Final Thoughts

Before coming to Africa, it was my hope that I would gain many new insights and perspectives into the world and myself. After traveling in Africa for the better part of 3 months, I have definitely learned a few things. For example, you can’t trust everyone, packing is never fun, and there are a lot of really amazing things to see in the world. Of course these aren’t the only insights that I gained. It’s hard to capture exactly what new knowledge I have learned in my travels, but there are several key themes that I have noticed to be true on the journeys we have taken. 

KINDNESS 

The first theme that I was so grateful for is the kindness, friendliness, and sense of family we got from so many people in Africa. The bright smiles of people are something I will always remember fondly. We were so shocked at the beginning of our trip when people would ask to take our picture because we were foreign. It was strange to be so novel, but the people were genuinely excited and curious about us. Even though Egypt was a very difficult country to be a tourist in, we were so humbled by the people who would stand up out of their chairs and offer them to us to join their families conversations. As we walked in the streets, people would yell, “Welcome to Egypt!” knowing that we were foreigners just from the look of us. 

While this kindness of strangers was nice, we experienced a whole new level of acceptance, hospitality, and caring from many of our Couchsurfing hosts. These people invited us into their homes, gave us a bed to sleep in, invited us to eat with their families, and to meet their relatives – going as far as to call us part of the family. Ahmed, our host in Cairo, and his family were so welcoming. Ahmed’s cousin invited us into their home never having met us before and cooked us a meal. We spent the whole afternoon with them. They asked us questions about our culture and we learned about theirs. They seemed to be honored to have us come to their home which seemed so strange to us. I don’t know if I would have opened up my home so warmly to a foreigner I had never met, but after this experience, I couldn’t imagine not being just as accepting. It’s so nice to be welcomed into someone’s home when you’re in a foreign place. 

Our host in Luxor, Said, was just as inviting. It blew my mind how willing our hosts were to go above and beyond for us strangers. He saved us from being kidnapped by a man impersonating him. He was so concerned about us, that he took a picture of us on the infamous kidnapping carriage ride, not even knowing if it was actually us, to ensure that he could identify who we were with. He then offered his Felucca boat for us to stay on, took us out on a river cruise, gave us a meal, and introduced us to his family. He was protective over us and took care of us like family when we were basically strangers. I was so inspired by his kindness, especially after telling us of the unrest in Egypt and how hard life was there. 

Our hosts in Dar Es Salaam, Said and Zuhura, became our surrogate family while we were there. They brought us into their home, gave us a room, showed me how to cook, toured the town with us, and called us part of the family. The joy they got from hanging out with a couple of foreigners was shocking to me. But again, it was such a nice feeling to be not only accepted, but looked after as part of the family while being in a foreign country. 

Our driver Rado, from Madagascar, had a little bit more of a stoic manner, but he also was very protective of us. When we would ask to venture out on our own, he would always be close behind making sure we were ok. He planned out our trip, took us to so many amazing sites, and safely got us to all of our destinations. When Jay got food poisoning, he apologized and felt so sorry for him. These people have shown us so much goodness in Africa, and I will always remember that when I think of our trip. 

BEAUTY

Another theme I noticed was the largely underrated beauty of Africa. The places here are stunning and so different than anything in the US. Uganda’s Rwenzori Mountains took us through so many different climates and vegetation zones. One day you felt like you were in a Dr. Seuss book with all the incredible different plants and scenery. The next day, you were climbing over waterfalls, and the next scaling glaciers. It was amazing! To hike on trails that were just cleared in the 1990s was definitely an experience I won’t forget. Our guide Henry always said the Rwenzoris were his home away from home, and I understand his fondness of them no matter how difficult and steep the trails were or how muddy, tired, and wet we got. 

Another inspiring experience was seeing the beauty of the animals in Kenya/Tanzania. The animals here are so novel to me as an American. To be driving down the road and see a zebra, a giraffe, or an elephant walking along the road was so crazy! These animals are huge and beautiful and scary at times. They definitely demand your respect. Each new animal we saw along the safari was impressive from warthogs to wilderbeasts to lions and cheetahs to rhinos. It was such a neat experience to be able to view such a wide variety of animals in the wild and just stare at them for half an hour as they lay in the grass without getting bored of watching them. 

Zambia is full of untapped potential and beautiful sites with its adventure sports. From Victoria Falls to Devil’s Pool to white water rafting in the Zambezi River, this place was a fun filled site seeing adventure. 

South Africa truly stole my heart with its beauty. Everywhere you looked, there were mountains, oceans, beaches, and stunning sites. I couldn’t get enough of how stunning the drives along the coast were. 

