Internet Access in Africa. Or Why You Haven’t Heard Much From Us Lately

After our experiences in South America, where we had Internet access almost anywhere at any time (and for free), we began to do what we all know is dangerous: we began to assume. We assumed that we’d have similar luck in Africa. Well, we didn’t think it would be quite as magical as it was in South America; we just also didn’t think it would be quite so difficult, especially in South Africa, the most developed of the countries we’ll visit.

Unfortunately, however, Internet here is not the God-given right that many of us have come to expect. We’ve had Internet access in about half the places we’ve stayed. Or at least we have access to a computer that is supposedly connected to the Internet. Most of the time the computer is so old and so slow, that it’s a miracle if it connects. If it does connect, getting any page to load can take ages. And the kicker here is that you’re paying for it. Internet is not only not ubiquitious, it’s also not free. So while I’m waiting 20 minutes for my Gmail to load, I’m paying for each of those 20 minutes. And it’s not even cheap either, costing $4 or more per hour. So if you haven’t heard from us lately, if you haven’t gotten emails or comments on your blog or a Skype call, you know why. Sorry.

Comparatively, however, checking our email has been easy. Our website that’s another story in itself. I think we’ve successfully got it to load once. We’ve got our Admin site to load a whopping zero times (one, I guess, if this makes it up on the web- Editor’s Note: It didn’t load. The “invisible hand” is back. Let the guessing continue.) The post about our Road Trip you can thank the “invisible hand” for. I had to email it to it and ask it to post it for us.

And the worst part was that even though I had already written the post on our computer waiting for a chance to upload it, I had to rewrite the entire thing in the email I sent the “invisible hand”. You see, wi-fi here is completely unheard of. Apparently, the Internet companies don’t offer a pay by the month plan, but instead charge for the amount of bandwidth you use. Of course, this can add up quickly, so nobody dares open up a wi-fi connection or hook up multiple computers as Lord knows what kind of bill they’d end up with. The bandwidth restrictions also mean no uploading or downloading, so goodbye photos. And Skype, well that’s just a pipedream. Topping it all off is a ban, so far on all the computers we’ve encountered, of putting in your own flash drive or other card to transfer materials from our computer to their computer. So basically we’re back in the early 1990s. Dial-up AOL might be a Godsend at this point!

We still have our fingers crossed that things will get better. We’re hopeful that as we approach Cape Town, we’ll have better luck. In the meantime, we’re still writing, picking out photos, and checking every computer and cafe we come across for an opportunity to upload. So bear with us. And hey, if you’re reading this, it means we ran into at least a little luck, so check back frequently since whenever we do find a way to get online and to our website, we’re going to upload at least a couple of posts.

Road Trip!

After five months of travel spent almost exclusively on buses…school buses, overnight fully reclining buses, long distance buses that lacked working bathrooms, buses that were nearly empty, buses where we had people practically sitting on our laps…we’ve traded the buses in for our own wheels. That’s right we’re now traveling by car, a rented orange Kia Picanto to be exact.

Southern Africa has so much to see: the second and third largest canyons in the world; massive reserves full of lions, elephants, giraffes, zebras, and other amazing animals; the world’s oldest sand dunes; beautiful beaches; amazing waterways; and so much more. Unfortunately, much of it is rather hard to get to. The bus system is limited, often leaving you hundreds of kilometers from where you actually want to be. Then you’re left taking minibuses, collectivos, or hitching, none of which are especially safe (or all that cheap for that matter). And you have to factor in all the time you’ll lose making the many connections. The other option is the “backpacker buses,” such as the well-known Baz Bus, which travel a set circuit that hits most of the highlights. It’s not cheap though; a hop-on, hop-off ticket between Johannesburg and Cape Town costs over $200 per person, and it still wouldn’t get us to all the sites we want to see. Plus there’s the little factor of being 24/7 in the company of other backpackers. Could be good. Could be bad.
So craving the freedom of the open road, the right to stop when and where and for however long we want, and the adventure of exploring part of the world completely on our own, we went for the car. It’s really a pretty good deal, averaging out to about $25 per day (plus fuel), and lets us get to all the places we want to go. There’s only one slight hitch: the car’s a manual, and we both have always had automatics. Jeff had, however, given a manual a go once many, many years ago, and luckily, he was game for a challenge. There were a few rough starts, a few killed engines, but by the end of the first day, we were cruising along just fine. In six weeks, as we point the wheels back to Johannesburg from Botswana (after heading clockwise around South Africa, up through Namibia, into Botswana, and with a quick hop to Victoria Falls), we’ll be old pros. Well, at least Jeff will. I’m not even particularly fond of driving an automatic while sitting on the left side of the car and driving on the right side of the road; I’m not even going to think of touching a manual with the driver’s seat on the right side and the traffic driving on the left side of the road. I’ll just stick to navigating. Wish us luck!
Editors Note: Theresa and Jeff are experiencing “technical difficulties” as their adventures in Africa begin. As they work through these difficulties they are still going to try to post as often as possible.  So please continue to check back often and leave your comments, and I’ll continue to be the “invisible hand” that makes sure their stories make it to Lives of Wander.

