Sunday, November 30, 2008

Teeny update

When we left Bangkok and headed north to Chang Mai we thought we would escape some of the chaos surrounding the airport seizure but today the REDs (pro-government/Thuksin protesters) were out in full force. We left Chang Mai this morning to do some trekking in the southern area of the province but when we returned to the city this afternoon, the police were out, streets were blocked off, and there was a sea of red shirts. Apparently Chang Mai is a predominantly RED area because Thuksin is from the city. We fly out of Chang Mai (first class, by the way) tomorrow morning and head to the southern city of Phuket. So, hopefully we will fly out safely and avoid the protesters now in Chang Mai.
Trekking, rafting and elephant riding today was pretty great. We started off with the elephants trekking, then hiked through the bamboo jungle, stopped at a beautiful waterfall (whose name has escaped me) and went bamboo rafting down a river that ended up getting everyone wet except Ruby. (I’m still not sure how she avoided getting wet when we went down a small waterfall balancing on only little bamboo logs.)

Now it's time to get some grub.

Finally, some pictures!

Balancing on our bamboo raft with two other girls from Alberta. This was taken before we got soaked.

Riding our elephant.


Out of this world cat fish that were basically eating pieces of bread out of our hands. There were hundereds of them jumping to eat the bread. Very bizarre. (This was taken when we did a little boat tour of the canals around the city. )

Rubes and I at the top of the Golden Mount in Bangkok.

There are few things I love more than drinking a bucket of Cosmo and eating Pad Thai I bought on the street.

In BANGKOK-our very first tuk-tuk ride! Haha

A pretty picture from the top.

Rubes at the end of our hike up--just over half-way to the summit.

On the hike up Kili in the "forest area" of the mountain.


Me sipping some coffee early in the morning on the balconey of our hotel which teetered over the crater.

Our huts on Kilimajaro! (Ours is to the right.)

Rubes and I in front of Lake Manyara.

Rubes, Simba (yes, that is his real name) and I infront of the crater.
A family of elephants crossing in front of our Jeep.

In the background there is a sea of zebras and wildabeats and in the foreground--a lonely elephant! ALL of the other animals started to run away when the elephant came near. One of the astounding things about Ngorongoro was the co-habitation of animals-but even though he wasn't a preditor, noone wanted to be friends with this big guy.

This picture is a little out of order since we visited the Masai village first thing when we arrived in Arusha, but this is one of the 7 wives (and grand daughter) of the Traditional Healer that we met with.

I think giraffes are my new favourite animal.

Some cute Zebras at Ngorongoro that were relaxing beside our Jeep.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

No Wet, No Fun!

Soooo, It's been about a week since the last post and lots has happened since then! We are currently in Thailand where there are crazy riots in the streets! We havent been able to go out after dark for fear of getting caught in a protest! We arrived on Tuesday November 26th where we met an airport full of crazed PAD (People's Alliance for Democracy) protestors. It was a mob scence! Well....actually....we made it in the country with no trouble at all, and we havent seen any protests.... BUT, it was Tuesday evening when the PAD protestors took over the airport so really we just made it in! Even though we havent witnessed any demonstrations, we are keeping up to date with the news and it is exciting being here during this politically unstable time. The demonstrators are attempting to oust the current Prime Minister (Samak Sundaravej) who happens to be the brother-in-law of former prime-minister Thaksin Shinawatra. Thaksin was forced into exhile in 2006 after a military coup d'etat. Since the current PM was appointed following Thaksin's exhile, the people believe the former prime-minister still influences the Thai government via his bro-in-law. People are upset with the amount of government corruption and are fighting to have the current PM resign. The PADs move to take over the airport has certainly gained the publicity and chaos it surely intened to. Whether or not this protest will earn the result it aims to, it will certainly put more pressure on the current Prime Minister to adhere to the voice of the Thai people.

I am personally enchanted by the Thai people's determined yet peaceful protest. Since it has not affected us in our travels so far I find the situation kind of exciting. It is very unfortunate for the people who are trying to leave the country. We have come across a few indiviuals who have had flights cancelled due to the airport closures, and they are understandably upset. Arrangements are being made to move people out of the country though, and so far the protest has not been violent. Hilds and I have some flights coming up in a week and we are hopeful that things will be resolved by then.

Political upheaval aside, our Thailand andventures so far have been great! We stayed the first two nights in Bangkok in a guest house called the D&D Inn on Khao San Road. This road is a mecca for backpackers and it is really like a street circus. There are hundreds of shops and street vendors up and down this road and Hilds and I spent most of the first day shopping. At night it turns basically into a street party where many people drink until the sun comes up. There are food vendors everywhere and you can eat delicious Thai food for about $1. We mets tons of people here from around the world and it was a fun experience. However, we both found it to be a bit exhausting on the senses and were glad to leave.

