Friday, October 30, 2015

The Hilarious Buses of Mauritius & Rodrigues

It may seem stupid, but I just had to devote a whole post (and Facebook photo album) to the buses of Mauritius and Rodrigues.  Why?  Because they are fucking hilarious.  Seriously.

I didn’t notice it at first, mainly because I had a rental car during my first two weeks in Mauritius, but as soon as I got to Rodrigues, I was forced to take note of the public bus system.  “Public” is a bit of a misnomer because the buses are all privately owned.  Long story short:  I think anyone can buy a bus and import it to Mauritius.  This means that there is no uniformity of the buses – each one is unique – and they must get them from all over the world (wherever is cheapest) because I was definitely on a bus that had the word “PARANDO” (“Stopping” in Spanish) lit up at the front every time someone pushed the button to get off.  I asked a local if they knew what that was and they had no idea.  Ha!

So, once you have your bus, then you can apply to the government to get a permit to run a service on a pre-determined route (the routes are all devised by the government and drivers can’t stray from that).  Fares are also set by the government so it’s fair for passengers.  All the rest of the details are left up to the driver/owner.  And that’s where the hilarity ensues.

The buses can be painted however the fuck you want to paint them, and some of the Mauritians and Rodriguans took liberties to make their buses as unique (and hilarious) as possible.  You could definitely tell that some of the imported buses had not been repainted (I took a ride on a bus called “Princess Tours”), but for the ones that were painted by the locals, it all started off fairly innocent:  one of my first rides was on a bus named “Road Commander”.  There was also the “King of the Road”.  Then it strayed a little bit to “Angel of the Road” and “Fast Ride”, which is completely ironic because the buses were anything but fast.  On Rodrigues in particular, the island is only 11 miles (18 km) long by 4 miles (6.5 km) wide, but it still took nearly an hour on the bus to get anywhere.  Why?  Because the drivers go slow to ensure they don’t miss anyone (they want the revenue on their bus), and then they stop at some stops and get off to grab a drink, or they stop along the way to have a quick chat with the driver of a passing bus.  It’s all very nonchalant and I’m pretty sure I could have walked faster in many instances.

Let’s get back to the names.  From there, it just got weird.  There were buses named “Lucky Dream”, “Sweet Dream”, “Just for You”, and “Still Loving You”.  Is the driver still loving me?  Or is he still loving the bus?  I’m so confused!  There was also a bus named “King of Love” (hahahaha!) but my two absolute favourite buses were:  “Lovers Choice” – which sounds like the name of a sex shop – and “King of Rod” – which is supposed to be short for “King of Rodrigues” but they really should paint the whole name on because otherwise it just sounds like a super fabulous gay porn movie.  Seriously.

There was a bus named “Knight Rider” – presumably the bus hasn’t been repainted since the 1980’s – and one devoted solely to “Spiderman”.  Then there were several buses with airplanes painted on them (dream big!) and one with a ship… aptly named “Titanic” – which only gives me the image of the bus speeding onto a beach and then tragically plunging into the water.

Because the buses are privately owned, the owner-drivers can do whatever they want.  For example, they can have all of their friends on board at the front having a bit of a party… with their loud music.  Oh yes.  The drivers would plug in their smartphones and blast loud French rap (and even some Spanish rap!) while they drove along.  It was LOUD.  I felt old.  It would only get louder in the afternoons when ALL of the schoolchildren would fill the buses.  Like, ALL of them.  Squeezing 3 into seats for 2 and 4 into seats for 3 and taking up the entire aisle standing.  And because you should treat your bus like a temple, you may as well include some incense burning to give your bus a nice aroma.

At face value, the bus system seemed a bit third world, which was not the impression that Mauritius gives off.  Looking a bit closer, and despite all of these quirks, the bus system was actually well organized… just slow… and quirky.

Unfortunately, I didn’t take any bus selfies, but I’ll leave with you this one amazing bus that had a mural of a mermaid riding a dolphin painted onto the back.  AMAZEBALLS.

To see more photos of the buses of Mauritius and Rodrigues, follow this link:

Thursday, October 29, 2015


Roughly 560 kilometres east of Mauritius – toward the middle of the Indian Ocean – lies a little island called Rodrigues.  At 108 square kilometres, the island only makes up about 5% of the total area of Mauritius.  It has about 42,000 people and gained autonomous status in 2002.  While the histories of Mauritius and Rodrigues are somewhat aligned, there are quite a few differences.  Rodrigues was named after a Portuguese explorer who charted the islands, while the Dutch renamed Mauritius when they arrived.  Several Dutchmen landed on the island but it was the French to first properly settle it and populated it with slaves imported from Africa.  The British took control of the island around the same time as they took control of Mauritius.  The island didn’t have a history of indentured labourers coming from India, so the population is predominantly Creole (a mix of African and French descent) and Catholic rather than Indian and Hindu.  Like Mauritius, the main language is a French Creole language called Rodriguan Creole (which is very similar to Mauritian Creole).  Everyone also speaks French, and English turned out to be a struggle in a few places on the island.  Unlike Mauritius, the Rodriguan people overwhelmingly voted against independence from Britain back in the 1950’s, but decolonization was the flavour of the moment and Britain attached Rodrigues to Mauritius when it granted Mauritius independence.

The pace of life in Rodrigues is incredibly slow.  There is no hustle.  There is no bustle.  And nobody is ever in a rush.  This was best evidenced by the public bus system on the island, to which I will devote a separate post.  Many people say that Rodrigues is like what Mauritius was like 25 years ago.  Obviously, I can’t vouch for that, but Rodrigues is a great place to just chill out and relax, and that is exactly what I did.

A few highlights of my time in Rodrigues:

Cargo ship:
I decided to take the national cargo ship (MS Mauritius Trochetia) from Mauritius to Rodrigues.  It was the same price as flying but it took about 38 hours and included two nights of accommodation and five meals, so I figured it would be good value and an interesting new way to travel.  There were maybe fifty or sixty other passengers on the ship and all of them were locals.  I was the only tourist.  And the only person who didn’t speak French.  Despite that, I had a few good chats with a few locals who did their best to converse in their limited English.  To save time, I opted to fly back.

Villa Mon Tresor:
From the cargo ship, I checked into my traditional Mauritian/Rodriguan chambres d’hotes (guesthouse).  This guesthouse – named Villa Mon Tresor (VMT for short) – was the highlight of my time in Rodrigues.  The typical chambres d’hotes on the islands generally include breakfast and dinner, and at VMT, the meals were prepared by the proprietor of the guesthouse, a lovely lady named Marie Louise.  Not only was Marie Louise the hostess with the mostess, she could cook like nobody else.  Every meal was a big spread and every component was absolutely delicious.  Breakfast was served just for the guests (there were two older French ladies there for my first two nights, but I was the lone guest for the next two), dinners were served with Marie Louise and her charming husband seated at the table with us.  It was such a delight being in their company, and I would go back to Rodrigues one day just to stay at VMT again.

Francois Leguat Reserve:
Named after a French explore and naturalist who was the first to write about Rodrigues, the Francois Leguat Giant Tortoise & Cave Reserve is the island’s biggest attraction.  In fact, it is one of the island’s only attractions (there’s really not all that much on the tiny island), but it’s a quality one and it makes up for the island’s lack of other major tourist sights.  The star attraction of the Francois Leguat Reserve: giant tortoises!  Just like on Mauritius, the indigenous giant tortoise was led to extinction by man so these have been imported from the Seychelles.  The reserve also has a breeding program for the much smaller (and apparently hornier) Radiata tortoise from Madagascar.  In addition, there are some Rodrigues fruit bats (the only native mammal on the island), several caves (including the quite large Grande Caverne), and the only museum on the island (which does an excellent job of walking visitors through the island’s history, geography, flora and fauna, and more).  I even learned that the Pope visited Rodrigues in 1989 and it was (and still sort of is) a big fucking deal.