South America Superlatives

As we land in Africa today, leaving South America behind, we thought we’d look back at some of the best and worst of our time there. Our initials follow our choices to indicate which of us thought what. If we left anything out and you’re just dying of curiosity to know what we thought, leave your question in the comments and we’ll answer as soon as we can.

Friendliest People: Nicaragua (T); Quilotoa, Ecuador (J)

Best Natural Scenery: Torres del Paine (T&J)

Best Wildlife: Galapagos (T&J)

Best Historic Site: Jesuit Quarter, Cordoba (T); San Francisco Convent, Lima (J)

Best Ruins: Machu Picchu (T&J)

Most Interesting Museum Exhibit: Frozen Mummy Girl in Salta, Argentina (T&J)

Strangest Museum: Church Museum, Banos, Ecuador (T); Museum of Legends & Myths, Leon, Nicaragua (J)

Best Market: Saquisili, Ecuador (T&J)

Best Meal: Steak Dinner at Viejo Jack’s in Salta (T&J)

Best Produce: Chile (T); Peru (J)

Best Fruit Juice: Sole’s House, Ecuador (T&J)

Best Local Beer: Calafate Ale & Quilmes Stout (J)

Best Local Wine: Torrentes Late Harvest, Echard Winery, Cafayate, Argentina (J); Concha & Torro Sunset Syrah (T)

Best Ice Cream: Chocolate Amargo, Multiple Locations, Argentina (T); Coco con Dulce De Leche at Volta, Buenos Aires (J)

Best Grocery Store: Wong, Lima, Peru (T&J)

Worst Bus Ride: Esteli to Leon, Nicaragua (T&J)

Hostel/Hotel We Wished We Could Have Stayed At Longer: Los Troncos, Puerto Iguazu, Argentina (T&J)

Worst Place We Stayed: HI Cordoba Hostel, Cordoba, Argentina (T&J)

Best City Scene: Buenos Aires (T); Santiago (J)

Best Adventure Sport Activity: Canyoning, Puerto Varas, Chile (T&J)

Most Overrated Place: Ushuaia, Argentina (T); Chiloe, Chile (J)

Place We Most Wish to Return to for Further Exploration: Lake District in Chile/Argentina (T&J)

Even with all these “bests,” so many amazing places, good meals, great places to stay, and incredible experiences don’t show up in the list. And the “worsts” hardly cast a shadow on even an hour of our trip. South (and Central) America have been amazing, exceeding whatever expectations we had. Fingers crossed Africa is the same!

Water, water everywhere!

We arrived on in Puerto Iguazu after our 17 hour, overnight trip on the fully reclining “luxury” bus. Neither the movies nor the food was better than the regular bus. True to its jungle nature, it was hot and sticky, and we all were in a solid sweat by the time we made it the five or so blocks (yes, we made Terry and Mary Jane walk it … and many many more miles, just ask them) to our hotel. We dropped our things and were quickly informed by Sofie, the owner of Los Troncos (a fantastic place with incredible service! Seriously, we loved it.), that we would not, in fact, be allowed into Brazil without a visa just for the day as we had originally planned. And it turned out, this was kind of a good thing. After all, we only had 24 hours in two half days before we were back on the bus to Buenos Aires.

So we set off to the falls and no sooner had we left the hotel than a thoroughly impressive tropical thunderstorm ensued, leaving us drenched. We felt that no waterfall could compare to the soaking we just received, but we found our way to the bus terminal and we headed off through sheets of water to the park. While the storm had tapered off by the time we got to the park, another waited patiently for us to arrive to the train station before dropping buckets more water. While we began questioning the sanity of our quest, no one thought about turning around.

