Saigon (aka Ho Chi Minh City) Vietnam

When people think of Canadians they think of Royal Canadian Mounted Police, polar bears, eskimos and igloos. Yes, we have them in Canada, but one doesn’t see them on a daily basis, in fact I have never seen an actual fur clad eskimo running past his igloo while being chased by a polar bear. When I was researching images of Vietnam the photos that show up first are those of people wearing funny cone shaped hats while working happily in rice fields and people riding bicycles through busy streets while packed to the tits with an unbelievable amount of heavy cargo. I figured that while in Vietnam we might see some of these touristy things, but the reality is that you can’t blink an eye without seeing such sights in every direction.

Everyone in Vietnam looks like they just came out of a 50’s postcard. Women going about their daily work while wearing oversized, cone shaped bamboo hats that are firmly strapped around their chins. The streets are absolutely packed with people riding motorbikes and bicycles whipping along in every which direction. The biggest surprise to me is how most of the deliveries, including water, beer, trees, you name it, are all done on motorbikes and bicycles. This alone is a mystery to me, let along the fact that they are delivering this heavy cargo through the traffic madness that’s everywhere.

Regardless of the blistering heat, the women all cover them self from head to toe so not to expose themselves to the sun rays. Hats, jumpers, long gloves and full face masks cover their skin. Here I am walking around in shorts and a tank top begging for the sun to shine brighter while thinking that they all look a bit crazy, but I’m sure that I look just as crazy to them, perhaps even more so.

Almost everyone here is self employed, each with their own micro business. Some people carry portable restaurants and set up shop on the first patch of sidewalk they that’s void of parked motorbikes. Their kitchens are carried over their shoulders, distributing their cargo across their shoulders using a long stick. They specialize in selling hot soups, grilled meats, noodles, fruit, etc. Their food is cooked over an open flame and they do their dishes next to them on the sidewalk. Nothing seems overly hygienic, but the locals seem to enjoy it. Other micro businesses/ walking sales people include selling illegally reproduced travel books, sunglasses, bracelets, cosmetics, shirts, sarongs, smokes, lighters, you name it, they sell it.

I found out the hard way that it’s not smart to purchase the $2.50 RayBan’s from the walking sunglasses guy. Once you do buy a pair, every sunglasses sales guy you pass on the streets, and there are lots of them, will ask you how much you paid for them. Then he will offer to sell you more of the exact same thing for about the same price. Secondly they look pretty good for the first 2 days, but after that the painted surface starts to boil and bubble and it looks like crap. Then they break in half.

Land taxes here are based not on the square footage of your home, but on the width of the front of your home. As such, all of the building here are disproportionately narrow and overly long in length. As you can see in the photo above, some of them are so thin you would have a hard time fitting a sofa width ways. Every corner of building free land, both in the cities and the country, has been transformed into a rice field and there are people wearing cone shaped hats working knee deep in the mud. I have a whole new respect for rice and the amount of hard work it takes to grow it.

We had to go to Saigon (also know as Ho Chi Min City) to get our visas for indonesia. had we been staying in Indo for less than 30 days we could have gotten Visa on arrival, but we are staying longer so we need to go to the Indonesian Consulate. We could have gotten it in Canada, but it’s only good for three months and we left Canada over three months ago. Initially we were thinking that we would fly to Saigon, apply for our visas, leave to check out somewhere else, and then come back to pick up our visas and fly out to Bali. Turned out that we found a pretty cool hotel in a decent area with a great roof top restaurant so rather than bouncing around we decided to chill and stay in Saigon until our visas were ready. Some people love to see everything when they are traveling and we have come to realize that we prefer to find somewhere cool and to just chill.

The streets of Saigon are littered with crappy knock off products, especially North Face jackets and bags. While it was tempting to scoop up a backpack for a great deal we decided that the last thing we needed was to be way out in the mountains on a camping trip and have the thing fall apart. I did buy a tank top, a pair of shorts and a few other things for next to nothing, but that’s about it.

The restaurants in Saigon are all really great (no we did not eat at the restaurant in the photo above). Josi and I can easily buy a great meal, complete with appetizers and mains for less than $10. I have gotten hooked on the Vietnamese coffees which are a mix of strong coffee and condensed milk.

