So I thought it time to have another trip update for future plans.
Coffee Farm Project:
When Jake and I first expressed our interest in coming to Africa, Peter of Denver Bicycle Cafè
put Jake in contact with Anthony who is helping Ethiopian Coffee Farmers become more known with every cup of coffee.
The story goes like this: Coffee's birthplace is Ethiopia.
Something the majority of people don't know I believe. I think most Americans at least associate coffee with South America. However, it migrated there from Ethiopia and it's roots are still heavily in Eastern Africa. Anthony wants farmers to get their recognition and utilize Fair Trade to help their livelihood in this bustling and quickly expanding industry. Jake comes into the picture (pun intended) by doing photos and video for these farms to help with this "branding" you might say.
However, some snags have occurred and this year's crop isn't what Anthony had hoped for. There's been a huge lack in communication with us and so things have been slightly up in the air. We wanted to be there for 3 months, but then it was going to look like 2.5 months and now that we're leaving the beginning of December it was just going to be one month since the date kept pushing closer and closer to November. Now we're still waiting for some reply to our request to be there longer, but as of now it looks like we're showing up the second week of November and will spend 5 - 7 days touring the farm but obviously Jake won't have time for any photo and video work. That leaves us with about 2 weeks to hang out in Ethiopia as tourists, hopefully able to check out old ruins and historical sites.
Then we're back home! Things may change slightly until then, but otherwise, I may just update with some pictures of cool things and stuff I hope to do once back in the States….
Well I feel better. Refreshed a bit. I needed a few days to myself and not traveling about to recover some. Last weekend we got to go camping and while I wasn't quite ready to feel uprooted again, it was nice to hike around and get out of the house a while.
We went to the nearby Udzungwa Mountains National Park and hiked the Sonje Trail which goes to three different waterfalls and is around 6 - 7 km roundtrip through some steep terrain. It really got me excited for some future hiking in Colorado, but the scenery here was pretty amazing. I had fun taking pictures, but today I hate all of them. Le sigh, PMS maybe? Perhaps I'll like them or do something different with them later...
I wrote this review one month into the trip, and everything I feel after 3.5 months is about the same, with one major change I'll write in red.
I bought 2 new bags specifically for this trip and I feel obligated to review them, my choices in what to bring in general, and maybe things I really love vs. What I would do differently next time - maybe they can be future reference tips for me or anyone else who wants to do similar traveling.
Bag 1: LowePro Photo Sport 200 AW Backpack
I wasn't quite sure what type of main bag to get for this trip, but being a safari and I figured lots of walking, a hiking backpack would work best. I had one in my closet but I wasn't fond of it and I thought it'd be better to go as small as possible, so I was set to seek a 65L or less bag that had all the amenities I wanted so I wouldn't want to poke my eyes out 3 weeks in. I looked at a few at REI and had my heart set on 2 or 3 before really thinking about what to do with my camera.
I've been in love with my PorteenGear
camera bag and it looks so chic, I was definitely considering that being my other bag but then I remembered all the times I've taken it on day trips and how bad my shoulders and back would hurt after carrying it around just a few hours! Well that certainly wouldn't do for a 6 month-long safari, now would it? So when Jake and I went to one of his favorite camera stores in Denver, they had a wide selection of bags to look at and by chance I came across a small LowePro bag I had discovered online a few days before and wanted to see it in person before buying.
They have two sizes in this style, one super small (seriously a day trip) and the other a bit bigger. I obviously needed the larger one and checked it out a ton before deciding it would probably be the best option, especially since it was carry-on size and fuck baggage fees, amiright? So off I went and ordered the cheapest one I could find, I believe I paid $118 at the time?http://products.lowepro.com/product/Photo-Sport%20200%20AW,2271.htm
The Lowepro bag, after a month of usage, has proven noteworthy and without a doubt one of my favorite purchases of all time. They have black and orange available, and I chose black for this trip to not be an eye-sore and a tourist flag, but I think I may go for their smaller day bag when I get back in the flashier color.
