The Last Tourists in Africa ~ the effects of Covid and a day at Kruger National Park

D808BEDE-9628-4B4C-9F28-7CC708E5D3ABThis post was originally from March 19, 2020

Well…s*%t has just got real on this side of the world. As I said in my last email, we have been living in a bubble and the severity of the Corona Virus was just so unknown to us. We were literally on a deserted island and when we got back we began to hear news that seemed to progressively get worse. I’m sure you probably all know much more than me right now, but s*%t got real when it was ordered that the people on our group from the UK and Germany had to go home. That meant our dear friend Lucy was one of them. Saying goodbye to her was gut wrenching. South Africa would not allow them into its border crossing so they had to get a flight out of Maputo the next day. That literally cut our group in half. The only ones remaining would be Kris and I along with the Aussie/Swiss couple. Thank god we also have our two guides who we have become super close with.

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Our last night with Lucy (Kris, Lucy, Liza and I trying to look cool)

Kris and I were hearing a lot from home and trying to figure out whether we needed to leave right away as well. We registered with the Canadian Government and contacted our travel agent. At that time there was no change to our flights and it seemed smarter to go back into South Africa with our guides. Although there has not been a single case of Covid in Mozambique it just seemed safer to be in an English speaking country where there would be more options for flights home.

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As things change so rapidly, by the time we actually crossed into South Africa and got connected to WiFi we too found out that our flights have also been cancelled. Canada is still allowing us back into the country so we just had to find new flights. Thankfully I have an awesome travel agent and she was able to get back to us with new flights. We leave tomorrow (Saturday) flying through Paris (with a lovely 10 hour stop over), Toronto and then will be home early Monday if all goes well.

Crossing into South Africa wasn’t as difficult as expected. They checked our temperature and such, but to be honest they made us do so much more when we crossed into Mozambique. Once on the SA side we made our way to Kruger! Kruger National Park is absolutely massive. It literally is the size of Denmark! We drove through it on our way to our lodging and even though we weren’t on a proper game drive we were lucky to see a crazy amount of wildlife. At one point this massive giraffe came towards us and walked right past our vehicle. From our van window all we could see was his massive nuts!!

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As he was walking towards our vehicle…

Our lodging was outside of the park in a beautiful patch of land surrounded by a river and macadamias nut plantations. When we arrived we had to sign a waiver saying we agree that we know the risk of hippos and crocs coming from the river and that if we pick a macadamia nut from the plantation we understand that the owner will shoot us. Not making this stuff up!!!!

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On Wednesday we got up at the crack of dawn so we could experience a day long game drive in one of Africa’s most famous National Parks. Because of our dear friend ‘Corona’ it allowed us to get the VIP treatment with barely any other tourists around. Our guide was telling us that we would be their last drive for some time. The day was amazing!!! Kris and I struggled to keep our eyes open in the morning – Dumb and Dumber come all the way to Africa to see wildlife but have narcolepsy in the vehicle. The lull of the Jeep and the early mornings (and late nights of maybe drinking a few too many) have certainly caught up to us. At one point there was an elephant quite close to our vehicle and I looked over at Kris and she was looking at it with one eye open. What a pair we are!

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Once we had a little stop to grab a coffee and move around to wake us, we were so much more attentive. In all my game drives over the years I’ve never seen the elusive leopard in the wild. It changed on Thursday and we stumbled upon a tree with a bloody kudu carcass hanging from the branches. With eagle eyes, not far from the kill we were able to spot the majestic leopard. Unfreakingbelievable!!!!!!!!!!

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Over the course of the drive we spotted the rest of the Big Five with sightings of all the other incredible wildlife included. I could be in that open air vehicle all day long looking for the amazing animals that only Africa can deliver. Unfortunately poaching is so very real and right now rhinos are being hunted more than ever. It’s brutal because the poachers only want the rhino horn. They stalk them on foot and instead of shooting them (because they don’t want to be caught) they gouge the poor animals with a knife and dig the horn out while the rhino is still alive, leaving the poor thing to bleed out slowly. Because the gestation period along with the length of time a baby rhino breast feeds is so long, you might only get a new baby every 4 years and the the amount poached is far greater than those that are born. We are losing rhinos at a rapid rate. The poachers are paid by the weight of the horn and are smuggled into both China and Vietnam. A rhino horn is made of keratin -the exact same thing as our nails! The Chinese believe it can cure a wide range of diseases and the demand is exponential. The keratin horn is absolutely useless to anybody but the rhino. People are absolutely horrid.

