Best of Africa

7 02 2009

Posted by: Laura

Travel dates: 6.30.08- 10.25.08

If you tell someone in the US that you’re traveling to Africa, they are generally intrigued and apprehensive at the same time. Aren’t there children walking around with AK 47s? Aren’t there strange rare diseases? What about the wars?

After traveling Southern and Eastern Africa for almost four months, I can tell you that I saw more guns in the country of Guatemala than I did in the continent of Africa. In fact, a group of black South Africans was surprised to learn that all Americans didn’t walk around carrying guns. They had gotten this idea from American movies. To tell you the truth, most of the Africans we met couldn’t afford to buy a gun. With the exception of Cape Town and Nairobi, I felt completely safe walking around all of the towns and cities we visited.

As for our health, the travelers diarrhea that plagued us in Latin America was gone during our African travels. I think people forget that strange and rare diseases are strange and RARE.

While I would not recommend going to Democratic Republic of Congo, Chad, Somalia, or Zimbabwe right now, the surrounding countries are peaceful. The situation is not dissimilar to Panama. The majority of the country is fine, but I wouldn’t travel through the Darien Gap in eastern Panama, which is held by Columbian rebel groups.

Africa has some of the most exotic and amazing experiences of our trip. I have ridden an ostrich, held a baby cheetah, bungee jumped off the world’s highest bungee, slept on the floor of a mud hut, hand fed wild hyenas, kissed a giraffe, pet a baby elephant, and stood 30 feet from a silverback mountain gorilla. I have met some of the most hospitable and amazing people. Children would come up and hold our hands just to walk with us. Adults would ask us where we were from and how we liked their country. Just when I thought they would try to sell me something, they would say “Welcome to my country.”

While travel in this country is rough, a few flights between cities can alleviate most of the headaches we encountered. So I highly recommend that you visit the following places.

Best of Southern and Eastern Africa (South Africa, Mozambique, Malawi, Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia)

Best City: Cape Town, South Africa. Take a cable car up Table mountain for views of the bay, eat at fantastic restaurants, and visit the aquarium. Just don’t walk around at night.

Best Town: Zanzibar, Tanzania. Many of you will get Christmas presents from Zanzibar because it sounds cool to give someone a present from an island called Zanzibar and because they have great shopping. One of the highlights of the trip was feeding spinach to a 100 year old giant tortuous. If you need an exotic vacation, this is the place to go.

Best Meal: Restaurant Addis in Cape, Cape Town, South Africa. This restaurant was so good that we decided to add the country of Ethiopia to our itinerary. It’s not often you can say that about a restaurant.

Best Local Food: Ethiopia. Injera is a like a sourdough pancake. You order small side dishes of amazing spices and meats. You pour these on your injera, and tear off small pieces of the bread and scoop the food into your mouth. Now, I don’t mind paying for a good meal and I really don’t mind paying $1.50 for a fantastic meal.

Best Coffee: Ethiopia. In the late 1800’s the Italians tried to colonize Ethiopia, but they were defeated. Thus, the Italians, the best coffee makers in the world, came into contact with the Ethiopians, the best coffee growers in the world. The result was the best cappuccino I’ve ever had. We visited Cafe Tamoca in Addis Ababa four times every day for coffee.

Best Beach: Kendwa Beach, Zanzibar Island, Tanzania. The water is so turquoise and the sand is so white that you wouldn’t have to Photoshop your pictures for post cards.

Most Beautiful Country: Uganda. After looking at a flat expanse of dust for two months, Uganda the lush green country of Uganda is a welcome change. Lake Bunyoni is like a scene out of Lord of the Rings.

Most Beautiful Women: Ethiopia. Alissa, don’t ever let John Michael visit this country.

Best Animal Adventure (Chris’ pick): tracking Gorillas in Uganda. Bushwhacking through the Impenetrable forest is slow going, but standing 30 feet from a 450 pound gorilla is incredible.

Best Animal Adventure (Laura’s pick): safari in Ngorongoro Crater, Tanzania. Elephants, lions, buffaloes, giraffes, zebras, hippos, gazelles. It’s expensive, but worth it.

Best Animals in Captivity (Chris’s pick): Baby cheetah in Nairobi Animal Orphanage. Don’t miss the pictures of Chris holding this tiny ball of fuzz.

Best Animals in captivity (Laura’s pick): Giant Tortuous, Zanzibar, Tanzania. Turtles may move at the speed of molasses, but if you have a stalk of spinach in your hand, they will run you down.

