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
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.
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.
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
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
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
Our shared second class (hard sleeper) cabin with six bunks.
The bunk was about a meter wide, and true to its name it was a hard sleeper with very little padding. My head hurt from the high altitude of the Tibetan plateau and my back was aching from sleeping so much, but I was also fighting a cold and there wasn’t much else to do for 48 hours. The scenery did little to help pass the time. Hills became mountains and the vegetation grew sparse and brown. The occasional town or scenic lake could distract us from our misery for a minute, but eventually seeing our own reflection staring back at us in the window quickly reminded us of where we were for the next day and a half: a cramped little bunk in a rolling tin can. There were six of these bunks in our little shared compartment. The uppermost bunk required gymnastics to reach and later dismount. The top and middle bunks didn’t have enough headroom for me to sit up without hunching over. Even Sheri couldn’t sit up straight. Never have I felt more like cattle packed into a livestock car. Continue reading
I really don’t want to sound like I’m complaining, but after a couple of months on the road, I begin to notice things that are sometimes just a bit annoying. Sure, things are different in other countries, and I get that. But that certainly doesn’t mean it’s better (or worse), just different, and yet, it annoys me. Alright, maybe I am complaining, hence the title of my post.
I traveled through Asia about 15 years ago, and the last time I was in China was about 10 years ago. One thing still hasn’t changed in all that time. Hotels don’t believe in wash cloths. I know this because I have to bring my own. Now this would be fine if the soap they provided would actually lather, but it doesn’t. And it’s not a matter of the price level of the hotel, even the high-end resorts don’t provide wash cloths. Yes, it’s not a big deal, but I’m just wondering, why? Continue reading
Sheri and I have been on quite a few adventures and taken all sorts of different transportation—from a horse-drawn cart in Bagan to 150 kph bullet trains in Malaysia. One never knows what the transportation will be like. It could be very pleasant. It could be extremely uncomfortable. Occasionally, the ride is thrilling. Our road trip through New Zealand, our tuk tuk ride in Cambodia and our motorbike ride in Chiang Mai come to mind. However, I was confident in my own driving abilities or those of our driver.
Myanmar, by our standards, is definitely third-world. In the more remote areas, such as Bagan or Inle Lake, it’s what makes it charming. In these areas, roads barely qualify as such. Sure, they’re paved, but that’s where the similarities end. They are bumpy, dusty, full of obstacles and often dangerous in the mountainous areas. There are no lane markings, no guard rails, and no signage. I’ve driven on gravel forest service roads that are better than some of the roads in Myanmar. However, when I’m driving, I maintained an appropriate speed for the road conditions. Continue reading