This is not a holiday, it’s an adventure (Okavango Delta, road trips)

IMG_0175

We really felt like we had arrived in Africa, when our big truck had to roll onto what looked like a hand-crafted and way to small ferry, that then brought us to the other side of a river. But the boat made it and our journey into the Okavango Delta continued, now pretty much off-road – they called that an African massage- to our camp at Jambo Junction. That was a like a resort campground with permanent tents. We finally had the sausage rolls for lunch and afterwards were scheduled for our first mokoro ride. A mokoro is a boat made out of a tree trunk and its engine is a person with a long stick to push away from the ground like in Venice. We were pretty unsure whether it was safe to bring the camera as these things were incredibly wobbly but after two minutes, we felt completely at ease with our skilled pole man and could enjoy the BEAUTIFUL ride. It’s such a peaceful way of transport, as you glide over the surface of the water almost noiselessly and sit on the same level as the water. I could have done that all day! How lovely! But we got off on an island and took a short walk with a guy named Nature, reading elephant tracks and other signs the animals left behind.

IMG_0108

The ride back in the mokoro was even better, as we could observe some hippos that were really close by. Plus, the sun was just setting and I witnessed one of my most special sunsets. By then, we were starving again and could hardly await our dinner (potato salad, coleslaw and braaied chicken).

IMG_0164

The next morning started with another wonderful mokoro ride until we reached another island, where we went for a longer walk. We learned more about animals and their behavior but unfortunately only saw a few birds, shit loads of elephant poo and cows. But no elephants 😦

IMG_0189

Our pole men drove us back, where a nice brunch awaited us. Then, we had some time to relax, read, play darts (the group of my exchange student friend was there as well) until at 2.30pm it was our turn to try steering a mokoro. We were pretty sure that we would fall in but I actually found it easier than SUP to balance. Steering was a different story and there was a lot of laughter when boats would disappear in the high grass again. But I guess we had a talented group because afterwards, they let us pole ourselves to a swimming area in the delta, although that wasn’t really planned into the schedule. Our whole group came swimming, even our 70 year old grandmother, which proofed again, what an awesome group we have! By the way, that 70 year old lady did everything we did too with just as much energy as us. I can only hope that I will still be as fit and as adventurous as her, when I reach that age.

IMG_0203

After the refreshing bath in the clear water, it was time for another sunset mokoro ride with our poler. It doesn’t get boring. To watch the sunset, we sat down on an island and then, just as we were putting the correct killer to jail, a whole group of elephants (including super cute babies) came to the water to drink. Wow, what a nice surprise! I almost missed the sunset because I was so mesmerized by them.

IMG_0265

Unfortunately, we then had to go back before it became completely dark and when we reached the camp, our mokoro riding days were over.

For dinner we had bean soup, lamb meat, sausages and vegetables with potatoes and afterwards we played a game next to the fire under the full moon. The chance of seeing lots of stars had gone astray but at least we could find the path to our tents without a problem.

On Friday morning, it was time to pack up again and then board an army truck, that transported us to a different boat landing place. From there we took a boat through the delta for 2,5 hours. It was beautiful but freezing! So, we were glad when we finally spotted Nina and Gerhard waiting for us. We quickly made some tuna sandwiches for the road and then drove towards Maun, where the people who wanted could catch a scenic flight over the delta. The pictures showed that it was an experience worth doing but since I don’t like flying that much, I preferred walking into town to buy some supplies for the long road trips ahead and then get an iced coffee with the others who remained on the ground. They even had wifi there and I got a quick chance to talk to my family.

IMG_0358

That night we arrived at the camp in the dark and would leave it again by 5am, so it would be a rather short night. Since a girl wanted to also have the camping experience for one night, we switched and went into her room. Unfortunately, we took the night were they had the most basic accommodation of all and I thought it was even colder than in the tent. Good that I brought my lovely warm sleeping bag this time 🙂

Dinner that night was rice with some kind of chicken stew. Very tasty once again.

IMG_0194

I was surprised that I was able to eat breakfast at 4.30am but maybe it’s being outdoors so much. We packed some sandwiches for lunch that we could eat on the bus when we wanted because what followed was 11 hours on the road with a few toilet stops.