There are two compartments, one for the camera, and one for whatever else you might fit in a bag. The camera compartment is classically padded with an adjustable insert divider to split the load. I have it adjusted to perfectly fit my flash and additional lens on one side, with my charger, camera body with lens attached, and accessory bag with flash gels on the other. Everything is comfortably snug and it remains easy to zip up the side. *The camera compartment zipper has broken at exactly the 3 month mark. I've had to ghetto-rig it shut with bungee cords and snap straps, which have been working pretty well actually and still make things easily accessible thankfully, or I'd be pretty pissed. I'm going to contact LowePro about the warranty and see what can be done. I'm still in love with the bag and believe I just have a lemon (some mediocre stitching), so we'll see what happens with a new bag.*
Then the top opens and in there I have my rain jacket, bathing suit, thermal shirt, long sleeve button up, 2 t-shirts, 3 tank tops, yoga pants, yoga shorts, outdoor pants, a pair of jeans, my hiking shoes, and 7 pairs of undies. I often cram my toiletries and soaps in there too and it seems to cinch just fine. Then I have a side pocket for bottles of water (that I just crammed more camera gear into: my mini tripod, battery grip, and batteries galore), a front pocket perfect for my notebook (that's paper, not a laptop), and a top zipper pocket for quick access items, but it's not very large or expandable (maybe the one thing I'd change). There are also two pockets on the hip belt (which I might add is extremely comfortable) and enough cinches and loops that I can tie or hang anything I could think of bringing. I bought D-ring clips since those are handy for random shit, as well as some more adjustable buckle straps and a large round of velcro strap to attach what extra things I need to on the outside. Everything sits perfectly on this bag and it remains extremely light and compact.
The back has a container for a Camelpak bladder (I bought a 3L one since I like to imagine being lost in the Sahara for 3 months) and the padding is stiff and supportive. There are also buckle straps on the bottom where I rolled up 3 of my RenFaire gypsy scarfs to better blend in with the locals (and I'm SOOO glad I did!!). Currently I have the blanket we bought in Chefchaouen rolled in there too and all four of those items just barely fit, but they're holding fine.
The outside is a nice nylon that so far has been very sturdy (though we'll see what years bring instead of a mere month) and it has a stowe-away rain cover too, woohoo!
As of now, it weighs in at 11ish kilos and is very comfortable to walk around in for long periods. Though when we had to change tactics to get on a RyanAir flight, Jake packed it to about 20kg and it got a bit uncomfortable after an hour of walking, though I probably could have adjusted it a little better, I still can't see myself doing it long periods. However, I don't see myself carrying that bag on ridiculous adventures that require lugging 20-30kg around and would have another bag for that most likely. My 10-12kg is just fine though.
Bag 2: Timbuk2 Classic Messenger Bag (Size XS)
Now what was I going to do for a second bag, which would most likely act as my day bag as well as holding all my immediate necessities for quick retrieval, not to mention that one small bag was probably not going to fit everything needed for a 6-month excursion. I thought about hoisting another backpack in the front, but that seemed... Cliché I guess? I needed compact, but compartmentalized and über useful. REI was having their yearly blowout sale for members, and I was waiting for the perfect excuse to become one, so I did that and then checked out my options. I was hoping for an elaborate fanny pack, but found myself drawn to a number of small shoulder bags that did just seem like slightly larger fanny packs and were compact enough not to be unsightly.
A number of well-received name brands lay before me in all manner of sizes, shapes, and awesome colors. But I came across a decision between two - I think both were Timbuk2 bags....maybe I'll look online before I post this to confirm. And while I wanted a fuscia pink and purple ridiculous eye-catching bag, I chose for the subtle and more-fitting black. And it was their classic bag in the just-released mini format that had the right accessories and sale price for me.www.timbuk2.com/tb2/products/classic-messenger
I LOVE TIMBUK2 AND CAN SO SEE WHY HIPSTER CYCLISTS HAVE THEM. Not to mention how stoked I am that they made a mini replica of their most popular classic bag, because it is the bees knees. Another one of my fave purchases of all time. In fact, if I could have a top 3, it'd be these two bags and my Toms.
This bag has everything the larger classic bag, just mini in size. The strap adjusting eluded me for a bit, but when I saw a girl in Denver hoist her classic bag up, I realized I just needed to get with the program and deal with how weird it looks. It's grown on me and I no longer care about having a thick weird loop because it hangs pretty well. The quick adjust buckle is pretty handy when I have it pulled up to my upper back and need to throw it off quickly to access it.
There are so many goddamn pockets and zippers, I didn't even see them all until we were about to start our trip. There are two "hidden" zippers that are super hard to see if you're not looking for them, which is awesome for potential thefts, and one of them even has more compartments and zippers on the inside. It's a labyrinth of pockets! My wet-dream of bags. It has a long strap for a keyring inside, perfectly sized pockets for credit cards, IDs, and my passport. I have my bottle opener inside, my headlamp, my hard drive case, two bags of food, a huge camping cup/pot, all my meds, more toiletries, bug sprays, Emergen-C packets, my kindle, my tablet and its keyboard accessory case
, and all my plug adapters and chargers.
When I use it as a day bag, I put my camera accessory bag, extra lens and camera inside with my kindle and tablet/keyboard and it closes just fine. That might be my favorite part about this bag. The velcro closures are top notch and on top of that there are two buckles that can be adjusted easily to cinch it as tight as you can get it, and it feels SO secure. Sometimes I stuff this thing so ridiculously that the velcro can't touch, but I just buckle it and cinch it tight and nothing comes close to falling out.
