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.
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.
Whenever 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
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
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
When we left the coast of Queensland, I had no idea that we would be going on the most memorable part of our road trip in Australia. You might want to read about the driving challenges we faced, as that would be a good preface to this story. Our road trip was fairly uneventful until we left Townsville after returning from Magnetic Island. Google maps had been taking us on scenic routes, often taking us on circuitous secondary or residential streets when a more direct route existed. More often than not, this resulted in more traffic congestion and longer travel times. Sometimes, it would be costly when Google would direct me onto a tollway. Continue reading
Traveling around the U.S., Australia, and New Zealand by camper van is becoming increasingly popular. We just spent three weeks driving 8,164 kilometers around Australia by camper van. I found that the company you select for your vehicle can really make or break your self-driving adventure. There are lots of companies in Australia that rent camper vans and what I failed to do was read some reviews on the company I selected. If I had, I probably wouldn’t have used the place we did. We rented from Hippie and received an Apollo camper van. Apollo is just one of several brands from the same company, including, Star, Cheapa Cheapa, Hippie and their manufacturing and sales brand Talvor. All of these companies have received more complaints than good reviews on web various sites except their own. It began with the whole process of picking up the camper. Continue reading
I’m sorry to report that Sheri and I didn’t see any kiwis in the wild…at least not of the bird variety. What we did see was gorgeous landscapes, much of which is quite unique to this part of the world. Throw in some movie sets, a few good hikes, a great road trip, and it’s easy to see why people want to live here. In retrospect, we should have spent more time here, but New Zealand is expensive and more time meant higher overall costs. The time we did spend here was already budget busting, but I think we saw and did quite a lot for what it cost us. I foresee another trip in the future to see all that we missed this time around.
Our New Zealand adventure was only 7 full days when you factor in the travel days. We only spent 2 full days on the North Island and 5 full days on the South Island. To see and do as much as possible, we decided to rent a car instead of relying on public transportation; more about driving later. Here’s what we did with the limited time we had. Continue reading