At least, we arrived at Stevensford reserve when the sun was still up. It was a nice place to camp and the lodges looked really good as well. We quickly set up our tents and then boarded a game drive jeep. We saw a family of warthogs (Pumba) running around and some impalas jumping. And that was it then. All the other animals seemed to have disappeared 😦 But we knew they had to be somewhere, since we saw zebras, when we were coming with the truck. We finally did see some cute dwarf mongooses and then a single giraffe we first thought was a statue because he didn’t move for at least 2min. On our way back, it was dark night and therefore, we used a spotlight to find more animals. We saw a few rabbits and also an antbear crossing the road, which apparently is quite lucky.

IMG_0418

By the time we arrived back at the camp, I was starving and therefore glad that a hot dinner was ready. Cardi had cooked a typical South African Bobodie (yellow rice with a meat and cheese sauce, a little bit like a good nachos dip and a dessert made out of custard cream and oreos). We enjoyed that around the warming campfire and grew slightly melancholic, as this would be our last night as a group. They then even sang happy birthday for Switzerland as it was 1. August, which was quite a special thing to do 🙂

The night was quite cold but the cool thing was, that we were right next to a river again and the shower was hidden behind a tree and wood and the only toilet was also just behind a wooden fence that was open towards the river, that you could enjoy the view.

IMG_0232

We packed up our things for the last time and soon after that, crossed back into South Africa. We had rice salad and some leftovers at a gas station rest stop for lunch and then started the last hundred kilometers back to Johannesburg. What a fantastic week we’ve had on our Victoria Falls to Johannesburg overland safari. The memories I can keep are amazing. I can fully recommend this overland tour with Nomads. All the other groups we’ve met along the way seemed in high spirits as well. Maybe it’s just the same kind of people who decides to go on a safari in Africa. Or maybe, we were just really lucky, to have been thrown together with 18 really like minded people, who have made even the long hours on the truck really agreeable.

IMG_0052

Sunny San Diego and a short trip to Baja California

Balboa Park

Balboa Park

The drive into the Greyhound parking lot offered a view on homeless people and impressive architectural buildings in the background. Although it was bright afternoon, I felt a bit uneasy walking past all these people sitting on the side walk. There are a lot of them downtown and therefore I tried to avoid walking around on my own at night. But this being said, that was the only negative part about San Diego. Actually, I LOVED everything else, the beaches, the zoo, the food, the people I met and that there always seems to be some kind of event.

The people at my hostel were really friendly and gave me good tips on what to do. I dropped off my bags and walked the few blocks to the Gas Lamp District on 4th and 5th avenue. There are loads of restaurants and bars and of course the old fashioned looking street lamps. I reached the San Diego Conventional center, which is huge! I found a stairway to walk to the top and then came down at the sea front. A little along the ocean I found Seaport Village. That’s basically a tourist village with shops and restaurants but it looks really cute. A little more along the harbor I then spotted the huge navy ship that is parked there. It’s a museum and you can go on it. Right next to it is a cool statue from the famous WWII Times Square kiss.

By that time I was hungry and so I went back into town to the Mexican place my hostel recommended to me. Pokéz (on 10th Ave& E Street) is a funky place filled with art. The portions are huge and everything is under 10$!!! And of course you receive free chips with salsa. In addition, it was the best Mexican food I’ve ever had. I went back twice to try different things and loved it every time.

Pokéz

Pokéz

In the evening, I enjoyed the cool evening breeze on the rooftop of our hostel with a group of Germans. They invited me to come out with them and another girl from our room tagged along too.

First, we went to the bar ‘Shout’ on 4th Street. There was a stage with a giant piano and someone playing and singing on each end. The audience could request songs and everybody was singing along. The atmosphere was great!

Afterwards, we went to the bar/club around the corner on 5th. A DJ was playing electronic music and someone was rocking an electric guitar to accompany him. It was awesome!

Once we were back at the hostel, I thought it was kind of funny that all the girls were in my room. It was like having a pj-party with friends instead of sleeping in a hostel dorm.