Things that I love about Vietnam are that the people are really nice, the food is great and restaurants cost next to nothing. The hotels all have amazing service and are dirt cheep, there are lots of interesting sights to see, and it’s nice to be considered tall for a change. Things that have been less than awesome are that our timing is such that it’s not as sunny and warm as we were hoping, most of the cool things to see are really far apart which means traveling on crazy busy roads, and the traffic in the cities is over the top nuts. All up I liked Vietnam and at the same time I’m not rushing to come back. Perhaps if there was epic surf I would love it a little more.

My mom and her friend were in Borneo and we just got news that they have decided to leave to Bali a week early. As such we have decided to change our flights as well so that we can hang out a little bit longer in beautiful Bali. We have a 3 hour lay over in SIngapore which is perfect because we are flying business class (if you are just following us now we got around the world business class tickets at a charity auction) and their lounge is meant to be one of the best.

We are looking forward to spending an extended time in Bali and it’s surrounding islands as it’s been a while since we have had much in the way of sun, surf and relaxation.

Searching for Surf in Vietnam

Just so that I’m not misleading those of you who are hoping to read about epic surf in this post, I feel that it’s necessary to let you know up front that we didn’t score great waves. What we did discover was the really cool little town of Han Oi which is the perfect place to explore when the surf is small and crappy.

Watching Apocalypse Now as a kid, the scene that stuck with me wasn’t so much the violence of war but more rather the fact that they went surfing. While I don’t know anyone who has actually surfed in Vietnam, I do know of a lot of people who have been and they all have great things to say about it. As such we chose it as one of our many destinations on this adventure. When researching surfing in Vietnam all arrows point to China Beach which is right in the middle of Danang and Hoi An and is also in part where Apocalypse Now is meant to be based out of. Lots of the links mention a guy called Hoa who, with his wife, runs a small hostel/hotel called Hoa’s Place.

Being somewhat unadventurous we booked a third rate, somewhat rundown room in a resort on the beach for three nights. It was meant to be close to Hoa’s Place and I figured that if I could track him down he would help us with finding the best surf spots in the area.

The weather was much colder than we were hoping when we got there and the ocean was stormy. My first though was that at least it isn’t flat and that hopefully when the storm blows over there will be some fun waves to ride.

The storm did blow over and after a few days of searching we were finally able to find Hoa. Hoa’s so classic that he deserves his own blog post, and had we been staying at his hotel I’m sure he would have one.

Right when we got to his place I asked him if he knew where the good surfing was and he said to me in a thick Vietnamese accent “The surf is Shit man” followed up by “Sit down man, grab yourself a drink”. his broken english is part surfer, part hippy and part hard to understand. Like most Vietnamese, he’s slim, short and only weighs about 100lbs on a wet day, but he has a big personality. When I told him that he was loosing a lot of business because his place was really hard to find (all of online maps have his address on the wrong side of town) he said to me “If they can’t find me man, I don’t want them here”. He continued on by saying that he only recently got a phone and that in the old days you had to just show up. He liked it that way and being one with where he is at in life, he’s happy to keep it that way. I really enjoyed his quirky vibe . We stayed for lunch which was really tasty and it only cost about $7 for both of us. After the meal, we were going to pay up and he said to not worry about paying now, just to write our meals down in his note book on the counter and that we could pay later. We weren’t staying there, he had never met us before and he wanted us to pay another time. This guy is at one with things that’s for sure.

Hoa was right, the surf was “Shit” but the sun was out, the water was warm and our boards hadn’t been in the water in a while so we went anyway. After a short surf in soft little shoulder high close out wind waves in a sea that was full of jellyfish brought in from all of the onshore winds, I had had enough. We checked the surf report and talked to Hoa, and both had little in the way of good surf news in the near future.

When I told him that we were going to leave Vietnam early to go to Indonesia to surf he said “I totally understand man, you gotta go because you gotta surf”. I’m not sure if he’s actually a surfer himself, but either way, he gets it.

