I got so used to seeing amazing beasts from the car on safari that I was still looking for cheetahs when we drove from Zanzibar Airport to Stone Town! Alas, no! The traffic jams were no longer a sign of wild animal sightings but the real thing. However, if there is a city vibe that will spark up the senses, it is found in abundance in Stone Town, the old quarter of Zanzibar City. Some places just have it. Kathmandu, Bandaneira, Jodhpur, Cochin, and Mrauk U immediately come to mind.
Welcome to Zanzibar
Zanzibar is a semi-autonomous region of Tanzania, a small archipelago in the Indian Ocean. The main island, also known as Zanzibar, is famous for its white sand palm fringed beaches, the atmospheric historic city of Stone Town, and competes for the title of Spice Islands with the Maluku islands of Indonesia. It is a center of Swahili culture, the mingling of Bantu, Arab, Persian, and Indian people on the Indian Ocean trade routes. Sounds like a place we would love!… Read more
Safari lodges try to portray themselves as oases of calm amid all the intense activity of a safari. However, it is a little difficult to chill when the room service book contains information on the following:
- What to do when baboons approach you.
- What to do in the event of a scorpion sting.
- How to call up your armed guard to escort you to the restaurant.
- Information on the mating rituals of scorpions.
- How to catch tsetse flies and identify them using your binoculars.
- What to do if a snake enters the room. (You will be relieved to know that the hotel will switch rooms for you if they cannot find the snake).
No mention of lions, leopards, or cheetahs. Maybe the hotel has made its point after mentioning the snakes. Its a jungle out there. Well, a grassland. Thank you Mbalageti Serengeti Lodge for making the stay seem scarier than going for a pee out in the park!
The lodges, of course, have plenty of the deadliest animals on the planet. People. In all their miserable glory. Bitching about the food, the service, the rooms, color of the sunset. I sometimes wonder why some people bother leaving their houses. … Read more
Pay your respects to the vultures
For they are your future
-Coil, Amethyst Deceivers
Everyone in the Serengeti wants to see a kill. This is somewhat ironic given that most meat-eating humans prefer not to know how their food lived and died before being served up in hygienic packaging. But “Did you see a kill?” was a constant refrain on the trip from our fellow in-humans.
In these vast plains of teeming wildlife, the odds seemed pretty good. There are plenty of meat eating cats and dogs. Plenty of herbivores provide the meat. However, the Serengeti is surprisingly clean of carcasses. It’s rare to see a rotting corpse, or a pile of cleaned off bones, never mind a kill close up. The reason for the apparent cleanliness? Vultures! Watch the vultures and you see our future. A rabble of squawking beasts polishing off the leftovers of the apex killers. Follow the vultures and find the dead. … Read more
The animals always grab the headlines when it comes to blogs about Tanzania. But let’s hear it for the astonishing landscape too! The jewel in the crown of Tanzania’s topography is the vast crater known as Ngorongoro. The 100 square mile crater formed when the volcano erupted and collapsed in on itself. The crater floor is at 5900 feet above sea level, surrounded by high walls that help protect the dense wildlife population. The palpable sense of otherworldliness or ‘out of time-ness’ was tangible. … Read more
‘The horror! The horror!’
Did he live his life again in every detail of desire, temptation, and surrender during that supreme moment of complete knowledge? He cried in a whisper at some image, at some vision, –he cried out twice, a cry that was no more than a breath–
‘The horror! The horror!’
(Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness)
Yep, that was me as we walked through the door of the Ilboru Lodge in Arusha, Tanzania and all my fears (and snobbery) about package tours smacked me on the nose. Before us was an assorted bunch of sun-blasted, blobby tourists lying on sun loungers sipping cocktails, or worse, donning grass skirts and giddily wobbling to warbling local riddims. Local fellas were doing cheesy acrobatic routines while asking for tips. One minute in and I was feeling queasy. I put it down to the thirty hours of flying and sloped off to the room post-haste.
A Year Earlier
“So, I want to take you kids on the holiday of a lifetime. I will pick up the tab.”
So began the conversations with Laura’s mother that eventually landed us along with her sister Kelsey in Tanzania in June 2018. Mama unexpectedly came into … Read more
I doubt there is a more relaxed tropical island in the world than Arborek, a tiny pancake-flat beauty fringed with palms and surrounded by stunning azure blue waters. Metaphorically and physically speaking, this is as far away from Bali as you can get in Indonesia. No cars, no motorbikes, no tacky drunk Australians, no five star resorts, and no erupting volcanoes. My family in the UK were slightly panicked since Gunung Agung on Bali erupted while we were in Indonesia. We were more than 1000 miles away and blissfully unaware of flying lava and freaking out family!