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Yesterday (Thursday) we left the Kruger area to return via the Panoramic Route to Johannesburg. The drive was absolutely stunning and everywhere we went the topography changed dramatically. From mountainous green hills, to canyons, to citrus plantations to grassy fields filled with endless pink flowers that make you want to run through them. It was absolutely breathtaking. There are three stops that are also out of this world. One was the exact point in the movie ‘The Gods Must Be Crazy’ where guy throws the Coke bottle off ‘the edge of the world’. Another was Bourke’s Luck Potholes where rivers meet and have carved out incredible circular  shapes into the rocks. And the last was Blyde River Canyon – the 3rd biggest canyon in the world. Again with barely a single tourist in sight we were able to get incredible views with ease. South Africa is bloody amazing!

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Eventually we made it back to Johannesburg to the lodging where we started the tour. Saying goodbye to the all-star annoying couple was a breeze but it was a whole different ballgame with our guides/friends/sisters Liza and Ferne. I was already crying in the morning knowing we’d have to part later in the day. They had to fly back to Cape Town so it was Kris and I who were seeing them off. Just like Lucy, these girls quickly became like family. We bonded so quickly (perhaps through almost getting arrested) and throughout the trip laughed more than I have in one year combined. On a good day I’m absolute crap at goodbyes so this one was especially heart wrenching. We plan to all come back next year where a bunch of us will road trip through Southern Africa. I guess that makes it a tad easier knowing our paths will cross again fairly soon.

Today we will explore Soweto if all goes as planned and tomorrow we will leave this spectacular continent. More to come later…

If you are interested in taking a tour that covers the places on my adventure check out G Adventure’s Mozambique, Kruger & Swazi Discoverer

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Mozambique ~ A Picture Perfect Paradise

100C9560-E12E-4AA7-B829-5927149503D5This post was originally from March 15, 2020

It has been a bizarre few days where we have been completely off the grid and when we find WiFi it’s very spotty. It was only until Saturday when we got off the boat that the Corona Virus became a reality. Reading all the news updates and checking my emails seeing that University courses have been cancelled has really been a shock. It’s like we’ve been living in a bubble. It’s been a bubble of utter paradise, but a bubble nonetheless. Right now we will go on with our trip as normal but it seems like things change on a daily basis. By the looks of things, we are much safer here, it’s our flights home through Europe that might pose a problem.

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Anyway, back to paradise…on Friday we hopped on a dhow to sail around the Bazaruto archipelago islands around Vilankulos. One word – paradise! Mozambique is so untouched by tourism and it couldn’t be more apparent than sailing around these picture perfect, white sandy beaches and crystal clear turquoise waters. We sailed on a traditional dhow boat which is made of wood where in the back is a sand pit where we had a cook make us all our meals from scratch. There was fresh barracuda and calamari along with amazing vegetarian options. Matapa is one of the local dishes – it looks like green sludge but made of crushed cassava leaves, coconut milk and peanut powder. It’s really delicious!88EE69C1-B816-4E20-A756-1053542288EE

We sailed from island to island, getting off for a swim and snorkeling among the reefs. On one island we climbed dunes and got the most spectacular vantage point of amazing white sandbars in turquoise waters. It’s the best snorkeling I’ve ever done too. I saw so many different fish flashing us in every colour of the rainbow. From puffer fish, to sting ray, to trumpet fish…the list was endless. At one point Kris and I were swimming together when we found ourselves trapped within the coral reef. We are not supposed to touch the coral and the water got so shallow as we swam along completely mesmerized. I tried not to panic but once we looked at each other and realized that we were stuck on the reef we both started laughing our asses off and of course this let water in our masks and soon enough we were both beached on coral just killing ourselves laughing.

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We stayed the night on one of the beaches where we slept in a tent and went to sleep listening to the waves crash so near to us. I can’t think of a more perfect way to end the day.982CF8E7-99F0-4CBB-B1A8-7E5041CD735E

In the morning we got up to do it all over again. Snorkel. Sail. And explore different islands. We were able to see the local school on one of the islands and it literally was a windowless structure with a blackboard and a few rocks on the floor for the children to sit on. Boy do our kids have it good in the Western world!!!!!

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I keep saying it but what is so refreshing about Mozambique is how completely untouched it is. Things that seem so odd to us are completely normal to this part of the world. For instance as we drove down village dirt roads there were children trying to sell they’re catch of the day – mice! Holding the dead rodent by its tail while waiving at us for a sale – just another day in Mozambique!!!!

