Favourite Places of 2014

Last week, we posted our most memorable moments of 2014. This week we wanted to take you to some of our favourite places. In order of travel:

Berlin, Germany

reichstag
The Reichstag in Berlin

We only spent a few days in Berlin, mostly to visit a darling travel girlfriend of mine from southeast Asia, but our few days were the perfect balance of relaxing local-style and visiting all the tourist must-sees. Berlin was fantastic, and as it was also Moreno’s first time there, as a history nut, it was definitely a phenomenal learning experience.

Mesosaurus, Namibia

Crazy quiver trees at Mesosaurus bush camp
Crazy quiver trees at Mesosaurus bush camp

This wasn’t on our list of places to visit, and it’s not exactly a place we would drive out of our way to see, but the first time we laid eyes on the crazy quiver tree landscape at the Mesosaurus bush camp our first night in Namibia we were completely stunned and couldn’t get enough of how absolutely alien everything around us looked.

Fish River Canyon, Namibia

Moreno silhouette at Fish River Canyon, Namibia
Moreno standing on the edge of Devil’s Peak at Fish River Canyon

Fish River Canyon was breathtakingly stunning, and standing on the edge of it while the wind whipped the light rain back off our clothes was one of our favourite experiences of the trip.

Sossusvlei, Namibia

People on dune, Sossusvlei, Namibia - AnywhereBound
Tourists climbing one of the dunes at Sossusvlei

One of the most popular destinations in Namibia that still manages to feel deserted, the dunes of Sossusvlei are some of the highest in the world and are something to behold. Next time, we climb even higher.

Ngepi Camp, Caprivi Strip, Namibia

The bar and reception at Ngepi Camp
The bar and reception at Ngepi Camp

The only actual campsite on this list, Ngepi Camp on the Caprivi Strip honestly goes down as one of our favourite places in Africa. I swear! The atmosphere of this place, the wilderness, the sounds, the treehouse feel, the outdoor bathrooms, the hippos on the lake…and (bonus!) completely sustainable and eco-friendly. Heaven.

Lake Malawi

beach swings
Just another gorgeous sunset right outside our bungalow

We only saw a snippet of Malawi and unfortunately it wasn’t our favourite part of the trip due to various other circumstances. That said, the lake itself was beautiful and we know we want to go back and tour around more of it.

Tofo, Mozambique

Bench outside Casa Barry, Tofo, Mozambique - AnywhereBound
Bench outside our bungalow at Tofo beach

Small enough to get to know quickly, but with enough amenities (not to mention yoga, snorkelling and diving!) to spend a good couple of weeks, the little village of Tofo quickly earned a soft spot in our hearts and became the place we’d definitely return to ‘next time around.’

Drakensberg Mountains, South Africa

Moreno with Policeman's helmet, Drakensberg, South Africa
Moreno facing the Policeman’s Helmet at Drakensberg North

The Drakensberg Mountains weren’t the type of mountains we expected but were nonetheless beautiful. The hikes alone could easily justify spending at least a week or two in the area and doing just that is also on our ‘when we return’ list.

Oh, and the colours are that intense.

Tsitsikamma, Garden Route, South Africa

Storms River Mouth in the Tsitsikamma National Park…foggy but gorgeous

The weather was not in our favour when we visited the Garden Route but we could still tell (even through the dense fog) that the area was just gorgeous. We’d return to the Tsitsikamma Park in a heartbeat, but definitely want to visit the rest of the Garden Route as well.

The Cape Peninsula, South Africa

View from Chapman's Peak, Cape Peninsula, South Africa - AnywhereBound
Just one of the stunning views off Chapman’s Peak

Cape Town, Boulders Beach, Chapman’s Peak, the V&A Waterfront…I think I’m in love with this area. As I mentioned before, it’s the only place we agreed was actually more stunning than Vancouver (crazy, right?) and we could easily take our time exploring the area for more than the two days we had.

That sums up our 2014!

Next task: plan the year ahead. Stay tuned!

Week 12: Searching for a Beach Paradise

The twelfth week took us from the sick bed on Lake Malawi, through an interesting border crossing into Mozambique, and onto the rainy coast of Tofo.

Leaving Malawi

We were planning on leaving Lake Malawi right at the beginning of the week, but since Moreno fell ill, we knew we’d have to stay another day or so. Well, he did get better, but the next day, I caught a weaker version of the bug and it was my turn to spend the whole day in bed. (For those of you keeping track, the wife of the neighbor that was sick also got sick when I did…strange….We never did figure out what it was).

driving malawi
Driving up the deforested hills of Malawi.