The best thing about going to China Beach was discovering the small and romantic town of Hoi An. My pictures don’t do it justice, but I can say that it’s super cute. Roads actually closed off from the traffic was enough for us to love this town more than any others in Vietnam, but this was only one of it’s many charms. Amazing restaurants, lots of cool shops, a little river that runs through town, lots of brightly painted boats with eyes painted on their stern’s, bright Asian style lanterns that light the town at night, the list goes on and on.

Our next stop is Saigon so that we can apply for our 60 day visas for Indonesia.

Vietnam – In and around the crazy city of Hanoi

The first thing I noticed when we landed in Hanoi is how old school communist it feels. Everything is grey (the clouds don’t help), the customs office is furnished from the 50’s and their uniforms are old school. It’s like we landed back in time.

The second we got out of the airport I was surprised by many people are whipping around this packed city on their motor bikes. The state of their driving is pure chaos with cars, bicycles, pedestrians and motor bikes all darting in every direction at once. Even if there were traffic lights it wouldn’t matter because no one would abide by them anyway. There are vehicles going in every which direction. It’s only after hours of careful observation that you can find any rhythm or rhyme to the madness.

The streets all have sidewalks, but one can’t actually walk on them because they are completely jam packed full of parked motorbikes, sidewalk restaurants and street vendors. When walking around town you are mostly walking on the edge of the street which means that you are always a little kept on your toes.

I find that the key to crossing these insanely busy streets is to walk slowly in a fixed direction and with out any sudden movements. The goal is that the oncoming traffic will see you and will estimate your movement and in doing so will flow around you with out slowing down. After watching lots of locals cross these crazy streets without bodily damage I knew that with faith we could do it as well. Josi on the other hand was in total shell shock having a hard enough time from the traffic in Bangkok, let alone here in Hanoi where it’s way more crazy. While I’m not sure I would want to drive a car here, in short have come to understand the flow and feel pretty comfortable with getting around without being a traffic statistic.

For kicks I’m always on the search for the motor bike carrying the biggest load. Perhaps not the biggest that I saw, but the one that sticks to mind is the guy I saw riding a motor bike who was hauling six, twenty four bottle boxes of beer and on top of that he had 2 small kegs. Way more than one could carry, let alone have as a passenger on a motorbike. Seeing a family of four all on the same bike became old news after the first fifteen minutes of walking around town.

We did a few trips out of the city to see the sights and I was amazed by how many rice fields there are here. Everywhere we we go there are people knee deep in wet muddy patches of land as they work away planting, picking and preparing their rice crops.

One of the trips that we did was an overnight on a small asian styled cruise ship in Halong Bay. It was 4 long hours out of the city via mini bus and once there it was a bit touristy, but still it was worth both the time and the costs.

Crazy traffic aside, I really enjoyed Hanoi. We are staying in the Old Quarter where the streets are very narrow and the architecture is a unique blend of Asian and French. The sidewalks are littered with little make shift restaurants where people cook soups and other meat dishes over small open flames. The dishes are washed in big basins sitting on the edge of the street and customers eat their meals sitting on small eight inch stools. We mostly eat in restaurants though since the price for a great meal is only about $4 to $6 a person. We loved our hotel as the service was great, the location was perfect, the staff were all the best and the breakfast was top notch. Best of all is that it only cost us about $40/ night.

The weather here has been chilly and overcast so our next stop is down south in search of some surf and sun.

Bangkok, City of Contrasts

Bangkok looks far scarier than any of the big cities we went to in South Africa yet when walking the streets here, I feel no fear of being robbed of my camera or of being mugged.

Bangkok’s dark and dirty streets are packed full of log hanging power lines make shift shops, consumers, vendors, food stalls, tailors, you name it, it’s there. The pollution’s so thick that it stains the buildings, blocks the stars at night and stings your eyes at the end of a day in the city.

Most of the locals wear face masks over their month and nose when riding bikes or working on the streets. The day we took a Tuk Tuk (a three wheel motor bike meets taxi) to one of the temples we quickly found out why as we had to cover our faces with the scarf that I use to cover my camera. I use a scarf rather than a camera bag because it opens quickly for fast shooting and it disguises it so that it doesn’t look like I’m carrying $5.5k around my shoulder.

