Jeffreys Bay

Jeffreys Bay is noted as being strictly a surf town.  The word on the street (Bazbus) is that unless you surf, you’re really not missing anything.  But the fact is, we have been enjoying South Africa so much that we already feel like every city we pass by without visiting, we are missing something.  So we headed to Jeffreys Bay with only a marginal intention of catching some waves and more of an emphasis on catching the game.

The Waikato Chiefs were set to play the Durban Sharks at 9:30am South African time.  We booked four nights at the Hard Rock Backpackers, which surprisingly contradicted your initial assumption of what an establishment like that might provide.  Extremely clean, well run, and bedding that didn’t smell like ten years of sweat, urine, and um. . . other nasty shit that one can only assume has been collected by the ten-year old, yellow stained, torn, poor excuse for a blanket. (i.e. Takweni in Durban).  If you tried to give Takweni’s blankets to a homeless person they wouldn’t even take it for their dog.

Hard Rock is a block from the beach, has a big screen T.V. to watch the olympics, and (the owner) Dick is cool!  Wait, that doesn’t sound right.  I mean Dick is really nice. . . no, not comfortable with that one either.  Dick is fun to hang out with?  Fuck.  I don’t even think he goes by Richard, Dick is in fact his name. Lets just say the owner is a good guy.

We had scouted the bars in the area the day before.  When we walked into @Work and asked about the game the girl at the bar pointed out every T.V. in the bar, “It will be on that one, that one, those two, this one, and the big screen right there.  We will be serving breakfast, burgers, and are expecting a big crowd.”

That’s the shit we’re talking about!  The game plan was laid out.  Wake up at 6:00 and get in a quick 40 minute run (hey, you have to do something to justify drinking that early in the day), get to the bar around 9:00 to beat the crowd, enjoy the game, but keep it modest.

We walked into @Work and happily found ourselves a spot at the bar in front of one of the flat screens.  The bartender asked us if she could get us anything.  I paused for a moment to give it some thought.  Beer is of course the cheap option but not really on the brain at 9:00 in the morning.  I could grab up a screw driver to try to score some vitamin C, but mixed drinks tend to add up pretty quickly on the bill.  I did a quick scan of the room to look for some inspiration.  The guy on our left was drinking a coke on ice.  They guy on our right had what looked like a fresh beer that he was struggling to put back.  Fuck.  I reluctantly decided to go with a beer.

“And for you miss?”

Sally belted out Jack and Coke faster than lightning strikes.  The bartender smiled really big with an impressed look on her face.  It also caused the patrons to our left and right to nod with amazement.

Fucking shit Sally! Now I look like the punk because I was trying to stick to our “game plan”.  I quickly changed my order to make it two Jack and Cokes.  “Just these two and then we’ll have a couple of beers” Sally proclaimed.  No worries I thought.  JD did sound more appealing than beer and if it’s just one round, it will be fine.

A tiny Kwaussie ordering a Jack and Coke at 9 in the morning and an accent that clearly was not in support of the Sharks was all it took to get the attention of the people around us.  Introductions were made and a second round was bought.  We held true to our intentions and went with a beer.  I was in the mood for something a little more crisp and decided to go with a light beer.  After the cap was popped off and I took back a swig Sally noted that light beer in South Africa is similar to light beer in Australia.  Meaning that the light stood for less booze not fewer calories.  What the fuck!?  This is blasphemy!  I checked the bottle and sure enough, 2% alcohol.  Who in the fuck wastes their money on a beer that doesn’t have any alcohol in it?  More importantly, I have been drinking this shit off and on for three weeks now and this is the first time she decides to mention it to me!

It didn’t take long for the Chiefs to score a try.  Reluctant to yell, high-five, and rub it in the locals face, Sally chose the more respected way of celebrating, buying shots for us and our new friends.  Ten minutes into the game and we already covered next months rent for the place.  That was enough to grab the owner’s attention who decided to work the bar for a while down on our side.  More scoring, more shots, the more friendly we became with the locals.  The owner now started matching our shots with complementary shots of his own.

The Chiefs ended up smacking the Sharks around like Ike beat on Tiny.  I watched as the faces in the bar became less interested with what was on the T.V. and more interested in staring at the beer in front of them.  The game ended and so did any shred of hope that we would leave the bar when it did.  Our first name bases with the owner and a few of the locals had us kicking back drinks right through lunch and well into the afternoon.  For the sake of our parents we won’t mention the actual amount of time and money we spent @Work.  Lets just say the cultural exchange was a success.

During our time @Work, we found out that Dicks dog Mustang from the Hard Rock was a frequent visitor.  He hops the fence, runs to the bar, and sits on one of the bar stools.  The entire act of escaping the hostel to head to the pub sounded funny to us at the time, but didn’t fully register.  It wasn’t until the next day when we witnessed the act that we truly appreciated Mustangs love for the bar scene.  He crept to the fence of the hostel, looks back over his shoulder to make sure he is in the clear, then hops the fence with ease.  I ran out of the hostel to chase after him.  As I came out onto the street and attempted to call him back, one of the neighbors reiterated the story we heard the day before.

“He’s just going for a pint mate.  He does it almost every day.  Comes to my yard to fuck with my dogs, takes a shit, then he’s off to @Work. ”
Now that, is an awesome dog!

Jeffreys Bay had an interesting effect on us.  We didn’t spend an extensive amount of time there and the weather was pretty much shit (minus the one day we spent in the pub, figures. . . ).  But we found ourselves in love with Jeffreys Bay.  It seemed like just the place we could imagine ourselves.  A small beach town where you get to know the people around you.  Great weather (most of the time), good pubs, awesome beaches, and right in the heart of the garden route.  It was enough to make us seriously open the conversation about living in South Africa.

 

Joburg to Coffee Bay

The safari left us awestruck at the beauty and brutality of nature.  It also lifted our taste buds to a level that isn’t easily achieved.  The expected crash back into the world of two-minute noodles and sandwiches didn’t return without a fight.  We were catching the Bazbus (a hop-on/off bus that travels from Joburg to Cape Town) out of Joburg and had scheduled one last night at our favorite hostel in South Africa so far, Ghandi Backpackers.  That meant one last steak dinner at the Portuguese restaurant, one last attempt to single-handedly finish off Heinz’s five litre box wine, and one last night ignoring our pathetic attempt to keep a daily budget.  To our social advantage and monetary disadvantage, Nick was down from Swaziland.

Kicking back drinks with Nick (and Heinz at the bar) is like walking into our own version of Cheers.  Of course everybody knows our name, but it also feels like we are hanging out with old friends.  Not concerned with the fact we may never meet again, but rather conversing as if we will be back the very next day.  Ghandi Backpacers also ranks high on our list due to the fact that Heinz has a dog named Fluffy that Sally is absolutely in love with.

Early the next morning our Bazbus journey began slowly.  The bus driver made it an hour out of Joburg when he realized that he didn’t pick up two of the backpackers.  That was an hour out of Joburg, a two-hour drive back due to traffic, and another hour and a half to get back to the point we originally were when he realized he fucked up.  That turned our expected six-hour drive into ten, painful, hours to Durban.

Durban ended up being the final straw.  We couldn’t take it any longer.  Five weeks in South Africa was just not going to cut it.  Two emails later, $100, and we added an extra 10 days to our time in South Africa.  This conveniently enabled us to watch the Super Rugby game that was going to be televised the day we were originally expected to leave Durban.  The  Durban Sharks versus the Cape Town Stormers, winner set to play Sally’s team from New Zealand, the Waikato Chiefs.  Now some of you might think we extended our trip purely on the fact that we wanted to party in Durban if the Sharks won and advanced to the final.  To that I say. . . it did have some influence.