Madagascar also has a unique beauty. The terraced rice fields look like something you would find in Vietnam. The unique beauty of Tsingy with its spiky rock formations were also impressive. 

INGENUITY AND HELPING OTHERS

Across Africa, we’ve also seen the ingenuity of people who don’t have fancy machines or expensive equipment. We have seen each challenge be addressed with the most creative of solutions and helping hands from others. 

Steve and Moffat, our guide and driver on safari in Kenya/Tanzania were constantly troubleshooting our behemoth of a vehicle Simba. When we got stuck in the mud, Steve and Moffat got to work. The Masai Mara people from all over also came out to help us get unstuck. They threw rocks and cut branches to stick under the wheels and rock us out. When the brakes caught fire, Steve put on his mechanic jumpsuit and fixed it. Here, there is no AAA to call and bail you out. Here, you help out your fellow man and find a solution to the problem. 

In Zanzibar, Jay’s bike chain fell off and wedged in the gears. Almost immediately, two men came over and started helping us get it unstuck. When we couldn’t pull it out, they went and got their machetes and tried to pry it out. Jay was certain that it wasn’t going to work and even stopped trying. But the men persisted and got the chain unstuck. 

People build their houses themselves, they fish and hunt for their food. They actually buy live chickens and kill, de-feather, and gut them themselves. I would guess most people in the US have never actually killed their dinner and prepared it. I certainly haven’t. 

In Madagascar, Rado got a flat tired, and immediately all the other drivers came to help us change it. When the engine wouldn’t start, they helped us push start the car. When another driver’s car wouldn’t start, we happily took the passengers into our car, and Rado was happy to drive them to their hotel. People here help each other and have a sense of community and reliance on each other that is nice to see. Here, you help others because one day it might be your turn. This reciprocity was beautiful. 

DESPARATION

One of the most difficult parts of traveling in Africa was what I saw as desperation in many of the people. Many of the people here are very poor and often hungry. They often must work incredibly laborious jobs for little to no money. It seemed as if many of the people were just in survival mode. This is why I understood the lengths people would go to to get money. It didn’t make it any more pleasant, but I understood it. 

Egypt was the worst example of this experience. Their economy relies on tourism and with the riots that happened due to political unrest, tourism dropped off dramatically. This left a huge supply of taxis, camel rides, curious, and tours with very little demand. Unfortunately, we were part of the few demanders who were hounded relentlessly with the supply. People resorted to lying to us – case in point, the man pretending to be our Couchsurfing host Said in Luxor. They also cheated us by inflating tourists prices to levels we could barely afford. We called this the “white tax.” Don’t get me wrong, I understand we are tourists visiting their country and don’t mind paying a little extra, but we heard stories of people being taken on 2 hour cab rides far out of the way of their destinations and not let out of the taxi until they paid in full. These schemes were ways to cheat tourists out of money. 

Another low of our trip was when all of our money was stolen in Uganda after our trek in the Rwenzori Mountains. After entrusting the trekking company to keep our valuables safe while we were gone, the company broke protocol, did not inform us that there was a safe or that we should log the amount of money we were carrying. Consequently, we were robbed and then blamed by the company for not being “careful” with our money. Although the company did eventually pay us back, it was not until after a lengthy conversation with the owner and being accused of stealing from the Ugandans. Money is a powerful motivator and we saw it turn good people ugly very quickly. 

The saddest part of this story is the children. In Madagascar, we saw children as young as probably 3 years old filling potholes in the roads and begging for money as cars drove past. The kids would also crowd around any car with foreigners begging for anything they could get. Our windows were smudged with the dirty fingerprints of so many children standing on their tiptoes and holding onto the glass of the window to look in the car and see what they could get. Kids would violently fight each other to get candies or other gifts thrown from tourist cars. Their clothes were often tattered, dirty, and torn. That is, if they had clothes at all. The kids in Madagascar frequently asked us for our clothes. Similarly, the children’s clothes at the orphanage in Kenya were tattered and dirty despite the orphanage owner saying they didn’t need anymore donated clothes because they had too many. 

People went to great lengths to sell us things. Of course they did; this was their source of income and we understood that. But it became exhausting and distressing telling people over and over again that we didn’t want to buy what they were selling. 

In Zambia, people in the shops would take you inside and stand in the doorway so that you could not leave until you bought something. They would make you feel guilty saying they had to feed their family or that you may be their only customer that day. I got to the point where it was just too much to take and stopped going in shops. You get hounded anywhere you go for taxis, boat rides, and curious. And in many countries, they were relentless. They wouldn’t stop hounding us despite our polite “no thank yous” in their languages. We had to resort to either ignoring them which felt dehumanizing or being more aggressive at telling them no. We learned the word “halas!” which means “It’s finished” in Arabic while in Egypt because it was the only way get the vendors to stop following us. 