Our goal for the day was the Garganta del Diablo (Devil’s Throat), a massive bowl of a waterfall, akin to the Canadian Falls of Niagara Falls. The weather had calmed by the time we got off the train and we began our walk across the river (on a platform, there are no Jesus’s here), passing crocodiles, turtles, coatis, birds and fish large and small.

For such a large waterfall, it was oddly quiet. We couldn’t hear it until we were nearly on it, and the cloudy day made seeing the plume impossible (it was much clearer the next day). It was strange to all of a sudden be at such a massive waterfall without the ominous feeling of approaching it. And the experience of standing out on the platform was first, additional soaking, and second, incredible awe at the volume of water moving in front of us.

About then we were told it was time to leave to make it to the park entrance by closing time, and so we called it a day. The next day we returned as the park opened to glorious weather and  the upper and lower trails. As you may have guessed, one passes along the tops of the falls, while the other sees more or less the same falls from the bottom. But what you wouldn’t maybe guess is how many falls there are. I forget the all names, but there was water cascading in every direction almost as far as the eye can see. And the jungle trees and green mosses covering everything in sight only added to the ambiance.

My favorite view, if such a thing can be chosen here, was from Isla San Martin, feeling essentially under the largest falls (outside of the Garganta del Diablo) and looking toward the rest.


For those keeping score, Theresa’s favorite was the first overlook of the lower trail (Terry and Mary Jane, feel free to add you favorites!).


By 11 AM we were exhausted but satisfied with our Iguazu experience, and so headed back to make our bus. But here’s a few more photos to enjoy.

Playing Gaucho and Tourist in the Pampas

Just outside of the Buenos Aires megapolis, an area of 13 million inhabitants, the endless apartment buildings disappear. So does the Parisian architecture, the ice cream shops, the fancy stores. It’s all replaced with endless open space, the land of the gauchos. Or at least it used to be. Now it’s not, because as we learned on our “Dia del Campo,” or day trip to an estancia in the pampas, there are no more gauchos in the country. Apparently Argentinian president Sarmiento decided that all the gauchos were lazy good-for-nothings and pretty much killed them all off. Not a nice thing for him to do. But in the end maybe a good business move.

Because as we all know real cowboys don’t really care for city folk, aren’t very civilized, and don’t exactly consider themselves tourist attractions. If they were still roaming the pampas, rounding up (or stealing, depends on who you talk to) cattle and living their freestyling lives, there wouldn’t be a place for bus loads of tourists to go and pretend to be cowboys for a day. And that my friends would be a true shame.

On our BA Free Tour of Recoleta (just as excellent as the Center Tour), our guide Sol asked us what the most touristy thing we’d done in BA was, and I didn’t even have to think two seconds before responding “Dia del Campo.” It involved a tour bus, a guide that spoke into a microphone, a song and dance show, a 20-minute horse ride…

We had wanted to get out of the city and experience a bit of the country life, but we didn’t have the time to go too far from the city or to stay for an extended period on an estancia, so we did what millions of BA tourists do–a day trip to an estancia wehre they pretty much play cowboy. It was cheesy. It was silly. I wouldn’t particularly recommend it. But, you know what? I had fun anyways. The empanadas were delicious. The lunch was abundant. The horses were friendly. The riders were skilled. The other guests were friendly and fun. And watching Jeff and my parents dance (though not together) was just plain awesome.

Jeff Dancing Mom Dancing Dad Dancing

Budget Buenos Aires

Since the Argentinian economic collapse of 2001, Buenos Aires has had a reputation as a great bargain for travelers. Despite the fact that eight years have passed since the collapse, the reputation has remained, though the reality of the situation is that Buenos Aires is no longer the bargain basement of cities. The collapse, while sending large numbers of the country’s citizens plummetting into poverty, acted as a calling card for millions of tourists…and the money they brought with them. As a result, the low prices slowly began to climb as hotels and restaurants filled. Now, prices are no longer as jawdroppingly low as they once were. A double room at a hostel will set you back at least $20 a person and a double at a decent hotel is hard to find below $70. Dinner is likely to cost about $10. And tango shows can cost as much as a Las Vegas or Broadway show.

