Galápagos Islands, Ecuador

Immediately upon arrival in Puerto Ayora, the largest town in the Galápagos, I spent two hours inquiring at every single agency down the main thoroughfare. I beat my previous time, found a reasonable price and a desirable itinerary, played hardball and negotiated a better deal, and I did it all entirely in Spanish. Allow me to toot my own horn here, cause I’m a little proud of myself!

What previous time? Well, the three hours I spent in Ushuaia arranging a last-minute cruise to Antarctica 10 years ago. This time, it’s a last-minute cruise around the Galápagos, a place I would have loved to visit 10 years ago but didn’t have the budget for, naturally, after that rather large expenditure.

So. While I wait for departure, what now? After all, in the Galápagos, it’s all about seeing the animals here, and that can seem somewhat inaccessible.
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 Ngorongoro Crater and Mt. Kilimanjaro, Tanzania

See that map on the right? I’m not proud of that. With the end of my trip coming on the horizon, I’ve had to start picking and choosing where I want to go rather than just meandering around. Unfortunately, it means that I’m giving Tanzania the short shrift, and so I made my way across the entire north of the country in a mere six days — three of which I spent on long-distance buses, and the remaining three of which I also spent a lot of time in transport.

Tanzania does have a lot to offer, but a lot of it is similar to what I’ve seen and experienced already. There’s Lake Victoria, which I saw briefly in Uganda and decided to skip over this time. There’s the Usambara Mountains, which I saw on my bus ride from Moshi to Dar — pretty, but I’ve been seeing plenty of hillside villages in Rwanda. There’s the Seregenti, which is contiguous with Maasai Mara NP in Kenya. And there’s also Mt. Kilimanjaro, which I had no interest in climbing due to cost (over $1100!) and time, but I did make an extra stop just to see it.

Still…if I had more time, I would definitely have stopped along the way, maybe experience a bit more of local life. I haven’t had much of a chance to talk to locals like I have in my past five countries. I blame it on having to rush so much, but I also wonder: people in Tanzania are super welcoming, but not particularly chatty. I’ve had plenty of friendly people greet or assist me on the street, but none seem to linger or continue to chat, even on those 12-hour long bus rides. Also probably a big reason: many speak only Swahili and little to no English. They do seem to be truly happy to see visitors though, and they’re proud of their country.
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 Kisoro, Uganda

Set at the base of some seven giant volcanoes (most of them dormant… but not all) that more than tower over everything else, Kisoro’s a beautiful sight. Climb up the hill to the north and you get an expansive view of Lake Mutanda, another crater lake, and even some volcanoes situated in Rwanda and DR Congo, both of whose borders are a mere 12 km away. The town itself — small and relatively benign — is a stepping stone for both those countries. So why did I stay for three days?

Well, mountain gorilla tracking. Of course.
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 Maasai Mara NR and Hell’s Gate NP, Kenya

There’s one pretty obvious thing people come to Kenya for.

Nairobi’s not the safest place out there, which made wandering around difficult especially come evening time, and its suburban sprawl makes it even more difficult to get to know. Despite the sea of brightly-painted matatus (minivans plying a few hundred routes around Nairobi and beyond), the city feels like America in some ways. Outward religiosity (in the form of garish matatus and buses covered in Christian slogans) flying right in the face of an in-your-face sexualised pop culture (in the form of urban music with explicit lyrics being blared by those same buses, plus restaurants playing some pretty racy music videos) is one thing, along with big western shopping malls far from the city center, fast food restaurants (they love their fried chicken and fries), skyscrapers, businessmen in suits everywhere, and heavy traffic, but the biggest similarity I see is how everyone seems busy and has somewhere to go. Several Kenyans I talked to outside Nairobi mentioned that last sticking point, and some compared it to America as well. Few if any people paid any mind to me, which was a jarring but somewhat nice change from the constant attention in Ethiopia and Somaliland, but at the same time, it made them hard to get to know. While still developing and doing so quite rapidly, Nairobi is getting up there with the likes of other cosmopolitan multicultural world cities, for better or for worse.

So instead, I spent most of my time in Nairobi looking at animals, and prepping a trip to look at more animals. Naturally.
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Mole National Park, Ghana

It took two miserable days of travel to get to Mole: an 8 hour bus ride from Kumasi to Tamale arriving at 5:30 pm, a 4 am wake-up call to buy a Tamale-Mole ticket at the station after every local I encountered told me they’d sell out (they didn’t, and the bus wasn’t full), and a 2 pm departure that ended up being at 5:45 instead, on the dustiest road known to man in a bus with open windows. At least Jessica, Felix (both rejoining me direct from Accra), and I entertained ourselves during the long wait for the bus by chatting with children (after school, selling sachets of water, ginger, toothpaste, candy… anything their parents sold) who taught us some words in Dagbani and Twi. My poor attempts certainly got the other locals laughing. At least know I know how to say things like “good afternoon” (Dagbani: antsere), “what is your name” (ayuli), “ginger” (kakadro), and “is your mother in the house?” (Twi: u maame wo fie?) And of course, “thank you” (Dagbani: nan desugu, Twi: medaase), which always brought pleasantly surprised responses without fail whenever I used it.

We arrived in Mole around 10 pm, sweaty and covered in red dust. We all looked like we changed ethnicities and dyed our hair. All of this trouble is definitely worth it.
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Rurrenabaque, Bolivia

After hearing recommendations from other travellers (Andrew in particular, way back in El Chaltén, Argentina), I decided to make a three-day detour to Rurrenabaque, at the edge of the Amazon basin. The options? Bus for 24 hours (more on that later) or fly. Fly it is!

Well, I messed up a bit – my flight was at 3 pm, and I thought to myself to get to the airport at 1:30 pm, since the ticket says to arrive one hour early. What I DIDN’T read on the ticket was which airport – I ended up at the international airport, not the military one! Oops. With only 30 minutes to spare and a giant traffic jam, I grudgingly shelled out the extra 50 Bs to shuttle me there, just in time.

Except the plane wasn’t on time – we didn’t even board the plane until 4 pm. And zero semblance of security either! Well, a dog sniffed our bags (but not our carry-ons). Whoo. Continue reading

Antarctic Peninsula

What an incredible week.

As I walked to the pier and was directed past the ferry daytrip people to the cruise dock, all I could say over and over again was, “I can’t believe I’m doing this, I can’t believe I’m doing this…” Continue reading