The game turned out to be pretty good.  Sally is enjoying getting back into rugby and now that I have had a sit down with some people who can actually explain the rules in detail and have learned to except the fact that it is a different sport than football (I stopped comparing), I have really started to like it too.  We stayed at our hostel to watch the game, which is the self-proclaimed best party hostel in the area.  Their slogan is ‘Takweni Goes Off’.  They are positioned a block away from Florida street which is lined with bars and restaurants.

However, partying is about all they do.  The people who appear to be employed there are as about as useful as having a seat that also serves as a floatation device on a flight that is going from LA to New York.  They are the oldest hostel in Durban and have seem to have a nostalgic attachment to the blankets they first purchased, as they are still being used.  But if you have no attachment to the idea of sleep between 9pm and 6am, don’t mind waking up in a bed that stinks like 10 years worth of urine, and can navigate your way around a foreign city with zero help, then it actually is a pretty decent party spot.

The hostel turned out to be a great place to watch the game.  Two T.V.’s, a local crowd, a few guys from Cape Town, and of course a tab system that let us drink with no regard for the actual amount of money we were spending.  Durban beat out the Stormers and were sent packing to New Zealand to play the Chiefs.

After five nights in Durban we were ready to escape the city and head for somewhere more secluded and chill.  Coffee Bay was exactly that.  We pulled up at the petrol station in Mthatha (the home town of Nelson Mandela) around 3pm and met up with the shuttle from our hostel to drive us the last 1.5 hours along rural country roads until we finally reached our destination.

Coffee Bay, in the Wild Coast Region of SA is a fairly isolated rural surf village with a population of just 600.  We stayed at the Coffee Shack, situated right where the river meets the ocean.  It has a definite party vibe where evenings are kicked off with sundowners, followed by drinks around the fire and going very late into the night.  Bret and I were roped in the second we arrived.  We were force-fed a free beer then met Clayton who had been there a week before us, returned home to Joburg and was back for a two-week stay.  Extremely nice guy who likes to party at 100 miles per hour.

They also served up an awesome home cooked meal each night and had local children in the area sing and dance before the meal.  Rather than having backpackers give money and sweets to the local kids asking for it, staff at the Coffee Shack encourage the kids to form singing and dance groups to give travellers a taste of their local Xhosa culture, or make and sell their own beads and crafts.

There is so much to see between Durban and Cape Town so unfortunately we only stayed at Coffee Bay for three nights to allow time to see more as we headed south.  Bret and I could have easily stayed two weeks!

In our short time there we managed to get in a three-hour hike to the Hole in the Wall where we chilled for a few hours and enjoyed toasties fresh from the fire.

On our second day we had planned to take a surf lesson for only 40 Rand – that’s a two-hour surf lesson, board and wetsuit for less than USD$5!!  Unfortunately the wind picked up and the temperature dropped that day so we changed our mind and cancelled.  We definitely regret that decision as everywhere we’ve been since, charges at least 200R.  Instead we spent the day at the beach, wrapped up in the warmest clothes we had watching some serious surfers rock the waves.

Coffee Bay is an amazingly scenic place and I have no doubt that Bret and I will return one day, most likely NOT in winter.

Durban and Coffee Bay Photos

Naledi Bushcamp Safari

You know, it’s funny what a young man recollects, ’cause I don’t remember being born.  I don’t recall what I got for my first Christmas and I don’t know when I went on my first outdoor picnic, but I do remember the first time I laid eyes on Naledi Bushcamp.

We were slightly exhausted from our nine hour journey from Joburg.  That seemed to instantly disappear when we pulled into Naledi.  We were greeted by the owner Kjell and the front of house TK.  A warm smile and gracious welcome were accompanied by a chilled cocktail.  Our bags were whisked away and we were ushered to the bar to check in.  I marveled at the liquor selection and smiled to myself, Sally and I were going to do just fine here I thought to myself.  The schedule of the safari was explained before we were escorted to our room.

The morning drive leaves at 6am and the night drive at 3:30pm.  Both drives are approximately four hours, longer if game viewing is going exceptionally well.  Breakfast is served after the morning drive, followed by the option of: visiting one of two hides for an hour and a half, a walk with one of the trackers to learn about the bush and tracking animals, or hang out at the camp and enjoy the facilities, which by anyones standers are nothing short of amazing.  The general area is composed of a bar and lounge, an open air viewing area up stairs, and a massive spread of decks that surround the pool, serve as the dining area, and work their way down to hang over the riverbed.  The entire camp is decorated in a manner that one would imagine an African safari lodge, but with a tasteful eye, as to not overdue or degrade the experience.

TK took us through the wood carved door of our room and showed us the suite that would serve as our home for the next six nights.  The quality of decor continued from the camp and fulfilled every expectation of what a pampered safari room should look like.  From the massive bed, framed with the wood carved headboard, to the outdoor shower.  There wasn’t a single thing I would have changed about the layout.

We had missed the afternoon drive and had some time to kill before dinner was served.  We enjoyed a glass of wine and looked out over our private deck.  Taking in the beautiful South African sunset.  A sight that seems to bring its own uniqueness with each night.

Dinner was served at 7:30pm and it set a precedent that didn’t falter throughout the duration of our time at Naledi.  The three-course meal was perfectly cooked and wonderfully displayed.  The quality easily on par with that of any five-star restaurant.

Kjell joins the guests for both dinner and breakfast.  Making himself available for any questions you might have after the game drive.  He expressed that “You are seeing and doing so much on a game drive, that you may not get the chance to ask a particular question or maybe you have some thoughts after a viewing and would like to know more about a particular animal or scenario.”  The fact that he makes himself available and is extremely knowledgeable is really just a side note to the act of playing a gracious host.  During our six night adventure we saw several guests come and go.  Their nationality, cultural background, and preference of conversation as varied as you can possibly get.  Kjell was able to intelligently contribute to any subject and ensured the conversation made its way back to a topic that everyone could enjoy.

Our first morning game drive had us full of excitement.  We hadn’t really set any preconceived expectation of what we thought we might see or how the drive was going to be conducted.  This was our first Safari and we really wanted to come in and just experience it for what it was.  The camp only had seven guests our first drive, leaving the nine person jeep feeling spacious, and allowing both Sally and I to sit in an outside seat.  Naledi Bushcamp only has occupancy available for nine guests.  Kjell wants to provide an intimate and personal safari experience, a feature that drew us to this particular camp over that of his competitors.  Kjell explained some general safety procedures and outlined how he planned on conducting that particular drive.  He won’t guarantee the sighting of a certain animal or an animal at all for that matter.  Kjell explains how the reserve opens up to several million hector, to include Kruger National Park, and that the animals are in fact wild.  Thus unpredictable in movement.  This humble and anchoring forewarning is little more than a disclosure of the unlikely.  With Prem the tracker up front and Kjells decades of experience, it is only a matter of time.

Our first morning took a little more time to spot an animal than I expected and when it was all said and done, quite a bit more time than it took on all of the following drives.  Prem spotted the tracks of one of the lioness that is known to frequent the area and we spent an hour and a half trying to track down the location of the lion.  To include a large portion of time where Prem was off on foot scouting the area.  Being my first drive my excitement quickly started to fade.  I questioned if this procedure and amount of time was how all big five were tracked.  I doubted our ability to see a lion within the five days we would be at the camp, let alone close enough to snap a photograph.  We did manage to spot several of the plains game and two buffalo (one of the big five) behind some trees.  I felt slightly discouraged, but that would prove to be the most uneventful drive of our entire stay.  It was also quickly turned around when Prem spotted some elephants on our way back to camp.  Five massive bull elephants were making their way through the bush, ripping and destroying any tree that got in their way.  Kjell strategically placed our vehicle to be close, but out of danger.  The largest of the group actually made his way only feet from the Landcruiser.  Apparently he is very comfortable and curious of the tourists, providing excellent photo opportunities.
Breakfast was just as decadent and rewarding as dinner the night before.  I thought to myself, I may not get to see all of the big five but I will most certainly enjoy eating like a king!  After breakfast Sally and I decided to visit one of the hides as our afternoon activity.  We were taken out to the hide that over looked a watering hole.  An ice chest with beer was our refreshment of choice as we discussed the remainder of the time ahead of us.  The peaceful surroundings, excitement of finally being on our safari, and of course beer, proved to be a wonderful experience in the bush.  Unfortunately our noise control was lacking and we ended up limiting our sightings to only a few monkeys and some birds.