The people of Africa live a hard life. The conditions in which they live contribute to the hardships. The roads in nearly all of Africa, except South Africa, were very bad. There are burning trash heaps everywhere. People bath in the same rivers that they urinate and defecate in. People work laborious jobs where they may or may not get paid. Political unrest and corruption are commonplace, and diseases such as Ebola and malaria threaten their lives. I have learned from my travels that people do what they have to do to survive and that isn’t always pretty. 

HAPPINESS 

Despite all of this, African people are some of the happiest people I have met. The children play and dance and laugh. The people are so friendly. They always greeted us with a “salama” in Madagascar, a “jambo” in Kenya/Tanzania, or a “hakuna matata” in Zanzibar. The smiles, good natured conversation, and laughter that can be seen everywhere in Africa is a testament to the African people’s ability to live their best lives despite the challenges. 

THINGS I LEARNED ABOUT MYSELF:

As many people know, I tend to be a homebody and am quite introverted. So spending 3 months in Africa out of my comfort zone, meeting new people everyday, and not knowing anyone other than Jay was a little daunting to think about. 

But, I was ready and excited for this trip. I have learned that I need to be pushed out of my comfort zone sometimes to grow as a person. So, I took this trip as an opportunity to do just that. 

At first it was hard for me to constantly be meeting new people. We did a lot of Couchsurfing to save money which required staying in people’s houses. I felt uncomfortable at first encroaching on people’s lives. But, as we met more and more people and saw how nice and excited everyone was to have us staying with them, I started to really enjoy the unique cultural experiences we got from staying with the locals.

With time, I also felt like I started to find my own voice and place in our travels. Jay has much more international travel experience than I do, so often times, I take a backseat and let him lead the way. Don’t get me wrong, it is really nice to have my own travel agent as a boyfriend, and I am beyond grateful to have him take me along on his adventures. But, I think I started to gain some travel smarts myself. I started getting more comfortable with being in Africa. I started to try to navigate places, make more decisions, and lead the way a tiny bit. I started to feel a lot more confident in my ability to travel in a foreign country, but still had my protector, Jay, always there if I needed help. I even ventured out on my own several times while Jay did his own thing or was sick. 

Pushing myself out of my comfort zone on this trip opened up so many opportunities to see and do things I would otherwise never have thought possible to do. I sailed a Felucca in Egypt, I did ice climbing and wore crampons for the first time in Uganda, I watched a pride of lions stalk a gazelle on safari in Kenya, I learned how to cook in Tanzania, I peered over Victoria Falls from Devil’s Pool in Zambia, I hiked out to the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa, and I did a via feratta in Madagascar. And because we were always seeing and doing new amazing things, I didn’t get as homesick as I thought I would. 

On another good note, I didn’t get as sick as I thought I would being in a foreign country. I am notorious for going on international trips and coming back with random illnesses and injuries. I herniated a disk in my back after our Thailand/Malaysia trip, and I got a parasite in Sicily which reappeared when we went to Mexico. But, this trip I faired much better than even Jay did. I had a cold in Greece, but that was it. Hopefully I didn’t just jinx myself by saying that. 

I also learned that Jay is a great travel companion. He tirelessly planned this entire trip, booked hotels, and activities, researched every place we were going, and made it a trip that I will never forget. I am so grateful to have gotten to be his plus one on this adventure. 

He is patient with my ignorance of foreign travel. He always makes sure I’m doing ok. I always see him glancing behind himself to make sure I’m still there when I’m not walking next to him. He navigated through so many towns and figured out train, bus, and ferry schedules that I could barely read. 

Before we left, we talked about how we would communicate to each other if we were getting too stressed out by the travel. I said that we needed a code word that we could say. We settled on the word “pineapple.” So, it has been our running joke that whenever we are stressed about something, we see how many pineapples we are at. Jay never let me get above 4 pineapples. When we were on the two day train ride down to Zambia and I was going stir crazy at 3.5 pineapples, he bought me beers and distracted me until I was feeling better. I have been so lucky to have him take me on this journey of a lifetime! 

THINGS THAT SURPRISED ME:

-The cold weather-we were standing on a glacier on the equator

-People expecting you to just give them money because you are white 

-How many languages everyone speaks

-How difficult it is for people in Africa to travel outside of their country because of the costs of passports and visas, etc. 