The next morning I took the 1 hour bus ride to La Jolla with one of the German guys. Bus trips only cost 2.25$ per trip or 5$ for a day ticket. Somebody I met on Fiji had told me that there were leopard sharks in La Jolla at this time of a year and you could swim with them. The beach and water was very crowded with snorkelers and people in canoes but we found a tiny bay off to the side of the main beach. It was a bit scary to just swim out there without snorkel gear but we wanted to find the sharks. When we spotted the shadow of the first one, I thought that was quite exciting. When after that two, three shadows followed and started to circle below us I started to doubt whether they were really not dangerous to the swimmers. We swam back to the beach, where someone was nice enough to lend me their snorkel mask for a moment. I returned out there and then actually got to see the sharks. They weren’t as big as their shadow 🙂 But that was a cool experience!

Seals at La Jolla Cove

Seals at La Jolla Cove

Afterwards, the Germans headed to the airport to fly to Mexico and I took the bus to go meet my couchsurfer. Again, I was so lucky with who I landed with. He was a great host and it was more like staying with a friend than with a complete stranger. Eric had to work the next day but in the morning, he first walked me into San Diego Zoo. He has an annual pass and can always bring a second person for free. Lucky me 🙂 The zoo is quite beautiful and there are a lot of animal species. I enjoyed watching the giraffes, elephants and polar bears. The koalas were very active in the morning, however the pandas were asleep. The zoo is huge and after walking everywhere, I was quite tired and it was pretty hot too. I took bus nr. 7 to go back into town and have lunch in an air-conditioned place and then took the bus back to El Prado in Balboa Park.

The houses in a Spanish style architecture are beautiful and there are ponds and a rose and cactus garden. A place to return to and just relax.

Then, I went back to the apartment to meet Eric. He took me on a motorcycle ride to Coronado Beach and then the sunset cliffs. From there we had a beautiful view over the ocean and down on surfers.

The next day, I returned to the La Jolla area but this time to La Jolla Cove. It really is a small beach in between rocks but the even cooler thing is all the seals that are right next to it on the rocks and sometimes swim over to the beach to swim with the people in the water. There were loads of people because they were also all snorkeling for leopard sharks.

Panda at San Diego Zoo

Panda at San Diego Zoo

I took the bus to pacific beach and then started walking along the beach towards Mission Beach. There were many surfers and I wished I could go surfing too. Along the road, there were also cute beach shops and bars. It looked like a mellow version of El Arenal in Mallorca.

Somewhere between the two beach towns, I also placed my towel on the ground and jumped into the waves. After that nice refreshment, I was cooled down enough to have a look at the Belmont Park amusement park.

Then, it was time to get some dinner. For that, I went to Old Town San Diego. It’s most likely a tourist trap too but it’s still nice to look at all the Mexican style houses. Of course, I had Mexican food but it was nowhere near as good as at Pokéz.

Later in the evening, Eric and I went to a bar in his neighborhood, were I got to meet some of his friends. Most of them are couchsurfer hosts/surfers too and therefore were really cool and welcoming. We didn’t stay too long though because we had to leave early the next morning, to drive to Mexico with some other couchsurfers from San Diego. We decided to go winery hopping and to a wine fest in the evening and then surfing on Sunday. This all sounds like great fun but in order to have time for this, we had to say no to a horse race and a free Counting Crows concert after that or to go sailing with another group of couchsurfers. I asked Eric, whether I just happened to come on a really busy weekend but he replied that it was always like that in San Diego.

Winery in Mexico

Winery in Mexico

Crossing the border into Mexico was easy. The only thing you have to know is that you should get an extra insurance for the car before leaving the US. We went to get the insurance at a drive-thru office right in front of the border. It seems that in the US there is a drive-thru for everything, even the wedding chapels in Las Vegas.

The wine tastings were the most expensive I have seen on my whole trip but at least the scenery the wineries were in and the buildings were impressive.

We had completely overfilled tostadas for dinner in a Mexican restaurant in Ensenada. After that, we had delicious coffees and smoothies in a really cute café. They had a nice rooftop with comfortable but non-matching chairs.

And then it was time to go to the wine street festival. That was really cool. There were loads of booths where you could buy food or wine or sangria and at least 10 different stages with music or dancing in the halls where the wine barrels were stored.

Once we were tired, we luckily still remembered in which street we parked our car and then were even luckier to find a campsite right on the beach. It was great to sleep in a tent on the beach again.

Just a few kilometers up the road in La Fonda, we found our surf spot the next day. Eric had a second board for me and even a rashie too. I needed that against the cold of the water. I stayed in the white water for a while but then went out to the bigger waves too. However, the intervals were quite big and so we mainly relaxed out there in the clear water. Then, Eric and I surfed a perfect wave together until we reached the beach. After that, the water became a bit rougher and after being in there for three hours, our feet were almost frozen.