On the afternoon drive it was less than 20 minutes before we were tearing off to a white rhino spotting.  Kjell works with a few other lodges in the area to help spot the animals and ensures everyone gets to enjoy the experience.  The massive white rhino took us on a 15 minute stroll down the road before he stopped and posed for pictures.

White Rhino Video

On our way back to the lodge, just before sundowners (a beverage consumed while enjoying the amazing South African sunset) Kjell and Prem spotted several vultures looming in the trees.  They both got off on foot to see if they could spot what had captured the scavengers interest.  They were unsuccessful that afternoon but the following morning proved to be the most fruitful sighting of the entire trip.

We drove straight to the area the next day to see if we could spot what the vultures had already keyed in on the day before.  As we came around a bush next to the watering hole Kjell spotted what we were looking for.  Bigboy, the alpha male of one of the prides in the area was chewing on the back part of a zebra.  I don’t remember the last time I actually saw a lion?  Only in Zoos and of course on T.V..  But this was the first time I saw a real lion.  A lion that had scars on his face and body, hardened from the bush and battles for his food and life.  This particular male was on the downslope of his life and dominance in the pride.  Kjell said that Bigboy was 18 years old and has failed to chase his five (5-year-old) sons out of his territory.  The scenario is either they go or he goes.  Once off his own territory he would be faced with the ongoing battle to survive on opposing prides land.  A life change that more than likely would result in the end of the Bigboy era.  As we sat and watched Bigboy laze about, bloated from his feed, you couldn’t help but develop an affection for the fading king of the jungle.


The remainder of the drive was filled enjoying the planes game: zebra, Impala, Springbok, giraffe, etc (a complete list of what we saw each day is listed at the bottom, along with a photo link).  During the afternoon drive we were lucky enough to find a buffalo herd, composed of nearly 100 of the massive animals.  Kjell excellently placed the vehicle in a way that the herd split and walked around us.  The large bulls walking just feet from the car while the mother and baby buffalo trotted around us in a more half circular fashion.

The third day began with our now usual visit to Bigboy.  Inspecting the progress of his feed and his ability to keep from sharing the zebra with other predators.  We watched Bigboy tear at the flesh of the zebra for a good ten minutes before he decided he had his fill and retired to his napping spot beside his pray.  Just as we pulled away from Bigboy Kjell got a call from one his crew that two black rhinos were walking in the field next to the river.  The animals are fairly elusive as they just arrived in the park less than a year ago (implanted to help preserve and grow the population) and they are not used to the vehicles.

As with all the big five animal spotting potentials, Kjell navigates the roads with an impeccable balance of rally car driver and soccer mom.  Making his way over the bumps and around the corners with a controlled speed that gets you there as quick as possible but still letting you feel safe and confident in his abilities.

We came into the open field and Kjell quickly spotted the rhinos.  As always, he positioned himself in a way that allowed the animals to feel comfortable, while getting us extremely close (no need for a large lens for your camera on this safari!).  The male and female pair had just recently started traveling together.  The hope of generating more of these animals is looking promising on the Naledi safari grounds.  We watched as they fed and showed affection to each other.  They would walk close to the vehicle to inspect it, not able to fully make it out until they were 10ft away due to their poor eyesight.  It was quite humorous to watch their expression change as they approached.  From curiosity to an almost startled look once they can actually make out that it is in fact a vehicle.  The female rhino at one point made a small gesture of aggression toward the vehicle. Then realized we weren’t scared or moving, causing her to retreat into the bushes.


Black Rhino Couple Video

At the end of our night drive we were heading home and feeling quite good about the days events.  With Bigboy, the black rhino, and buffalo, we were at 3 out of the 5 big five in one day.  Everyone was full of excitement and ready to see what extraordinary dish was prepared for dinner.  Just as we pulled around the corner close to camp a lioness came out of the bush onto the road.  She made eye contact with us and then casually trotted into the bush.  Game viewing being the priority of the lodge we pushed back dinner and followed the lioness for the next ten minutes.  The night was just cooling down and Kjell told us the pride is waking up and getting ready to hunt.  It was just moments later that two eight month old cubs came running past the truck.  They were out looking for their mother and spent several minutes next to us.  Their aunt arrived shortly after and gave a quick gesture of affection before directing them in the direction she came from.  The cubs were off and the aunt came to hang out with her sister, the lion we followed into the bush.  The two lioness were extremely receptive to one another and had a little play fight before plopping down into a pile together.

Lion Cubs Video

The fourth morning several guests, Prem, and Kjell reported they heard the roar of the lions as they moved through the bush during the night.  Kjell predicted that based on the distance of the roars, Bigboy may no longer be eating alone.

We made our way to Bigboy and found him stretched out next to his food, alone.  The next hour and a half was one of the more exciting moments of my life and something I will remember forever.  As we sat watching big boy he suddenly lifted his head with a quick jerk.  A few twitches of the ear, wiggles of the nose, and he was up, fully alert.  He started growling and positioning himself in front of his kill.  Behind us a young male lion appeared, followed by a second, a third one, four.  All five of his sons were creeping through the grass.  Four of them made their way to the water hole, trying to express they had no interest in challenging Bigboy.  While one came to the front of the truck and plopped down.  The video below shows the slow creep toward the zebra and Bigboy’s displeasure with the situation.

Bigboy Fight Video

This was it!  This is what I came on Safari to see.  A lion fight and feeding frenzy just feet from the vehicle.  We watched as Bigboy and his five sons devoured the remainder of the zebra in less than 45 minutes.  Bigboy getting the largest portion and occasionally slapping one of the younger lions to remind them whose food they were eating.

Bigboy Slap Video

I didn’t think the day could get much better.  It was surely the apex of the safari.  Up until that point each drive had been better than the one prior.  It was as if Kjell had an arrangement with the animals.  He couldn’t have scripted a better tour of the bush.  His constant reminder that animals were unpredictable and he couldn’t promise a sighting was a distant memory and a humourous statement at that point.  It was completely overshadowed by his tracking ability, placement of the vehicle, and excellent timing.  I was ready to head back to the camp for another excellent round of lunch.  But the drive wasn’t over yet!  Kjell got word over the radio that the group of bull elephants were making their way through the riverbed.  We raced toward the riverbed and passed another truck that was positioned on top of a hill.  Kjell explained he wanted us to get an up close and personal view of the group.  We pulled into the riverbed and placed the vehicle on the left bank of the dry sand.  We watched the older bulls drink from the water as the young elephants wrestled for dominance.  The group then made their way down the riverbed toward our location.  Everyone in the vehicle sat in amazed silence as the group of bull elephants made their way around the Landcruiser.

Young Bull Elephants Playing Video

Herd Of Bull Elephants Video

Sally and I sat in our room after breakfast in amazement.  What could possibly be next?  We must be in for a boring drive in the afternoon?  Statistically speaking, we had to have a drive were we didn’t see one of the big five.  Up until this point it had been at least one every drive and three in total each day.

As we took off on our afternoon drive Kjell mentioned his desire to show us a leopard to complete our big five.  To be honest, I had little faith in our ability to spot the animal that enjoyed the spotlight the least of the big five.  We had been in the Pantanal in Brazil a few weeks prior, a place that travelers also go to spot leopard.  If there was a score kept on those that actually accomplished that goal, it would be drastically one-sided in favor of those who don’t.  I smiled to myself and knew we wouldn’t be seeing any leopard on this trip.  But the fact was it didn’t even matter!