-That some people will accept you unconditionally as part of their family and others will manipulate, cheat, and steal from you if you let them

-Avocados in Africa are huge and cheap and the fresh fruits taste better than anything from the supermarkets in the US

-The prevalence of solar panels

-You can fit six people and a sack of crops on a motorbike

THIGS THAT DIDN’T SURPRISE ME:

-People are very poor

-Roads are bad

-Life is hard in Africa 

-There are amazing people and sites everywhere 

-We had an amazing time here!

Mauritius and travel back to US – September 19th – 20th

September 19th-20th

We took one last walk along the beach this morning. Then we packed up our bags for the last time and drove to the airport. We wanted to return the car before noon so that we didn’t get charged for another day of rental. However, our flight wasn’t until 4:00pm, so we had some time to kill before we left. 

Last walk on the beach
Jay found a swing
Going home

We have about 48 hours of travel to get back home. I can’t believe our 3 month adventure is over.

Mairitius – September 16th – 18th

September 16th

We woke up at 6:00 am so that we could drive the hour and a half to Port Louis for Jay’s 8:00 am scuba dive. We were shocked when we saw how much rush hour traffic there was into Port Louis. The drive was supposed to be an hour and 20 min, and it didn’t help that I forgot my charger at the apartment and we had to go back to get it. We drove in stop-and-go traffic for a little less than an hour. With 20 minutes to 8:00 am and google maps telling us we still had 40 minutes to our destination, we didn’t think we were going to make it. The only saving grace was that the dive boat didn’t leave until 8:30 am, so if he could make it before then, just maybe they’d still let him do the dive. 

Well, we ended up making it to the shop at around 8:25 am, and Jay ran inside to see if he could still go. After about 10 min, he re-emerged from the shop in a wet suit and was off to his dive. He is taking a 3 day advanced scuba diving course. He’ll do 5 dives over the course of the 3 days and be tested on deep water diving skills. While Jay is diving each morning, I get to have some relaxing beach time. 

Once Jay was on his way, I headed out walking in the other direction to find a beach. It was still early enough that none of the vendors were there to try to sell me things. But, once the shops started opening, the salesmen came out and I left the beach and walked to a nearby town.

Mont Choisy Beach
My walk to Trou Aux Biches

We met up again after the dive and headed to our hotel, the Le Meridian, which is a Marriott Jay got with his points from work trips. 

View from our hotel balcony

After getting checked in, which took about  45 minutes with the welcome drinks, meeting the general manager, and listening to a woman list all the restaurants in the hotel, we headed to our room. Jay had to read a scuba book and study for the diving course. So after he finished a couple chapters, we took a walk along the beach. It was a picturesque beach and we walked as far as we could along the coast.

September 17th

Jay left for his second day of diving this morning. I did a run at the gym this morning, then took a walk into town, and then relaxed out at the beach. 

After Jay returned from his scuba dive, he worked on his scuba course a little more. Then we relaxed the rest of the afternoon. We’re taking advantage of our last days of vacation drinking gin and tonics on the balcony watching the waves and the sunsets. 

September 18th

Jay had a short dive today and was back to the room by around 10:30. We headed out to the north of the island to see some sites. We stopped at Grand Bay and walked along the beach. It was basically a shopping area with a small section of beach. It started to rain a little bit, so we only did a short walk. 

Grand Bay

Then we headed to the botanical gardens. We enjoyed the giant lily pads in the ponds and the many different trees and plants. 

Botanical Gardens
Giant lily pad pond
Botanical Gardens
Old sugar cane mill

Then we headed back to the hotel for our last night of the trip. 

Mauritius – September 15th

Today started with a series of unfortunate events that ended up leading us to a perfect little island of the coast and resulted in the most perfect afternoon!

We headed out to the car around 0800am today to get started on some site seeing and our big hike. But as we were getting in the car, the owner of the apartment we were staying at came out and called Jay over to talk to him. The man said that they had double booked the room we were in for that night, and he needed us to leave. We were a little shocked at the request, but said ok. The man told us he had a different place lined up for us down at the beach. So, we headed back into the apartment to pack up our stuff. 

Once we had everything out of the apartment, the man introduced us to two gentlemen in a car parked nearby and said that they would take us to the new place. So, we followed them for a short time, and they dropped us off at a house where we met a different person who got in his car and told us to follow him to the place. This was getting to be kind of complicated, but we followed this new man, who we assumed to be the owner of the new apartment. When we arrived, we were taken to a cozy little second story apartment with a balcony overlooking the water. It was very nice, and with the view, we didn’t mind being evicted from our other place as much. 