What the island lacks in major tourist attractions, it makes up for in beaches.  Little beaches dot the coast of the island, and as Rodrigues is entirely surrounded by a massive lagoon, all of the beaches have calm, pristine water.  Though the weather played up a bit on my first two days, I was able to get some amazing beach and swim time on my third day.  I first went to the super gorgeous St Francois beach, but after finding the ground to be a bit rocky, I walked around the corner of the island to the beach at Pointe Coton.  It was a great move on my part, because the sand was soft, the water was calm, the beach was empty (like all beaches on Rodrigues), and I got some excellent swim time.  Where else in the world can you have your own beach without paying an exorbitant price?!?

Hiking is the other main activity on Rodrigues.  I did two big hikes during my stay.  The first was the coastal walk from Graviers to St Francois.  Reminiscent of the Bondi to Coogee coastal walk in Sydney, the walk takes you along one long stretch of the island’s coast, passing empty beach after empty beach along the way.  For my second hike, I started at Mourouk Beach and worked my way up a trail that took me to the top of the ridge that runs down the centre of the island.  It was quite steep in some parts, but the views from the top were very rewarding!  Also at the top…

Chez Jeanette and Jardin des 5 Sens:
I finished my hike with a massive lunch at a lovely restaurant called Chez Jeanette, which was super recommended by my hostess and about every guidebook written about Rodrigues.  The traditional Creole cuisine was to die for!  Just next door, a small botanical garden called the Jardin des 5 Sens (Garden of 5 Senses) took me on a guided tour of endemic plants as well as through different plants that would trigger each of my five senses (see, hear, taste, smell, and touch).

Ile aux Cocos:
My last major activity was a day trip to Ile aux Cocos (Coconuts Island).  The tiny island sits offshore but still within Rodrigues’ massive lagoon.  It is a breeding site for four species of seabird – the only such island to have that claim in all of the Indian Ocean.  Though the weather played up a bit, I did get to see some of the native birds and go for two swims (including one in the rain).

My time in Rodrigues was just absolutely amazing.  I’d like to get back there one day to hike around more of the island and swim at more of the beaches (and, of course, stay at VMT again!)  I will make a point to get back one day, but I still have much more to see before that.  I do have one more blog to post about Mauritius and Rodrigues – a blog devoted to their ridiculously funny bus system.  But first, let me take a selfie.

To see more photos of my time in Rodrigues, follow this link:

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Mauritius: More Things I Did

As I mentioned, I did a LOT of things on Mauritius.  Like, I saw the whole island.  ALL OF IT.  Thanks to the guide book recommending that I hire a rental car for my stay, I was able to really get around and maximize my time.

Here are a few more highlights of my time in Mauritius:

I visited two botanical gardens while in Mauritius.  The botanical gardens in the central city of Curepipe were pretty shitty, but the Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam Botanical Gardens in the northern part of the island were the complete opposite.  Lonely Planet claims that these are one of the top botanical gardens in the world.  I still think Singapore’s and Sydney’s are better, but these were pretty fabulous.  I signed on for one of the guided tours (of course, it was me and about ten French people – I’m sure the guide was thrilled to have to translate it all into English for just one person) and now I’m dead set on doing guided tours at all botanical gardens I visit in the future.  While all the plants were labelled with their names, the tour told me more about the plants – including where they came from, how they made it to Mauritius, what they are used for, and more.  I took so many pictures and so many notes and I’m just wondering what I’ve missed at other botanical gardens that I’ve visited in the past.

Shopping and eating:
I did look for a few souvenirs and try a few local delights while on the island.  Central Market in Port Louis has a ground floor full of produce and an upper floor full of souvenir stands.  I bought a cushion cover with a dodo on it.  Of course.  I was expecting the Mahebourg Monday Market to be similar, and while it had a similar produce section, it was light on the souvenirs.  Instead, there was a good selection of vendors selling cheap eats like faratas and dholl puri.  I do love me a $1 lunch!  Back in the more urban part of the island, I spent some time at the Bagatelle Mall of Mauritius.  The biggest mall on the island was tiny by American or Australian standards, but it had a few treats, such as the famous Vonacorona Ice Cream (Mauritius’ popular equivalent to Gelato Messina – but obviously not Gelato Messina) and the Flying Dodo Brewing Company (the first and only microbrewery on the island).

I visited three colonial and/or creole mansions while on the island.  At Chateau Labourdonnais, I toured the gorgeous plantation house then strolled through their on-site botanical garden.  They also produce rum (everywhere on the island produces rum) and grow a wide range of tropical fruits.  I got to have a juice and jelly tasting after my tour!  The creole mansion called Eureka has a great little restaurant in it, adult-sized swing set, and some great hiking trails behind it which led down to a gorge with some beautiful waterfalls.  Finally, the estate house at St Aubin was set on a larger property with a small zoo, rum distillery (of course), and vanilla production!  I got to learn about how they make vanilla there on the island.  Similarly…

Making things:
I had the chance to learn how all sorts of things are made on the island.  And by things, I mean consumables:  food and drink (and/or ingredients for food and drink!)  Aside from the various rum distilleries and the vanilla plantation at St Aubin, I also visited a few other production sites and these proved to be my favourite activities on the island, I think mainly because it’s a very different tourism experience than is offered by most places… and maybe because it’s delicious too!

L’Aventure du Sucre is set in an old sugar factory.  The museum goes through the history of sugar, the complete history of Mauritius (which is great because the National History Museum was closed during my stay), and the history of sugar in Mauritius (as the island’s chief export, sugar played a major role in shaping the island).  It also, of course, had a big section on the process of making sugar, followed by a sugar tasting of twelve types of sugar made on the island.  Can you think of anywhere else you can have a sugar tasting?!?  The on-site restaurant also had a great dessert menu (as it should) and I opted for a sweet and gooey chocolate gateau.

The Bois Cheri Tea Plantation is actually a plantation AND a factory AND a museum AND a restaurant.  The tea is grown on site and a tour takes you through the factory and explains the step-by-step process of tea making.  After that, there is a small museum which outlines the history of tea.  Did you know that Americans invented the tea bag?  Take that, Brits!  After that, I had a lovely tea tasting where I got to sample all twelve of their teas (though I only made it through seven before nature started calling…)  The on-site restaurant served up tea-inspired dishes (such as a starter bread with a delicious tea chutney) as well as dishes featuring the vanilla grown at the nearby St Aubin.  I had chicken with vanilla sauce.  For dessert:  the most orgasmic tea sorbet you can only imagine in your wildest dreams.

At La Route du Sel, I toured a sea salt factory.  I had no idea how sea salt was made, and to be honest, I never really cared, but it was super interesting to go through the process.  Seawater is pumped into a series of terraces.  The water slowly flows down and evaporates leaving a bunch of salt crystals to be collected from the lower terraces.  Most of the work is still done by hand which is a common theme on Mauritius.

Finally, my favourite one was the Rault Biscuit Factory.  Fifth generation family-owned, the factory produces a variety of biscuits made from the cassava root (which means they are all gluten-free).  The tour of the tiny factory went through every step of the process and I got to see all of the workers busy making biscuits (all by hand, of course).  The old lady who owns the place is the only person with the knowledge of the exact proportions to use when mixing up the flour for each flavour and she does all the mixing herself each morning despite her age (she looked like she was probably around 70, but she was there on the floor the whole time, full of energy and running the business like a champion).  Unfortunately, the biscuits are only sold on Mauritius, but fortunately, I got to do a biscuit tasting of all the flavours (weeeee!) and buy some to take with me on my travels.  They came in handy as an alternative breakfast on some early morning starts in India the following week.