The experience that Naledi provided us was bar none the best anyone could have hoped for while visiting Kruger.  The small details that they pay attention to are amazing.  Heater on when you come back from the morning drive, AC on when you get back from your afternoon activity, fresh towels after every shower, a different cocktail waiting for you after each night drive and a genuine smile and greeting from every staff member.  I had mentioned to another guest during one of our sundowner sessions I would love to try some good biltong (South African version of Jerky.  Putting American jerky to shame).  The next day Kjell had some biltong for me to have with my beer at the sundowner.  How good is that!?

The evening drive found us content with our experience and ready to just kick back and enjoy watching others experience their big five spotting for the first time.  It was just about the end of the drive when Kjell got word from another camp that a leopard had drunk from their watering hole.  As I mentioned before, Kjell does his best to get the vehicle to a big five spotting as quickly as possible.  But this time he really put his foot on the gas.  We had about a fifteen minute drive to try to spot an animal that probably heard us the moment we started heading in his direction.  There was no way we were going to be able to track this animal down in the pitch black night.  Prem was swinging his spotlight from side to side as Kjell flew down the road.  We made it to the area and Kjell eased up on the speed.  We crept down the road, fingers crossed, eyes scanning the treeline, and then it happened.  Prem spot lighted the leopard under a tree marking his territory.  We got close enough to take a video of the last member of our big five check list.

Leopard video

Our final day on Safari was just as productive as the rest.  Kjell eagerly showed the new guests the bull elephant heard as they destroyed his trees next to the watering hole.  He was also able to track down the black rhinos again.  It amazed me how he maintained the same energy and enthusiasm for each of the drives.  I actually started to understand his motivation behind being excited for every animal spotting.  Each viewing was unique and provided a new perspective of the animals.  We ended our time with Naledi by watching the three eight week old lion cubs venture out of their hiding place for one of the first times.  Even Kjell had yet to see the cubs.  Everyone sat awestruck at the adorable cubs that start life so innocent and end up being such a dominating beast that they became known as the king of the jungle.

Safari Photos

List of animals by day:

Day One –

Wildebeest, Impala, Zebra, Black Back Jackel, Elephant, Warthog, Kudu, Monkey, White Rhino, Giraffe

Day Two –

Lion (Bigboy with kill), Buffalo herd, Giraffe, Warthog, Stenbok, Zebra, Kudu, Impala (rutting at hide), Crocodile, Baboon

Day Three –

Lion (Bigboy), Giraffe, Water Buck, Buffalo, Bush Buck, Clip Springer, Black Rhino, Kudu Bull, Warthog, Zebra, Lioness, Lion cubs (8 month)

Day Four –

Warthog, Kudu, Giraffe, Zebra, Black Back Jackel, Lion (Bigboy fight), Elephant, Leopard.

Day Five –

Elephant, Lion (male/female mating), Black Rhino, Warthog, Stenbok, Grey Daker, Waterbuck, Lion cubs (8 week), Lion (male calling for pride), Crocodile.

Johannesburg

The hang over we had from Rio had our pockets light and beer guts heavy.  The theme continued throughout the duration of our time in Brazil, right up to the free drinks on the 1am flight out of Sao Paulo.

We left South America with a clear and concise plan of sobriety and frugalness.  Of course this didn’t include our international flight because everyone knows the rule of an international flight.  You are obligated to drink as much free alcohol as you possibly can.  The reason of course deriving from the fact that the airlines do their best to corner you in a dark ally and violate you for everything you have.  Leaving you naked, cold, and broke.

We made the eight-hour skip across the pond with relatively little sleep.  It was three in the afternoon by the time we settled into our hostel and the exhaustion was definitely setting in.  Our usual duty-free purchase of Jack was intended to be used sparingly and we decided there was no better way to settle into South Africa then a little night-cap and a good long sleep. . .

Four drinks later we decided sleep could wait and went across the street for a steak dinner.  It seems that a simple change of country doesn’t automatically change your taste for indulgence.  Besides, technically until we go to sleep it is still the same day. . . and we did start the day in Brazil. . .and Brazil budget was blown anyway. . . so we might as well have one last steak and wine dinner. . . and then close the books on Brazil and start fresh. . . right!?

Of course these are rhetorical statements because when both parties are on the same page there is little debate.  Filet Mignon and Pinot Noir for two please!  By the time we finished up and made it back to the hostel it was close to 9pm.  We had been up for just over 35 hours but seemed to catch our second wind.  We headed to the hostel bar for a night-cap.  As most avid night cappers will note, a night-cap isn’t necessarily the last drink of the night.  It is simply a drink you consume after you have reached the point that you probably should have called it a night.  For those of you paying attention, this is our second night-cap of the evening.

Both fortunately and unfortunately the bar just so happened to be hosted by the owner of the hostel Heinz.  A very polite and humorous Swiss that is heavy on the pour and cheap on the prices.  A couple of regulars were there enjoying themselves as well (Nick from Australia and Kurt from South Africa) and the next thing you know it’s a party.

Three thirty in the morning rolls around and my ability to continue the festivities is displayed by my inability to comprehend a single thing that Nick is saying to me.  We head off to bed and don’t awake until 2:30pm the next day.

Alright, that’s it.  We are done with the shenanigans.  It is time to buckle down and end this Rio party.  I mean we are five fucking time zones away!  Nope, the price is wrong bitch.  Our favorite South African, Warren just so happened to be in the area and it was time to relive our night out in San Andres, Colombia, during the first week of our trip.  I won’t bother with the details.  Just read the post from last time (post from last time).  Change Sally’s leap from the dog into Bret and Warrens pathetic attempt to get Bret over the hostel fence and its pretty much the same.

Another late night and another day shot from sleeping in until dinner time.  Our to-do list that was going to be easily accomplished during our five-day stint in Joburg just became a little more condensed.  Fortunately for us there are some extremely enticing and interesting things to do in Joburg.  Otherwise I fear we would have blurred our way right to the Safari.

On our third day we decided to pull our shit together and get out of bed before sunset.  During our first night extravaganza, Nick and Kurt highly recommended a tour of SOWETO.  This is the area were the black community “congregated” (were pushed to) during the apartheid.  Cromwell, a former resident of SOWETO had been running tours of SOWETO for the last 10 years and was highly recommended.

Cromwell picked us up in the morning around 9am.  We drove the twenty minutes to SOWETO and received an hour history lesson prior to entering.  The tour of the area was interesting but Cromwell was the key factor in making it worth the time and money.  We saw the way they live, toured a daycare, went to Nelson Mandela’s old house, and had a traditional lunch of cow head and bap, eaten with our hands.  As usual when conducting a tour of this nature, there were the planned situations where stories were told and hands stretched out.  The awkwardness and pity out weighing the anger of being set up.  Without the information and talent of Cromwell I would have an entirely different perspective of the tour, reminiscent of our time in Peru.

The following day we completed our cultural tour of Johannesburg by visiting the apartheid museum.  I normally consider visiting a museum about as fun and interesting as cutting grass with scissors.  I have done my best to visit a few over the years, knowing I would be no more wiser or enlightened after leaving then I feel after taking a big, stinky, shit (maybe less).  But I strongly believe in the equal rights of all humans that inhabit this earth and feel a connection between the history of South Africa and that of the United States. Sally also had a strong desire to visit the museum and we ended up making it a five and a half hour visit.  We read virtually every piece of inscription the museum had to offer.  This kind of enthusiasm and interest to read for five hours straight is coming from a guy that has read exactly two books in the last five years (not counting academic literature).  Both of those books being read in the last four months while I was on the road and forced to read or hold my breath until I pass out due to boredom.  The museum does an exceptional job of encapsulating the history of South Africa and describing the rise and fall of the apartheid.