What saddens me is that there are glimpses of destruction of this self sustaining country. The Chinese have come and are building bridges and refineries. They are literally taking the coal produced here back to China. Near the capital city of Maputo there are clear signs that China is leaving its mark. There are cars with Chinese writing and signs with the Mozambique and Chinese flags on them. Sadly the Chinese are not employing the locals so although there might have been a select few who benefit, the majority of the population don’t see any of it. My worry is that China will keep building and ruining what is so pristine and magical about this country.

Tomorrow we leave Mozambique and cross back into South Africa. It saddens me to leave this beautiful country, but what makes my heart break a little more is knowing my trip is coming to an end. The friendships we’ve made with some of the others are truly so special and the thought of saying goodbye makes me feel sick. I know I have to enjoy each day but it’s becoming more and more real how sad I’ll be to leave these amazing people.

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Liza, Kris, Sally, Ferne and I (oh and can’t forget the DJ Fernando)

If you are interested in taking a tour that covers the places on my adventure check out G Adventure’s Mozambique, Kruger & Swazi Discoverer

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The day we were nearly arrested in Mozambique!

CAF80D05-48CE-4D8C-BB68-6A44AADCDC3DThis post was originally written on March 11, 2020

After leaving Eswatini (Swaziland) we crossed the border into Mozambique. After years of civil war Mozambique is fairly untouched. Tourism hasn’t hit this country, which makes things so much more authentic, but also a little bit interesting.

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Our first night was in the capital city of Maputo. The traffic is insane, where during peak periods a road that typically has 4 lanes (2 lanes in each direction with a ‘meridian’ in between) suddenly becomes 3 lanes in one direction where we are now in the single lane and cars are coming towards us on our side of the meridian! Does this make sense? Explaining this seems impossible!

The city itself is chaos. As we walked to see the famous train station that was designed by Gustave Eiffel we walked past people selling everything from cloves of garlic to underwear. The streets are riddled with garbage and you have to watch where you walk because the gutters on either side of the road are filled with garbage and bubbling sludge. We definitely got our share of stares as we were the only group of tourists that we could see.Things work at a different pace as well. When we went to eat dinner we had to wait for about an hour and a half for our food to arrive (our orders were things like salads or cheese sandwiches). We were warned that this would be the case so when we sat down we knew we were in it for the long haul.

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Maputo’s Train Station

Needless to say we only had one night in Maputo and soon enough we were off to paradise where things are peaceful and the nature is stunning.

Our first stop has been Tofo. We drove for about 10 hours to get here, but when we saw the crystal clear waters of the ocean we all knew it was so worth it. We are staying in cool little beach huts that are made of grass and bamboo and the roof is completely thatched.

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A few of us girls have become really close (along with our guides) so last night after dinner we decided to go swimming in the ocean under a full moon (and don’t worry – I made sure to give everyone a second full moon…mine just might be a tad brighter). After being jostled around for quite some time in the beautifully warm ocean we decided to turn it in for the night. As we were getting out of the water we could see a couple of people walking towards us. As we got closer to shore we could see that they were actually police officers. They were not happy with us and at first accused us of smoking. Clearly we were drowned rats and could not have a cigarette on us. Suddenly two officers became three and then four. All of a sudden Lucy decided to play Red Rover and barreled past them until she was abruptly stopped. (She had no clue that they were the police!). They grabbed one of the girls by the arm and wanted us to come with them. They didn’t speak a lick of English and clearly we don’t speak Portuguese so there was a lot of motioning and gestures. We decided to keep walking and ignore their demands. I mean at this point we didn’t know for sure if they were even legitimate police! Once we got to our hotel we got someone who spoke the language to come and help us. The police followed us to our hotel and there was a major discussion about how we broke the rules. I have to admit that part of me wanted to get arrested as it would make for such a great story … and I will never forget our friend from Leeds say ‘I’m f&$’n gutted you didn’t get arrested’ as she watched the commotion happen before her eyes. After lots of back and forth and many apologies from our guide they finally left us alone. They told us that we can’t swim after dark however after talking to other local people today we are told that is not even a rule and they clearly just wanted to get money out of us. We had a good laugh after and took our own mug shots.