Just in case you couldn’t tell, I REALLY liked Mauritius!  It was such a fabulous place to holiday and I think maybe I’ll get back there again one day – not because I missed anything, but because it was just such a pleasant, easy place to holiday.  There is one more place I visited that is technically part of Mauritius:  the semi-autonomous island of Rodrigues.  I’ll get that blog posted soon.  But first, let me take a selfie.

To see the third (and final) set of photos of my time in Mauritius, follow this link:

Monday, October 26, 2015

Mauritius: Some Things I Did

I did a LOT in Mauritius.  Like, a LOT a LOT!

A few highlights of my time in Mauritius:

Obviously.  I went to a lot of beaches.  Some were just for the views of the islands offshore.  Some were just to stare at the ridiculously turquoise, aquamarine, and every other gorgeous shade of green and blue water.  Some were for sunset.  But I only went for a swim at one beach on the Mauritian mainland:  Blue Bay.  And it was stellar!  Gorgeous sand, gorgeous water, and gorgeous views out into the bay.  The reason I only swam at one beach on Mauritius is because…

Island trips:
… I took a few day trips to other islands!  Island day trips are a common activity for visitors to Mauritius, and quite a few small islands surround the Mauritian mainland.  Most tours include snorkelling and a BBQ lunch of chicken, fish, garlic bread, salads, and all you can drink rum, beer, and soft drinks (but they really want you to drink the rum, especially if you’re on a boat with a bunch of Chinese tourists: “You have to drink this! The Chinese don’t drink!”).  My first trip was a catamaran cruise to Îlot Gabriel (Gabriel Island) in the north of Mauritius where I sat on a luxurious white sand beach, swam in the shallow water, and relished in the fact that I was there.  My trip to Île aux Benetiers (Benetiers Island) in the west of Mauritius was a bit of a bust in that it was gray and rainy for most of the time we were on the island.  All wasn’t lost, however, as we stopped to swim in the open ocean on the way there and on the way back (“Are you going to swim? You have to swim! The Chinese don’t swim!”).  Oh, and did I mention there were dolphins?  Motherfucking dolphins!  And I got to swim with those motherfuckers!  And it was awesome!  My third island trip was actually two islands off the east coast:  the uber gorgeous Île aux Cerfs (Deer Island) and Îlot Mangenie (Mangenie Island).  The weather was the best for this one which was perfect because Île aux Cerfs has tons of gorgeous white sand secluded beaches to discover.  I walked around the island to a secluded spot and got my swim on in perfect peace.  Later on, our boat visited a coastal waterfall with monkeys and bats, and then stopped at Mangenie Island for a BBQ lunch.

My final trip – to Île aux Aigrettes (Egrets Island) in the southern part of Mauritius – was a bit different.  Île aux Aigrettes is a nature reserve where the Mauritian Wildlife Foundation is trying to recreate what Mauritius looked like before humans arrived.  The foundation has planted native plant species and introduced native animals, particularly various endangered bird species such as the pink pigeon, olive white-eye, and Mauritian fody, and Telfair’s skink.  The Aldabra tortoise from the Seychelles – a cousin of the now extinct Mauritian tortoise – has also been introduced to get the eco-system as close as possible to how it used to be.  The saddest part were all of the bronze statues dotting the island which represent all of the species that have gone extinct since man arrived.  Aside from the dodo, these include the Mauritian tortoise, giant skink, Mauritian owl, red rail, Mauritius blue pigeon, and so many more.

Hiking is popular in Mauritius and the island boasts some great hiking trails.  I spent a day in Black River Gorges National Park (which should just be called The National Park because it’s the only one in the country) which contains amazing viewpoints and the only tract of native vegetation that wasn’t totally destroyed by human activities.  Vallee de Ferney is a nature reserve that grows and reintroduces native plant species in an attempt to restore the land to what it once was.  The reserve has a small population of the super endangered Mauritius kestrel – a raptor which only had 4 birds left in the mid-1970’s.  There are about 400 now but they are still super vulnerable.  The reserve also boasts a great hiking trail with native plant species labelled along the way.  Trou aux Cerfs (which I guess translates to “deer hole”) is the rim of a dormant volcano located in Curepipe – Mauritius’ second biggest city.  The rim has been turned into a nice park with a 1km jogging trail around it.  Trees and a lake fill the crater.

Museums and monuments:
Mauritius has quite a few museums and monuments.  The most important for me was the Natural History Museum in Port Louis, the capital of Mauritius.  It was there that I got to see the exhibit on the dodo, one of my 103 Things.  Did you know it was a pigeon?  Ick!  Port Louis had quite a few other museums, including UNESCO-listed Aapravasi Ghat (the landing place for most of the indentured labourers from India), the Blue Penny Museum (which contains early maps of Mauritius, some super rare stamps, and a famous statue of and exhibition on Paul et Virginie – Mauritius’ most famous piece of literature), the Mauritius Postal Museum (which is super interesting if you love mail, and super quick if you don’t), the Photography Museum (privately owned and operated by an older couple who have amassed an astounding collection of cameras and old pictures of Mauritius, it includes the lens which took the very first picture in the Southern Hemisphere, right here in Mauritius), Fort Adelaide (an old British fortress up on a hill which is only good for the views), and the SSR Memorial Centre for Culture (the old home of Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam which features the story of Maurtius’ first Prime Minister and leader of its independence movement).

On the opposite side of the island from Port Louis is the town of Vieux Grand Port.  Here I visited the Vieux Grand Port Historical Site and the Frederik Hendrik Museum.  The historical site contains the ruins of the first French fort on the island.  Underneath that lies the first Dutch fort, and they have excavated one small section to unearth the oldest structure on the island.  The museum contains an exhibition on the Dutch history of Mauritius, which seems to be mostly forgotten everywhere else.  A few kilometres south of the historical site and museum stands a marker on the spot of the first Dutch landing on the island.

Randomly, on the south coast of the island, I received yet another history lesson in the form of a monument to Matthew Flinders.  For the non-Aussies reading this, Flinders was the first man to sail all the way around Australia and determine that it was actually its own continent rather than attached to any other land mass.  He was even the first to propose the name “Australia”!  He landed on Mauritius on the way back from Australia to England as his ship needed some repairs.  As France was at war with England, the French captured him and imprisoned him on Mauritius for six years.

Hindu sites:
As roughly one half of the island is Hindu, I of course had to visit some religious sites.  A small temple by the name of Sagar Shiv Mandir is painted completely white and sits on a little bit of land sticking out into the sea.  It was quite scenic and must have a super high property value!  The big ticket religious site, however, was Ganga Talao.  Ganga Talao is a religious site at Grand Bassin – a deep lake filling a volcanic crater in the south of the island.  The lake is a holy site for Hindus and legend has it that Shiva accidentally spilled some water from the Ganges here on Mauritius.  His wife, Parvati, to him to leave the water there because the island, though uninhabited at the time, would one day host people from India to pray there.  A hike up to the crater’s rim provided a fantastic view of the lake, the temples that surround the lake, and the two massive statues of Shiva and Parvati, exact replicas of statues in India.  The statue of Shiva stands at 108 feet tall.  The statue of Parvati is still under construction.