Favorite Cultural Experience: Ekwendeni, Malawi. If you have friends in the peace corps, go visit them for the most authentic cultural experience you will find.

Best Place You’ve Never Head Of: Ilha de Mozambique. Guidebooks always talk about “off the beaten path.” Well, we’re still not sure if there is a road between Beira and Nampula in Mozambique. We had to take a plane flight. The island makes you feel like you’ve gone back in time. This is one of Chris’ favorite places in all of our travels.

Friendliest People: Ilha de Mozambique. You will leave Ilha with ten new best friends, fifty new pen pals, and wanting to adopt all the children on the island.

Most Bizarre Experience: Feeding Wild Hyenas in Harar, Ethiopia. Hyenas have the best endurance of any animals in the savanna. They can run for miles without tiring. They have the strongest jaws, which can bite through bones. And we fed them strips of meat with our hands.

Best Adrenaline Rush: World’s Highest Bungee Jump, South Africa. If you’re gonna jump off a bridge with an elastic cord tied to your feet, you might as well do it off the highest bungee jump in the world. I screamed all th way down.

WORST OF AFRICA

Worst Roads: Kenya. Prepare to spend hours bumping down unpaved dirt roads with pot holes the size of the Grand Canyon.

Worst Hassle: Arusha, Tanzania. We had two guys follow us around for two hours trying to sell us a tour. We tried to eat lunch so that they wouldn’t follow us, but they waited for us outside the restaurant. We did not use their company.

Worst Food: everywhere except Ethiopia. While there are some great restaurants in major cities, most towns have restaurants where you pick from: rice and beans, rice and greens, rice and chicken, beans and chicken, or rice, beans, and greens.

Most Emotionally Wearing: Ethiopia. You have to bargain in Ethiopia for everything from the room where to sleep to the bottle of water you drink. Everyone is trying to make a buck off you. Many people will start bargaining at outrageous and insulting prices. If you walk off, they follow you down the street.

Toughest Place to Travel: Northern Mozambique. Fly or rent a car.

Most Overrated: Lake Malawi. The lake is beautiful, but I have come to learn when someone describes a place as “chill” that means the only thing they did when they visited was smoke.

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Best Of South America

18 09 2008

Posted by: Laura

Travel dates: 3.11.08- 6.29.08

South America is a huge continent. We had to add two more weeks to our itinerary to accommodate all of our travel time. But after spending 3.5 months in four countries (Peru, Argentina, Bolivia, and Chile), we got a good feel for each country. We had more transit time than in Central America, but the sites are much more impressive. If you like outdoor adventures, this is the place for your next vacation. While we are obsessed with Argentina, if you only have a week or two, Peru has the most activities and sites per square mile. So without further ado, we would like to award the following…

BEST OF SOUTH AMERICA (Peru, Bolivia, Argentina, and Chile)

Best City: Buenos Aires, Argentina. Great food, great culture, great people. Seriously, we can’t say enough good things about this country.

Best Town: Bariloche, Argentina. A gourmet chocolate shop on every corner, great restaurants with fish and wild game, affordable leather products, not to mention a magnificent lake surrounded by mountains. It’s a good thing we left Argentina when we did, or we might have stayed for ski season.

Best Local Food: Empanadas in Salta, Argentina. Some of you may be wondering why Chris did not take this opportunity to once again talk about his obsession with steak, killing animals, eating animals, etc. But we discussed it and decided that don’t consider steak a “local” food. Empanadas were a staple for us. Even the French would be impressed with these chicken, beef, or veggie filled pastries.

Best Meal (Laura’s Choice): Reinata Nigiri, a local fish from Valparaiso, Chile. I was going into sushi withdrawal after not eating sushi for 5 months.

Best Meal (Chris’ Choice): Beef Tenderloin at Desnivel Restaurant in Buenos Aires, Argentina. The steak is better than Shapley’s (which is why we at there 5 nights in a row).

Best Drive: The bus ride from Villarica, Chile to Bariloche, Argentina. Riding in the top of a double decker (air conditioned) bus is a great way to see this at sunset.

Best Ruins: Machu Picchu, Peru. Just go there. Nothing else compares to it.

Friendliest People: Argentina. If you stand on the street corner looking at a map for longer than 60 seconds, someone will come and ask you if you need help. If you meet an Argentinian while traveling, they might even invite you home, cook you dinner, and do everything they can to make sure you enjoy their country.

