Visit my new blog

Hey there!

I am excited to announce that my new blog is online.

Please visit it on http://www.swissmissontour.com

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Thanks for sticking with me so far!

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This is not a holiday, it’s an adventure (Vic Falls & Chobe NLP)

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Johannesburg didn’t make a good impression on first sight. It looked like one big ghetto and right next to the streets there was always red mud and dirt. I didn’t feel too comfortable at Park Station either and therefore I took the Gautrain (R160!! Swiss price) directly to the airport. There were security guards patrolling all night and therefore I felt quite safe and there were enough soft benches to sleep on.
The next morning I was waiting for Michèle at the gate. She cut it really close since her plane from Zurich had been delayed but at last we sat on the plane together. What was more, we were seated right next to each other, although there were other empty rows left.
The visa to enter Zimbabwe cost us 30$ and it took us an eternity to receive it because they worked really slow. When the 15min taxi ride to our hostel also cost us 30$, we realized that this would be a tourist rip off place. Food/drink prices were almost Swiss everywhere.

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The hostel was cool with people who played music, a pool and art chairs made out of bottle tops but again the employees were working on their own speed. In the evening a loud party was going on until the early morning hours but I was so exhausted, that I had no trouble sleeping.

The next day we met our 18 people travel group. Our first impression was that everybody was very relaxed and open and it stayed that way until the end. This was the perfect group 🙂 Our guides Gerhard and Cardi were awesome, too and contrary to my fears after some reviews I had read, we always received delicious and plenty of food that Cardi prepared for us.
For a short moment at the orientation I was reminded again how small the world is, because suddenly, there was this girl from Switzerland, who did an exchange in the US at the same time as me. We never met by chance in Switzerland but there we run into each other in Vic Falls. It turned out that she wasn’t on the same safari though.

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Entry into Vic Falls National Park would cost another 30$ but at least that was included into our tour price. We walked along paved paths, heard the thunder of the falls and looked in awe at the masses of water that fell down. It was cool to see the falls from so many different angles from the viewing spots. We were lucky that there was hardly any wind and therefore, we hardly got sprayed by water and could make fun of all the yellow rain poncho groups.
On our way back, we were accompanied by many monkeys.

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By lunch time it was really hot and therefore we jumped into the Rainbow Hotel pool. Yes, our first night on the safari we spend in a nice hotel.
Later, we took a taxi with some others to Safari Lodge to watch a beautiful sunset over a waterhole.
Then we had Chicken Curry for dinner with the group at Shearwater Café.
Early the next morning, we loaded our luggage into our truck Nina, and drove to Botswana. Along the road we already saw some elephants and giraffes which provoked excited screams from our side. To enter into Botswana, we had to step into some poisonous liquid to free us from possible germs of foot and mouth disease.
Then, we reached our camp for the first night and received a short demonstration of how to set up our spacious tent.
When we all had our little home, we jumped onto a safari vehicle with open sides, to start our first game drive in Chobe National Park. Our driver said that in a game you can win or lose, so it’s not guaranteed to see animals. The boarders of the park are open and the animals roam freely but we weren’t disappointed. We saw hordes of impalas, elephants, giraffes, hippos (only in the mud), buffalos and much more.
After lunch, we hopped onto a boat to go on a sunset cruise. We saw soooo many elephants and especially the babies were extremely cute. Furthermore, there were crocs, more deer like creatures and colorful birds. The things and places we had seen that day were spectacular!
When we returned to the camp, “lecka” dinner was already waiting for us (butternut apple soup/ pork steak with mashed potatoes, cabbage and carrots.) It was delicious! I’d call that a successful first day.
Everybody then retired early as the alarm clock would ring at 5am.

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The next day was filled with a long stretch of driving and we were told that in order to keep the duration a minimum, we wouldn’t stop for anything general like “an elephant or a giraffe” (that would be like slowing down in the US to observe a deer). But still we saw rare wild dogs, a hyena, elephants, giraffes and different kinds of antelopes along the road.
The border-crossing into Namibia worked without any problems and after another few hours of driving, we stopped for lunch at a rest area along a 200km road without the slightest bend. Our truck Nina fully showed its functionality then, as it turned into a food truck and we cod enjoy a delicious pasta salad on our camping chairs in the shade.