It all sounds like a pretty full schedule, doesn’t it?  And I’m only halfway through telling you all about what I did on Mauritius.  I’ll need to type up one more blog to finish it up.  But first, let me take a dodo selfie.

To see the second set of photos of my time in Mauritius, follow this link:

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Mauritius: An Introduction

A tiny island in the Indian Ocean, Mauritius is 2,000 kilometres from the African mainland.  It’s roughly half the size of the smallest US state, Rhode Island, and about 25% smaller than Luxembourg. With nearly 1.3 million people, it’s one of the ten most densely populated countries in the world.  Mauritius is part of the Mascarene Islands which also includes the slightly larger Reunion Island (a part of France) slightly to the west and the much smaller Rodrigues Island (a semi-autonomous part of Mauritius) much further to the east.

The original inhabitants of Mauritius were the now-extinct dodo birds.  Europeans were the first humans to settle Mauritius (despite Russia’s demands at the United Nations in 1966 for Britain to decolonize the islands and leave the indigenous population alone… silly Russia… always acting like a fool).  Ancient Arab maps do make note of the Mascarene Islands, but the Portuguese were the first Europeans to properly chart them.  Later on, the Dutch were the first to land and live on Mauritius.  The Dutch controlled Mauritius for 72 years in the 1600’s before abandoning the island.  It was too inhospitable for them.  The French came shortly thereafter and ruled for 95 years during the 1700’s, but the British decided they wanted it and attacked the French to gain control of the island in 1810.  The British ruled for 158 years before Mauritius was granted its independence.

Given its proximity to Madagascar and the African mainland, Mauritius is technically considered a part of Africa, though it hardly resembles Africa at all (except for all the South African chain restaurants).  Mauritius leads Africa in most international rankings devised by most international think tanks and the UN.  It’s has the highest Human Development Index ranking in Africa, the highest Democracy Index ranking in Africa (beating the USA, Japan, France, and a bunch of other western countries too), and the highest Economic Freedom Index ranking (again beating the USA, UK, and nearly all of Europe too).

Mauritius still has its quirks though.

For example, the highway system in Mauritius consists of one highway (the island is small – how many do they need?)  The best part though, is that rather than on-ramps and off-ramps, there are roundabouts.  Try going through a roundabout at 110 km/hour. The public bus system is fucking hilarious and I will devote a whole blog post to this soon.  As a former British colony, English is the official language.  All schooling is conducted in English.  Parliament is conducted in English.  Street signs are all in English.  And anything to do with government is in English.  But English is not the main language of the island and virtually nobody speaks English as their native language.  That honour goes to:  French, or more specifically, a French Creole language.  As part of the treaty that handed over Mauritius from French to British control, the local population was allowed to keep their French language.  Everyone takes French in school.  The vast majority of tourists to Mauritius are French so all white tourists are immediately greeted with a “bonjour”.  They are surprised that I never took French in school.  But why take French when I can take something useful like Spanish?

Indeed, the French dominate the tourism market in Mauritius.  There are some Brits and some Germans who visit, along with South Africans, Chinese, and Indians, but the vast majority are French.  As an American and Australian, everyone was super surprised that I was there.  “How did you hear about Mauritius?”  Ummmm… it’s a country… That’s like asking visitors to New York “How did you hear about the United States?”  Or we can just back up.  “Have you ever heard of islands before?”

The island is demographically diverse, including by race and religion.  Roughly two-thirds of the population are Indian Mauritians descended from indentured labourers who came here to work after slavery was abolished.  About one-quarter are Creole – descendants of black slaves with a bit of European ancestry mixed in.  There’s a small but prominent Chinese Mauritian minority, as well as the white people – French Mauritians and South African expats.  Just under half of the population is Hindu, one-quarter is Catholic, and one-fifth is Muslim.  And they all, for the most part, get along pretty well.

The diversity of ethnic groups means that Mauritian cuisine has influences from India, China, Europe, and Africa.  The creole cuisine is big on rice, noodles, curries, and spices.  Because of the country’s island location, fish and seafood are the most popular meats.  The local street food is delicious – my favourites being faratas (flour-based flatbread rolled up and filled with veggie curry) and dholl puri (very similar to a farata but made with yellow split peas instead of just flour).  After that, the diversification sort of stops.  Aside from the Mauritian creole cuisine, I’ve determined there are four other types of cuisine available on the island:

1.  Indian food
2.  Chinese food
3.  South African chain restaurants
4.  Pizza

There’s not a single Mexican restaurant on the entire island.  I went to the one Thai restaurant but it didn’t taste very Thai.  I saw one Middle Eastern fast food outlet.  Were you looking for Greek food?  Awww I’m sorry!  Japanese food?  Awww I’m sorry!  Spanish food?  Awww I’m sorry!  American food?  Does McDonald’s count?  No?  Awww I’m sorry!  I was hungry for something different after three and a half weeks in Mauritius.

Some other quirks:  a big lagoon surrounds much of the island.  It makes the waves break away from the coast, keeping the beaches calm and enjoyable.  The only downside: the water surrounding the island is super shallow.  Like, SUPER shallow, as in, you can walk for several kilometres out to sea in some places.  It’s quite hard to have a proper swim, but quite cool that you can go so far from shore and be completely safe.

There’s also a lot of stray dogs in Mauritius, which was quite unpleasant.  It wasn’t as bad as Myanmar or Russia, but it was still a bit confronting.  Most of the dogs were quite tame and would follow you around for ages just hoping you’d throw some food their way.  I got followed quite a few times.  I don’t even like dogs but they just looked so sad that I couldn’t help but feel for them.

Despite the French influence, wine seems scarce.  Rum is the drink of choice, and with sugar one of the primary industries of the island, there’s tonnes of rum to be drunk.  Beer – particularly the fairly average local brand called Phoenix – is a close second place to rum.

Mauritius manages to pack a lot of activities into a small island.  Most tourists head to the fancy resorts and don’t see much else, but I am far too poor for that.  I stayed in small guesthouses and studio apartments, and drove around with a (crappy) rental car trying my best to cover every corner of the island.  I think I did a pretty good job.  I would tell you all about what I did, but this blog is already too long so I’ll save it for the next installment.  For now, you can peruse my first set of pictures linked below.  But first, let me take a selfie.

To see the first set of photos of my time in Mauritius, follow this link:

Friday, October 23, 2015

An Ode to Nando's

Ok, it’s not really an ode, but you’ll deal with it.  Rather than always blog about the cities and countries that I visit in general, I thought I’d spice it up with something a little different that spans several different countries:  Nando’s!  In all fairness, I was going to lump this in with my South Africa blog or my Kruger blog because of the wildlife aspect of Nando’s, but then it got too long and earned its own post.  For those of you who don’t know what Nando’s is (which is mainly the Americans reading this), Nando’s is a fast food chain which specializes in chicken with a Mozambican-Portuguese peri peri sauce theme (yes, it makes sense: Mozambique was a Portuguese colony and it’s right next door to South Africa which is where Nando’s comes from no matter how much Brits insist it’s a British invention).  It’s massive in southern Africa and massive in Australia and New Zealand and massive in the UK and Ireland and big in the Middle East and South Asia and Southeast Asia… and it’s coming to the US soon with stores already open in Washington DC and Chicago.  Basically, Nando’s is Chick-fil-a but with happy spicy sauce instead of sad bigotry sauce.