In sharp contrast to the grey and dirt, Bangkok is also packed full of friendly people, amazing temples, ceremonies, great food, flowers and all sorts of visually vibrant settings. We were there for a public holiday dedicated to Buddha and the temples were all full with people giving offerings of flowers, prayer and food.

Towering over old and decrypted low rises are clean and shiny towers covered in advertising for luxury goods that only a minuscule percentage of the population could actually afford. One of the tallest tower offers a pretty cool view of the city and it’s traffic from a rotating platform on the 82nd floor. When cruising around town on foot a favourite pastime of mine is spotting the motor bikes that are piled high with more cargo then would fit in my car. Everything from river boats to taxis are painted in bright happy colours and are dawned with ornate flowers.

Had I been into drinking and going out all night this post would be a lot different than what it is. I’m sure that if you love to party there are all kinds of amazing things that you would love about this city. On this trip, I enjoyed my time in Bangkok, but it’s not on the top of my list for places one really needs to visit. This said, if we had more time it would have been nice to explore some of the less touristy areas in Thailand that have all of the amazing and none of the bad that comes with a big city.

We are super stoked for our next stop, Vietnam!

A few days in crazy Bangkok

Leaving South Africa was a little more cheerful knowing that we were flying first class on Thai Airways. All the good things that I had heard about the airline were confirmed when we sat down in our oversized seats and the flight attendant offered us an expensive bottle of champagne as a wedding present.

Excited to be in a new location, we hurried out of our hotel room to check out Bangkok’s weekend market, which claims to be the biggest street market in the world, on the other end of town. Jammed pack with people and stuff is how I would best describe this market. Rows and rows of little kiosks crammed next to another as far as the eye can see. You can pretty much find everything here from household items, decorations, art, clothes, shoes, jewellery, food and even massages. We were surprised to see that even though many of these merchants are selling the same stuff, there was still enough variety to keep us entertained. Be warned though, it’s crowded, hot and sticky. Once I was finally able to forget about the smell of the dried fish, I built up enough appetite and courage to have a meal from one of the street vendors. I was a bit worried about the cleanliness of the dishes after I saw how rudimentary their dish washing system is. They set up on the ground, in front of everyone with two big buckets of water and scrub away. Regardless, we ordered some pad thai and shrimp fried rice and to my surprise it was pretty tasty.

As a treat to ourself, we got a nice foot and neck massage from within the same market. Unfortunately right after the massage, I started having a killer migraine which degenerated quickly and next thing I knew I was laying down in the first aid room at one of their sky train stations. Still far from our hotel poor Noel had to drag me around as my eyes were half way closed. I was pretty excited when we caught a cab and unfortunately, the cab driver dropped us off at the wrong location. I guess the stress of this whole situation was just too much for my body to handle so I started throwing up in a plastic bag while still in the cab. I don’t want to go into details here and let’s just say that I’ve never puked so much in one session in my life! Noel quickly helped me out of the car and there I was sitting on the curb with my bag while Noel was running around looking for another cab to take us home. At the end, we made it safely back to our hotel where Noel tucked me into bed with an icy cold towel on my head until I fell asleep.

I felt a bit shaky the following days, so we decided to stay in Bangkok rather than travel north to Chiangmai or to the islands in the south. Seeing as Noel had already been to Thailand a few times and our goal of this trip was to see only the places that neither of us had been to we decided to explore Vietnam instead.

While in Bangkok we visited Wat Phra Kaew, the Temple of the Emerald Buddha which was absolutely stunning. Customs are that you must wear sleeves that cover your shoulders as well as long pants or a skirt to cover your legs. Luckily they lend pants, sarongs and blouses for free which gave me a good laugh when I saw Noel in oversized brown cotton pants and a lilac button shirt to cover his shorts and tank top. The craftsmanship that went into building the temple is incredible and totally worth the $15/person entry fee. During our few days in Bangkok, we also did a bit of shopping and discovered the many many malls and million of street vendors of the city.