They also had a temporary exhibit that highlighted the life of Nelson Mandela.  Obviously a name that is known all over the world, but to understand the man behind the name really put me beside myself.  I actually left the exhibit amazed at one mans ability to persevere, persist, persuade, and accomplish.  All while maintaining a state of pure humility.  Not just what he did for the non-white community in South Africa, but what he did to unite a nation that spent so many years apart.  I firmly believe if we would have had Nelson Mandela as our president to guide the United States out of segregation, we would be now where I hope we are in 50 years, in regards to racial relations in our country.

Johannesburg

Brazil Wrap

Have you ever had those days when you are sitting at your desk and all you can think about is escaping that dreadful, mundane, ass-dragging, 9 to 5 – or 6 – or 7, piece of shit Tuesday?  When knock off time seems to be coming about as fast as a five-year olds piss poor attempt to send a bowling ball down the lane.  Slowly – bouncing – off – the left bumper, then the right bumper, then the left bumper, until it comes to a standstill, just two feet from the pins.  When you have exhausted all of the yahoo headlines, Facebook updates, and the fake money in your online poker account.  When the very thought of doing something productive makes you want to be physically ill and yet you can´t seem to find ANYTHING to entertain yourself on the internet (or have been banned from ping-pong until after 5pm).

When all you want to do is drop everything and go to a beautiful beach, enjoy weather that wraps itself around you like a warm blanket on a cold night, stick your feet in the equally warm but refreshing water, and enjoy a cocktail that is sweet to the taste but packing a Mike Tyson punch of alcohol.

You may not realize it at the time, but there is a high percentage chance that you are day dreaming about Brazil.
Unfortunately our time in Brazil went faster than an apple through my digestive system when I had giardia.  It seems like just yesterday we were getting smacked around by the mosquitoes in the Pantanal like a coked out whore that stole money from her pimp.  Clearly our time in Rio dominated our thoughts and hearts when it came to Brazil.   But Ilha Grande did beat out all other beaches we visited in Brazil to claim the “BS – WANKERSS Beach Award” (Bret/Sally Way Awesome Nice Killer Entertaining Relaxing Sand and Surf – Beach Award) 
We know that when we make it down to the southern America again, Brazil will be on our list of places we visit.
Food:
To the most dedicated carnivore that wants nothing more than to die choking on a bloody piece of meat and it just so happens that Brazil bids quite well as a very practical place for such an act to happen.  The Brazilian style BBQ (Churrasco) is a wonderfully scripted ballet.  The protagonist role being yourself, the antagonist your stomach and its painful, cramping, beyond stuffed, emergency signal it so pathetically attempts to send to your brain.  The waiters smile as they pile more and more varieties of meat on your plate.  Gleefully increasing their pace as they see you being beat into submission.
The guys on the street are serving up what many of us refer to as Kabobs of meat and based on quality and quantity would be dished out for well over $20 in the states.  However you’re going to be able to catch these bad boys on just about every corner (at night) for $2 – $4.
Top Rated For The Trip:
Clearly as the introduction paragraph stated; Rio is by far at the top of our list for Brazil and thus far top rated for our trip over all.  Lopes Mendes beach in Ilha Grande is one of the best beaches either of us have ever been to in our life.
Items Lost:
Our sense of budgeting and self-restraint (Our budgeting to this point has been exceptional.  Brazil. . . 24% over what we intended to spend)
Items Acquired:
Debit card (lost in Bolivia)
Tablet (Died in Colombia)
*Big shout out to Glen “Pops” Armstrong for taking out the second mortgage on the house to send both of those items to Brazil!

Ilha Grande and Paraty

After seven days in Rio, I was reluctant to leave but our spending habits would have had us on our way back to Seattle in less than a month had we stayed any longer . . !

We started making our way down to Sao Paulo with two pit-stops along the way.  First stop was Ilha Grande.  An island paradise we were sold on after talking to an Irish couple we met back in La Paz.  Due to Bret´s lack of planning, we missed out on bus tickets to where we would get a ferry over to the island (ha-ha Sally, you mean OUR lack of planning – Bret).  Luckily, my research skills found Easy Transfer that would get us there the very next day for three times the price.

We were set.  Easy Transfer would pick us up between 10:30am and 11:30am in a comfortable, air-conditioned van and we would be on our way.  Wrong!  With Bret´s mantra in mind (early is on time, on time is late and late is unacceptable) we were ready and waiting in the lobby of our hostel at 10:15am.

11:45am rolled around and there was no sign of the van.  We gave old Easy Transfer a call and were told that no, we were scheduled to be picked up in the 11:30am -12:30pm time slot.  Okay, no biggie, that´s only another 45 minutes away.  Ten minutes later, Easy Transfer called the hostel and told us that the van was already full but not to worry, a taxi would be there to collect us in fifteen minutes and will have us at the ferry dock in time at the same price.  Sweet, a private transfer!

After another hour of waiting (it was now 1pm), a taxi, the size of a matchbox finally showed up – with two other passengers and their luggage already  inside.  Bret called front seat so I squeezed into the back seat with my day pack on my lap, not overly excited about the cramped situation I would be in for the next two hours.  Until Bret hopped in the front – with his day pack AND his 70 pound backpack on his lap!  The boot was full to the brim and could not fit either of his bags.  Needless to say, he was not happy!

We had a ferry to make and were already running late so not much could be done.  We spent the next hour and a half fearing for our lives as the taxi driver had to make up for lost time and was trying to shave an hour off what is usually a two and a half hour drive.  After a few near death experiences, we made it to the ferry.

Admittedly we were both pretty pissed off at the whole situation but it took all of two minutes on the boat, sun shining, reggae music blaring, waves crashing, to have a good laugh and realize that hey, life is pretty damn sweet!

Ilha Grande lived up to our expectations and then some.  It´s a small island town of about 3,000 inhabitants with plenty of glorious beach opportunities if you´re willing to do a little hiking.  Of course we all know Bret is not much of a hiker but I did manage to get him on a two-hour stint to beautiful Lopes Mendes beach.  Hands down, the most beautiful beach either of us have ever been to!  Perfect, clean, soft white sand, clear blue-green waters and surf to entertain us during our hours spent there.  The photos we have do not do it justice.

Unfortunately we only had four nights on the island.  In that time we spent two days hiking to and relaxing on Lopes Mendes beach, the other was spent close to the main area, not doing too much due to a late night drinking session with a few kiwis we met at the hostel.

Ilha Grande Photos

The day we left Ilha Grande it was overcast and pouring rain – a sign it was time to move on.  Two hours further down the coast we stopped at Paraty.  We were running out of time in Brazil so only managed to stay three nights, which only allowed us two full days to check out the area.  Our first day there, it was overcast so we spend the day wandering the cobble stone streets and doing a fair bit of window shopping.

Luckily our second to last day in Brazil it cleared up and we walked thirty minutes to a beach on the coast and enjoyed our last hours at the beach for a few weeks, laying out, enjoying beers at a chill beach-side pub we came across blaring reggae music.

Paraty

Unfortunately, the time had come.  The thirty days we spent in Brazil had flown by and finally come to an end.  The last week in Ilha Grande and Paraty had been the best send-off to a fantastic time in a beautiful country.

With our next flight leaving from Sao Paulo, we had to jump on a six-hour bus ride.  We had wanted to spend at least two nights there but the beaches slowed us down and we only had one.  The only day we had to explore before catching a late-night flight out, it was pissing down rain the entire day so we didn’t get to see Sao Paulo outside our immediate area.  Until next time I guess!

Rio = Really, It´s On!

In our almost 30 years on this earth (oh shit. . . almost 30) collectively we have had the opportunity to visit over 35 different countries and countless cities (We know, it’s a tough life).  We have been on the road for over four months straight and have at least 9 more to go!  The fact is, it isn’t that places become less amazing, but sadly it becomes standard for you to be in these amazing locations and thus more difficult for an individual place to register above the rest (there is just too much awesomeness).  We each have our own list of places that have managed to hit us hard enough with what they have to offer that they have found a permanent spot in our memory and made it onto our short list of places we know we will return.