Now, I mentioned that I was going to include Nando’s in my wildlife blogging but that doesn’t make too much sense.  Or does it?  There is a point to this blog (sort of).  So, I used to eat Nando’s quite a bit when I first moved to Australia and lived right near a Nando’s, but when I moved suburbs, I had to switch my allegiance to a burger chain called Grill’d because it had two locations closer to my house and always stocked Gatorade which is perfect for the hangover crowd.  But, being in Nando’s home country of South Africa, I thought I should visit Nando’s again because it totally counts as local cuisine.  Each Nando’s prides itself on being unique and the one we visited was the best one that I’ve been to so far.  “Why is that?” asks an inquisitive member of the audience.  It’s because of the view.  The Nando’s was at a rest stop called the Alzu Petroport which is located exactly in the middle of nowhere halfway between two small towns that nobody has ever heard of.  That’s not the important part.  The important part is that this rest stop in the middle of nowhere has a big waterhole and a massive enclosure which contains a whole shitload of wildlife.  So, Jarrod and I were sitting there eating our spicy peri peri chicken burgers with sides of chips and a Coca-Cola for me and a Coke Zero for Jarrod (because he’s a skinny bitch) while we watched ostriches, eland, zebras, buffalos, and rhinos go about their biz-nass at the waterhole.  Let me repeat:  THERE WERE RHINOCEROSES AT THIS NANDO’S!  AND OSTRICHES!  AND ZEBRAS!  AND BUFFALO!  AND BIG FUCKING ANTELOPE!  How cool is that?!?

Because every traveller needs some comfort food now and again along the way, I also ate Nando’s in three other countries:  Mauritius, UAE, and Malaysia.  In Australia and South Africa, most Nando’s generally have the format of the customer ordering at the counter and then servers bringing your meal to you.  In Dubai, it was much more fast-food like:  you order at the counter and then go back to retrieve your meal when it’s ready.  Mauritius and Malaysia, on the other hand, were full service restaurants.  How fancy!  In Mauritius, Nando’s even had a delivery service and a special menu devoted to “Designer Drinks”.  Where the fuck am I?!?  In Malaysia, Nando’s served as the all-important first safety meal after my bout of food poisoning.

Allegedly, according to Wikipedia, there’s even Nando’s in India!  I don’t believe them though because I didn’t see any Nando’s in India and Nando’s is quite nice.

And there’s nothing nice in India.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Kruger National Park

Kruger National Park is the crown jewel of wildlife spotting in southern Africa, and I was super pumped at the chance to see some leopards – the last of the “Big 5” that I had yet to see after nearly a month and a half in Africa.  We arrived in the afternoon and did a game drive from our touring van.  It started off slow.  We saw one new species of antelope:  the waterbuck (with what looks like a toilet seat shaped ring on its butt).  We also saw a southern ground hornbill – a super endangered flightless bird which we learned more about later from a display at the visitor centre.

That evening, we did a night game drive in the hopes of seeing the more nocturnal feline species.  We saw plenty of elephants, and that’s about it.  It was a bust.

I was discouraged, but the next day we had a full day game drive booked in on a proper game drive vehicle, so all hope wasn’t lost.  The drive started off slow with mainly birds at first.  We saw a kite (a species of bird, not the kind that humans fly), some cape glossy starling (though my mate James thinks they are a different starling species, I’m going to go with what the ranger said), a southern yellow-billed hornbill, steppe buzzard, and grey stork.  In other boring news, we also saw a rock monitor (lizard) somewhere along the way.

Then, it happened – our big break – the first of our amazing sightings.  RHINOS!  I had seen rhinos at Etosha National Park in Namibia, but the rhinos we saw at daytime were far away and the ones we saw at the watering hole at night were quite dimly lit.  These rhinos were right here.  Like, right here – next to our vehicle.  There were a handful of them – maybe six or seven – and they eventually crossed the road right in front of our truck – maybe 10 metres ahead.  I got some amazing pictures and I was a super happy camper.

We then stopped at a large watering hole where three male lions were lazing by the water.  Two dumb ass giraffes dawdled over to the watering hole to take a drink.  They were only metres away from the lions, but apparently giraffes have poor eyesight so they didn’t notice.  One of the giraffes eventually figured out the danger and made a beeline for safety across the road.  The lions must have had a big feed recently, because other than perking up at the beginning when the giraffes initially came over, they didn’t really make any indication that they were going to pounce.  We waited – we hoped – but they just laid there like lazy cats.

Fuckers.  Why won’t you stupid lions put on a show for us?!?

It was then that my moment of glory came.  On day 43 out of 44 days in Africa, and after travelling through seven African countries, I finally saw A LEOPARD!  It was just wandering around in the bushes near the side of the road.  And then, minutes later, there was ANOTHER LEOPARD!  And then, later on, a THIRD LEOPARD!  This one was the best because it was up in a tree and it was guarding its next meal: a dead impala hanging from another branch of the tree.  HOLY AMAZEBALLS, BATMAN!  I was so pleased that I finally saw some leopards that I almost jizzed like a firehose.

Was that too much information?  I’m sorry.

Now, if each of the leopards represents a tier of a delicious three-tiered cake, then the icing was the next animal sighting:  cheetahs!  Two of them to be exact.  We assume they were a male and a female couple, but I suspect they could have been gay.  I mean, look at those spots – they are super fabulous.  I had seen a cheetah in Namibia but it was far off the road.  These were fairly close and allowed for some pretty good pictures.  I like icing on the cake.

Do you know what else is good with icing on cake?  Those icing flowers which are just pure blobs of icing.  The icing flowers came in the forms of (1) a spotted hyena – another animal that I had not seen on any of my safaris in Africa until now and my second priority sighting after the leopards and (2) the black-backed jackal.

But you know what’s even better than a three-tiered cake with lots of icing and icing flowers?  A three-tiered cake with lots of icing an icing flowers AND sprinkles!  Everyone loves sprinkles because they are super adorable.  Do you know what else is super adorable?  The steenbok.  Just Google it (or, better yet, check out my pictures below!)  The steenbok is the tiniest antelope inside Kruger National Park and it’s almost too adorable to handle.  It’s so cute that I wanted to dress it up for Halloween.

Of course, no cake is complete without… a cherry on top.  Duh!  And what was my cherry on top?  Two zebras.  Now, I had seen a tonne of zebras on my trip.  But why were these two zebras special?  It was because they were just standing there.  Chilling.  On the side of the road.  Both with raging hard-ons.  There’s nothing like a good pair of zebra boners to bring a smile to a dirty-minded guy’s face.  Commence giggles… NOW!

So, Kruger National Park was super successful and I was extremely elated at the wildlife viewing we had.  Now that I’ve fully conquered Africa, it’s time to get some rest and relaxation time on a beach in Mauritius.  But first, let me take a selfie.

To see more photos of my time in Kruger, follow this link:

Wednesday, October 21, 2015


Swaziland, like Lesotho, is a small country that is almost completely surrounded by South Africa.  Aside from knowing the capital city, Mbabane, and the fact that the king has a dozen wives (this I learned on an episode of Madam Secretary), I honestly didn’t know too much about this little African kingdom.  I assumed it would look like Lesotho, just because of its similar size and location, but boy was I was wrong.  While the international rankings don’t put Swaziland too far ahead of Lesotho, a little bit apparently goes a long way.  Unlike Lesotho, the border post looked very official, roads were well-maintained, and the cities looked like actual cities (with buildings that wouldn’t look out of place in a western country).  It appears Swaziland’s economy has been handled fairly well by the king – the last reigning absolute monarch in Africa – though there is a push for more democracy in the country (followed by laws to stop that).  Women’s rights are a big issue and the HIV problem is widespread (Swaziland has the highest HIV rate in the world).  Because of AIDS, the life expectancy in Swaziland is one of the lowest anywhere in the world.