Similar to back home there seems to be a whole culture around going to the mall and shopping. I found it both depressing and fun at the same time.

Getting a thai massage while in Thailand was high on my list of things to do while in Bangkok and Noel and I found a place close to our hotel that offered to give both of us a massage in the same room. We had never received a Thai massage and we both cracked up when we saw each other getting twisted into pretzels. Noel almost burst in laughter when my masseuse put her two feet up against my back pushing me forward while she was pulling my arms back towards her. I thought I was going to break in half. Noel’s lady was wearing a mask over her mouth similar to the ones they use when riding their motor bikes through town. I’m not exactly sure why she wore it, but Noel jokingly said that it was like getting a massage from Darth Vader. The whole experience was a bit less relaxing than I expected, at least it gave us a good laugh.

Despite the crowded, polluted and dirty face of the city, I am glad that we spent a few days exploring Bangkok.

Bangkok Photos – Subway Series

Josi and I had fun creating this series of photos when waiting for trains in Bangkok.

On Safari in Africa

The highlight of our adventures in Africa is the time we spent on Safari at the Mosetlha Bush Camp in the Madikwe Game Reserve.

Often when going somewhere totally new I end up having pre determined visions of how things are going to be when I get there. When we booked our safari I was expecting that there would be a big gate around our camp and that cabins we slept would be fully enclosed just in case a hungry lion managed to break through the aforementioned big gate. I knew that there wasn’t going to be power so I was expecting it to be rugged and bare bones. Given there was no power for cooking I also figured that the meals were going to be mostly cold plates of which I’m not a huge fan of. What I was super stoked for was going out into the wild and seeing all of the amazing animals that I had only seen either in books or on TV.

Driving into the camp I quickly came to realize that there’s only a single cord of electric fence about 7 feet high that circles the permitter which is used to keep out the elephants. This means that every other man eating animal in this reserve, excluding the giraffes, are free to come and go as they please. Even more surprising is that our cabin has huge open air windows and the front door uses a cloth gate, about half the height of a normal door, that one can easily step over. If it had been made of wood it may have at least kept out the local honey badgers which have been know to frequent the camp. The owners of the camp told us about the time there was a honey badger in their kitchen making a real mess of things and none of the men who worked there would come to help get it out out because honey badgers are know for attacking ones genitals. They are already crazy fierce and attack pretty much anything, the last thing I wanted to know was that if I do happen to find one in our cabin it’s likely going to go straight for my private bits.

While I was surprised by the lack of resources that went into keeping the guests at a same distance from the wild animals, I loved that it was exactly as it was. Having it wide open to everything made it that much more of a real adventure. They more than made up for not having electricity by lighting up the entire camp, including the guest rooms, with oil lanterns and the delicious meals were all cooked on wood burning ovens and stoves. To add to the awesome the family who own the camp, and the rangers who took us on our game drives, were all super knowledgable and full of great stories which always kept things interesting.

For me the highlights were too many to list out so I will pick only a few. The first time we spotted a lion I was shocked when we pulled up to within only a few meters. This cat was huge and in one easy leap she could have launched herself straight into our open air game viewing Land Rover. We didn’t have doors or windows to close if things got harry. We were right there, up front and personal with nothing between us and real life wild animals. Within minutes the lion was then greeted by one other big female and about 12 younger cubs. We were told that they don’t take much notice of the vehicles as long as the people inside don’t stand up or get out. If we did either there was a good chance that we may be in some trouble. On another drive we saw a pride of lions eating a wildebeest which was pretty cool as well.

Our entire vehicle had a good scare the day a huge male rhino decided that we were in his way. He was walking in front of us when out of no where he decided to take a charge at us. I braced the truck with one arm and kept taking photos with the other. Lucky for everyone our guide pulled forward and the rhino pulled away just a little. If you think that rhinos look huge in photos, I can tell you that they look twice as huge when they are charging at you.

Another day we came across a huge heard of elephants that were making their way to a watering hole that we just happened to be at. One of the big bulls happened to walk right in front of us and with out warning turned and charged toward us. Once again our guide slammed it in gear and backed up just in time. I’m not sure what was going on that day, but the normally peaceful and slow moving elephants were all a bit on edge. After they quickly drank from the watering hole they all ran off leaving a huge trail of dust behind them.