View from apartment balcony

But we had sites to see today, so we couldn’t stick around the new apartment for long. We dropped off our stuff and headed back out. 

We planned to go to a nearby park with several attractions. The first part was Chamarel Waterfall which was a lovely bifurcated waterfall made from the volcanic rock. 

Chamarel Waterfall
Chamarel Waterfall

The second attraction was called the 7 Colored Earths. This was an interesting site. Over time, erosion stripped the dirt of any nutrients so there is no vegetation that can grow here. In addition, the iron and aluminum oxide in the different color dirts repel each other creating the different colored strips. It’s very pretty to see. I decided that the 7 colors were brown, tan, grey, light purple, dark purple, pink, and red (but the colors were never listed anywhere). 

7 Colored Earths
7 Colored Earths

Our next activity for the morning was our big hike. Jay had mapped out a trail that was about a 9 mile loop up two different peaks in Black River Gorge. We had a little bit of a drive to the gorge, and this is where our next unfortunate event happened. As we were making our right hand turn (driving on the left side of the road) up toward the mountain, we nearly got run over by a bus. Remember I said that drivers frequently drive around parked cars using the opposite lane? Well, when Jay slowed down and put on his turn signal to make his turn, there were two buses behind us. The first bus realized we were slowing down to turn, but we think the second bus thought we were stopping and pulled out to try to pass us. We didn’t see the second bus coming up until we were making our right turn and nearly got t-boned by the bus. Luckily Jay swerved out of the way and stopped on the left side of the road. But it was close!

After we recovered, we made a u-turn and headed back to the turn we missed when we nearly got hit by the bus. We drove up a winding road with hairpin turns into Black Gorge. We were getting pretty high up and thought that there would be some nice lookouts, but the vegetation was so dense everywhere that you could hardly see anything.

In order to see a lookout, we actually passed the trailhead we were going to use and headed up to a waterfall lookout up the road. The platform usually used to see the waterfall was under construction, so we couldn’t get a great view, but we did our best. Then we headed back to the trailhead. 

As we approached the trailhead, we saw a pretty big rain cloud forming above one of the peaks (Black River Peak) we were going to climb, so we took some time to try to decide if we should do the full hike, or just try to summit the tallest peak. As we were deciding and gathering our stuff to get ready for the hike, we realized that we had left the lunch we packed at the apartment. In our rush to move apartments, we carried in the bag with our lunch and accidentally left it. Not feeling comfortable doing a 9 mile hike with no food, we decided we’d summit the tallest peak and call it a day. 

We headed out on the trail. Almost the entire way, we were in a tunnel of trees. The vegetation was so thick that you couldn’t see anything except at a couple of places with clearings. The trail was pretty muddy in some spots as well and we were having flashbacks to our Rwenzori Trek with our gum boots. 

The hike had a lot of rolling hills so every time you climbed up, you would have a steep down climb as well. It was like this until the very end, which had a steep incline to the top. There were ropes to assist in making the climb which was a little tricky. But we made it.

It was a nice view of the city from the top. Unfortunately, there were about 10 people up there with us and one of them was a very loud, very annoying French man who didn’t stop talking the entire time we were up there. 

Big repellant bracelets Jay’s brother, Josh, gave us. It was very buggy at the top!

So after snapping some pictures, we headed back down. We got a few sprinkles on the way down, but otherwise had a nice hike. Our legs and shoes were covered in mud by the end, but we were pretty used to the mud by now. 

Mud!

We headed back to the apartment for our lunch. We ate our PB&Js we had packed for the hike on the balcony. While watching the water, we noticed some kayakers heading back to the shore from an island just across the bay. We thought, “hey, that looks like fun!” So Jay grabbed his phone to look up some kayak rentals nearby. 

But as luck would have it, the people renting us the apartment had a kayak and said that we could use it. We packed our bags, carried the kayak down to the ocean, and headed off to the island.

We paddled around the island to the other side and found a nice beach to dock on. There were very few people on the island and we basically had the beach to ourselves. We took a quick swim and then took a walk along the beach. 

Jay was snapping pictures the whole time like he always does, so I didn’t think anything was out of the norm. He set up his camera on a tree stump with a self timer and had me stand ready while he ran over so we could get a picture of the both of us. 

Some first attempts at self timed pictures

After taking a couple of self timed pictures and finally getting it right, he did one more. But this time, he grabbed my hands and got down on one knee. He proposed to me on a beautiful private beach in Mauritius with the sun going down and the water sparkling behind us. It was perfect!

Proposal!

Even though we were evicted from our apartment this morning, and then we were almost hit by a bus, and then we forgot our lunch and had to take a shorter hike, it was all worth it because it all lead us to that kayak and that little island out in the Indian Ocean where Jay proposed!