The entire inside and flap are also lined with waterproof plastic that I was able to test in South Africa's pouring rain and it kept everything perfectly dry. The thing feels like an indestructible rock. And the best part is how comfortable it sits. I carry that thing around all day as a day pack and barely notice it by the time I take it off after 6 hours of walking around town. It's so easy to access everything while still keeping it secure from other people. I'm so so so in love with it and am really excited to use it as my every day "purse" when I'm back in the states. Not to mention riding my bike around with it!
Well what to write? There’s so much and yet so little. We have been traveling over two weeks I guess without much internet. I haven’t missed it, really. And when I checked my email, I had 28 messages and over half where unnecessary bullshit. Traveling has been tough though. Not for any real reason except that I’m tired. Three and a half months is a long time in Africa when your home changes every 2 days. Most places in the world I wouldn’t be so ready to come home, but this place makes me tired. I feel burnt out, which is sad because we’re seeing a lot of beautiful places, people, things - and I just don’t really care anymore.
So we’re in Tanzania now. Jake is working on a volunteer project with his photography. He seems really happy to be doing it. I just feel like I’m biding time until we get on the plane in Addis. I’m having a good time, don’t get me wrong, but I’m working on defense mechanisms that get me through situations I know I can’t change, so why make it worse by pretending to be miserable? Might as well ride it out with some happy. But I haven’t felt like taking any pictures and when I do I don’t want to edit them. I keep looking through phone pics hoping to find some inspiration like “Oh yeah, that was so ridiculous, I can’t wait to share that with people!” but then I get through them all and think “meh.” Burnt out.
Sorry I’m being a Debbie Downer right now! Not what you were hoping to read probably. Maybe something really nuts will happen that snaps me out of it. I’m still excited for coffee farms though, that just sounds too cool.
We finally feel like we're at a final sprint in our trip. There are two deadlines we have been shooting for: The beginning of October to be in Tanzania for Jake to do photos and video for a water conservation project. And the end of October to be in Ethiopia to do the same for some coffee farm "branding" (again, something I'll explain when we're near there). It's finally the beginning of October and we're in Malawi, which borders southern Tanzania. Not bad.
We rushed through Mozambique to get here in time because apparently we spent too long in South Africa, which by no means was a bad thing, but we weren't able to explore Mozambique too much since we spent about 7 or 8 days total there (and most of that felt like it was in a chapa!). And Mozambique (or Moçambique to the locals) is a large country. But here's what we got from it and why we want to come back for an extended stay:
I should start by saying our original plan was to go through Zimbabwe (or Botswana) and to Zambia because they have a walking safari that didn't seem too expensive ($40 USD) and the people seem interesting (in all 3 countries, really). However, due to our couch surfing host Paolo being a Portuguese restaurant owner themed after a town in Moçambique, we were presented with the opportunity to go there one weekend and therefore decided to travel north that way. The town: Ponta D'Ouro.
Ponta is the border town of Moça
and after a surprisingly expensive Visa fee and Paolo haggling in Portuguese, we were on our way in a 4x4 since that's the only way to travel in most of the country. We stayed at a camp in town called DevOcean Diving
run by some amazing and fun people that Paolo has known for some time in a tented caravan of sorts.
After the weekend, Paolo went back to South Africa and we had to find transport to the capital Maputo. We thought we had a couch surfing host there, but travel was longer than expected and when we got there we were told it was too late in the night to figure out transport in this confusing town. So we stayed at a hostel called Fatima's Place that seriously had the most comfortable beds ever. Good night's sleep for sure! Here is where we had to get extra pages in Jake's poor old passport through our embassy but when we arrived it was Dia de Revoluçion! and everything was closed. So Maputo we had to spend some unwanted extended time to take care of everything.
It gave us time to figure out our route though, which we decided would be: Maputo -> Inhambane -> Maxixe -> Vilankulo (stay one night) -> Biera (stay two nights) -> Quelimane (stay one night) -> MALAWI.
The first leg which brought us to Vilankulo after 15 hours of travel was rough but not bad, and because we got out of Maputo a day earlier than expected, allowed us two days there instead of leaving the very next morning at 5am. Good thing too because check out my last post to see where we were!
Then we did another 10 hours to get to Biera which turned out to be wayyyyy expensive for a night and Biera was NOT very awesome to be at all! But in a panic of "What in the fuck are we going to do for money if we have to stay here two nights?!!" I rerouted us away from the next two places. We still had to stay one night, but our new route would overall save us money to make up for it.