But before all you budget travelers cross Buenos Aires from the list, let me tell you that it’s really still quite the great deal. Dinner might be $10, but you’ll get a really amazing (and huge!) steak (or two!) for that bit of dinero. Hostels and hotels might not be cheap, but if you’re staying for at least a week, you can rent an entire apartment for two people for about $35 dollars per night. And as for things to do, many of the city’s highlights are free or inexpensive. In an earlier post, I highlighted the Free BA Tours, but that’s just the beginning.

You could also spend a day at the Hipodromo, as we did on our first Monday in town. As a Kentucky native, horse racing is in my blood, and with my parents in town, I couldn’t pass up a chance for us to see the ponies run in a different country. We found that admission to the track, which was conveniently located in the Palermo neighborhood (where our apartment was), was free, and bets could be placed for as little as one peso (about 28 U.S. cents). Though I’m not quite sure we ever figured out exactly how to read the board, and though the Hipodromo doesn’t hold a candle up to Churchill Downs, we still had a great time, cheering on our picks while standing so close to the track that we probably could have reached out and touched the horses. Only two things could have made it better: 1) A winning bet and 2) Racing hippos.

A fun and inexpensive way to fill another day is with a trip to Tigre, the delta town just 35 kilometers from Buenos Aires. It’s easily reached via commuter train, with a roundtrip ticket costing a whopping 2.70 pesos. Once there, you can check out the fruit market (though go early, because much of it shuts down before its posted closing time of 6 p.m.) and take a stroll along the river, past fancy rowing clubs, nice houses, and plenty of cafes and restaurants. Of course, to really experience the delta you need to hop abroad a boat. Don’t worry, you won’t be hurting for options. There’s everything from pricey lunch cruises aboard giant boats to the wooden boat public launches. A 17 peso ticket will take you half-hour down the river on the public launch to the island community of Tres Bocas. There’s not much to do there besides circumnavigate the small island on foot, but the boat ride itself is worth the trip, as it’s a very scenic environment.

What else? Well there’s the Museo Nacional Belles Artes, BA’s fine arts museum, which is completely free, as are the tours of the Congress and the Casa Rosa (the President’s office). There’s the Eco Reserve, another completely free site, that’s great for a stroll or a bike ride, with the chance of spotting birds, butterflies, lizards, and other wildlife while practically downtown.

And of course, there are the many fascinating neighborhoods each with their own highlights—the Sunday market in San Telmo, the many parks of Recoleta and Palermo, and the colorful Caminita area of La Boca, for starters.

Though there are plenty of things to spend your money on in Buenos Aires (and many of them well-worth it), you don’t have to empty your wallet to have a good time. It’s a city for all budgets, a city for all tastes, a city that you definitely ought to put on your list.

Two to Tango

Who could go to Buenos Aires and not take in a tango show? Well, we couldn’t. But we were hoping to avoid a big Vegas style show, after all, we don’t need to see horses on stage, as one of the shows advertised. We were hoping to find an intimate, authentic “feeling,” high caliber show to enjoy. Turns out that Cafe Tortoni, a Buenos Aires institution and on the must-do tourist circuit itself (though the locals would say its a bit too touristy for its own good), has tango shows that sounded about exactly what we were looking for, so we took the plunge. We found it to be exactly what we were looking for. Great dancers, great musicians, an intimate setting, and a bit of variety all added up to a fantastic evening. Since it all looked so cool, I was busy playing photographer (Theresa says I need to tell you to click to make it bigger, but I think you all are smart enough to figure that out … and let us know how the photos work out, we’re trying something a little different).

So if you’re in BA and somewhat daunted by the myriad of shows available, Cafe Tortoni is a great bet.

There May Not Be Free Lunches…

But there are free tours of Buenos Aires, and quality-wise they are about on par with the steak. In other words, they are pretty damn awesome.

I wasn’t expecting that. When Jeff, while surfing the Internet for things to do in Buenos Aires, announced that he’d found a free tour of the city, I scoffed. There had to be a catch. Free…but only if we stayed at a certain hotel. Free…but boring as sin. Free…but we had to listen to a two-hour presentation on kitchenware first. But no, Jeff assured me, there was no catch, and to top it off, there were all kinds of glowing reviews of the tours on the Internet. Hmmm.