Happy after getting engaged!

To top it all off, when we kayaked back to our apartment after the proposal, there was a rainbow right above us as we paddled in. We took that as a sign the Mauritius gods were smiling on our engagement. 

Rainbow!
Jay’s grin after proposing
Spaghetti dinner and talking with family about the good news.

Travel from Madagascar to Mauritius – September 14th

Today we flew from Madagascar to Mauritius – our last destination of the trip! We had to get up at 4:00 am to make our 6:00 am flight. 

When we arrived in Mauritius around 0900, we were excited to see the nice weather and how green it was here. We ended up renting a car because it was just too much of a hassle to get cabs everywhere. Then we headed out into Mauritius. Mauritius is covered in farmland and sugarcane fields. Google maps isn’t the most accurate here, so it took some time to figure out if we were supposed to be driving through the fields google was taking us through or not. We eventually got on our way though. 

Sugar cane field

Our first stop on our drive was to a place called Pont Naturel which translates to natural bridge. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but it was a very cool site. Mauritius is volcanic and has a lot of lava rock. The natural bridge is a strip of lava rock that goes across a small inlet on the southern coast of Mauritius. The waves are huge here and they crash under the bridge and up into the inlet. You are able to safely walk across the bridge and watch the waves crash into the rocks and spray. It’s quite a site! 

However, we learned that if you’re waiting for the big waves to splash for a photo, they never come. We spent about 30 min trying to get a good jumping shot of Jay with the splash of the waves. It wasn’t until we stopped trying to take the photo that the big waves actually came. 

Trying to get a good photo with the splash to no avail.

Once we got our fill of Pont Naturel, we headed out on the road again. One thing you quickly learn while driving in a new city are the un-written rules of driving. We knew ahead of time that they drove on the left side of the road here, but Jay quickly found out some other things he didn’t like. The roads are quite narrow and there is no shoulder anywhere. Normally, if you wanted to stop somewhere, you’d pull over to the side of the road and park. However, here, there are no places to pull over on the shoulder. So instead, people just stop on the road and park. Drivers here have become accustomed to putting on their blinker and  driving into the oncoming traffic lane to pass these parked cars and buses that stop. 

We were not aware of this at first, and when a bus stopped in the middle of the road, Jay wasn’t sure what to do. He attempted to go around it at first, but then saw the oncoming traffic and stopped. The oncoming traffic continued toward us, but we were unable to reverse because the car behind us had stopped too close. So there we were creating a huge road block. Eventually, the bus driver who was relaxing on the side of the road came over and moved the parked bus forward so that we could get back in our lane and let the oncoming cars pass. But we learned our lesson and always make sure we have clearance before going around these cars “parked” on the road. 

Sugar cane so close you can reach out and grab it.
Sugar cane

Our next stop was at Rochester Falls. After driving through field after field of sugar cane, we arrived at the falls. A gentleman selling pineapples on the road told us we had to park our car and walk to the falls, so we did. The waterfalls were made from a long stretch of volcanic rock columns. We snapped some pictures and continued on the drive. 

After seeing Rochester Falls, we decided to head to our apartment and drop our stuff off. When we arrived, we were told that the room wasn’t ready and we should come back in an hour. So, we headed out to a local grocery store (even though we had already bought some groceries on the way in). Then we drove around to look at a couple of beaches. We were shocked at the number of kite surfers out on the second beach we stopped at, but according to a local, that was a normal day for the area. 

After an hour was up, we headed back to the apartment. It was a nice little room with a large outdoor patio area. There was also a dog that had something wrong with his vocal cords, so every time he tried to bark, which was quite often, it sounded like an old man hacking or trying to clear his throat. 

We were pretty exhausted by the end of the day after getting up so early, so we turned in early. We had a big hike planned for the next day. 

Antananarivo, Madagascar – September 13th

Happy Friday the 13th! We took it easy this morning and headed out into Antananarivo around 1000am. We went to an old palace of tribe kings and queens from the 1700-1800s called Ambohimanga. We found a cab driver who took us in his beat up old car that took about 30 sec for the engine to turn over. But we made it after about 30 min of dusty roads and a climb up a hill. Our cab driver had never been to Ambohimanga before (even though he said he was part of the Merina tribe that the palace belonged to), so he came in with us. Apparently, drivers get to go into these places for free which was a nice perk for him.

The site was the palace made into a museum with artifacts labeled throughout the compound. There were also tombs of the kings and queens. The best part of the whole area was the lookout onto the city. The palace was up onto of a hill, as any good fortification should be, and this gave way to some beautiful views of the city. 