So now it was: Biera -> Chimoio (stay one night) -> Malawi. And when I looked, it was really Chimoio we should have done from the beginning and NOT Biera at all. But timing at least led us to meet a Belgium girl who was going to Blantyre, Malawi the same day as us, so we got to figure everything out together and she had come from Malawi a few weeks prior so really helped us out that way. Chimoio (she-MOY-yo) is also another place we'd like to come back and spend more time in. Laid against the mountains, it was gorgeous with awesome hiking opportunities.
Well that was a rush! But in that rush of a few days, we really fell in love with this place! The beaches get more and more spectacular the more north you go and the people are amazing! Mozambique tends to be known for it's rough and tumble political situation, but you'd hardly be able to tell on the local level. The theme here is "patience" as they exhibit an exorbitant amount of it. It was nice knowing we didn't have to rush in trying to understand something or someone understanding us and anytime we needed help, whether it was to ask 15 times when the bus was coming, or setting up our new SIM card, or asking for directions, we were always met with kindness and patience. Even the friggin BABIES were patient. Most of our bus/chapa rides were 6-10 hours in length and had a TON of children ranging from infant to 6 year olds and were SILENT the entire trip. "What? 10 hours on a cramped bus or van and no toys to play with and my mom barely paying attention to me except to hand me a cookie every so often? No problem." I mean, these trips were rough, bumpy, tedious, dusty, noisy. Nothing. Kids would MAYBE whine/cry for about 15 seconds and then be fine. And it was once. In 10 hours. Once. And only half the kids. The other half perfect 100% of the time. Only in Mozambique do I not dread sitting next to a child for a 10 hour journey. Seriously if I adopt it's going to be a ridiculously patient Mozambique child. Just sayin'.
Also, land in Vilankulos cost like $5000 USD and if you put up some hostel accommodation…. I can now see why Bruno and his French girlfriend Valerie gave up Europe to come live there and own a backpackers camp. Basically I want to buy a 4x4, buy some land, and dive and hike my way around Moçambique forever.
Due to the lack of planning and short time we saved money, our African Safari has been governed by the cheapest places to stay. We love when we get lucky couchsurfing, but due to the spontaneity nature of our travels, doesn't happen as often as we'd like. That's where hostels and budget hotels come in. Most times, we're looking for the cheapest, and sometimes we have the option to choose between several places based on user review or location. All the hostels and accommodation so far has at least met our standards or exceeded them and we really haven't come across too many lemons.
And then every so often we come across a real gem and are wowed by the luxury for such a low budget. Enter The Zombie Cucumber
in Vilankulos, Mozambique.
There are three levels of comfort depending on your budget: dorms, chalets, and rooms. We stayed in the dorms for two nights, so that's all I can comment on at the moment, but the chalets were double bed huts without bathrooms, and the rooms were behind the bar and more like hotel rooms. The dorms were just 350 Meticals a person, which comes to around $12 USD a night, pretty average for us and definitely on the lower end of prices in all of Mozambique.
The dorm was simply a large communal-style hut with 8 or 10 twin beds laid in a circle complete with mosquito netting (and those buggers are everywhere here!). The bathrooms (Casa de Banho) was just outside next door with two showers that have the option of hot water upon request. The whole place felt tropical and adorably quaint, but very simple if you don't mind that type of thing (Jake and I are more for atmosphere than amenities, so we were in heaven).
There is a restaurant "building" to order a very good selection of food at pretty reasonable prices (or super reasonable when you think about "going out" prices anywhere in the world) but with so few people there while we were (we had the place to ourselves the first night!) it felt more natural to eat around the bar and talk with the workers and Bruno, the owner, when he was around.
The bar surrounds a nice pool with a few tables and chairs laid out for more eating and/or drinking, and the entire encampment is connected with dirt pathways lined with lantern-topped posts.
We arrived a little late in the evening via chapa, and when we got out were greeted by the nicest staff who helped carry our bags up to the bar and offered us food and drinks. Shortly after Bruno came by, an ex-Belgium whose heart was stolen by the Vilankulos paradise, and we all got to chat for several hours over local beer and extra garlicky pizza. We were told the week was desolate and we were the only people to come for days. The high season hadn't started yet, and though we normally like when more people are around to chat with, it was pretty nice to have a quiet night and be welcomed so warmly.
The following day a couple French girls came to stay in the newly renovated rooms up top, but otherwise we really had the place all to ourselves. The staff are all very fun to talk to and even the guys outside who try to sell their boat rides to the islands are very nice as well and due to the quiet week, we got to hang out with them a good while our second day there.
Vilankulos is overall a very relaxing and beautiful place to be and with budget options like The Zombie Cucumber right on the beach that take care of you so well, it's easy to spend a lot of time there and participate in all the activities it has to offer, like snorkeling, diving, going to the islands with monkeys, or do what we did and hunt for crabs and seashells along the amazing coast.