Though I was still a bit skeptical, we (Jeff, my parents, and I) decided to go ahead and give the tour a shot, since, well, we had nothing to lose. If it wasn’t any good, we’d just wander away from the group and declare our trip over. So at 11 a.m., we made our way to Plaza del Congresso where we met our tour-leader Gaston, a young local with impecable English thanks to a few years in the U.S., and a big group of other English-speaking travelers (from the U.S., Canada, Ireland, England, Australia, and South Africa). Our tour was to be of the central downtown area of Buenos Aires and was scheduled to last 2.5 hours. As Jeff and I had already been in the city for four days, many of the sites were ones we’d already seen, but as my parents had just arrived the day before, it was all new to them.

In the end, we all had a great time. We saw the main sites of the city center—the Casa Rosada, the Congress, the Obelisk, and other buildings of interesting historical and/or architectural interest—and learned the requisite facts and figures about them.

But what made the tour really notable wasn’t the fact that it covered all the standard tour sites for free, but that it included all of them plus more. The highlight of the tour was the insight it gave into the culture of Buenos Aires. We learned things on our tour that we didn’t find in our guidebook and almost certainly wouldn’t have learned on an official tour that we paid for.

For instance:
*The reason coins are so darn hard to come by is that the bus companies, which only take coins, hoard them and then sell them on the black market.

*All the seemingly random lines you see throughout the city are lines of job applicants. Oddly enough the only other thing people line up for are buses.

*Private insurance covers one plastic surgery a year. No wonder people here are so attractive!

*Over 60% of Argentina’s population lives below the poverty line.

*While officials give the inflation rate as less than 1%, it’s actually over 10%.

*To become an Argentinian citizen, you must only live in the country for two years.

Any question, any curiosity, we had, Gaston answered. He was both incredibly knowledgeable and completely entertaining. And in the end, I’m pretty sure he made more money than he would have if the tour had had a price, as we all tipped well and then dispersed to explore the city closer on our own (with his tips on what was worth more time and what wasn’t, as well as with his phone number in hand in case, as he said, we wanted any advice on things to do or places to go). And now I feel obligated to spread the word…if you want a great tour of Buenos Aires check out BA Free Tours. You’ll definitely get your money’s worth.

(In addition to the city center tour, they also offer a tour of Recoleta, which we plan to take on Tuesday. I expect it to be just as good, but I’ll be sure to update to let you know.)

Alive and Well in Buenos Aires

So yes, we’ve been slow with the posting lately, but we have good reason: my parents have been visiting us since March 1. We’ve been hanging out in Buenos Aires for the past week, and tonight we’re headed up to Iguazu Falls for a short visit before returning to Buenos Aires for my birthday on the 10th. Then it’s less than a week until we leave South America for the great and unknown (to us) continent of Africa. Expect a load of posting next week as we catch you up with all the fun we’ve been having: amazing tango shows, great city tours, a fun (and funny) day of the gaucho, and plenty more. We’ve got lots of photos too so don’t forget to check back frequently in the next few days.


The largest Carnival celebration in Ecuador is in the large city of Ambato. It is surprisingly large for how little you hear of the city, but yet, you understand when you get there because there is not much going for it really. Even for Carnival. We made a morning parade, which was flashy, wacky and colorful, but after that we were at a loss for what to do, as the only activity seemed to be drinking into oblivion. That and giant, city wide water and foam fights (with the occasional extra nastiness mixed in).

But then we saw a ‘corre de toros’ on the schedule. Taking this at a literal translation, we thought we were heading to a running of the bulls type event. Turns out ‘corre de toros’ is a bull-fight. But controversy aside, we both agreed we had never been to one of these either and it would be a fine experience to round out our Carnival celebrations.

We were treated to the full spectacle. We saw six fights. We saw a matador gored, only to return and triumph.

We saw a bull outlast a matador and get chased out of the ring, a ‘vive toro.’ Of the other four, we saw two daring and highly skilled matador performances, and two pretty pathetic ones. So we had a pretty broad experience.

But after all that, I’m not sure what to think. On the one hand, it’s a brutal way for a bull to die. On the other, when it’s well done and the matador is on top of his game, it’s incredibly thrilling to watch the control he has over the bull, and the daring feats he accomplishes.

It really becomes a dance with bull and matador, very artistic. And to me, in a ring, free and with a ‘fighting’ chance is a better way to die than in a slaughterhouse. Nevertheless, we decided we probably wouldn’t be going to any more bullfights. Except maybe an authentic one, in Spain. I’m sure those matadors are incredible.