The giraffes were also really fun to watch as they are both graceful and awkward at the same time. Their long front and back left legs move in tandem followed by both of their right legs. They are graceful when roaming from tree to tree, but as soon as they are spooked they run with awkward movements looking as though they could topple at any time.

It was really cool to see packs of wild dogs as they hunted. We never saw them make a kill, but it’s meant to be a bloody mess. The skinny dogs we saw were always running while on the hunt and dogs fresh form a kill were all fat and bloated and were usually just sleeping or relaxing.

We saw a heard of about a hundred impala grazing along with zebras and wildebeests. You often see the three of them hanging out together as they use each other for early detection from their predators. Safety in numbers.

On our way home one night we spotted a huge leopard drinking from a watering hole that was only about 800m from our camp. Our driver had a spot light which was used for the evening drives so we were able to have a great view of the magnificent cat.

Seeing these animals up close and in the wild from a open air convertible is both super cool, and a bit strange. I could never imagine driving up to a grizzly bear, moose or a cougar and observing it from so closely from a open vehicle.

In the night We hear hear wild animals in and around the camp including lions, hyenas and even a buffalo. If it was super late at night we would use a bucket in our cabin for going to pee in the night rather than making our way to the outdoor toilets. I’m sure that it would be fine, but the buckets are in the rooms for a reason so why not use them. Night time is dinner time for the big cats so we figure it best to play it safe.

During the day, between the morning and evening drives, there’s a big gap where you can either read, nap, or in my case wander around and take photos of birds and such. Being right in the middle of the reserve we were told to not wander off for safety reasons. Having seen rhinos, elephants, hyenas, leopards and a bunch of other animals within a few hundred meters of our camp I can see why. Every time my photography finds me wandering away from the camp I start to feel like a snack for a pride of lions or wild dogs, or more likely upsetting rhinos or elephants. Within short order I always found myself quickly retreating back to the camp…

Josi and I love every minute of being on safari. Every and every day was exciting with new and amazing things to see at each and every moment. Equally as wonderful was being totally offline and not having to worry about checking your emails. While I live an incredibly free lifestyle with all of the opportunites for adventure that one could ever imagine, but with that comes a dependency with technology and being connected with the team at FreeBird Agency. It’s more than than just being online for work, when you are connected you end up spending unnecessary time being online. Taking 5 days to be fully offline was a great break.

The next stop in our adventure is being Rob’s guest for Sabbath and then to dinner at his home in Johanisberg before flying out to Bangkok Thailand tomorrow.

As a side note, if you are a regular reader of our blog you may be wondering why we are posting so many posts only a few days apart. We were without a solid internet connection for some time so we are just catching up now.

Our African Safari

We had planned on going on Safari to Kruger National Park, but with the recent floods they just had, we were worried that much of the game reserve would still be closed. After calling one lodge in Kruger Park, we found out that it wasn’t the case, but the lady told us that the wet weather brought a lot more mosquitos than usual and the mosquitos in this area can transmit Malaria. Since I want to avoid taking Malaria medication we kept researching possible safari locations and luckily found the Madikwe Game reserve. They have a few mosquitos, but the park in that area is Malaria free.

Madikwe is the fourth largest game reserve in South Africa. It’s massive totalling over 75,000 hectares and is home to the Big Five, which means that it has Lions, Elephants, Buffalo, Leopards and Rhinos. There are lots of camps that you can stay in at the park ranging from upscale to more rustic and somewhat affordable. We chose Mosethla Bush Camp & Eco Lodge because it had great reviews on Trip Advisor and it was really affordable in comparison to the rest of the lodges. Other pluses include it being located right in the middle of the park, it’s a family run business, and they have been in business since the park opened. Their many years of experience living with all of these wild animals sure made for some incredible stories at dinner time.