Arborek is less visited than the Raja Ampat islands closer to Waisai. Many tourists give it a miss because of the relative expense of the boat ride from Gam, Waigeo, or Kri. At most they take a day trip. We think most tourists are making a big mistake! This island is an absolute must-see.… Read more
You have three travel options to choose from when thinking about a trip to Raja Ampat in Papua, Indonesia. The high-end choices are typically liveaboards or deluxe dive resorts. The mid-range would put you in a very comfortable dive resort. The cheapest option is one of the hundred-plus rustic homestays dotted all over the archipelago. We opted for 6 days in the fantastic mid-range Biodiversity Eco Dive Resort and 8 days in 3 different homestays across the archipelago.
If you dive or want to learn to dive, plus you want more certainty over your trip, and you can afford it, then there is no better experience than checking into one of the dive resorts. There will be a high degree of comfort and excellent food. The diving trips will be run by trustworthy and dependable operators. Pre-trip communication, whilst not exactly fast, will be easy and your trip is likely to go as planned.
If you have plenty of time and are short on cash, then stay in homestays. If you wish to dive you can drop into Biodiversity and see if they can take you (albeit at a high price). Otherwise, you can chance it with one of the … Read more
Update: Do you want to help the people of Raja Ampat protect their coral reefs? Contribute to the Indiegogo campaign to create Locally Protected Areas signposted with marker buoys. For as little as $25, you can help a homestay declare a traditionally protected “sasi” area on its house reef.
When we came home from our big trip in 2016, we had a sense of unfinished business with Indonesia. We had fallen in love with this country’s landscapes, people, and above all its oceans. I logged most of my dives in Indonesia, and Paul went from reluctant swimmer to novice scuba diver. We explored the less-visited provinces of Sulawesi and Maluku, where we saw something amazing every time we got into the water.
Other travelers told us about Raja Ampat, the group of islands off the western tip of Papua. The name sounds exotic and the stories we heard about pristine beaches and dive sites swarming with fish sounded even better. But we also heard stories about strong currents and high prices relative to the rest of Indonesia. For these reasons, and due to the timing of weather and seasons, we went home without visiting the fabled islands of Raja Ampat.… Read more
When we departed for our 15-month trip around the world, we didn’t even pack swimsuits. But a few months in, after our first look at the coral reefs of Indonesia, we were enchanted by the underwater world. Soon, we were seeking out unique underwater adventures and planning our itinerary around them. By the end of our trip, we had chalked up over 50 dives between us, countless hours of snorkeling, and some truly weird and wonderful fish encounters. Everyone who plans a trip to Southeast Asia should have a sea life encounter, but it takes some planning and know-how to pick the best spots. Here is a list of our favorite places to see marine life in Southeast Asia.
Manta Rays: Nusa Penida, Indonesia
What: Manta rays swoop in circles around a cleaning station in a rocky bay, lining up to get nibbled by small fish. It’s a hypnotic spectacle. After a few seconds with the mantas, they became our favorite marine animal.
Where: Nusa Penida, an island off the southeast coast of Bali, Indonesia.
When: Any time of the year.
What are the chances? Excellent but not guaranteed. We were lucky and saw over 10 mantas. Our guide … Read more
Washington has so many great hikes that we never did any hiking in Oregon until last summer. The Cascade and Olympic ranges in Washington are wonderlands of flower-filled meadows, glaciated peaks, and scrubbed granite lake basins. So why should we spoiled Washington hikers visit Oregon? Volcanoes!
Yes, Washington has a chain of snowy volcanoes from Baker to Adams. But they are mainly the domain of mountaineers. The volcanoes of the Three Sisters Wilderness near Bend in central Oregon are less glaciated and more accessible to regular hikers like us. With trailheads at around 5000 feet, you can get to higher elevations more easily than any volcano in Washington. Crater Lake National Park, south of the Three Sisters Wilderness, is a natural wonder with no peer in Washington: the country’s deepest lake filling the base of what was once a massive volcano.
I first found out about the volcanic wilderness of central Oregon on a flight from Seattle to Santa Barbara. I looked out the window and saw that the expanse of forest was broken up by a cluster of jagged cones with snowy slopes. The gnarly knot of peaks and ridges, punctuated by forest-ringed lakes, intrigued me. Later, I found … Read more