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Author Archives: Christopher Dwyer

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‘.)

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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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Cuba!

My wife Maria loves living in Mongolia, but she craves the heat of the tropics. This might be a deciding factor in where we live next year.

This summer we decided to make a dash to Cuba. Cuba in the summertime – tropical indeed. The humidity was so high that you couldn’t find me during the hours of 12pm – 3pm – I was hiding out in the air conditioned hotel room. Studying math. But that’ s a whole other story.

We visited Havana, Viñales and Jibacoa – and here are some photos that came out of it. As in my previous post, I’ve saved my favourite shots for my photography site.

Havana


Viñales (find out more about it here.)

Jibacoa

Where finally, all we did was lay on the beach (study math) and watch lizards eat ants.


To see the best photos from Cuba, CLICK HERE!

I hope you had a great summer as well. 🙂

 
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Posted by on August 30, 2015 in Life Abroad

 

Still in Mongolia… and a few other places.

Hello!

I haven’t posted in a while since I’ve been living a relatively low profile here in Mongolia. I did do some traveling this summer – throughout Canada, Cuba and Mongolia. To be honest, I didn’t take a lot of photos in Canada this time.

I also upgraded my gear this past summer. I managed to acquire a set of my dream lenses – for those who care here’s the list:

50mm f/1.4D
16-35mm f/4G ED VR
105mm f/2D
70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II
And to ensure that the switch from DX to FX wasn’t too jarring:
Teleconverter TC-17E II

And the new FX body:
The D610

A little extreme, maybe?

Admittedly it’s been a little overwhelming and I usually only carry two of the lenses at any given time. Whilst I only really used the 50mm and the 105mm for the Cuba shots (the Mongolia photos were with my old D7000 body and 18-55mm + 55-200mm lenses), I am looking forward to some more studio time with the new lenses to really get acquainted with them.

Anyway, enough shop talk. Here are some photos from this past summer:

These were taken in Mongolia in the spring. Special thanks to a superb model, Enkhjin.

In June we took an 8-day trek around the Mongolian countryside, namely Arkhangai Province.

It was really quite a fulfilling trip despite long days of high speed offroad driving, sleeping on grass, and going without a shower (hey, I’m a city boy). Sometimes it felt as if we were driving to the edges of the earth, charted only by the nomadic people whom we encountered. Although every aspect of Mongolia that we had experienced until then was certainly the “real Mongolia”, nothing felt more genuine than the trip we took far beyond the reaches of electricity, running water, or any kind of supplies that needed to be brought with us.

For the next part of the trip we stayed with family members of our host, all of whom were traditional nomads. First was his cousin, a horseman.

Even though we would be leaving the country before Naadam began in July, we’d heard that there would be a “pre-Naadam” happening within proximity in 2 days. (“within proximity” in this region was 3 hours of driving.) We left early that morning and arrived JUST as the horse race was beginning. The race is held between boy jockeys since they are less of a burden on the horses.

This gallery is nearly empty but you can find many more images on my website here.

Finally, for the last leg of the trip we stayed with our host’s cousin and her family. It was quite an ordeal to locate them – we had a general region and once we reached that region, we asked the nomads we came across where we might find them. “Further over that hill” and “past the next hill but before the river.” We were low on gas and the stretches of land were vast. We had overshot their site by quite a few kilometers, and only realized it when we came to the edge of a cliff. Doubling back, we were able to find them, and spent an enjoyable evening hanging out by the river and listening to the dogs barking as they literally kept the wolves at bay.


These are just a few sample photos of our journey – if you’d like to see more you can do so by visiting here.

We will be in Mongolia for another year, and I doubt we’ll get a chance to travel like this again. If you’re the kind of person who can handle roughing it nomadic style, you will find a trek through the Mongolian countryside to be incredibly fulfilling. In the travels we have undertaken in the past 5 years, this definitely ranks highly on what I would consider the “real experience.” Mongolia in many ways still remains the vast, untamed northern frontier.

Next up: Cuba

 
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Posted by on August 30, 2015 in Life Abroad

 

Summer of 2014 – Greece (Part 2 of 2)

I had been to Greece 11 years ago, and had many fond memories of azure waters, idyllic beaches, and late night parties.

When I had previously visited Santorini, it was a busy place, mostly with honeymooners and jet setters who were the kind of people whose stories would be interesting to know. There was a magic. When I had to leave, I’d felt that I had left a piece of my heart there, and vowed that I’d be back for it one day with someone I loved.

This trip to Greece was a great chance to see more of the islands, to revisit Santorini, and to take my wife Maria with me on the journey.

Crete

Since I had never visited Crete and had heard many great things, we decided to go there first – the furthest point south that we would go, with the plan to take ferries to various islands north and end our trip in Athens.

We started in Chania on the northeast side of the island.

The Venetian harbor in Chania

The Venetian harbor in Chania

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Boat Builders in the old port

Boat Builders in the old port

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Hiking from Sfakia to Loutro.

Hiking from Sfakia to Loutro.

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A church in Rethymno

A church in Rethymno

Canonballs in the Rethymno fortezza.

Canonballs in the Rethymno fortezza.

From the museum in Heraklion

From the museum in Heraklion

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in Heraklion

in Heraklion

Santorini

We moved on to Santorini, which I was really, really anticipating. In the past 11 years, I had seen it endlessly featured on TV shows, in magazines, and on Pinterest, and all I wanted was to take Maria there.

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This was our cave room on the caldera. Kitchenette and bathroom on the left, bedroom in the back.

view from the room

view from the room

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Beautiful island, right? So beautiful that everyone wants to go there, and supply and demand have taken its toll. The prices have increased, but more significantly, the foot traffic has gotten way out of control. At any given time there are 3 large cruise ships in the harbor, dumping package tourists who want their fridge magnets into Santorini’s tiny little alleys by the thousands. It just doesn’t work. It wasn’t charming and idyllic, it was overstuffed and obnoxious. I regret having this experience after my first time there, but that’s what happens when a place is as beautiful and as featured as Santorini. Everyone wants their part of it.

I would still recommend anyone go there, but do not go during peak tourist season. I’ve been told that May or September are the best times, and if I ever go back, it will be during one of these months. Or avoid the island altogether. The Cyclades have many beautiful islands, many of which are not overpacked because they haven’t been featured on a travel show.

Ios

Ios has long been considered the party island, since a bunch of hippies hijacked one of the large beaches back when hippies hijacked things. Now it’s largely visited by the young crowd who can get cheap flights from European destinations and come party like it’s spring break. We really didn’t see much of that though, since we stayed in a place on the other side of town, and didn’t really stay out late. Ios is the kind of island where there can be a giant party happening over there, while you enjoy your infinity pool and cocktail over here.

The island has endless gorgeous beaches – many of which have only a few (or no) people on them. You’d need to rent a boat, which is easy enough to do if you’re brave enough to skirt the island’s rocks and bumpy waves. It wasn’t that hard, but if you freak out easily, I wouldn’t recommend it.

It was well worth it for us. We had a full day of exploring beaches, and it made for my favorite day of the whole trip.

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Magganari Beach, on the south point of the island. No parties, and the best beach I saw on this trip.

Magganari Beach, on the south point of the island. No parties, and the best beach I saw on this trip.

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Naxos

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Naxos was a beautiful island, and certainly less “aggressively touristed” than Santorini or Ios. We had originally planned to visit Mykonos next, but after what I had seen in Santorini, we decided to skip it altogether.

We went in the complete opposite direction of what foreign tourists would do, and went to Syros instead.

Syros

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It was in Syros (and perhaps Hora Sfakia in Crete) that had made us feel like we had gotten “the real Greek”. The trip had started out a little hectic with trying to beat tourist mobs, but it certainly mellowed out toward the end of our trip. Until Athens!

Athens

Naturally Athens is a giant tourist hub, but we just had a few things do there before we returned home to Mongolia.

Like you know, see the Acropolis.

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It’s not easy to get a picture of the parthanon without someone standing in front of it…

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The Temple of Athena


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Odeon
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When I had first visited Greece years ago, I had visited this little ouzo bar that had seemed tucked away off the beaten path. But it had never been off the beaten path, it had been in the middle of Plaka, one of the oldest and liveliest neighborhoods of Athens for thousands of years.

As I walked by and saw it, I gasped that I had found it again. It was what had made me first fall in love with Greece, and made me fall in love with ouzo. The little bar is called Brettos, and though the owners weren’t terribly friendly, they were still gracious enough to let me snap a few photos.

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And that was our trip.

Hope you enjoyed!

 
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Posted by on August 19, 2014 in Life Abroad

 

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