For me the beauty of this Bush Camp is that it’s raw, no electricity or running water, and at the same time very charming and upscale in it’s service and overall experience. For about $350 a night Noel and I got a really cute little open air cabin, 3 great meals and two 3 hour game drives each day (one in the morning and one in the evening). Oh and I forgot to mention that except for a really high electric fence to keep out the elephants, the whole camp is totally open allowing all of the wild animals to roam freely through the camp! For peace of mind they fenced the toilet and shower area, which made me feel way safer when I heard a lion roar when I was in the shower one evening. Most nights you could hear animals wandering around outside your cabin and I often wondered why the front of the cabin was open with only a 3 foot cloth door to keep the lions out.

On our first day, Noel and I arrived at the Bush camp just in time for a great lunch and were lucky enough to be able to go on the evening drive that same day. There were only six of us, including Noel and I, who all arrived at the camp that same day. We were all so excited to go on our first drive and our excitement and great energy must have brought us some luck because we saw so many animals that day. The amount of different amazing animals that we were able to get up close to was way above all of our highest expectations. Justice was our Ranger and Guide and he was incredible. He knew the names of all the animals, including the multitude of birds, and he had answers for all of our many questions that we threw at him.

On our first drive alone, we saw elephants, giraffes, impalas, wildebeests, kudus, cheetahs and as a real treat, right before getting back to the lodge, we even saw a leopard drinking out of a nearby water hole. After our drive we then had dinner, chatted a bunch with our new friends from the camp and went to bed. Noel fell asleep within a few minutes and I was so wired and attentive to all of the wild and new sounds going on outside that I could barely sleep all night. As I laid on my bed my head was full of images of the wild animals that we had seen that afternoon. Our open aired cabin with no real door, in combination with the leopard that we had seen only a few hours ago, which we spotted only about 800 meters from our camp, made my imagination work overtime. Poor Noel, I kept waking him up to tell him that there were animals outside. I guess I should have expected that considering that we are smack in the middle of a game reserve full of wild animals. I’m not sure what I expected, but I think that I was expecting a fence to keep them out and then a front door just in case they managed to get through the fence?

Wake up call comes early in Madikwe and every morning we got up at 5:30am. We basically had time to throw on our safari gear, grab a quick coffee and a rusk and jump into the 4×4 for the first game drive of the day.

The drive is about 3 hours long with a quick coffee/ snack break in the middle.You then come back to the lodge for a proper breakfast and then you get to do your own thing until lunch, which is around 2:30pm. It would have been great to be able to go for a run in between the first drive and lunch, but since we are not the fastest runners of the jungle, we we were on strict orders to not leave the small area of the camp. To keep ourself busy Noel took some photos of all birds and things and I did a bit of yoga, read and caught up on my sleep. The evening drive starts at 4:30pm and brings you back to the camp an hour after dark at around 8:30pm, just in time for dinner. Coming back to the camp at night was one of my favourite things because the staff lights up the entire area using oil lanterns. They are scattered all over the camp, in the rooms and around the dinner table making for a most romantic and exotic setting.

I have to say that I had some reservations when I read about the shared bathrooms and the fact that you have to heat and carry your own water if you want to take a shower, but after having experienced it first hand, I can say that it was part of what made the camp so great. Let me explain how the shower works. There is no running water so you fill a bucket from a portable water tank. Then you empty about half of your bucket into a something called a Donkey Boiler which instantly transforms it into boiling hot water that pours into another bucket. You then mix the hot water with your left over cool water so that it’s your desired temperature. The donkey boiler looks like a homemade wood stove elevated from the ground allowing you to make a little fire underneath. The water must travel through a lot of mini conduits to make it so hot in the matter of seconds. It actually looks like something my dad could easily weld in his garage. Perhaps one day when we have our off the grid house I will have him make us one. I loved the rustic feel of the camp and even the whole experience of taking a shower. It was neat to see how much water you are using and the fact that you are carrying your own water to the shower makes you a lot more conscious of your consumption.

The whole experience was incredible and the best part in my opinion was to see the wild dogs of Africa. They are one of the most endangered species in Africa and are just a fascinating creature to watch. One day we saw 2 seperate packs, one of about 8 skinny dogs running around on the hunt for something to eat, and second was a pack of 22 dogs, adults and puppies. This pack was hanging out by a drinking hole with their bellies so fat from a recent kill that they could barely move. Only a few of the younger ones were wrestling and playing around. I could have watched them for hours.