We toured several temples in Thailand which were stunningly beautiful and ornate. We took some pictures which will hopefully give you a taste. (Pictures have been challenging to load so far, but we will hopefully post some soon!). We also did a long boat tour and many informal Tuk-Tuk tours. The second night we attended Calypso Cabaret, an aisan drag cabaret which was humorously entertaining.

On Thursday night we left on an overnight train to Chiang-Mai, that journey is a blog entry in itself. Yesterday we spent the day in Chiang-Mai which is such a charmingly quiet town in comparison to Bangkok. We attended the Night Bazaar last night and got our first taste of Thai Boxing. Today our real Thai adventures started with a crazy white-water rafting trip about 2 hours north of Chaing Mai. It was a wet ride, but according to our guide: "No Wet, No Fun!" It was amazing!

Tomorrow we're doing a day trek that involves some elephant riding so stay tuned for more crazy adventures!

P.S. I tried to load some pics, but no luck today:(

Sunday, November 23, 2008

As most of you know, Hilds and I planned a week long safari with Phil and SheilaSparkes, a great Australian couple who were fellow CCS volunteers. Our Safaribegan with a “7 hour” bus ride to Arusha from Dar Es Salaam. 7 hours is inquotation marks because it was actually almost 10. True to Tanzanian Culture,the bus ride was subject to TFT-Tanzanian Flexible Time. But, we made it andgot checked in to the Impala Hotel. The next day we were scheduled to bepicked up for a Maasai Village tour at 830. We were actually picked up at10:10, but who’s keeping time! The tour was great, it was a really authenticexperience and the Village was located in the foothills of Mount Meru. It wasgorgeous. We got to see inside a Maasai Boma. The houses were tiny and arereally just used to sleep and escape from the rain. Some people even keeptheir cows and goats in their house at night. The kitchen is in a separatehut, but it was so smokey that we didn’t enter. Our guide took us to thevillage’s traditional healer who showed us some of his medicines and for asmall price and with some communication difficulty, told us our fortunes. Letme just say it is hard to take someone seriously when they are asking you toask a question into a Calabash filled with stones! It was a great experiencenone-the-less and we had a lot of fun.

The next day brought us to Terangire National Park which was one of thefavourite stops for both of us. This park was FULL of animals! They were allso close to your car that at times it was a little scary. At one point, we stopped near a family of elephants and one of the big ones started walking toward the car shaking its head and tusks at us! Besides the hundreds ofelephants, we also saw giraffes, zebras, ostriches, impala, water bucks, waterbuffalo, lots of birds, little deer called dikdik, baboons and monkeys. Speaking of monkeys, there were tons at our picnic site! They were so unafraidbecause they are so used to seeing tourists and know that they might be able tosnatch some food from them. One monkey jumped onto our picnic table andsnatched a doughnut from Sheila’s lunch box while she had her head turned forjust a second! It was pretty funny to watch, but we all kept our lunch boxesclosed after that! It was such a great day and Hilds and I were riding on theroof of our safari vehicle for most of the day which really made theexperience.

At the end of the day we were taken to a place call Mosquito River, where westayed in probably the dumpiest room we had ever seen (see the picture) in ahotel called the Fig Resort Centre. However, it was only one night, so wesurvived.

The next day we went to Lake Manyara National park. This park is located alongthe Great Rift Valley. After the hour and a half wait for our tour agent toprocess the money for our park fees, we finally entered the park. We didn’tsee as many animals as the day before, but this park was so beautiful becausethere was so much lush forest! We did see more zebras here, and some giraffesand elephants. One of the highlights was stopping at the Hippo pool where wesaw hundreds of hippos lazing in the water. We also caught our first glimpseof a lion at Lake Manyara. We just caught it with its back turned to us,heading back into the forest.

We came back to the Fig Resort for lunch and were informed that we wouldprobably be staying there another night, rather than at the luxury NgorongoroWildlife Lodge which we had all been looking forward to as the highlight of ourtrip. After about an hour of angry phone calls we had our driver take us to thelodge despite many protests. We arrived there just before the gates closed at6, and we suspected our safari agent was trying to weasel his way out of ourstay at the expensive lodge by delaying our arrival until the gates closed andwe couldn’t get it. However, our persistence paid off and we made it to thelodge. However, it was about 4 hours before we were granted our rooms sincenothing had been organized or paid for by Mr. Kennedy, the safari planner. All’s well that ends well however, and we stayed the night in this great lodgeoverlooking spectacular Ngorongoro crater.

The next morning we checked out without trouble and headed into the crater. Itwas such an amazing thing to see. The crater is huge and flat, about 20km indiameter. Inside there were thousands and thousands of animals all coexistingrelatively peacefully. We saw our first hyenas here, and our first wildebeest,there were so many of them! They were really funny to watch too. We say plentyof zebras, more hippos, a rhino in the distance, really cool birds and thebiggest elephant in the world I would hazard to guess! On top of this, wespotted a rhino in the distance, along with 3 lions, one cheetah and oneleopard.