After our visit, we headed back to the apartment for a quick siesta because it was the hottest part of the day. Then we went back out into the city for the afternoon. 

We were on a mission to find some Madagascar vanilla which is supposed to be famous around here, but anyone we asked didn’t even seem to know what vanilla was. We figured it must be from a different region. We got a couple of cake slices from a local bakery and found some beers and headed back to the apartment. We enjoyed our beers on the balcony and watched the sunset.

Dog we named BFE (big fluffy ears) that lived at the apartment we were staying at

I think the traveling was starting to get to both Jay and I because we were both cracking up at everything and we were sure we were losing it. Lol.

We pulled ourselves together enough to get some dinner and then turned in early. Tomorrow we fly to Mauritius.

Madagascar – September 12th

Jay was finally feeling better this morning, so we headed out to get him some food for breakfast. 

After breakfast and a short walk on the beach, we met up with Rado and he took us to the airport. We made sure he knew we had a wonderful time in his country, his driving was top notch, and the way he went above and beyond to find us hotels and restaurants was awesome. I hope he knew how much we appreciated having him as our driver/tour guide. 

We arrived at the airport quite early so Rado could get back on the road. Whereas the flight from Morondava to Antananarivo was 1 hour, the drive back was 2 days. We knew Rado was anxious to get back to his family after driving us around for over a week. We flew on a small prop plane back to Tana (as the locals call it) and walked to the apartment we were staying at. We had dinner at a little restaurant around the corner and then got some rest.  

Madagascar – September 11th

Well, the $10 plate of seafood that Jay was so excited about yesterday for lunch proved to be a mistake. He ended up with a pretty severe case of food poisoning last night. So, he was out for the count this morning and I was on my own. 

I opted out of the tour of the fisherman’s village Jay had originally wanted to do this morning and instead took a walk along the beach while Jay tried to recover in the room. 

Boats on the river that runs into the ocean (tide is way out)

On my walk there were quite a few people trying to sell me boat rides, fabrics, and face painting. After going through the routine of conversing with the sellers until they got the message that I wasn’t going to buy anything, I finally made it down the beach. I walked until I hit a river and couldn’t go any further. Then, I turned around. I found a nice spot on the beach to sit which seemed to be out of the way of the people selling things. Of course some of them found me. But in the mean time, I typed out some blog posts and read some of my book. 

Where the river enters the ocean
Fishermen getting their boats ready

As a sat there, a young girl came up and introduced herself in Malagasy and then she tried in French. I thought she was going to try to sell me something, but she was just being friendly. She didn’t speak English, but was very interested in talking to me. She would write words in the sand to see if I better understood, but I still didn’t speak Malagasy or French. She took my book and thumbed through it. There was a section with pictures of elephants and she looked at each one. Then she grabbed my phone and started taking pictures. I had it in the back of my head that she could easily get up and run with my phone, but she didn’t. She was just a curious girl on the beach. She looked through my photos I had taken on the trip and was excited to see the pictures of the fosa and the baobabs. Then she found the video button. She started taking video of me and had me repeat what she was saying in French and in Malagasy. She got a kick out of that. I asked Rado later what she was having me say, and it was the days of the week. After about 40 minutes on the beach, she was finally satisfied with exploring everything I had. Of course she couldn’t leave without asking for a bonbon, so I gave her a couple candies and she was off. 

Young girl I met on the beach

By now it was noon, and I had to get back to the hotel to meet Rado and see how Jay was doing. I grabbed some waters for Jay on the way back and found him up and sitting on the balcony outside the room. He said he still didn’t feel great, but was good enough to go to the beach for the afternoon. 

Rado took us to a restaurant for lunch where Jay got a bowl of rice to the confusion of the waiter who didn’t speak English. Rado explained that Jay wasn’t feeling well and that seemed to clear up the confusion. Then we spent a couple hours at Kimony Beach just relaxing and swimming in the surprisingly warm water. 

Jay’s fancy rice lunch
Kimony beach

For dinner, all Jay thought sounded good was bananas, so we walked to the local market and bought some. We looked for some bread so I could make a sandwich, but like the rest of Madagascar, we had trouble finding it. I told Jay to head back to the room, and I would look for some dinner for myself. I didn’t end up finding any bread and headed back to the room with some snacks. To my surprise, Jay had found a bakery on his walk back (he took a different way back to avoid the smell of the fish market). We had a quick dinner and turned in early for the night. 

Madagascar – September 10th

This morning, we did a short hike in Kirindy National Reserve. After spotting several lemurs and a chameleon, we met up with Rado again. 