Our main purpose for visiting Swaziland was to go to Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary.  It was there that we took a game ride.  This was not a game drive in the protection of a truck, but rather a game ride – on a bicycle!  Mlilwane doesn’t have any major predators (aside from crocodiles) so it was quite safe to hop on a bike and ride around the trails that cover the park.  As I was nearing the end of my time in Africa, I had already seen the vast majority of the species that Mlilwane has on offer.  Along the way, we saw heaps of kudu, zebra, blue wildebeest, and blesbok, along with a crocodile and hippo or two.  We could even stop and get quite close to the animals.  I did see one new antelope species:  the nyala!  I was quite thrilled to get one new one on the list.  In addition to the game we saw on the bicycle ride, our campsite in the park was filled with bushbuck, helmeted guineafowl, monkeys, impala, and even some warthogs roasting by the campfire.

Dinner that evening was at the restaurant at our campsite.  I had the local beer, Sibebe, along with the one animal that I had yet to eat despite its abundance in Africa:  impala!  My impala came in the form of a stir-fry.  Warthog also featured prominently on the menu.  Out of curiosity, Jarrod asked where the impala meat and warthog meat came from.  Turns out they just go and get some of the animals from around camp.  Did I mention that it’s a wildlife sanctuary?  Yeah…

Our road out of Swaziland took us through the mountains and above the cloud line, which was pretty great for some photos.  I was excited for our next stop back in South Africa:  Kruger National Park, where all my hopes and dreams of seeing a leopard could come true.  But first, let me take a (nyala) selfie.

To see more photos of my time in Swaziland, follow this link:

Friday, October 16, 2015


We interrupt this South Africa trip to bring you… Lesotho!  A small country completely encircled by South Africa, Lesotho is the world’s largest enclave.  It’s also the world’s highest country – with no point falling below 1,000 metres.  Despite the spelling, the name is actually pronounced like “li-soo-too”.  Crossing the border from South Africa, it was instantly noticeable:  Lesotho is substantially poorer than its big neighbour.  With a low Human Development Index ranking, large proportion of the population living below the poverty line, massive problems with HIV and rape, and a history of political instability, all looks a bit sad for Lesotho.  Lesotho’s economy is closely tied in with the South African economy due to it being completely surrounded by its big neighbour, which hinders diversification and makes Lesotho suffer when South Africa is on the decline (you know, like now, with South Africa’s ridiculously idiotic leader doing his best to fuck every aspect of the country up).  But they have been making strides and soldiering on the best they can.  Primary education is now free up until seventh grade and growth in the mining and textile sectors have given the economy a boost.  The country’s literacy rate is now one of the highest in Sub-Saharan Africa, and Lesotho is now the region’s leader in textile exports to the USA.

We only had one full day in Lesotho, but I don’t think we needed much more.  We stayed at a lodge in an area called Malealea which is a collection of fourteen villages.

A few highlights of my time in Lesotho:

Mountain biking:
We rented mountain bikes for the morning and rode around the (very dusty) hills (and rocks) that surround the lodge.  It was actually quite enjoyable until the very end when we came to realize that very long last stretch was mostly uphill.  As the country is quite dusty, we were all well-covered in a lovely orange glaze after the ride.  We could have played the Oompa Loompas in the next Wonka film.

School visit:
We took a tour of the local government primary school during the kids’ lunch period.  The kids were extremely excited to see us, but visiting was definitely a bit of a shock.  The school cafeteria was stocked with big bags of maize from the UN World Food Programme – they must eat the same corn porridge every day.  Classrooms had broken windows and holes in the doors which surely would make it very cold in the winter season.  Because of a lack of classrooms, fourth and fifth grades were sharing one large one.  We were also told by the school administrator that there are a lot of orphans at the school.  Despite all this, the kids looked happy.  It’s unfortunate that the majority of them won’t be able to continue on to high school because of financial reasons.

Village tour:
We took a tour of the local village which didn’t really have much in it.  We saw where the village chief lives, visited a local home brewery (which was disgusting), and had a home-cooked local lunch in the tiny, one-room home of one of the villagers.

And that was pretty much it… how much do you think we can squeeze into one day?  We headed back into South Africa for a few days before checking out another little African country:  Swaziland.  I was curious to see how it would compare to Lesotho, but that’s a story for another blog.  But first, let me take a selfie.

To see more photos of my time in Lesotho, follow this link:

Thursday, October 15, 2015

South Africa

With a new tour group of 2 South African guides and 8 random travelers from Canada, England, and Luxembourg (seriously, where are these Luxembourgish people coming from all of a sudden? It’s like they’ve just all been released from their Grand Duchy all at once…), Jarrod and I set out across South Africa in search of gold and riches.  Or maybe just leopards and hyenas – two of the main animals I hadn’t seen on my first tour.  Just like Johannesburg and Cape Town, the rest of the country had its nice parts and its less-than-nice parts (to put it nicely), but being on an organized tour, we didn’t stray too far from the path of safety.

A few highlights of my time in South Africa (not including Johannesburg and Cape Town):

Garden Route:
We drove along the Garden Route – a famous stretch of gorgeous coastline extending south and east from Cape Town – where we visited Knysna Heads (beautiful scenery where the Knysna River flows into the Indian Ocean), saw whales migrating along the coast near the town of Wilderness, and ate at the Sedgefield Saturday Markets.  The markets were glorious and I put so much delicious food into my mouth that I was full for a week.  I put some fat cocks in my mouth… wait, that’s not right.  I mean vetkoek!  Vetkoek means “fat cake” in Afrikaans and it’s like a doughnut but not sweet and you put filling in it like a sandwich.  I had a similar one in Botswana but this was bigger.  I also had koeksisters – small, syrup covered Afrikaner doughnuts… and coffee… and cake… as I do.  We also visited the Cango Caves where our amazing tour guide earned her badge for best cave tour ever.  How do you make a cave tour – which really are all the same – stand out among the others?  Talk in a manner which commands amazement from the crowd.  It sounded like she was some sort of sensual robot narrating a murder mystery.  I know that sounds weird, but trust me.

Tsitsikamma National Park:
At the end of the Garden Route lies Tsitsikamma National Park.  It is here where we camped just meters from the Indian Ocean – waking up to the roaring sound of the waves.  We hiked along the coast to a waterfall and back the other direction to some suspension bridges hanging over the mouth of the Storms River.  There were also tons of little rock dassies everywhere in this park and I almost exploded from the cuteness overload.

Addo Elephant National Park:
I had seen a lot of the African wildlife that I wanted to see by the time the next national park rolled around, with the notable exceptions of leopards and hyenas.  For much of the group, it was the first time they were seeing things like zebra and giraffe, and I was like “yawn.”  We didn’t see any leopards in Addo Elephant National Park but we saw tons of elephants (as the name suggests) including one bull elephant with a massive erection.  MASSIVE.  It was like a fifth leg.  It was frightening.  There were also tons of warthogs which was actually quite cool since I had not seen any since Zimbabwe (surprisingly), and we also saw two male kudu with horns locked, fighting over something.  New species included the eland (the largest of the antelope), the caracal (a super elusive feline species which apparently nobody ever sees), and the flightless dung beetle (a super endangered large beetle which we were lucky to see crossing the street and which we learned more about later on as there was a whole display on the species’ struggle at the visitor centre).