We both definitely agree that Rio has made each of our lists.

If you have had the opportunity to meet a Brazilian, one of the most common features I am sure you noticed was their undying and unrepressed love for their country.  Of course every nationality is patriotic and proud of where they are from (America, fuck yeah!).  But it seems that Brazilians manage to top even the proudest, only buy American, gun totting redneck, country music loving, ‘Jesus Christ only loves The States’ bumper sticker on a jacked up truck, redneck.  Did I say redneck twice?  Just trying to get the point across.

Before I came to Brazil I thought maybe there was some kind of class in school that brainwashed them to only have a taste for their own culture, no matter how it actually ranks against others (no offense Brazilians).  Similar to people who smoke cheap cigarettes for so long they actually prefer GPC over a Marlboro or Camel.  Or those that really believe that Hamms is a superior beer and that all bars should be required to have it on tap.

The fact is, I now sit writing this very blog wearing capoeira pants, a green and yellow shirt that says “Ordem E Progresso”, and I am listening to Michel Telo ” Ai Se Eu Te Pego.  (A song that has followed us all around South America.  I still have absolutely no fucking clue what he is saying, but damn its catchy.)

Ai Se Eu Te Pego

Oh, and we are going to kick ass at our country hosted world cup in 2014!

Turns out these Brazilians might have more than a little ground to stand on when it comes to reasons for being proud, and I don’t even think they have the right to bear arms!?  Or at least not a Saturday Night Special and or assault rifle.

Alright, I may be slightly living in the moment.  Infatuated with a new love and not judging it in a rational manner.  Simply overlooking its negative sides and highlighting the positive.  It’s not like we are going to rush into a marriage, not fully knowing each other and hope love conquers all. . . we all know that shit never works out.

We spent a week in Rio and it was able to provide us with everything we were looking for and more.  In fact, we were so happy with Rio that we are not really sure what we did in Brazil before Rio or what we have planned after?  When I think back on our 30 days in Brazil it will be overshadowed by a single week.

Late night (turning into early morning) parties on the streets of Lapa, great food, perfect weather, awesome beaches, and it even has well laid out running paths for those (few) days we felt up for it.  The sights are worth the money and the people are quick to ensure you are happy (with a smile and a thumbs up) and in our case, not lost.  Don’t feel like trying to navigate your way around?  Just whip your map out, start looking confused, and you will be helped shortly.

Lapa captured a majority of our late night adventures as the clubbers have a tendency to spill out into the street, the drink stands ensure your not wasting your money in the club – both in price and alcohol content, and the food stands help you extend that drunken stupor well past the wee hours of the morning and into the start of the following work day.  On the weekends they close the street down and no bull shit, it is right on par with Bourbon Street (only cheaper!).  Plenty of people, action, music, and craziness.

The food in Brazil is insane and Rio does it as well if not better than anywhere.  Our appetite was well passed suppressed with the by kilo buffets or all you can eat spots.  The street food was out-of-this-world.  Barbeque is not just a standard that is upheld to the highest degree by fine cuisine establishments.  The guys on the street take pride in their R$4 / $2 kabab.  The 6 large chunks of awesome of meat (chicken, beef, sausage, cheese, mixed) ranks second on my all time favorite street food item, behind the street taco of course which will always be my first love. (I see you Tacos Flair)

The beaches in Brazil don’t need my pathetic attempt to describe how beautiful they are.  If you google top ten beaches in the world, depending on the list, Brazil will grab at least two of the top five spots.  It seems they are always busy and if your thirsty little habit so desires, you can be well on your way to smashed for reasonably cheap right there on the beach.  As it is littered with drink stands and the mark up for the prime location is minimal.

While at Impanema beach we were fortunate enough to catch one of the most amazing sunsets I have ever seen in my life.  The sun was setting over the mountains that surround Rio and the sun was reflecting off the haze, presenting a fairly impressive array of colors. The beach was laid out in front of us with the ocean crashing gently on the sand.  As we stood at the edge of the pier we looked to our left toward Copacabana beach and were amazed to see the full moon raising from the water.  It was close enough that you could easily make out every detail.  What blew our mind was with each passing minute the moon would change colors, matching the colors presented by the sun as it set.  Sunset to our right, moon raising to our left.  Pretty damn spectacular!

Sally even managed to get a little dancing in!  Every weekend there is a festival held in a stadium on the north side of town.  Apparently it use to take place in the street, but it got so big that the city moved it to a permanent location.  The inside of the stadium is now structured into different booths, restaurants, and dance floors.  I was fortunate enough to find a Forro club that was right around the corner from a reggae club.  So we would do a couple of songs at each to make sure I kept my sanity while still appeasing Sally’s thirst for local music.

The only downside about Rio, is like the patriotic Brazilian they realize what they got going on.  Hostel prices are double compared to other places in Brazil, beers cost a little bit more, and of course that all you can eat buffet doesn’t seem like such a deal with the spike in cost.  With our plans of a year-long trip we had to attempt to keep our budget in mind while still taking advantage of the moment.  I use the word “attempt” loosely, as the moment seemed to trump the budget in most if not all cases.

Until next time Rio.

Rio de Janeiro Photos

Foz do Iguaçu

Iguazu Falls is one of the largest set of waterfalls in the world.  It is so big that it makes Niagara Falls look like a little bitch.  In fact, it is well-known that while both waterfalls were doing a short stint in prison, Niagara actually was Iguazu´s bitch.  Doing things like Iguazu´s laundry, cleaning his cell, giving Iguazu its piece of cake, and of course other unmentionable things that happen in prison.

Actually, I have no idea of the real comparison between the two waterfalls.  After an exhausting single search on Google I decided I didn´t even really care that much.  Let’s just say that Iguazu is pretty damn impressive and leave it at that.

From Campo Grande we caught a night bus to Foz do Iguacu, where we based ourselves for three nights to explore the falls.

There is much debate on which side of the falls is better, the Brazilian or the Argentinean.    The Brazilian side offers a panoramic view of the falls while the Argentinean side offers an up close and personal experience.

We decided to start with the Brazilian side, unfortunately it was overcast but we still spent a good two hours checking out the views.  It´s winter here in Brazil so we were lucky not to have to deal with huge crowds.  Also, fortunately during winter the falls have four times the amount of water, adding to the magnificence of the falls.

Before we left for this trip, neither Bret or I were overly interested in visiting the falls but talking with others along the way we were convinced we had to visit while we were in this part of the world.  It was a decision Bret and I were extremely glad we made!  For the most part it was a stunning view of the falls in its entirety.  There were a couple of opportunities to get close the falls, at one point we ventured out over the water to a platform that puts you on top of one of the falls.  Although neither of us enjoyed the view for too long as we were getting absolutely soaked!

Iguazu Falls – Brazil

Not far from the falls on the Brazilian side is a pretty impressive bird park.  It’s a refuge for birds that have been saved from smuggling attempts.  While on this trip I have discovered that Bret has a thing for photographing wildlife, in particular, birds (I think he’s secretly trying to torture me because he knows how much I hate them).  I bucked up and faced my fear and even went inside a few cages with the birds.

Parque Aves

The next day we headed over to Argentina for a full day of exploring.  The Argentinians have done an excellent job of constructing walk-ways that take you all over the falls.  We started off at the Devil´s Throat, which in my opinion was the highlight of the entire falls.  It was about a 1km walk across the river to a viewpoint right on top of one of the larger falls and it was spectacular!  The rest of the day we spent walking the platforms, exploring the many angles of the falls.