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Our camp was right next to a river. Since we arrived at 4pm, we still had two hours to shower with the warmth of the sun and then enjoy the view with a Savanna and good company. Dinner was a tasty spaghetti bolognaise and while we were eating, we could listen to some hippo noises.
Before going to bed, I saw the first spider in Africa that’s worth mentioning. It was a big black one and looked similar to the fake Halloween ones in Switzerland.

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That night we got to sleep in until 7. After breakfast we hit a dirt road to make our way to the entrance to the Okawango Delta on Botswana’s side. We saw some animals again and then crossed the border again. There, we either had to leave our raw meat behind or cook it there on the spot, in order not to carry any germs to Botswana. So we cooked our sausages that the meat didn’t get wasted.
That was a good opportunity for the killer in our group to get rid of a few people. We are playing this game during our trip where everybody had to draw a card and there is one killer among all other civilians. In the evening we have to guess who the killer is and send someone to jail. It’s quite fun but apparently, I was an easy victim, as I was the first one who got murdered. Luckily, it’s only a game, otherwise, I feel very safe on this trip.

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The many forms of greetings

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Have you ever had that problem in Europe that you don’t know whether you greet a new person with one, two or three kisses on the cheek? Or how low do you bow your head in Asia or where do you put your hands? It can lead to awkward situations and not even knowing how the correct way of saying hello or goodbye to somebody can prevent you from that.

Here in South Africa it’s different. For saying goodbye, people just hug you. No matter if you just spoke to them for the first time five minutes ago and they probably wouldn’t even dream of the idea that a hug might make some people uncomfortable. It’s such a normal and certain thing, that also if you don’t know how people say goodbye to each other here, you will know it once it happens because if somebody slowly approaches you with wide stretched arms, you just know what is about to happen. I haven’t received so many hugs from different people in a long time. Ever since I left the US after my High School year, I thought that Swiss people just don’t hug enough. Lots of my foreign friends in Switzerland lament about the same thing.

The funny thing here was that when I said that in Switzerland we greet people with three kisses on the cheek, they were shocked how you can just kiss somebody you’ve just met. Even when I underlined that these kisses feel very formal and it’s not like you actually kiss the person, they couldn’t stop shaking their heads.

 

Braai

Braai

The remaining days at the Surfhouse I spent trying to catch some waves in the morning and then just relaxing at the beach or in the hammock in the afternoons. Unfortunately only Saturday had good surfing conditions for me, therefore I next time better stay somewhere along the Atlantic with smaller- or in Indonesia with less messy waves. For the weekend, a big group of friends came down to Umzumbe and brought some life into our family-feeling beach house. Again, these people from Durban were so nice and just invited me along to Braais (bbq), birthday celebrations and surf sessions. When they left again, it also meant for me that my first week in South Africa was coming to an end. A few days were laying ahead of me, where I hadn’t made any plans yet. Since surfing hadn’t really worked out as well as I had wished for, I decided that there was no point in staying in Umzumbe any longer and try my luck up north in Durban. Also, I heard that the nearby reef Aliwal Shoal belonged to the top dive sites in the world and so I couldn’t resist to add in a dive day, although it would become very expensive with all the transport I needed there. Three things I’ve learned here during this past week are that I need to stay relaxed and just make the best of things as they come, even if they aren’t how I expected them. Owning a car would make life so much easier and, if you come to South Africa, you need to like dogs or start liking them because everybody has dogs here in all sizes and they will all come visit you while you are reading a book at the beach. But I have to say that every single dog was extremely well behaved. They interacted perfectly with known and unknown people and dogs.

Dock in Durban

Dock in Durban

Thoughts on common sense

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I thought common sense is called that because it’s something the majority would regard as smart or correct. But travelling has taught me, that for different countires, you also have to use different degrees of common sense and sometimes it’s worth it to ask again, how their common sense looks like. For example the other night, I was invited to an African braai (another word for bbq) because it was a girls’s going away party. I had only just met the people who invited me that day but everybody is just so friendly here in Umzumbe. So, anyways, I was there and we were talking about how the current safety situation in South Africa is and a girl says, you know, it isn’t any more dangerous as other places if you just behave normal and use common sense. Sounds completely logical to me. But so, I asked her whether she would walk home alone after dark. I meant to add “in Johannesburg“ because I heard that it can be dangerous there but I couldn’t finish my sentence, she right away jumped in “No, of course not! I wouldn’t even walk on my own for five minutes, like here, that’s just something you don’t do.” We were only a five minute walk from the surf house. There only is one road here and everything else is beach and jungle, it’s not like there should be a lot of drunken creeps hiding in the bushes. But you have to listen to these things as a foreigner and therefore I was glad that people here always drive you to places without you even having to ask, just because that’s how you do that here. So much for my common sense. In Switzerland and in many European cities any gender could come and go as they please at any time of the day or night. It would be quite a sad shock if you got stabbed. And I know the basics like: “don’t walk around and look like you have a lot of money or expensive possessions and don’t leave your bag unattended.” But here, we even have to hide our flip flops in the bushes when we go surfing, because apparently, they have been stolen before. I guess, this time it’s not just the tourist guide that tells us these things but the locals actually follow these rules quite strictly, too. Therefore, when I saw a public bus driving by I dismissed the thought of taking that one up to Johannesburg very quickly. It probably would be cheaper and a lot more entertaining but I already learned in Honduras that in some countries, it’s just not safe to use the normal public transport. There, we needed to get from the harbor back to San Pedro Sula and the normal bus was $20 cheaper than the tourist bus. It took my friend Dimitri quite some time and energetic words to convince me, that it really wasn’t safe to ride with the locals because the chance of getting robbed, into an accident or even murdered was so high. These things are sometimes hard to understand for a Swiss person, where even children can ride the buses and trains on their own. But even in that sense, I learned a lot during the past year and I now try to adapt to the local common sense right away if somebody suggests completely unnecessary sounding boundaries to me.

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Yesterday, the ocean had been much calmer. So calm in fact, that there were hardly any waves. But I at least caught a vew good ones 🙂 Today it was a completely different story again. Strong onshore winds that make the ocean very rough but kill all the nice waves. Unfortunately, I therefore had to take a break from surfing and we went on a hike in Oribi Gorge instead. There is a famous gorge swing and a long suspension bridge but we hiked in the less touristy part. All the pictures are from the hike today. Now I keep my fingers crossed, that my surf luck will be slightly better for my remaining days here.

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Honduras

View on San Pedro Sula from behind the Coca Cola sign

View on San Pedro Sula from behind the Coca Cola sign

My trip journey to San Pedro Sula from Newark started a bit slow because there was a technical problem with the plane and they had to change the tires. So, after boarding the plane the first time, we had to leave it again and with a three hour delay, we were finally boarded again and ready to fly towards Houston. I didn’t mind the delay, since I had to pass the night at the airport in Houston anyways and this delay made the night a little shorter. It’s a mystery to me why all airport chairs have handle bars. It’s impossible to lie down across them, although there are very few people there who occupy them at night. Plus, loud TVs were playing the same thing the whole night. It was quite impossible to sleep.

At 11am the next day, I finally landed in Honduras, where a hot, tropical air greeted me as soon as I stepped off the plane. My friend Dimitri from university picked me up. He moved back here because his parents are from here and without him I’d probably never have visited the most dangerous city in the world, with 20 deaths a day. This number is not really a surprise if you see how little boys juggle balls in front of cars at red lights to perhaps gain some money. The cars drive like crazy and there are holes in every street. But apparently, you can be safe. You just need to live in the right neighborhoods, have your own car and take the expensive tourist transportation. In short, you need money.

That aside, Honduras has places that are worth visiting too. San Pedro Sula is nestled in green jungle mountains that are always covered in clouds at the top.

Coca Cola sign in the hills

Coca Cola sign in the hills

So, after I punctually arrived at San Pedro Sula airport, Dimitri was already there to pick me up. We drove to his house which is right near the school his parents opened. I had the chance to have a look at the Europaschule and even observe some German classes during the week.

In the evening, we also had the first power loss. I hoped that it would only last for a short time because there was no way I could sleep in this heat without a fan (mostly only public places have a/c). There usually was one short power loss every day.

The day after my arrival however, we already had to get up at 4am to catch a bus (15$) at 5pm and then a boat (25$) that would bring us from La Ceiba to Utila. Luckily, there are street vendors everywhere that sell all kinds of fried things and fruit, so that we didn’t have to do the trip on an empty stomach. At around noon, we arrived in Utila, where it was even hotter than on the mainland. We walked along the narrow main road where we always had to watch out that the tuktuks and motorcycles wouldn’t hit us. I thought I was back in Koh Tao, Utila looked so similar!

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It’s a pretty island with a nice coast. There are a few really small sand patches where you can hang out along the beach and go swimming but this island is also mostly for snorkeling and scuba diving.

So, that’s what we did. On the second day, we took a taxi boat out to the Cays. Now, that’s the picture of paradise islands that pops up in my head when I am daydreaming.

From beautiful dark blue water we approached Water Cay through light blue water and finally reached the white sand of the small island. There were only palm trees, a few hammocks and about 5 people on the island. I really felt like Robinson.

Snorkeling there was mediocre. There was a lot of grass and only one part with nice corals and amazing fish but therefore, that was really awesome. And since the water wasn’t even refreshing, we could stay in it all afternoon.

The next morning, we had a trip booked with Ecco Diving. Their dive shop is cool with a nice pier where you can snorkel around, sit in the shade or jump from a rope into the sea. Plus, everybody was really friendly.

We boarded a really small boat and I was glad the sea was quiet because I couldn’t imagine that small thing in big waves. The calm water was our chance to see whale sharks but unfortunately, we didn’t encounter any. After I left Utila they saw them for the following 3 days!!!

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However, we did have a few dolphins that followed us for a while on our way to the north side.

The first dive was ok. I saw a lion fish and one of the divers killed one with a spear because they are a plague here.

The second dive was really cool!!! Next to the usual variety of colorful fish, we saw stingrays, a big turtle and crabs.

The next day, I went diving again. This time, we went to a ship wreck that was down on the sand at -30m. Now I could actually use my new advanced diving license. It wasn’t as creepy as I expected it to be. I don’t think anybody had died there. It was actually rather cool because people had put props like bicycles down there to take pictures with. I saw a lobster, a big moray eel, a huge barracuda and all the other small fish.

Back on the island, I walked to the end where Coral View and Neptune hotels are located. Wow, snorkeling there was exactly like going diving, there were so many fish and corals and that as soon as you step into the water.

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Other than that, I found it too hot to do anything more during the day. There was no a/c in any places I’ve been on the island and there were so many mosquitos and sandflies that I was forced to hide out for a siesta under the fan in my room for a big part of the afternoons. In the end, I counted about 210 bites on my body. I looked as if I had a severe case of the chicken pocks :S

To crown it all, there were tarantulas (eeewww) in every hole in the wall or ground and still there were so many mosquitos.

After the sunset it was more agreeable with mosquitos and the heat. We usually went out to a bar. Cocktails were only about 3$ and smoothies 2.50 🙂

The seahorse bar was amazing. Everything is decorated with all kinds of objects. It’s like a small Park GĂĽell.

Then, there was another cool bar that was on the water on a pier. They left a hole in the ground where you can sit around and look down into the water and watch the fish. The bars were really quiet and so was the whole island. Utila is usually a party place but now in off season we were almost the only tourists.

Lion fish

Lion fish

The last evening, we spent at our hotel because we met a couple from Chile. They were really nice and invited us to a bbq. Vladimir had slow cooked meat ALL afternoon and all we ate was meat but it was one of the most delicious steaks I’ve ever had.

Then we started an early journey back to the mainland again, where Dimitri had to go back to work and I look for more jobs.

One evening, we went to the cinema (4$ which is quite expensive for Honduras :)). It was a HUGE screen and Dimitri said that it wasn’t even the biggest.

I also could visit Dimitri’s mom’s social project in Oruga, where she had built a kindergarten and an auditorium for the community.

The grounds and facilities were very pretty and the kids extremely cute.

On my last day in Honduras, we walked up to the Coca Cola sign that hangs in the forest above the city, like the Hollywood sign in LA. Although it was just a concrete road through the forest it was quite a workout in this humidity. But at least I could stretch my legs a little before my long flights back to Switzerland.

Seahorse Café

Seahorse Café

I had to be at the airport at 10am the next day. Dimitri and his friend Hector kindly waited until I did everything I had to do (including paying 40$ departure tax) and waved once I disappeared on the escalator. I still haven’t completely realized that university will be over when I get back to Switzerland. That my friends now are in different cities all over Switzerland – or the world and that it’s time to open a new chapter again.

But first it will be SAP-Houston/Houston-Newark. A night at an airport hotel (to which my seat neighbor from the plane and her friend that picked her up, spontaneously drove me to because they wanted to make sure I got there quickly and safe at midnight. Such nice people everywhere!!) and then an evening flight to Lisbon the next day, where I’ll spend four days with my mom 🙂

Switzerland is approaching.

Boat docks in Utila

Boat docks in Utila

Noosa – The Margaret River of the East Coast

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When I arrived at the Noosa coach station, the first thing I wanted to do was not leave my bus. It was pouring down so hard that I knew all my things and I would be soaked within seconds. But we all got off, grabbed our bags and then ran to the stand to wait for the hostel bus. That’s where I ran into the British girl from Coffs Harbour again. She was just leaving however.

Check-in time at the Nomads wasn’t until 2pm, so we all had to sit around and wait for 40min. Then, I finally had my room and was glad that there were very nice (and quiet) people in there. I also met some other nice girls with whom I spent the next two days. We went to take a walk in the national park. That was very pretty. The on the Palm Grove walk, I felt like I was back in the rainforest in South East Asia. In the afternoon, we did another walk along the beach. All the beaches look very pretty and I can’t wait to go swimming but it starts raining every few hours. Like again on the way back from the national park to the hostel. It rained so hard that nothing stayed dry and it continued like that all evening. The kitchen was overflowing with water and part of the roof broke through in one of the rooms, that’s how much it rained. I was a bit afraid that it would continue like that the next day, when I had booked a canoe tour on the everglades. Luckily, when I got up in the morning and opened the door, sunrays were wishing me a good morning.

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I did the everglades tour with the discovery group tour company and it was amazing! One of the best days I had over here! We got picked up at 10am at the hostel and then they drove us to a jetty, where we boarded a boat with a group of elderly people. They would just stay on the boat the whole time and enjoy a lunch, where as we would paddle up and down the creeks. For about half an hour, we drove on a big stream and then a lake between trees and grass, house boats, camp grounds and the island from Richard Branson, where apparently a night costs 24 000 $. Then we reached a little jetty, where we had tea and very delicious bake goods and then our guide led us to the canoes. We were all teamed up and explained in which direction we should follow. For about an hour, we paddled along a fresh water creek. It was very serene and beautiful with the jungle on both sides of the water, so sometimes we forgot to paddle because we were just enjoying the scenery.

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We made it to our lunch destination without tipping over. The boat with our guide and the other people was already there. On the bbq, our guide cooked sausages, steak and fish for us and on the table we could find different kinds of salad. The food was very delicious and such a welcome change to my easy backpacker food 🙂 There were good drinks too and so I got to try ginger beer soda. I like ginger but in combination with beer it tastes quite strange.

Rain in the rainforest

Rain in the rainforest

After lunch, we didn’t really have time to digest, because the canoe people had to paddle ahead to make it back to the starting point in time. On the way back, we got into a Viking splash fight and a few races. In the end, we arrived soaked but since the sun was still out, that was ok. It was a lot of fun and I am really impressed that none of us landed in the water during all this action 🙂

On Wednesday, I went to Eumundi markets. The Nomads hostel offered a shuttle service there. I’m so glad, I went there. There was such a great selection of things and food and you could try many things. I found 10 passion fruit for 2$ J!!! Cheaper than in Thailand. They were small but filled with seeds all the way, not just along the edge. Really delicious. And finally, my cold is gone 🙂

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In the late afternoon, I started walking up to the lookout point. It’s a very, very steep walk but the houses I passed were AMAZING. Only for the rich. And finally, the view was stunning!!! And I got there right in time for sunset. Since I didn’t have a flash light, I then had to jog back to the hostel. At least it was downhill now.

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On my last day, I got up early to go surfing with Annika. We hired a board from the hostel (for free). It was a huge plastic board that looked like it had been (ab)used a lot and there was no wax left on it. It was extremely slippery and wobbly but we were so determined to surf that we just jumped into the very choppy ocean. There were a lot of waves and so we just stayed in the white water, while the better surfers jumped and splashed around behind us. At least, with all these waves, I got many chances to stand up J It was so cool, I really regret that I didn’t find more chances to surf over here. I would have liked to stay in Noosa longer. It is a bit comparable to Margaret River on the West Coast and therefore I really liked the vibe of it. But unfortunately, I couldn’t stay, since my tour to Fraser Island was booked and so off on the bus I was again.

My canoe crew

My canoe crew