The fourth oldest European settlement in Southern Africa, Graaff-Reinet was a cute little town that we spent an afternoon in.  There, Jarrod and I broke from the group to get coffee and cupcakes (because Australians get coffee and gays get cupcakes, right?) followed by a visit to the Graaff-Reinet Museum to get our education on.  Though small, they had a great exhibit on Robert Sobukwe, one of the leaders of the anti-apartheid movement that I had learned briefly about on Robben Island.  Nearby, Camdeboo National Park offered another new antelope species for me – the blesbok – and a late afternoon hike in the Valley of Desolation (such sadness!) offered a great sunset and views overlooking the town at dusk.

Drakensburg & Vicinity:
Moving toward the Drakensburg region, we stopped for lunch in the tourist town of Clarens, where the rich of Johannesburg come to escape the city for weekend getaways.  We knew the town was legit nice when we spotted some other gays there.  Along the way, we saw some bald ibises along the road – contenders for title of the world’s ugliest bird species.  Our campsite at the Drakensville ATKV Holiday Resort had a massive heated indoor swimming pool (WIN!) and we took a day hike at Thukela Gorge in the Royal Natal National Park.

Saint Lucia:
Not to be confused with the Caribbean island nation, Saint Lucia is a small tourist town situated in the middle of the iSimangaliso Wetland Park.  There we did the typical touristy hippo and croc river cruise where we saw quite a few large pods of hippos.  And one lone croc.  We saw some new bird species, including the giant kingfisher, cormorant, African darter, and some Egyptian geese, along with an African fish eagle chasing a pelican.  Lesson of the day: don’t piss off an eagle.  Jarrod and I opted to spend the next day just chilling at cafes in town rather than doing any wildlife adventures, but we did at least manage to see some mongooses at our campsite.  I finished my bottle of Amarula (a local liqueur drink), drank my first and last Castle Lite (a local favourite beer which tastes worse than piss), and cooked my famous mac n cheese for the group over a campfire.  It turned out ok – not great – but not bad for a lack of proper cheeses and the lack of a proper oven.

Other activities:
On the way back to Johannesburg, our group visited a local pre-school which is supported by Planeterra, the charitable arm of our tour company, G Adventures.  The pre-school was created so that older children wouldn’t have to drop out of school early to take care of their baby siblings.  It was another one of those not-so-nice realities that we learned about South Africa.

There is obviously one other place in South Africa that we visited that I haven’t blogged about yet.  For those of you who know South Africa, you can take a quick guess.  Ready?  Ok.  Guess!

Actually, I can’t hear you.  So I’ll just tell you.  It’s Kruger National Park!  And it will get its own separate entry soon enough.  Stay tuned.  In the meantime, let me take a selfie.

To see more photos of my time in South Africa, follow this link:

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Cape Town

After a few weeks of camping, I was super excited to be heading to a proper big city:  Cape Town!  Regarded as the most cosmopolitan city in Africa, parts of Cape Town felt like they were plucked straight out of Australia:  the touristy waterfront, the gorgeous coastal scenery, the delicious cafe culture, etc.  I absolutely loved it.  Of course, Cape Town is still in South Africa, and with that also comes a more unpleasant side as well:  townships and informal settlements around the city, high crime rates (though not nearly as bad as in the other big cities in South Africa), lots of homelessness, power outages, and more.  As a tourist, I tried my best to see the nice part of the city, and I did a pretty good job of it.  Cape Town is where my first camping tour ended and where my second camping tour began and I had a week between the two to fully explore the city.  It proved to not be enough time!  This is also where I had to say goodbye to Jemma (who will sing Taylor Swift with me in the tent?!?) and hello to my next travel buddy, Jarrod – one of the gay Jews of Melbourne.  Finally I have someone to speak gay with!

A few highlights of my time in Cape Town:

Table Mountain:
A highlight for all visitors to Cape Town, Table Mountain towers over the city at a height of over 1,000 metres.  A cable car runs to the top but it was closed for servicing during our stay so we were forced to hike to the top and then back down again.  It was a steep and strenuous climb up a path called Platteklip Gorge, but the views from the top were stunning.  You could see the whole city, the beautiful coastline, Robben Island in the distance, and more.  I definitely earned a big slice of chocolate cake for that workout.

Cape Peninsula:
We took a day trip south to Cape Point and Cape of Good Hope – the southwestern-most points in Africa.  It is here where the Indian and Atlantic Oceans meet… sometimes.  Unfortunately, this was not one of those times so we couldn’t see the crazy division between the warm Indian water and the cold Atlantic water, but the views and hiking were great nonetheless.  The cape was home to tons of little rock dassies (aka rock hyraxes) – small mammals that – in my twisted mind – sort of resemble what would come out if you crossed a wombat with a guinea pig.  These cute little darlings which could fit in your backpack with ease are somehow, in some way, the closest living relative to the elephant.  It’s so fucking weird.  I want one as a pet.  Except they shit everywhere so maybe not.

Speaking of cute wildlife, we stopped at Boulders Beach on the way back to see the penguin colony there.  The African penguins were as cute as any other penguins and they still reign at or near the top of my favourite animals list.

With a whole week to explore, I definitely had time to check out quite a few of Cape Town’s museums.  The most somber of them was Robben Island – a prison off the coast of the city where many important anti-apartheid activists were imprisoned, including Robert Sobukwe and Nelson Mandela.  There we learned about apartheid and were shown around by a past inmate.  Our guide was imprisoned there for six years for suspected sabotage.  He was released as the apartheid era came to a close.  The District 6 Museum told the story of apartheid through the eyes of the residents of District 6 – a community that was relocated against their will to make more space for white people.  The Iziko Slave Lodge gave the history of slavery in the Cape region.  This was particularly interesting.  Apartheid is well-known and taught in schools, but I didn’t really know anything about the slavery in Africa which existed well before apartheid.  It wasn’t the local tribes that the whites held captive, but rather slaves imported from Malaysia, India, Madagascar, and elsewhere.  It is because of this that Cape Town has such a multicultural feel to it.

Because I’m the most-Jewish least-Jewish person ever, I stopped by the South African Jewish Museum.  And as happens at all Jewish museums all over the world, I spent way more time there than expected because all of the old Jewish volunteers were super keen to talk my ear off.  They’re cute, so it’s ok.  It reminds me of Florida.  There I learned about Jewish history in South Africa and the part that the Jews played in the white resistance to apartheid.  Given my extended stay with the Jews, I was a bit stressed that I wouldn’t have enough time to fully explore the South African National Gallery down the road, but after about fifteen minutes of walking around the galleries, I had to ask the front desk where the rest of it was.  That was it.  The moral of the story:  if you want art, go to Europe.

V&A Waterfront:
The touristy hub of the city, the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront has heaps of shops and restaurants for tourists to peruse.  It’s also home to the Two Oceans Aquarium.  I paid the equivalent of A$13 to get in and it was absolutely lovely.  There weren’t any mammals, but they had some great fish exhibits and the informational placards were short and sweet.  They also had two types of penguins and I got to watch a penguin feeding!  The aquarium in Sydney costs 3x that price and sucks balls.  I was super pleased with this one.

Other activities:
My friends and I also took a free guided walking tour of the city where we strolled past various important sights and learned more about the history of the city and the present day situation.  Most importantly, we visited Beefcakes one night – a gay bar and restaurant with burgers, a nightly drag show, and ultra hunky topless waiters.  The best part:  nearly everyone from our group came – 15 out of 19 people – even the straight men!  They all earned their fag stag badges.

