Africa Adventures, Day 5: Addo Elephant Park

Sunday, January 30, 2011
Luckily our early bedtime led to waking up early. We got a good 7am start to our next destination: Addo Elephant Reserve! The reserve is about an hour and a half outside of Port Elizabeth. After a few adventures with the car involving poorly marked streets, hard-to-find gears and speed limits that seemed way too fast for this car we arrived safely.

Unfortunately the weather was rainy, and had been all morning. Rain causes most of the animals to go into hiding. Even the elephants don't care for it because it washes the mud off their skin, leaving them vulnerable to parasites. That said, we were still able to see several elephants.

We also managed to spot a few other animals, including a zebra, several antelope, a warthog, ostriches, and a rare dung beetle! The poor weather lead to horrible picture taking and I only got a few photos worth keeping.

We gave up on the park after a few hours as spotting was scarce (one of the guides said we were fortunate to see what we had!). We decided to set off toward Cape Town and find a place to stay on the way. After looking at a map we decided on a pleasant-sounding town called Oyster Bay. Sounds cozy, right?

After plugging it into the GPS we found ourselves driving nearly 20 miles on a dirt road to get there. And what do we find when we get there? A town of maybe 30 houses, one general store, and definitely no hotels to speak of. While we didn't feel unwelcome, it was pretty obvious there wouldn't be anywhere to stay. Instead we backtracked to Jeffery's Bay, a surfing town and popular vacation destination for South African locals. The town had a definite party atmosphere, as the hotel we stayed in had several bars across the street, and they were hopping well past 3 am. If the bars weren't keeping me awake it was the people in the room across from ours, who were making us well-aware of the paper-thin walls with their (remarkably short-lived) sexy time. Not to be too hard on the guy's stamina, but if you were to use them as an egg timer, your eggs would be done over VERY easy.

Africa Adventures, Day 3 & 4: More flying, Port Elizabeth

Thursday, January 27, 2011
Time for the second long-haul flight of the trip! We dragged our butts out of bed at 3:30am to get to the airport in time for our flight to Johannesburg. This time we were flying KLM via Amsterdam, which is one of my favorite airports!

Unfortunately the flight was less than ideal. There was a box for the in-flight entertainment system directly under the seat in front of me, leaving very little foot room, and forcing my legs off to the side. Uncomfortable for an hour, and brutal on an eleven hour flight. I ended up with a really sore knee which took several days to recover. I can't say I recommend the aisle seats on the KLM 777s.

That said, the flight had some enjoyable moments. Flying over the Sahara Desert was fascinating - sand dunes as far as the eye could see.

Also onboard our flight were the Soweto Spiritual Singers. They're a popular choir down in South Africa who performed, among other places, at the 2010 World Cup. They had just completed a successful European tour and were returning home. When we landed they provided us a few impromptu songs while we waited to deboard!

We arrived into Jo'burg around 10:30, had our luggage and was out of customs and into a crappy airport hotel by midnight. We slept for three hours, then back to the airport again for our final flight to Port Elizabeth, on the southern coast of South Africa.

Port Elizabeth is the fifth largest city in South Africa. There isn't a whole lot to do there, but they have some decent beaches. The airport is pretty small - no official gates, and just two baggage claims. I was grateful for this however, as this would be the starting point of one of my major adventures: driving on the left side of the road! We were stuck with a Kia Picanto - a tiny car (possibly smaller than a Geo Metro) with an ultra-sensitive gas pedal to make up for the zero horsepower it had.

Besides the crazy gas pedal, there were a few other things to get used to. The turn signal and windshield wiper stalks were reversed, so whenever I went to signal a turn I ended up with the windshield wipers on instead. Getting in the mindset of yielding when turning right took a bit of work too.

After spending a few minutes driving through some neighborhoods getting used to the new feel and new road rules to learn, we were off to find the beach! Luckily Port Elizabeth is a small city and it was not hard to find. We found a nice quiet patch of sand and relaxed for a bit - and then realized we were really tired! I guess only sleeping six hours in the last 48 does that to you. We found an inexpensive hotel on the beach and took a nap.

It was still light out when we woke up. There was a dock directly across the street from the hotel, and we wandered down it just in time to see a pod of dolphins swimming around!

We hit up some places across the street for dinner, then went walking down the beach. Along the way we came by a carnival that had set up show. I stopped to take a few photos before calling it a night.

A few more photos can be found here.

Africa Adventures, Day 1 & 2: Hamburg, Germany(?)

Monday, January 24, 2011
And we're off! After at Christmas Eve flight through Paris, I met my friend Saskia in Hamburg. The temperatures were even more frigid than Salt Lake City - about 10F, but with humidity! Even the slightest breeze cut right through whatever you were wearing.

We celebrated Christmas at her parents place with a tasty meal of pumpkin soup and roast beast. Their house is one of the most amazing houses I've ever seen. It's pretty decent sized, to start, but some of details are stuff I've never seen in the U.S. Stuff like having their ceilings adorned with wood. It was beautiful. I want it in my own house.

We had a day to kill before hitting up Jo'burg, so we drove around Hamburg a bit, visiting the docks and downtown.

This church was destroyed by a bomb in World War II but was still left standing, and left uncleaned on purpose. It's a bit eerie to see this damaged abandoned steeple sticking out among all the other buildings in the area.

The rest of today's photos can be found here.