At Long Last

Now that we’re in Cape Town, its the first time we’ve been able to access the website since arriving in South Africa. Though we’ve managed internet at a few places (and hence been able to send off posts to the “invisible hand”), our website, for whatever reason, is the only thing that never is able to load. We have no explanation except that Mochahost (our webhost) hates South Africa. But apparently they are fond of Cape Town, because here we sit, looking at our website for the first time in weeks. So apologies to anyone who asked something that may be buried in the comments by now, but we’re doing the best we can.

We also noticed that many links on the website were dead. We don’t exactly know how long that’s been, but we’ve fixed that up and all the individual pages should load fine now. If you’ve never had problems with this, maybe its just another Mochahost South Africa bias that only we are dealing with. But regardless, we’ve now not only accessed the website and fixed a few glitches, but we’ve also uploaded more posts, so be sure to check back regularly for stories about all our latest adventures.

As a first order of business, we have finally been able to upload the Country Summaries and Budget Summaries for both Peru and Ecuador, so go check them out. We also updated the Where Are We Now Page, so you can see much more clearly where our roadtrip has taken us and will be taking us in the next few weeks.

Beach Bums

A big draw of South Africa is its long coastlines. The Indian Ocean waters are warm, the sea life plentiful, the sun hot and the beaches beautiful and sandy. With well marketed names like the Wild Coast, the Elephant Coast, the Garden Coast and the Shipwreck Coast all willing to accomodate you quite comfortably, South Africa wants you to go spend some time at the beach.

So we tried. We tried hard. Multiple places. We headed to Sodwano Bay and Cape Vidal in St. Lucia Wetland Park (along the Elephant Coast). We stopped at Buccaneer’s Backpackers, widely regarded as one of the best backpackers in the country (along the Wild Coast). And we lasted all of two nights (and three half days) in total at all of them.

It’s not that they weren’t lovely beaches. Both cape Vidal and Sodwano Bay had great snorkeling and beautiful tide pools to go along with warm, lazy water in protected “coves.” It’s hard to imagine a more beautiful beach than Cintsa (where Buccaneer’s is), where the backpackers overlooks an estuary separated from the ocean by an island of sand an green hills on either side. These are all lovely places to lose yourself and do nothing for a day or ten. As many a traveler we met has commented, “we spent five days at (insert beach town here), but I can’t think of anything we actually did.”

But for some reason, we have the hardest time losing ourselves in doing nothing. I am perfectly content to spend half an hour on the beach laying in the sun. But then I am looking for something to do. I try snorkeling, I don’t see much. The walk around the tide pools can captivate me for an hour or so. But then, I’m done. I made it almost three hours. And I am much more patient than Theresa. Usually by this time she’s halfway to the car ready to go.

We lasted all of an hour of daylight at Buccaneer’s. We arrived an hour before sunset, walked down to the beach, enjoyed the sunset, dipped our feet in the water and realized it was not nearly as warm as the St. Lucia area. The next morning we woke up to grey skies, decided it was pointless to stay at a cool water beach on a grey day, and hightailed it.

It’s not really that we can’t spend time at the beach, its just that we need things to do at the beach, we need to be able to be active. There needs to be a good surf for body boarding. There needs to some toys to play with, be they footballs or frisbees or what have you. Stuff to build sand castles with. Great snorkeling. A book to read, but that only goes so far. We just can’t be passive beach goers and sit and soak up sun all day.

I know, it’s a great shame and we should start a fund to help rid ourselves of this disorder. We’re just gonna have to try again in Mozambique. And Tanzania. And Thailand. Hopefully, with enough practice, we’ll be able to break our habits and enjoy a completely lazy day at the beach.

What We Saw in Kruger

(Editor’s Note: The “invisible hand” is back with the first of four posts. There will be one new post a day for the next four days, including today.  So please to check back and leave your comments. The “invisible hand” was able to chat with Theresa for a few minutes and she said things are good as they move their way through Africa.)

For those of you who like pictures:

4 Lions (3 trying to hunt us while we ate at an open picnic area!)

6 Rhinos

1 Black Mamba (sorry, it was too fast for a picture … but its leap into the air next to our car still haunts our nightmares)

A Family of Hyenas

1 Tortoise


Water Buffalo











Lots of Birds

In our four days of driving around, the only big mammals we missed (that we cared to see …): Leopards and Cheetahs. It’s ok though, I get the feeling we may have a chance or two more before we leave to take care of this.

Think You Can’t Afford a Safari? Think Again!

So smack at the top of your dream trips list is an African safari, yet whenever you flip through whatever travel magazine it is you subscribe to and see the prices listed for safaris, you whistle through your teeth, take a deep breath, and then renew your membership to the local zoo. Sure, seeing lions, zebras, elephants, giraffes, rhinos, and other creatures roaming freely across the plains of Africa would be awesome, but you just can’t justify throwing a huge chunk of your retirement fund or a year of your child’s college tuition at one trip, whether or not it’s the trip of a lifetime.

Fortunately, you don’t have to bankrupt yourself to make your dream trip a reality. Despite the fact that no one ever says so, going on safari doesn’t have to cost your life’s savings. In fact, it can be downright affordable. At South Africa’s Kruger National Park, one of the best known wildlife parks in the world, you can live out your safari dreams on a backpacker’s budget.

Here’s how to do it.

1. Book a flight to Johannesburg, South Africa.
Sure this part won’t be cheap, but be on the lookout for good deals. Don’t worry about time of year and all that rainy season/dry season nonsense. For instance, March, which is in the South African autumn, is an excellent time to go. Technically it’s still the rainy season, but on our visit, we didn’t see a single drop of rain. We also didn’t see the hordes of people that the park welcomes come winter. Everything is green, which some say makes animals harder to spot, but we managed to see everything from lions to rhinos to hyenas to warthogs. So harder? Maybe. But hard? Not at all.

(Upgrade option: Go first class. It’s a long way to South Africa!)

2. Rent a car.
Though plenty of safari outfitters will gladly let you pay them scads of money for the pleasure of having them driving you through the park, the beauty of Kruger is that it’s a self-drive facility. You are free to act as your own guide using your own car. Even better is the fact that all the roads are accessible to even the wimpiest 2WD, so book the cheapest car on offer (you don’t need AC when your windows are down the whole time so you can snap photos!) and call it good. We found the best deal through Around About Cars (, with a daily rate of $25.

(Upgrade option: Go ahead and get the 4WD if riding in a VW or Kia doesn’t feel safari enough for you.)

3. Pack your bags.
You don’t need much–a couple of pairs of comfy clothes (there are laundry sites in Kruger, which cost about $1 for wash and $1 for dry, so no need to over pack), a good pair of shoes in case you plan to do any of the walks offered by park guides, a camera with lots of digital memory, and a good pair of binoculars. A field guide to animals of South Africa is a nice addition. Pick one up at home or upon arrival. You’ll also want to buy the park map, which shows not only the roads and camps but also depicts the varying habitats and what animals you’re likely to find in each area.

(Upgrade option: Splurge on a nice zoom for your camera. Though you’ll encounter many animals at distances so small that any point-and-shoot will be able to capture their images, you’ll need a quality zoom to photograph some of the more elusive animals.)

4. Land in Johannesburg, pick up your car, and head to the nearest Checkers Supermarket.
The basic Checkers Supermarket is where you’ll stock up for your self-catered safari. Camping is the way to go in Kruger. It’s the most economical option, and hey, this is a safari, after all. Being close to nature is part of the deal. If you didn’t bring your camping supplies from home, you’ll want to get what you need at Checkers: a tent, sleeping mats, sleeping bags, a pot and pan, and a dish soap and sponge. Don’t worry; it’s cheap. The tent, at about 300 rand, will be the big purchase. While you’re there, pick up a cooler and some groceries for picnic lunches and a dinner or two, should you wish to cook.

(Upgrade option: Splurge on the air mattress. Your back will thank you for spending the extra 200 rand.)

5. Hit the road, destination Kruger National Park.
At a distance of 480 kilometers from Johannesburg, Kruger National Park can be reached in a day’s drive. The trick is deciding which of the many gates to enter the park from. My suggestion: head north, entering at Phalabora, and work your way south. The north is home to large populations of elephants, giraffes, zebras, and other easy-to-spot animals, so rewards will come quick and easy. Once you’ve gotten into your safari groove, make your way south, where, with patience and a bit of luck, you’ll locate lions, leopards, cheetahs, and rhinos.

(Upgrade option: With an extra day or two, make a stop at Blyde River Canyon, the third largest canyon in the world, on your way to the park.)

6. Pay your admission and enter the park.
At just 140 rand per day, admission to Kruger National Park is probably cheaper than admission to your local zoo! Seriously, that’s all it costs to enter into over 2.2 million hectares of wild lands filled with wild animals. Gate opening times vary depending on the time of year, but aim to arrive as early as possible for your best chance at seeing animals.

(Upgrade option: Opt for the Wild Card if you plan to spend more than six nights in the park or will be having an extended holiday in South Africa and visiting other parks. Good at all of South Africa’s national parks for one year from purchase, the Wild Card is an excellent deal at 1640 rand for a couple or 900 rand for an individual.)

7. Spend all day driving through Kruger.
With a park map in hand, pick your path based on the habitats and likely inhabitants that interest you most. Mix the paved roads with the gravel roads (all 2WD accessible), but don’t overestimate what you can cover in a day. You won’t be moving very fast as you stop to search for animals and snap photos. Picnic spots located throughout the park allow you to refuel without having to return to camp.

(Upgrade option: Spend part of a day or evening on one of the guided tours offered by the park. Options include morning and evening walks and sunrise, sunset, and night drives. At between 120 rand and 270 rand per person, the tours a good deal. To guarantee a spot, you’ll want to book ahead, especially for the tours leaving from the camps and gates in the south.)

8. Check into your overnight accommodations.
If you plan on camping, there’s no need, except during highest holiday season, to book a spot in advance, so roll into whatever camp is closest as gate-closing time nears and hand over 130 rand to secure a piece of land for pitching your tent. If you’re worried about roughing it, ease your mind. The campgrounds here have nice, clean bathrooms with flush toilets and hot showers; communal kitchen areas with electric burners, sinks, and hot water heaters; and grill areas. Some even have pools. You will also have access to the camp shops, where you can buy any food items you’ve forgotten or run out of, cleaning supplies, and souvenirs. If you don’t feel like cooking, opt for the camp restaurant, where you can enjoy a multi-course dinner for 135 rand. The bigger camps also have delis, where burgers and the like go for about 35 rand.

(Upgrade option: Skip the tent and reserve lodging at the campgrounds. Basic rondavels, which share bathrooms and kitchen facilities with the campground, start at 275 rand, and chalets with private facilities start at 640 rand. Make reservations in advance for any non-campground lodging.)

9. Repeat steps seven and eight to your heart’s content.
Stay until you see all of the Big Five (elephant, buffalo, lion, leopard, and rhinoceros). Or you’ve counted over 100 elephants. Or you’ve witnessed a kill. At Kruger, every day’s an adventure, and you never know what the sunrise might bring.

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.