Put it in my mouth:
Obviously, I was super excited to be in a city just for the food.  I’ve mentioned bobotie and malva pudding in my previously blogs, and I had way more than my fair share of those during my week in Cape Town.  I had yet to try any ostrich while in Africa so I made sure that my first meal in Cape Town was an ostrich burger.  Jarrod and I went to Mama Africa – a well-known tourist restaurant featuring a wide array of African dishes – and of course, I had to have my Mexican food (woohoo!)  When it comes to drinking, Cape Town is known for its wine scene.  While I wasn’t able to get to any local wineries or the famous wineries in nearby Stellenbosch, our tour group did camp at a winery and do a wine-tasting north of Cape Town the night before our arrival.  Coffee was another key drink, and the coffee culture very much resembled the coffee culture in Australia.  Delicious cafes dotted the streets of Cape Town and we made a point to sample one per day to ensure maximum brunchage.

The two best food experiences, however, were at the V&A Food Hall and the Neighbourgoods Market at the Old Biscuit Mill.  The Food Hall at the V&A Waterfront was basically a fancy food court filled with delicious cuisine options from all over the world.  I opted for a Hungarian-style flatbread topped with chicken and springbok.  I also got a coffee from Truth which I had heard was the best in Cape Town.  I obviously got a brownie to go with it.

The Neighbourgoods Market was so fucking fantastic that I almost jizzed when I arrived.  Various shops and stalls sold all sorts of cute crafts, and there was a great coffee roaster and artisan bean-to-bar chocolatier as well.  The best part was the massive area of food stalls.  Vendors of all sorts come on Saturday to sell their delicacies.  I opted for latkes (I know, they had a latke stand!!) from a super-Jewy looking fella.  I assumed it was legit, and it was.  If I lived in Cape Town, I’d be here every Saturday until I tried every single place.

One week in Cape Town proved to not be enough time to fully explore this vibrant city.  I’ll have to go back one day and see the rest.  For now, there’s a lot more of South Africa to explore.  But first, let me take a selfie.

To see more photos of my time in Cape Town, follow this link:

Friday, October 2, 2015


Namibia is one country that I have always wanted to visit in Africa.  I think it’s because it was the first country to become independent in my lifetime.  I was a geography nerd as a child (still am) and had a huge collection of atlases and almanacs.  A new country appeared one day in the latest edition and it fascinated me.  How can you just make a whole new country?!?!?

Statistically not as successful at Botswana, Namibia is still one of the better performing countries in Africa.  At first glance, Namibia actually looked a lot nicer than Botswana, especially in the towns where buildings looked newer and cleaner.  Grocery stores were bigger and there were a few more amenities available than what I had found in the previous countries.  Looking a little bit closer, I could start to see the differences.  Formerly a German colony, Namibia was transferred to South African control after World War I and the South Africans imposed their apartheid policies on their new territory.  Evidence of those policies remains today:  townships, high income inequality, and high crime rates (though it definitely felt way safer than South Africa).

Crossing the border, we drove several hundred kilometres to the capital city of Windhoek.  Our attempt at doing something touristy during the afternoon failed when the National Museum was or wasn’t open.  We still aren’t sure.  Some doors were unlocked but there was nobody there except a mumbling lady out front.  She may have been homeless or she may have been a security guard.  Again, we still aren’t sure.  It was in Windhoek that we picked up a herd of ten more travellers to join our group.  From there, we packed a lot into the next eleven days.  How am I going to fit this into one blog post?

A few highlights of my time in Namibia:

Etosha National Park:
Along with Chobe in Botswana and Kruger in South Africa, Etosha is considered one of the best national parks for wildlife spotting in southern Africa.  We had several game drives there where we saw many species that we had seen before along with several new species including the sociable weaver – a tiny bird that builds massive communal nests – and three species of antelope: oryx, springbok, and red hartebeest.  We also stepped onto the Etosha Pan – the giant salt flat that makes up a huge chunk of the park.  The best part of Etosha, however, was our campsite.  On the edge of our campsite was a giant waterhole with a plethora of seating around one side of it where campers could sit and watch the wildlife get their drink on – both by day and by night.  On our first night (and our second night), we saw our fourth of the Big 5:  the rhino!  Actually, it was several rhinos… and elephants… and giraffes… and a lion which totally spooked the giraffes.  It was such a treat to just sit in the dark, quiet area and watch the animals go about their business at the dimly lit waterhole.  AMAZING!

After Etosha, we headed to an area called Twyfelfontein.  There, we visited two main attractions:  the Living Museum – which interactively demonstrates the traditional way of life of the local Damara people – and an area of ancient cave paintings and rock engravings which became Namibia’s first UNESCO World Heritage Site just a few years ago.

We camped at Spitzkoppe – a massive collection of rocks in the middle of nowhere.  The afternoon was spent wandering and climbing over the rocky area, and at night, with no electricity (or any other facilities) at the campsite, the stars were out in full force.

On the coast lies Namibia’s second city and one of its biggest tourist hubs:  Swakopmund.  Home of adventure sports, I opted to join most of the group for a quad biking adventure on the giant sand dunes that surround the city.  After realizing that I’m not really one for adventure sports, I spent the next day having brunch and taking a leisurely walk to explore the town.  On the third day, our group did a township tour to explore the apartheid past of the city.

Namib Desert:
Heading back inland, we ventured into the great nothing:  the Namib Desert.  It was here that I saw my first quivertree – one of my 103 Things!  We also saw two important new species:  the mountain zebra (which is different to the Burchell’s zebra that we had been seeing previously) and the CHEETAH!  The animal crossed the road well in front of truck but our guides had a great eye and we were able to stop and locate it in the bush.  It was then that I had an uncontrollable craving for Cheetos…

Elsewhere in the desert, we took a Living Desert tour where we learned all about life in the desert, including some plants, quirks with the sand, and hidden life buried just below the surface.  We visited two canyons:  Sesriem Canyon – which was small enough for us to walk down into – and Fish River Canyon – the second largest canyon in the world.  The desert is an endless sea of giant sand dunes and no trip to Namibia is complete unless you climb up one, which we did at Dune 45 for sunset one day.  We ended our tour of Namibia just as the scenery started to change to include a bit more green.  Our last night camping in Namibia was alongside the Orange River which acts as the border of Namibia with South Africa.  The river looked inviting so a few of us opted for a swim in what turned out to be frigid temperatures.  Was it worth it?  Sure.  Would I do it again?  No.  My balls won’t let me.

Feed me, Seymour:
It was in Swakopmund where I found my first real café and decent coffee in weeks (YAY!!) but that was just the tip of the food iceberg.  Our lovely guide, Jess, introduced us to bobotie – a Cape Malay dish made of mince beef.  I also had my first fish & chips in Swakopmund (yes, I know, that’s ridiculous).  I gave the mopane worm another go, but unlike the dried version in Zambia, this one was fried.  It was greasy.  It was meaty.  And it left an aftertaste that did not want to go away.  There’s nothing like a 10am beer to try to erase the flavour of a worm.  Ick!  The highlight of the food scene, however, was the game meat!  Namibia restaurants were filled with meat from local animals, and despite not being a huge meat eater, I decided that I should try the local fauna.  On our first night, my friend Jemma and I tried a skewer with five big chunks of meat on it:  crocodile, zebra, and three antelopes:  kudu, oryx, and springbok.  Oryx are the only antelope that can really survive in Namibia’s harsh desert conditions, and their prevalence meant that they were on a lot of menus.  I experienced oryx three more times in Namibia in the forms of a schnitzel, tostada, and pizza.

Eleven days in Namibia was an absolute success.  The country didn’t disappoint at all (well, except for the crappy red velvet cake I got one day).  But all good things must come to an end, and I was long overdue for some quality time with a proper big city.  Cape Town, here I come!  But first, let me take a quivertree selfie.

To see more photos of my time in Namibia, follow this link: