– the jury is still out on that one. Tanzanians are definitely a lot more relaxed though. The car accident mentioned earlier was probably an overstatement. My wife turned too sharply into a tree, pulling the bumper off. A few of us managed to pop it back on, and while the rental company noticed the scratches, they didn’t even mention it nor charge us for the damage. That definitely is unlike any rental experience I had in Canada!

There’s not much to say about the banking here. Imagine life before ATMs. All of that hassle is real.

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Life in Dar definitely has its sweet moments. As a matter of fact, I think once we have a car and have settled in more, the sweet moments will be a lot more frequent. We work with some great people. There is a much larger expat community here than in Mongolia, so that should make for a broader social scene. There are two beautiful islands within an hour of the city by boat. There is Zanzibar, Mafia and Pemba islands for longer breaks. There are the Seychelles and Mauritius for pure luxury, though they’re much further away.

Last weekend we visited Mbudya island, 30 minutes by car, 15 minutes by boat. Despite the attempted shakedown by the ramshackle restaurant there (I would recommend you bring your own food and drinks) it was a great time. All of that white sand / blue water you’d expect. I stupidly attached my Joby tripod to a banda there (grass hut) and didn’t listen to the little voice in my head that said “don’t do that…” Then I forgot it there.

The next day I was on the next island over, Bongoyo, on a school trip. One of the water taxi guys agreed to take me to Mbudya to check for my tripod, but I needed to get right back to Bongoyo. He brought me over and I had told him I’d be five minutes – but when I returned from the banda the boat was nowhere to be seen! A guy standing up on the beach saw my exasperation and said “he’ll be back later!” What did that even mean? When was ‘later’?

So I paced around the beach for forty minutes, waiting for a glimpse of a boat headed my way. I laughed at the irony of being impatient and pissed off about being on a tropical white beach with clear blue water lapping bits of coral up onto it. I stared off at the island that I was supposed to be on, thinking about how I told my coworkers I’d “be right back”. I hadn’t brought my phone or even water.

Around 40 minutes later I saw a wake somewhere in the distance. The boat was returning. By the time it reached me I was pissed off yet elated, and said nothing except to ask if this was the boat that would take me back to Bongoyo. It was. When I returned to the island, lunch was just being served.

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I won’t fool myself into thinking everything is marvelous here. Beach weekends, great people, mind blowing vacation prospects – those parts are all great. But this is not the reality of the majority of people here. We work with, for, and amongst great wealth in this developing country. And so with this in mind I still can’t shake the feeling that we are colonialists here. We are part of the long, living history of this place. And so it’s very much on the forefront of my mind to mind myself and our existences here. To give what we take.

I hope we stay for a while.

 
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Posted by on August 24, 2016 in Life Abroad

 

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