Crossing into Mozambique

We arrived at the Mozambique border a bit hesitant: we weren’t sure about the safety of the roads or whether we’d actually be able to get a visa on arrival, as any guidebook we consulted or other traveler we asked had the same answer: “They don’t. Except sometimes they do.”

driving behind a truck
Children go to school and people are off to work in the early morning drive.

But everything seemed to be going good until I noticed that beside my photo on the visa, bold and in uppercase was MORENO’S full name. The BS and lack of formality in these places, I swear:

“Hi, sorry. This is his name. Not mine.” I walk up and politely point to the visa.

The official that clearly screwed up and forgot to change the name when he took my photo and printed my visa, stared at my passport for a few seconds, then asked to see Moreno’s (yup, that’s him), and then shuffled off to get his supervisor. The supervisor walked up.

“This is fine.” He said after a few seconds of pondering.

“Can you change it?” I ask, hesitant but still polite.

He shakes his head and looks deep in thought. “This is just how our computer works.” He lies.

“You cannot make a new one?” I don’t want to push, but I sure don’t want to take a chance with an incorrect visa.

“No.” He shakes his head. “That is how our system is.”

Right, so from hereonin, everyone that comes in a requests a visa will be named Moreno, till the end of time?

Moreno takes over as I start muttering under my breath. “That is a complete lie!”

“And if the police check, this will be ok?” Moreno asks. We had heard that the police are notorious for fining tourists for whatever they can.

“Yes, they see you together, it’s ok.” Uhhh…

“Can you just print up a new one? Unpeel this one, and stick a new one in?”

Moreno’s logic was just too much. The supervisor, looking defeated but hesitant, gets on the phone.

“My boss will be here soon. He will see. Take a seat.”

In the end, the boss came and disappeared into the back room where we had our photos taken to issue me a new visa like I expected them to do (a Western expectation perhaps) and they managed to peel off the incorrect one and stick in the new one, and that was that. *Phewf!*

Beaches of Bazaruto

boats in vilankulos
The turned over boats, slightly filthy water, and empty beaches of Vilankulos weren’t exactly what we expected paradise to look like.

By mid week, we were finally on the coast (and I’m happy to report we had no scary incidences and only got asked for a cold drink bribe twice). We got to the small town of Vilankulos, where our main task was to take a dhow (a wooden sailboat) around the Bazaruto Archipelago. And while the beaches in town lacked a bit of “come hither-ness,” the unspoiled islands were exactly the sort of beaches we were waiting for. We boated around (more on that later), swam and snorkeled, and came back very sunburned and very pleased.

Vilankulos

But Vilankulos isn’t known as a very safe town, at night anyway, and staying at the lodge we once again felt like we were in a guarded off compound (we technically were), so while the girl that was managing the lodge took us around the town a couple of times and we got to see it, we were ready to move on to somewhere we could actually enjoy.

ordering at casbah
Sarah orders from the menu board during one of our lunches out.

To Tofo

We arrived in Tofo, one of the three main beaches in the Inhambane peninsula and it seemed immediately to be what we were hoping for…with a small caveat: the weather had turned gloomy and no one was on the beach!

chalet view
The view from our chalet: since it’s not considered ‘right on the beach’ Moreno managed to talk the guy down to almost half price. Score!

What’s next: We hang out here for a few days and wait for the sun to come back out. We’ll go from there.

Week 11: Ups & Downs in Hilly Malawi

Leaving Lusaka

We started the week in Zambia’s capital, Lusaka. We weren’t there for touristic reasons, but the highway north went right through it, so it was a good place to camp for the night and then run errands in the morning. Africa might be preparing for Christmas, but after struggling in the 40°C heat, we opted to gift ourselves with a fan!

christmas decorations
Lusaka prepares for Christmas in 40°C heat

South Luangwa

We rushed off to Zambia’s most popular park, South Luangwa, where we were told we’d be guaranteed to see leopards. Well, they weren’t quite falling out of the sky but we did see one just as we parked for a quick break.

There we were snacking on popcorn in front of the ranger’s vehicle, when his tracker said something in Nyanja, and the ranger gently suggested we snack on the far side of the vehicle instead – a leopard had come to a waterhole not more than a hundred meters from us and now was running past us back to safety! Ironically, I felt safer than I did around elephants, which we heard more horror stories about from the ranger (under his overarching theme of “Why I Don’t Do Walking Safaris.”)

