Quick Tip: Don’t bother with a Kenya e-Visa

We knew that we needed a visa to enter Kenya, so I figured that I would make it easy and use the e-Visa website. That assumption was so wrong. First of all, the form asks a lot of very personal questions; questions that could be used to steal your identity if it fell into the wrong hands. After all, Kenya isn’t too far from Nigeria, where all those phishing emails originate. Next, the application process is extremely convoluted. To apply for both Sheri and me, required creating separate accounts on their website. Payments weren’t straightforward, requiring several acknowledgment steps along with a third-party payment step. Finally, after all that work, it doesn’t seem to actually work. My username/password didn’t work, requiring me to reset the password a couple of times. After payment, their system just shows the application as pending and never acknowledges that a payment was made. Checking with the credit card company confirms that a payment was made, but still no visa.

On the other hand getting a visa on arrival is a much more straightforward process and, depending on the number of people on the flight, doesn’t take nearly as long as the online process. There are fewer questions on the form, and the cost is the same. I would suggest skipping the e-Visa and just applying for one on arrival. Be aware that visa on arrival is only available at major airports and not for overland border crossings.

Leaving Africa is a relief 

We arrived in Istanbul this morning after leaving our hotel in Nairobi at 2 a.m. It seems that every flight we had in Africa was in the middle of the night or required us to lose sleep somehow. As if that wasn’t bad enough, dealing with the morons at the airport was exhausting. Explaining that we were not going to the U.S. via Istanbul and that Istanbul was our final destination just didn’t seem to register with them. Trying to explain that we were traveling for 8 more months didn’t help. As a matter of fact, we’re pretty sure that only brings out the green monster of envy. Airport officials just kept asking for our onward ticket, but we don’t have one since we haven’t decided how we’re leaving yet.

Our entry into Kenya was equally frustrating, trying to reason with immigration officials who wouldn’t correct an easy mistake that ended up costing us an extra $29. Dealing with African airports and airlines makes leaving that continent a welcome departure. Even with all the turmoil happening there, we couldn’t wait to get to Turkey.  Continue reading

The New Normal

It’s said that it takes a month to make something a normal part of your routine, but in the case of travel, it has definitely taken longer for us to adjust to our new normal. Perhaps it’s because our routine is not so routine. Each day brings something new that we have not yet encountered and that has become a normal part of our lives too.

Our typical day is filled with many mundane chores and isn’t nearly as glamorous and exciting as my Facebook photos and other blog posts would suggest. Our days fall into different categories: travel day, down day, tourist day. Depending on the quality of the internet connection, here’s what we do with our days (not always in this order): Continue reading

The Worst Airline in the World!

70 years of customer dissatisfaction. This airline is an embarrassment to Ethiopia and the entire African continent.

70 years of customer dissatisfaction. This airline is an embarrassment to Ethiopia and the entire African continent.

“No Problem.” I really began to hate those two words.

Let’s just start by saying that after flying 35 flights so far on our around-the-world trip, Ethiopian Airlines is by far the worst airline in the world and Addis Ababa airport is THE worst airport in the world. Our original flight reservations were on South African Airline, but without explanation, it was changed to Ethiopian Airlines. Not only did the airline route us with a 27 hour layover, they wanted to charge us an additional $70 per person to accommodate us overnight outside of the airport for an issue they created. We told them we already had a paid hotel room and only needed a transit visa, but were told they couldn’t issue just the transit visa. We finally had to go to immigration and buy a standard visa costing $50/person. At least it was twenty dollars cheaper than the airline arrangements.

It’s an airline operating first-world technology with a third-world mentality.

Continue reading

Our Tanzania Self-drive Safari

We decided to do a self-drive safari of Tanzania after I read all the reviews and blogs of other people’s self-drive experience. I figured that it wouldn’t be as difficult as many people have made it out to be, however, I was basing that on just the driving experience. If you haven’t already read my other post, Should I Do a Self-Drive Safari, you should read about the actual driving experience. What I didn’t take into account were the many other factors that come into play when dealing with a third-world country.

Vehicle Rental

imageWhenever we told any of the locals that we planned to drive ourselves to the Serengeti, we received surprised looks, followed by concern. A couple of people said we weren’t allowed to go into the national parks without a guide or driver. Don’t believe them. A couple of places where we inquired about renting a 4-wheel drive, quoted us a much higher price, up to 50% more, for self-driving than with a driver. Even many of the people commenting on TripAdvisor and Lonely Planet warn against driving yourself. These are all scare tactics meant to encourage using tour operators. You can rent a vehicle and you can enter the park without a guide. It will cost you quite a bit for the 4WD rental, especially with places that don’t specialize in it.

We went with Arusha Fortes, because they have been renting self-drive vehicles for over 30 years. They were very good at explaining a lot of the complexities of entering the national parks. Their vehicles were well equipped with two spare tires, a high-lift jack, and pop-up rooftop tent. For our convenience, they let us use their Ngorongoro Park card, for a $20 convenience fee, preloaded with enough to cover our costs. The vehicle was tough and we drove it like the locals. Everything on the vehicle survived the journey, but some things were a little worse for the wear. The parking brake cable seemed to stretch out, the brakes squeaked something awful for a while after sitting in the mud for 3+ hours. All the bumpy roads also took their toll. The high-lift jack lost a very essential pivot pin, making it almost unusable. And a metal door alignment stop simply sheered off. Continue reading

Should I Do a Self-drive Safari?

Our self-drive safari was an incredibly unique and rewarding experience, though a bit frightening at times and not without a few challenges. Depending on why you want to self-drive, it may be worth doing, but it’s a lot of work and definitely not for everybody. Let’s weigh the pros and cons.

The road out of the Ngorongoro Crater is one of the few paved roads inside the park.

The road out of the Ngorongoro Crater is one of the few paved roads inside the park.

If you have already been on an African safari and seen most of the animals but felt like you wanted to be more in control, then you might enjoy the self-drive experience. You can determine your own route and what you’d like to see. You can delight in the freedom of not being on anyone else’s schedule. Leave anytime you want in the morning and return to camp whenever you wish. If you’re a photographer, you can stop at any time for photos, move to just the right position that you want, spend as much or as little time watching animals. If you wish, you can follow the crowds, or you can go to places less traveled to just enjoy the view. And while you’re waiting, the animals may just come to you. And finally, you can have the rewarding experience of being self-sufficient. Continue reading

A Warning to Trekkers

Initially, I wasn’t going to write about our trekking experience in Nepal. I wasn’t happy about many aspects of our porter, but I was willing to chalk it up to the luck of the draw when hiring a someone without references upon landing in Lukla. That is until our porter, Karma Sherpa, sent Sheri a particularly nasty message on Facebook. It was difficult to understand because his English is atrocious, but we managed to get the gist of it. In it he makes some reference to the Japanese trekker who died just days after we started our trek, further saying that the Japanese and Chinese are not strong and that Sherpas in the mountains are strong. He goes on to say he doesn’t like Chinese or Japanese and he didn’t think we were good tourists because he says we didn’t tip him. He also included a graphic of a person with a fish head which is a derogatory depiction for Japanese, because they eat a lot of fish. In response to his rather racist message to us, I’m posting his Facebook page and photo here so that others don’t make the mistake of hiring him upon arrival to Lukla. Continue reading

The Chinafication of Tibet

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A brief moment of levity between two monks

It seemed innocent enough—two monks talking and laughing with an Asian foreigner, asking questions in broken English about me and the U.S. However, the tone quickly changed as they exchanged some furtive glances and motioned for me to follow them. We found ourselves in a side street off the main road through Lhasa, sitting on some steps in front of what appeared to be an older abandoned residence constructed in the Tibetan style. Satisfied with my answers about the U.S. and that I wasn’t a Chinese spy, they proceeded to ask me about news of the Dalai Lama. Since I hadn’t been keeping up on his whereabouts, I told them he had written some books while in exile in India and then reached into my daypack and pulled out photos of him. Their smiles quickly changed as they looked around wondering if they might be watched, slipped the photos into their burgundy robes, and thanked me profusely. One of the monks reached into his man-purse and offered me a blessing wrapped in a prayer flag. Accepting with both hands, I bowed slightly out of respect. He saw the journal I was holding, pulled out a pen and motioned to see it. Handing it to him, he wrote a street address in both Chinese and English. I wrote my email address on another slip of paper and gave it to him. We never contacted each other again even though I considered it many times. I snapped a picture of the two of them, exchanged goodbyes, and went our separate directions. The entire interaction took less than 15 minutes, but the experience still stays with me nearly 16 years later. That was Tibet in 2000, decades after the Chinese occupation, but before the revolts in 2009. Some things such as the spying on the Tibetan people haven’t changed. Many other aspects have changed dramatically. Continue reading