Although the second day Bret’s lazy ass tried to talk us out of going to the Argentinean side, it didn’t take long for him to thank me for dragging him across the border.  We both agree that if you are in the area, check out both sides (but save the Argentinean for last!).

Iguazu Falls – Argentina

Other than a base to visit the falls, Foz do Iguazu didn’t offer much else other than a decent buffet dinner teamed with a pretty cheesy South American dance show.

The Pantanal – Brazil

The story starts off simple enough.  Truth be told, neither one of us really has an attraction to searching for wildlife in the middle of the jungle.  But we decided that the probability of our return to this part of the world was slim to none and it just seemed to be what all the cool kids were doing, so we said why the fuck not?

The company (Ecological Expeditions) is recommended in Lonley Planet and a couple blogs we have been reading.  The only problem is their home offices are in Campo Grande and Bonita and we are at the border of Bolivia, in Corumba.  Alas! An intermediary (An ex-used car salesman with his hair slicked back and ripping people off on his mind).  He was actually waiting at the border for unsuspecting tourists, hoping to get the jump on the competition in town (his brother).  We took his card but wanted to read up a little more on the tour before we booked.  Later that day we strolled down to his office in a very finicky manner.  The overnight train from Santa Cruz was reflective of an old wood rollercoaster.  The ones where the metal bar doesn´t quite make you feel secure and the way the ride shakes, rattles, and ultimately rolls, has you questioning whether you are going to die or vomit all over yourself.  Needless to say we didn´t get much sleep.  Combine that with the reintroduction to heat, and it gave each block we walked the feeling like another nail was being pounded into the coffin that held our motivation.

When we made it to the bus station where dickhead´s office was he was quick to rush ahead of his brother and shuffle us into his office.  Now I have dealt with sales people before.  In fact, I dabbled in the profession myself a little.  The worst experience for me being the stereotypical used car purchase.  But this guy takes the cake (fat bastard obviously eats most of it too).  What he didn´t know is we had already emailed the company prior to our arrival and were given the price structure.

He began his pitch with a half ass attempt at explaining what we were buying (maybe a minute long) then went right for the jugular and quoted us R$200 more then what the company sells the package for.  Now keep in mind we are no longer in some country that uses Monopoly money, we´re in Brazil and R$200 is $100 US.  The whole package is only $200 US per person.  That is a sweet little markup for him.  I informed him that we had already been in touch with the company and quoted a price.  He looked a little dumbfounded and quickly said “Ok, ok, I make compromise for you”.  We discussed payment options (cash only / now) and then we were off to the ATM.

Sally and I noted that it wasn´t just the fact that he tried to rip us off, it was his mannerisms when he tried to do it.  I have had interactions with strung-out tweakers that were more professional and poised then this guy.

When we came back he had informed us that he spoke with his boss and there was a miscommunication.  He then started explaining portions of the package that were not included at the price we agreed upon.  The two of us just sat there and stared at him shaking our heads.  “No, that doesn´t sound very good. . .” I said.  He squirmed a little bit and said he would have to call his boss.  He made two phone calls in Portuguese (which we don´t speak) and said again how he was going to make “compromise” with us.  I was beginning to question whether he firmly grasped the meaning of the word.  He added back in the things he was trying to take out and gave it to us at the quoted price.  The entire dog and pony show took about 30 minutes and was quite annoying.  We left questioning the legitimacy of our “deal” and the company itself.

The next morning, to our surprise, a truck pulled up to take us into the Pantanal.  We thought we would surely have to return to the bus station equipped with broken bottles and molotov cocktails to get our money back.  The driver was extremely pleasant and we were thankful to be on our way.  The drive took about three hours with stops.  Quick breaks to take a few shots of the cayman (a small crocodile) and some birds.

It wasn´t until we were stopped by the police (5 minute stop) that we realized the danger of visiting the Pantanal.  The mosquitoes, oh dear God, the fucking mosquitoes!

These things are as relentless as the Japanese war planes in WWII.  Divebombing in from all directions with no regard for their own life.  It was like taking a girl onto a military post and walking down the halls of the infantry barracks.  What seems to be a deserted area quickly becomes flooded out of no where as soon as they catch wind of who´s there.  We collected around ten lumps each before we were on our way.  The very next stop we lathered up with bug spray.  We had concocted a special mix for the occasion, half OFF and half 99% DEET (Thanks Darci!).  People had told us stories about melting clothes and sunglasses with the pure DEET which is what deterred us from using it in its pure form. (Though by the end of the trip I had dreams of returning to the Pantanal with a fucking fire truck full of the shit and just blasting the place)

Once we arrived to our final destination we were relieved and had our confidence revived.  An impressive three-story, new and clean lodge greeted us.  The staff was quick to get us situated and explain the strategy of our stay.  “You don´t have much time and you have a lot of activities to complete”, explained Paulo.  “We need to get you going right away”.  He explained we would go fishing for piranha after lunch, night spotting tonight, boat expedition tomorrow morning, walking after lunch, and the jeep safari our last day.

As we walked into the dining/chill area we heard a familiar voice. . . (flashback) During our salt flat tour in Bolivia we had met a member of T.A.L.K.S.Go (Those Against Letting Known Silence Go).  Their mission is to ensure that silence is persecuted to its fullest.  If ever there is a moment that conversation seems to be taking its natural wind down, they will intervene.  It may have no relevance to the current conversation, it may be something they have already mentioned 17 times, or it could happen when everyone is trying to go to sleep, but God damn it, their mission is clear.  Kill Silence.  The member (Dave) who was riding in our vehicle had the joy of meeting another member on the last night of the tour.  An indian woman who must have been a member of T.A.L.K.S.Go for quite some time. For she had developed one of their secret weapons to the fullest, the complaining tactic.  Herself and Dave went through everything from the economy, politics, other countries, and who knows what else?  Sally and I escaped as quick as we could.

Her voice came flooding back into our lives as we stepped through the door.  The irony was not lost on me.  (This is twice I have verbally complained about a member then had that very member join me on a tour…. their onto me!)  She turned out to be a nice enough lady.  But did have a rant about the Australian police for about 30 minutes.  Apparently they don´t agree on what is considered appropriate driving.  She has a collection of tickets and a short stint of having her licence suspended to prove it.

Lunch….was….amazing!  I am not sure if it’s because we just came from Bolivia?  But to have rice, beans, and meat.  Damn, it was nice.  Plenty of it too.  If you wanted to go back for thirds, there was still no denting the amount of food they provided.  This continued throughout our time in the Pantanal.  A LOT of good food!  I could feel the dream of a Brazil Beach Body fading away as I dozed in and out of a food coma for most of the tour.

Paraná fishing proved to be more successful than I expected.  A short boat ride to an island in the middle of the Paraguay river and the five of us cast our bamboo fishing rod (a bamboo stick with fishing line attached) into the water.  Within a half hour everyone had caught at least one fish, nine in total.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After fishing we did a little boat excursion to view some of the birds the Pantanal has to offer .  Thankfully Sally and I left our good camera at the lodge (only bringing our point and shoot) and had the chance to view the birds without being distracted by silly things like the act of taking pictures.  (It turned out to be the best bird spotting on the entire trip)  This would be a running theme of unpreparedness that would carry on throughout our tour.  Thankfully bug spray did not make it onto this list.  Two of the girls we were with forgot and also proclaimed they didn´t want bug spray.  The viewable parts of their body (arms and neck) were a billboard that screamed what a retarded move that was (they had been there one day).  At one point on our boat trip there was at least 15 mosquitos on Sally and I (each), while the girls had upwards of 50 each.

The night boat tour proved to be a simple act of checking the box.  While I envisioned a large spot light similar to the ones used in the movies when the hillbillys are illegally hunting from the back of a pickup truck and getting smashed (i.e.) Crocodile Dundee.  It was a small handheld flashlight that was low on batteries.  We could barely make out what was three feet in front of us let alone the shore 30 feet away where I guide was “trying” to spot wild life.  Each passing minute of the thirty we were on the water made it clear to me why the guides were so unenthused.  The night-piercing sound of our engine, the “light” from our flashlight, the low percentage chance that any animal will be drinking from the water at the exact time we drive by and “spotlight” it, yeah. . .  Wasn´t trying to get onboard the following nights tour, that´s for sure.