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This morning we had another life altering adventure. We did an ocean safari. We are soooooo lucky because it happens to be the right season to see whale sharks. They are the biggest fishes in the sea and unfortunately have become endangered. We spent 2 hours out in the boat finding pods of dolphins and one giant whale shark. I had really incredible encounters with the dolphins. At one point I was literally swimming next to them where I could reach out and almost touch them. Probably only one meter away. There were dozens of dolphins. It was absolutely incredible. Words can’t even express how magical it was. I’ve swam with the dolphins before in Zanzibar but this was nothing like my last experiences. There were just a few boats out today and we came so freaking close to them. The whale shark took me to a whole other planet. He came swimming towards me so I got to see his big wide mouth. I was right on top of him and the width of this amazing beast was jaw dropping. I literally was speechless and just wanted to cry in happiness.  It’s so crazy amazing how incredible our planet is. I wish I had photos to show you, but I am sure your imagination can create the beautiful images that I got to experience!

If you are interested in taking a tour that covers the places on my adventure check out G Adventure’s Mozambique, Kruger & Swazi Discoverer

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Dumb & Dumber Do Africa

This post was originally from February 20, 2020
Hi there Everyone,
It is the final countdown!! In less than 24 hours I will be off in an airplane flying to the other side of the world. I couldn’t be more excited because this time I am heading back to South Africa and then Mozambique and Swaziland (which is now called Eswatini). For this trip I am lucky to have my partner in crime join me…you know the other half of ‘Dumb & Dumber’. Kris has never been to Africa so I am so excited to be with her when she experiences the incredible things like a safari for the first time.
Our first stop will be in Port Elizabeth. Port Elizabeth is a coastal town at the southern part of the country. We will be there for 2 weeks volunteering at Missionvale Care Centre. Missionvale is a non-profit organization that operates in the extremely poor township of Missionvale. It is a centre that provides care for the poor with emphasis on those living with HIV/AIDS. I am not exactly sure what either of us will be doing during our placements as they have told us that they will decide upon arrival what they need most. The community centre offers a variety of services which include a primary school, child support and development, adult skills development, community gardens, a crafter’s unit, a medical unit, a nutrition & wellness unit and a distribution warehouse. I am really looking forward to this part of our trip. I am excited to see what I will be doing and hope that I can make a positive impact in some small way.
While in Port Elizabeth, we will be staying in a volunteer home where there will be others who are doing the same thing. From what I know, it is pretty close to the beach (however we will obviously be working during the day). I have to admit that I am hesitant to swim off the coast of South Africa anyway as I know there are plenty of sharks. Apparently there is a pool at the volunteer house, so that will be a bonus.
Once we are finished with our 2 week volunteer stint, we will be flying back up to Johannesburg to meet up with a G Adventures Tour group. Not only am I super pumped about where we will be going, but my friend Lucy (aka Sally) will also be joining up with us. Kris and I met Sally last year on our Brazil trip. If you can recall, Sally (we like to call her Lucy) is from the UK and met me in Greece this past September. She is absolutely hysterical and will round out the Dumb & Dumber duo quite nicely. Instead of Dumb & Dumber, it will be Dumb, Dumber & Dumbest do Africa. Who is Dumbest you ask? Well, I am sure that our roles of who is dumbest will change on a daily basis.
The G Adventure tour travels through South Africa, Mozambique and Swaziland. There will be some camping involved (lord help me), as well as some rustic lodges. The itinerary is quite spectacular so I can’t wait to share my adventures with you all.
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Our journey there is going to be a long one as we go from Edmonton to Calgary. Then to Amsterdam and on to Johannesburg. We arrive late at night and don’t leave for Port Elizabeth until the next morning so we have booked a hotel for those few hours. I am unsure how good our internet connection will be once we are there. From past experiences I can expect it to be pretty spotty with electricity cuts being a common occurrence. Needless to say, I will write as I go and send off my emails when I reach areas with WiFi. Everyone keeps telling me to promise them to not injure myself. I can’t make any promises but I will try my very best! The problem with me is that I usually sustain my injuries during the most mundane activities like walking to the breakfast table. I am going to be as cautious as I possibly can – that I can promise.
Anyway, I look forward to sharing my adventures with all of you. Thanks so much for all your love, support and interest in my travels. It means the WORLD to me!
See you on the FLIP side!

Ps. I got key chains made for Kris, Lucy and I and here is the picture on the key chain. I tried to get a photo of each of us looking our dumbest!

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The one on top was the winner, but the bottom two were runner-ups.