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
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
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
Our new friends at the local hotel (we discovered that hotels are actually taverns and motels are places to sleep) eagerly welcomed us like long lost cousins to the family. Pretty soon, Shona, behind the bar, and her daughter, Kalani, were trying to get us to sing karaoke and everyone was telling us off-color jokes. It was all good-natured fun and felt like we had stepped onto the set of a Crocodile Dundee movie. Some people went by a nickname and they’ve had the nickname so long, people don’t even remember their real name. There was Shakespeare, Winky (Peter), and Grub (Grub). Sheri became besties with Ona (Fiona), who owned the store and petrol station next door. Soon she was joking with Sheri and urging us to go see a sheep shearing, because that’s where Grub was working tomorrow. Everyone was fairly drunk, so we took it all as pleasant banter brought about by alcohol. 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