We stopped for lunch at a gorgeous lake with some rhinos and lots of birds,including the dreaded Black Kite. They look much like a hawk and there were somany of them circling the picnic site. Our driver warned us to eat in the carbut I’m not sure if Hilds heard the warning because she stepped outside the carwhere she unwrapped her sandwich which was immediately snatched out of her handby one of the birds. I think the whole crater heard her scream!

The day in the crater was unforgettable. No amount of detail will adequatelydescribe it, and the pictures do it little more justice. No wonder our driverseemed to think this was one of the 8 natural wonders of the world.

After this long day, we were taken back to the Impala hotel, but not before westopped at the Safari Planners office in Arusha. At the office we all got tospeak our mind to the Arusha Rep. – Mr Loy - about the glitches in our safari;it got a little heated to say the least. For all our speaking our minds to Mr.Loy, things did not seem to be resolved as our booking at the Impala that nighthad not been secured, and the next day our ride to the bus station did not showup! But, we took it upon ourselves to get a taxi and we made it just in timeto catch our bus to Moshi.

This brings us to the end of our animal oriented Safari. In Moshi we partedways with Phil and Sheila and headed off to Marangu Gate on Kilimanjaro to start our hike.

Friday, November 21, 2008

THEE one night Kili hike!

Alright, so I tried to upload some pictures from the past three weeks but the internet is so slow it won’t allow it. Instead you’ll have to settle for a quick synopsis. So much has happened I’m not exactly sure where to begin, I suppose I’ll start with today—our climb back down Kili. Since we only had roughly a week in Tanz after we finished volunteering Ruby and I decided to split our time between Safari and climbing Kili. Yesterday we climbed over half-way up the mountain and settled for the night in some huts. The scenery was really breathtaking, it was the “forest” part of the mountain terrain with lush, lush tropical forest full of waterfalls and monkeys. When we arrived at the camp with our guide, porter and cook it was bloody cold! I was not expecting it to be as cold as it was. A hat and mitts would have been handy to have. Luckily, we were served a warm meal of cucumber soup (a Tanzanian favourite) with hot tea and toast. We shared out little tiny hut with a 53 old woman from Finland who had unfortunately failed to reach the summit due to altitude sickness and was on her way back down. After dinner we played a couple of hands of Crazy Eights (or in Kiswahili, Chizi Nane) with our guide, cook and a crazy Yankee called Ross (Ross is self-employed in the business of back pack straps, more specifically straps that hold your sleeping bag onto your pack). After a couple of thoroughly entertaining hands we called it a night and settled into our cozy warm sleeping bags for the night. All things considered (the temperature and our snoring finish roommate) we had a relatively peaceful and enjoyable sleep. We awoke at 6:00a.m., had some hot tea and took off on our hike. We reached a height of 3300meters, took some pictures and head back down to camp for some breakfast. After eating we packed our goods and hiked back to the base. Climbing back down isn’t entirely as easy as you might think. It’s easy to loose your footing or trip on the one of the thousands of protruding roots and rocks along the path. We both fell of course—it was inevitable. (Haha)
We’re staying in Moshi town for the next couple of days at a quaint little hotel called “Key’s Hotel”. There is a great pool here and our room is a little round hut with a T.V. AND a shower curtain…You have no idea how much of a luxury a shower curtain can be!
We have lots more to tell about the rest of our safari and we will post again soon with some pics!
2 more days until Thailand!

Thursday, November 6, 2008

We fell in love with Zanzi.

Some of the girls dressed up for traditional Tanzanian dance and music night! Note the Kangas we're wearing.
View from Prisoners Island.

Awww, little baby turtles.

Turtles!! The turtles on Prisoners Island (part of Zanzibar, but not on Zanzibar Island) are the largest turtles nextto those on the Galapagos Island. Some were as old as 200yrs.
Rubes and I enjoying a local Tanzanian beer after a fantastic time snorkeling!

This boat is similar to the one we took out diving later that day.

The view from our beach side huts (not nearly as glamorous as they may sound).

Looking pretty happy, I'd say.

Ohhhhh, the meat market-- I barely made it through there without vomiting from the stench. All of the meat (hanging raw of course) were covered in bugs.

Walking through the old Stone Town markets (this one fruit) notice the sleeping vendor to your right.

The start of our tour through Stone Town.
Welcome to Zanzibarrrrrr!! And what a welcome it was--we had to smooth-talk our way through customs since Kerry forgot her passport! Haha It was a little stressful but it turned out okay in the end.
This is the view of Stone Town as we approach the Island on the ferry. The ferry that was supposed to be 1.5 hours, but turned into 3!