South Africa

January 22, 2008 - Johannesburg, South Africa

[Terry: We finally finished the camping portion of our tour. I said I was looking forward to roughing it and I got my wish; camping for 10 days was rough! Our tent smelled moldy from the rain and we quickly ran out of clean clothes and hand washed clothes never dried properly. Somehow I still managed to sleep well and often slept in late until Mark usually woke me up with a hot cup of tea. Namita was such a trooper. She was really worried about the camping part of this trip and she braved through it always managing to look freshly clean... except for that last day when she fell backwards into the muddy water. She is too funny.]

GAP vs. Intrepid. We thought some of our co-travelers and possible future GAP/Intrepid travelers might want our take on the two tour companies. Terry and I have now traveled with both and agree that our Intrepid tours were more organized. Still I have only two complaints with GAP. First, when we arrived at the joining hotel there was no posted information and so we were force to hunt down or wait for our leaders to arrive at the magical time. This was inconvenient because we had things to do and had to put them off. Intrepid posted a memo at the joining hotel which game the time and place of the group meeting and contact info for the leader. With GAP we also had a mix up at the Zambia border which so far has cost us $200 US. GAP apparently specified the wrong border crossing and so we were forced to purchase a visa that was supposed to be included in the trip. If we even get the fee refunded from GAP I will post an update here.

Because of the available flights at time of booking we were forced to spend one night in Jo-burg, South Africa and one night in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania just to get to our destination Arusha in Tanzania. We forgot all about this when calculation money and Terry’s passport. The South Africa visa was $100 each and along with our other unexpected $200 border crossing at Zambia, wiped out our emergency funds. But that is what emergency funds are for and now we have entered our last visa-required country, so we are in the clear with funds. The South Africa visa was a 1/2 page visa. So was the Tanzania visa and they used Terry’s last untouched visa page. Now we have 4 small stamps left to squeeze into her passport, but I think the Brits will be accommodating so we are not too worried.

As it turns out Terry and I will be visiting 8 countries this trip. Visiting in the sense we pass through immigration and enter the country rather than touch down and take off. In Germany we left the airport for some coffee and much needed pain meds. Zimbabwe was an afterthought and we entered to do the lion walk. South Africa we were forced to spend the night because of the flight booking. And since we had to pass through London on the way home we decided to stay for a few nights there since Terry has never been. Seven of the countries are new for me -- I have only ever been to Britain before.

Leaving Zambia we enjoyed reduced security (increased freedom) and carried on liquids/gels, nail clippers, and even a foldable kitchen knife. Surprisingly the plane was not hi-jacked by someone with a pair of nose clippers and we arrived safely. We even had a nice meal with metal utensils. We traveled light with no check-in luggage -- The way traveling should be done. This was a pleasure. Leaving South Africa we had no such luxury and had to check-in our liquids/gels. I forgot about a pair of scissors and had to throw them away at the security check.

We were picked up by our backpackers lodge and chatted with our driver about travel. He was an interesting guy. Very well traveled, snow board instructor, lived in Manhattan and a bunch other places. He stopped by a shopping mall on the way for us to visit an ATM and an electronics store to try to replace our camera. No such luck. We need to get the exact same model if we want to use it with the SCUBA case we already have and this model is slightly out of date. The backpackers lodge was nothing to write home about. But I did get a great nights sleep and without having to take any pain meds. We didn’t see much of South Africa just going from airport to lodge but we didn’t get the sense of a crime-ridden, unsafe city, people commonly associate with Jo-burg.

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