However, none of the parks in Zambia are fenced so I was able to face my fear one more time as elephants came into our camp just as everyone started falling asleep. We had already locked up our food in the camp’s kitchen (we were told the elephants will smash windows when they smell food) and once I was sure the hum of our fridge didn’t piss the thing off (something I watched on When Animals Attack) I decided I was too tired to wait for it to come close so I could stare at it, and passed out trusting we’d be fine where we slept.

Mixed Feelings in Malawi

The animal sightings were great, but we were aching to get to Malawi to hit the beaches of its beautiful lake, the third largest in Africa, and so big that it looks like the ocean when you’re standing on shore.

We got into Cape Maclear, a teeny tiny backpacker beach town which was right in a village…and immediately wanted to leave. The reality was that as beautiful as the sunset on the lake was, as amazing as the mountains on the lake were, as quaint as the camp right on the beach was with its hawkers selling things to ‘please support their sister,’ we were exhausted, hot, and dirty, and what we really wanted, nay, needed, was a good dose of luxury.

view from Fat Monkey's
I know, I know, it sounds CRAZY to not be in love with this….

Of Peace & Serendipity

Luckily, we found another site a few minutes away that was a bit more private and quiet and opted to stay in a chalet a couple of nights. The owner had been in the South African Special Forces (like our James Finch) and due to his connections was able to give us a lot of useful info on our proximate travel into Mozambique, after which he invited us over for drinks and a braai the next night.

beach swings
*Insert relaxed sigh here*

Catamarans and Panic Attacks

The next day after some time on the beach, we set off for a sunset catamaran cruise on the lake. The lake is beautifully clear, and has some of the best fresh water diving in the world. But while Moreno and some of the other guests went snorkeling, I tried to come to grips with the steady panic I started feeling earlier that day: the potential dangers in Moz (which we always knew were there) all of a sudden terrified me and I could barely breathe, much less think straight. I knew my fear was irrational, but all I could do to not count down the days till we were home was distract myself with watching movies and sleeping.

The Roller Coaster Continues

After some wise words from Finding Nemo (“Just keep swimming…”), I got over it just in time for Moreno to come down with a fever. Nauseous, vomiting, and feeling weak, Moreno spent the rest of Saturday and most of Sunday in bed while I force fed him Ryvita crackers so he could hold down his malaria pill, and threw on episodes of The Pacific to help us both pass the time.

lake malawi
Children washing and playing on glassy Lake Malawi

We found out later one of our neighbours had also been sick in bed for the past 24 hours and the only thing we could come up with was that both he and Moreno snorkelled that day off the catamaran (me and his wife did not), so perhaps there was something in the mouthpieces, or in the water there. (Note: The lake is known to house bilharzia, but these are not the symptoms we’d expect, nor would they come on so quick).

What Next?

We will hang here until Moreno regains his strength and then we’ll head south into Mozambique for the gorgeous coast we’ve been craving for a few weeks of snorkeling, diving, surfing, and dhow-ing.

As always, thanks for tuning in! :)

Week 9: Onwards and Upwards

As I write this, we are sitting on a grassy tall bank of the Okavango River, watching eight hippos occassionally peer out from the water, yawn, and honk their nasal bark about 50 meters from us. And then locals float by on some mokoros (wooden boats). And then the hippos grunt at them for coming too close…

It all feels a bit surreal. We’re in a completely different environment than we were even a few days ago.

Waiting at Walvis Bay

I was of course on a high most of the week coming off my birthday on Sunday, though the rest of the week went by quite uneventfully as we waited for the Landy to be checked over and to hear something – anything – about Moreno’s passport. There’s taking a time out to relax, and then there’s waiting around, and by the time we left Walvis Bay Thursday morning we were so ready for a change.

Passport Drama

By that evening we were back in the capital, and, after some more dramatic emails between the embassy in Pretoria, DHL, and the Consulate in Windhoek (the passport temporarily went ‘missing’), we were given the go ahead to come and pick it up Friday morning. Finally!! (*applause and cheers*)

So with that, we headed north east towards the Caprivi Strip, where we are now, bordered on the north and south by Angola/Zambia and Botswana respectively.

The Time Issue

Unfortunately, finally being able to work out the timing for the rest of the trip resulted in us calculating out how much time we in fact did not have. Consequently, we started doing exactly what we were trying to avoid – madly skimming through the guidebooks and maps all over again to determine how fast we could rush everything and/or what we were willing to cut out. We still don’t know anything for sure, and there’s a lot of dependent variables at play, but we now have three contingency plans based on various administrative limitations and differing timelines.

We’ll see.

Next up: Zambia!!!