Best Outdoor Experience: Torres del Paine National Park, Chile. This was Chris´ favorite experience of the whole trip. Tommy, have you bought a ticket yet?

Most Bizarre Experience: San Pedro Prison, La Paz, Bolivia. Listen kids: Don’t do drugs.

Best Transit: Biking down the World’s Most Dangerous Road, Coroico, Bolivia. Strap on a helmet and don’t look over the edge (for too long).

Best Adreneline Rush: Sandboarding in Huachachina, Peru. If they have now let BMX biking into the Olympics, sandboarding is not far behind.

Best Market: San Telmo Market, Buenos Aires, Argentina. This outdoor market stretches through ten city blocks. You can find locally made crafts and antiques. It is a great place to buy presents, you just have to hope that the Argentinian mail system will get it home.

Best Place You’ve Never Heard Of: Huaraz, Peru. Glacier lakes, green hills, and full of Incan culture. The local farmers will offer to teach you Quetchua.

Favorite Hostel: Hostel Royal Frankenstein (and owner Ludwig): Cuzco, Peru. We normally don´t have this category, but Ludwig gets the Hostel Owner of the Year award.

And once again, these wouldn’t be the Best of without the…

WORST OF SOUTH AMERICA (Peru, Bolivia, Argentina, and Chile)

Worst Town: Oruro, Bolivia. Just because a travel agency says they are going to book a bus for you doesn´t mean they will do it. Lesson learned: Book your tickets yourself, so you don´t have to take a later bus and then get stuck here.

Worst Border Crossing: Bolivia. Chris almost punched the bus driver who tried to leave us at the border and drive off with all our stuff.

Worst Coffee: Chile. Cappuccinos here come with whipped cream and chocolate sprinkles. I´m not kidding. We miss Guatemala.

Most Overrated: Bolivia. Not the Backpacker´s mecca we thought it would be. It´s cheap, but price isn´t everything.

Click Here for Pictures of South America on our Flickr Site***





And the Winner Is…

5 04 2008

Posted by: Chris and Laura

We have decided to put our Central America (and Mexico) highlights in one list. We have just spent 3 months researching your next vacation.  Central America is actually much easier to get to than you think (If you´re one of our readers in the South, it took us 3.5 hours of flying to get from Mississippi to Mexico and it´s cheaper than flying to California).

THE BEST OF CENTRAL AMERICA AND MEXICO

Best Beach: Tulum, Mexico. Beautiful white sand, turquoise water, Mayan ruins, what more could you want.

Best City: Antigua, Guatemala. Maybe we´re biased because we spent four weeks here, but it´s a beautiful colonial city with cobblestone streets, great restaurants, and a volcano.

Best Coffee: Fernando´s Café in Antigua, Guatemala. Best coffee period.

Best Local Food: Ceviche in Puerto Escondido, Mexico. Alissa, you have to go there.

Best Meal: Casa Vecchia in Antigua, Guatemala. An Italian restaurant with the most amazing Gnocchi and Tirimisu we have ever eaten.

Friendliest Country: El Salvador. You make friends every time you get lost.

Best Journey: Corcovado, Costa Rica. Butterflies the size of birds, spiders as big as your hand, and dragonflies as big as your head. Not to mention Monkeys, Anteaters, Mccaws, Tapirs, Coatis. I didn´t even know what a tapir or coati was until I saw them in the jungle.

Best Market: San Cristobal, Mexico. In this mountain town you can find spices, jewelry, leather goods, and other textiles.

Best Museum: Anthropology Museum in Mexico City, Mexico. Everything Mel Gibson should have studied before he made the movie Apocolypto and had the Mayans meeting the Spanish.

Best Mayan Ruins: Palenque, Mexico. Spend the night in a bungalow in the jungle, then hike to Temple of Inscriptions.

Best Place You´ve Never Heard Of: Playa Zonte, El Salvador. Due to the lack of tourism to the country you get your own private black sand beaches, and good surfing.

And, these wouldn´t be the best if there also weren´t the worst of…

Worst Beach: Playa Tamarindo, Costa Rica. Go to Florida.

Worst Boarder Crossing: Northern Belize. One day a year they have tax free shopping. Don´t try to cross on that day. You´ll stand in a mob of people for 2 hours with a heavy backpack.

Worst Town: Chichicastenango, Guatemala. Our guidebook described it as a quaint town nestled in the mountains. They lied.