The next day the guides decided that it would be easier to consolidate us and we all went on the jeep safari/walking tour (two girls with mosquito bites, the member of T.A.L.K.S Go, and a German/English couple).  The driving proved to be pretty successful and we saw quite a few animals.  However, our recurring unpreparedness had us out with a camera that was flashing low battery.  That ment we were only able to whip it out, take one quick photo of each animal we saw, and stuff it back away in hopes we saw more.  (Great job Bret and Sally, great job)

The walking tour, though successful as well in regards to spotting animals, had the major set back of the mosquitos.

I know what your thinking:  We got the mosquito point.  Stop belaboring the fact that there were mosquitos.  Suck it up and get on with the story.

No! Fuck that!  You don´t know man, you weren´t there!  We´ve seen some shit! Oh yeah, we´ve seen some shit. . .

The trek through the woods/jungle (whatever you want to call it) was enough to have the girls that were “Against putting chemicals on their body” begging for mosquito spray.  The guide (apparently locals have a built up tolerance) had at least 100 crawling all over his body.  I eased my way to the back of the group, slowing my pace enough to be 20 feet behind.  It´s not that I am not a helpful guy and wasn´t empothetic to their pain.  I just knew that Sally and I had a family sized bottle of bug spray that was 3/4 gone on our first full fucking day!

After lunch there was a second walk to the swamp to try to spot an anaconda.  Sally and I decided to hang back with the truck.  Sally had no interest in seeing an anaconda, I had no faith the group would spot an anaconda, and we both had no fucking desire to visit the mecca of mosquitos.  We stayed up by the truck with the hopes our body and mind (frustration level peaks when you are constantly swatting bugs away) would catch a break.  No such luck.  A fresh dousing of bug spray was about as effective as using one square of single-ply toilet paper.

We started outside the truck (it was hot) hoping the spray would be enough.  Within minutes we were rushing to the door and getting ready to throw ourselves to safety.  Just as we were about to pile in we were met with a swarm of mosquitos that were trapped inside the car.  Our hope sunk as we slammed the door and discussed our next move.  At first we stood together, hoping the consolidated amount of bug spray would help shield us. Fail.  Next we did our best Richard Simmons Sweating to the 80´s dance and tried to out slap away the bugs.  Fail.  Movement we thought, we need to create a breeze so they can´t catch us.  A quick walk up and down the dirt road ensued.  Looking as ridiculous as the speed walkers in the olympics (how is that even a sport?)  It took only four back-and-forths for us to realize being parked right next to a fucking swamp is a place that makes it impossible to escape mosquitos. . . We piled into the truck.  Pissed off and ready to fight.  Scenes from Starship Troopers raced through my mind as we began to slap, clap, and swat at the 30+ mosquitos inside the truck.  We had to punch and slap the bench seat in the back where we were sitting and the two front seats to get them into the air.  It took us a good 15 minutes to get every last Hmmmmm out of our ears.  We paused, watching, waiting.  Sweat dripped from our face as the violent movement of action had raised our body heat to match the warmth of the interior of the truck.  Nothing.  We broke into a cheer!  High-fives and yelps of joy rang out as we celebrated our victory.  It was only five minutes of peace before the group made their way back to the truck. . .  But it was the best damn five minutes of my life.

The last day of the tour.  We were beat down enough by the mosquitos that we were happy as shit we only booked two nights.  The sunrise the day before had been fairly spectacular and we decided to try to capture it on our last day.  Not yet soaking wet from bug spray, I decided to cover every possible part of my body with clothes.  Pants, fleece,  and a beanie.  The only exposed parts of my body were my face and hands.  The quick 50 second jog to the river bank and back to snap two shots resulted in three bites on my right hand and two on my face.  While other members of the tour toughed it out and enjoyed the sunrise in its entirety, Sally and I sat in the room and conspired to start a foundation with the goal of developing a chemical that kills all the worlds mosquitos.

Our boat excursion on the last day proved to be extremely unsuccessful.  Everyone else on our tour was extremely pleased with the number of caymans, birds, and other animals they got to see on their tour which excited us.  But because we had our good camera with us, fully charged, we saw a grand total of three birds, a small iguana, and some otters at a very far distance.  Even our guide was perplexed.  After an hour of unsuccessful scouting he took us to an orange farm.  There was an old gunned down house we toured that fell victim to the Brazil / Paraguay battle over the land and some trees that he knew had at least a good number of parrots.

We ended our tour with a two-hour ride out of the Pantanal in the back of a truck.  Followed by a four-hour drive to Campo Grande.  As we reflected back on our time in the Pantanal (counting our bug bites versus the number of animals we saw) we decided that its best to leave the animal tours for those that are actually enthused enough by animals to put up with the bullshit it takes to go find them.

Pantanal

Bolivia Wrap

Bolivia, what to say about Bolivia? Bolivia is like Peru´s younger redheaded step-brother.  No, better yet, Bolivia is Peru´s Canada.  Bolivia is doing things just as well if not better than Peru but doesn´t get half the credit or notoriety that Peru receives.  It provides many of the same attributes as Peru: historical architecture, Inca heritage, and music/dress that are the exact fucking same.  Take a woman carrying half the world on her back, a kid playing the flute then asking for money, and an old man with a cheek full of coca leaves from each country; think you can tell the difference?  Yeah right, and Grizzly Adams had a beard.

Granted the infrastructure and business are a bit behind, but Bolivia is the poorest country in South America, what do you expect?  Not to worry, the two of us have done our best to try to singlehandedly boost their economy.  In a place we thought we would be saving cash we ended up simply raising the quality of lifestyle to compensate for the cost difference.  What were private rooms with a bathroom turned into a private cabin/house, sandwich lunches replaced by eating out, and don´t even get me started on our recycling campaign (Enough glass was used to replace all of the windows in a small office building.)

All that being said, Bolivia is not going to make my top ten list for countries I need to revisit.  The two of us have decided that there is never any reason to visit a place that is that cold that does not have some type of mountain we can snowboard down.  It is nice to stretch your money, but the sacrifices you have to make in regards to transportation, infrastructure,  and quality doesn´t really make up for it THAT much.

Food:

The food in Bolivia was actually not terrible (As far as the standards of countries we have visited so far).  We had heard horror stories about the food while we were in Peru, but I actually thought it was on par.  Or at least the quality of restaurant we visited went up?  Plenty of vegetables available, great soups, the chicken and steak weren´t always reflective of a piece of road kill that was ran over by a 18 wheeler, and the street food was the best we have had yet: Deep fried mashed potato balls with various fillings, Saltenas (similar to an empanadas only with a sweeter bread and better fillings), and plenty of fresh squeezed juice available.

Top Rated For The Trip:

The salt flat tour was pretty spectacular.  Not just the salt flat itself, but the lagoons, geysers, and flamingos were cool too.  Who the fuck thought there would be flamingos in place as barren and cold as Bolivia?  Perhaps I should have paid more attention in earth science class, but I thought they were warmer climate animals?  Maybe I am just confusing all the lawn ornaments in Florida stereotypically portrayed on T.V.?

Items lost:

Sally´s desire to ride horses (from almost being decapitated by a tree and falling off a horse)

Our tan and the moister from our skin

Bret´s debit card (left in an ATM machine in Sucre – that’s two for those of you keeping track at home)

Items acquired:

A never-ending runny nose

Current Running Rummy Scores:

Sally – 27 games won

Bret – 24 games won

Highest Score – 507 (Sally)

Lowest Score – 104 (Sally)