We drove back to Morondava making two stops along the way. One stop was at the sacred Baobab. This Baobab is thought to be the oldest in the area and people often pray to it and give sacrificial offerings such as chicken’s blood.

Sacred Baobab
Sacred Baobab

The second stop was at the loved Baobab. This Baobab’s trunk split in two and then wrapped around itself so it looks like two trees hugging. That’s why they call it the loved Baobab.

We arrived in Morondava around noon and checked into our hotel. We told Rado to take the rest of the day off and we walked into town. As we were looking for a lunch spot, we met Rado walking around in town. He showed us where a nice restaurant for lunch was and then headed out. 

After lunch, Jay and I walked along the beach and relaxed at our hotel which is right along the beach. 

Interestingly, the hotel we are staying at was hit by the March 2019 hurricane that destroyed Mozambique’s coast. The entire front half of the hotel has fallen into the sea. And when we checked in, the receptionist apologized for the restaurant being swept away to sea as well. We had no idea the hotel was in this state of repair, but our room was very nice, quite, and right on the beach, so we stayed. We were kind of glad to be supporting a hotel that probably wasn’t doing very well after the hurricane. 

Our hotel – our room is to the far right of the picture
Room that was destroyed by hurricane
Kids on the beach excited to see my phone

Madagascar – September 9th

Today we drove from Bekopaka to Kirindy National Park. We drove back along the same road we came in on. The caravan with the armed guard left at 7:30 this morning. The armed guard was actually in our car today. We wanted to take a picture of him, but you’re not allowed to take pictures of government officials. 

We drove over the bumpy dusty roads and made it to the first river crossing. We crossed without incident and kept going on our drive. The guard actually fell asleep which was impressive that he could sleep with the bumpiness of the roads. 

A couple hours into the drive, we started to hear the hiss of air escaping and we knew we had a flat tire. Luckily we were in the caravan and everyone got out to help us change the tire. It was really cool to see how all of the guides/drivers helped each other out. One of them said, that they have to help each other because one day it might be their turn to need help.

Flat tire

Rado made quick work of it, and the tire was changed within 15 minutes. However, the car wouldn’t start after we got the tire changed. Luckily, it was a manual, so we did a rolling start and were on our way. 

Rado, our guide, getting the spare tire

Right before the second river crossing, we stopped for lunch and dropped off our armed guard. We breathed a sigh of relief as we made it through this territory without any robbery incidents. Lol. 

Rado also stopped to get the flat tired patched at a local shop. It was quite interesting to watch them fix the tire without any modern equipment. They basically glued a patch on the inside of the tire. It passed the water test without any bubbles, so we called it good.

Rado and the mechanic fixing the tire
Some kids gathered around as we waited for the tire to get fixed

After lunch, we arrived at the second river crossing and drove onto the ferry with perfect timing. We drove straight on the ferry when we got there, and were the last car so we left immediately. The ride across the river was longer because we had to go upstream quite a ways.

When we tried to dock, there were several ferries that were also trying to dock and a ferry that was trying to leave. The wind was blowing and the drivers didn’t have as good of control over the ferries. We ended up colliding with another one of the ferries, but at such slow speeds, there was no damage, and we were able to dock and drive on toward our destination. We got a kick out of saying we were in a boat crash though. 

After the second ferry, we had about an hour drive to our camp for the night. We arrived at Kirindy at around 3:30 pm. We checked into our bungalow and relaxed for a couple hours before our night hike.

Kirindy National Park is known for its cat-like animals called fosas. We were told to make sure all of our windows and doors were closed well tonight because the fosas will come in to look for food. They have been known to attack humans and they tend to like females for some reason.

While we were relaxing at the restaurant, what started strolling through camp but a fosa. We followed it through camp as it got a drink of water from a tub and opened some cupboards to look for food. Fosas are native to Madagascar and aren’t found anywhere else, so we were excited to see one. A second female stilled through camp a short time later. 

We did a two hour night hike and saw some more lemurs. Our guide didn’t speak much English, so it was a little hard to get information from her and the actual lemur species names are still a bit of a mystery, but we know we saw a lot of grey mouse lemurs. 

Grey mouse lemur – has a collar on for research done in the Reserve

After our night hike, we turned in for the night. Just as we were falling asleep, we heard the creek of the bathroom door. Confused, Jay turned on a light to find a grey mouse lemur in our room. The lemur had crawled in through the gap between the roof and and wall. We enjoyed watching him for awhile and eventually shoed him outside. We also had a gecko and a frog in our room so it was quite the nature experience. 

Grey mouse lemur paying us a visit in our room