After a couple of days, more people joined us and the camp was at capacity with 18 guests. It’s so great to see people’s expression when you are only a couple of meters from a pride of huge lions. Through these experiences we met some amazing people, and for me it was a great bonding experience.

This was truly the experience of a lifetime and I can’t wait to return.

Finding cool in Johannesburg

As much as going to South Africa was a dream of mine, a life long fear has always been going to Johannesburg. As a small child I remember watching a television report about how bad the crime was in Johannesburg. The story was about how some people were installing flame throwers into the sides of their cars so that if someone tried to carjack them they could Kentucky Fried chicken the crap out of the person. To make things worse, Josi was just researching online news about Johannesburg and was horrified by reports of people breaking into houses and leaving everyone fully mutilated. Crazy voodoo tribal shit that no one wants in the back of their mind when visiting a new city.

The only reason that we had chosen to fly out of Johannesburg was that we wanted to see our good friend Rob Bronzin who is the founder of Nando’s Chicken. Nando’s is a South African company and Rob lives in Johannesburg. I met Rob a few years ago in Vancouver and since then have done some marketing work for Nando’s. Rob is now spending most of his time working on a project focusing on ending malaria in Africa. He and I have been in talks about working on some really cool save the world projects together which I’m quite excited about.

We arranged for a driver to pick us up at the airport for a few extra bucks because not only did we have our surfboards, we also wanted to start this leg of our adventure on the quick and easy. As we walked out of the airport there was a man holding up a sign saying “Mr. and Mrs. Noel Fox”. I’m sure that a couple of surfers wearing shorts and tank tops weren’t exactly what the driver was expecting. I was so stoked I had to take a picture because this was a first. It was also one of the things that I had way way down on my bucket list.

Rob had arranged for us to stay at Selwyn’s B&B, his Assistant’s, called 59 on Central which is in a great upscale neighbourhood around the corner from his own house. When we pulled up to the front gates we buzzed and buzzed, but no one was there. We could see through the big metal gates with electric fence all long the top, that the front door was open and there were cars inside so we figured that someone had to be home. After honking and waiting around for a few more minutes our driver called the security company’s number that was posted on the fence as he feared that something bad had happen. In no time two private swat trucks pulled up and out jumped several commandos dawning multiple guns. I’m not sure what their plan was for saving the day and thankfully they didn’t have to because right then Selwyn showed up. He was having lunch at his friends place next store. Turned out that our plane had arrived early and he wasn’t expecting us quite yet. Our Canadian hearts were racing and as we got out of the car and checked into our oversized room. Once we were inside our room we started to calm down knowing that we were safe inside of Selwyn’s fortified mansion. Fear is a crazy thing and once you have it, it grows inside you like a virus. I often say that “The only thing I fear is fear itself”.

Later that night Selwyn took us out for a great dinner at an upscale steak house in a trendy neighbourhood close by. Then the next day he took us on a tour of the city showing us everything from the old and somewhat dangerous downtown to a trendy artist market in a cool up and coming part of town. We were surprised to find all kinds of cool street art, trendy artist produced wears and loads of laid back people enjoying life. It felt as though we could have been in a cool and undiscovered part of Portland, Vancouver, LA, or NYC. We finished the day by walking around an African market on the roof of Rosebank mall and ate an early dinner before going back to Selwyn’s and packing for our Bush Camp and Safari in Madikwe. We left our surfboards behind as we are coming back through on our way to Thailand to have dinner with Rob and his family.

The one thing that Josi loved most about Johannesburg is that it’s nick name is Jozi. At the art market that we went to they branded their packaging and shirts as “Love Jozi” and “Be Kind to Jozi and Jozi will be kind to you”. Josi just loved it so much that had the T shirts not been $35 each I would have been wearing one now.

By the time everything was said and done our fear of Johannesburg had subsided to mild distrust with a few hints of like. Mostly we are super stoked to be getting out of the city and going on Safari early in the morning.