We drove back down to La Mision, where we bought a coconut with fruit and shrimp in it. That was delicious!

The trip back into the US took a bit longer, since we had to wait for an hour at the Tecate boarder. At least there were some vendors that sold food and I had the most delicious Churros of my life.

IMG_6819

Back in San Diego, the fun wasn’t over yet. It was city fest in the gay neighborhood. There also were some vendors and a stage with DJs and almost naked dancers. The music was great and the whole street was dancing. At some point in the evening a really good looking (also shirtless (seems to be mandatory here)) guy came to talk to me but it quickly turned out that he was only interested in Eric. Some of Eric’s other friends from the bar were there too and we had a really good evening. I felt at home in this town.

The next day, I walked a few blocks up 30th street to go to Unique Nails. After all that camping in Australia, I told myself that at some point I really needed to do something for my nails and here was a salon that offered a manicure and pedicure for 15$!! The Asian lady worked really hard too and I even received a short but heavenly foot and hand massage.

City fest

City fest

Then, I walked back to the house and packed my things, since I wanted to take the night bus that evening. But before that, we went to Pokéz again for dinner. One of Eric’s friends came with us too. He just moved to San Diego and would be living with Eric for the next few days until he found his own place. There at dinner, I suddenly started to feel really dizzy. All the signs pointed towards a heat stroke and so I first of all tried to cool myself down with ice cubes. Unfortunately, that didn’t help enough and there was no way I could travel on a night bus. Luckily, Eric convinced me to stay another night and so I spent the rest of the evening out on a blanket on his front lawn, in the cool evening breeze with cold towels on my head. I should have listened to the signs of my body throughout the last few days but there just was so much to do that I didn’t stay in the shade enough.

Luckily, I felt better the next morning and we took a second attempt in driving to the Greyhound station. This time, I boarded the bus and thanks to two bags of ice, weathered the 7 hour journey to Las Vegas without any problems. I wasn’t the only tired person with a red head on the bus. I think the heat here really is extreme at the moment. Later in my Las Vegas hostel, three of the people in my 10 bed room told me that they had just recently had a heat stroke too.

Well, I learned a lesson but apart from that, San Diego was so perfect that I kind of wished I hadn’t had to leave yet.

IMG_6528

 

Darwin – the capital of sunsets

IMG_4969

The about two hour flight from Cairns to Darwin passed very quickly. We landed in 34ºC  Northern Territory heat and firstly had to set our watches half an hour back. The airport was tiny and within 15min I was out in the sun. Again without showing my passport or my bags.
Over the past few days I had been in contact with Andrew, I guy I met while I was diving in Koh Tao. I hadn’t actually expected him to have any time for me, since he works for the Navy and basically is always working. Therefore, I was even happier when he had offered to pick me up from the airport.
So already 5min later, he arrived in his cool jeep and in uniform. How could anyone wear long clothes in this weather?!
He drove us to a beautiful café in the botanical gardens and with a delicious chai latte it slowly really sank in that I was in a completely different place of Australia now.

IMG_4974
Then Andrew had to go back to work. He dropped me off in the center of town but kindly held on to my suitcase for the day, until I found a hostel. Online, there only were few places left and they were very expensive, so I wanted to try my luck up front and even ask whether I could work for my accommodation. I asked place after place on Mitchel St. They were all 34$(for a simple dorm bed!) and no work anywhere. Luckily, the woman in what I thought was the last hostel on this street then told me there was another one 10min further down, which was probably cheaper. And so I landed at the Gecko Lodge. The very friendly Thai owner gave me the last bed in a male dorm for 25$ and told me I could switch into a 4 bed dorm for the rest of the nights. The people at the hostel were all very friendly and told me that this here was more like a family. Everybody was either working or looking for work. Then I went to have some lunch and stopped off in air-conditioned shops once in a while, as I was having another look at the town. There also is an Esplanade with inviting shady trees and green grass. I finally felt that the alarm clock rung before 5am and so I lie down in the shade for a while amongst all the other people that were already hiding from the heat 🙂
When Andrew got off from work, he brought me my bags and said that we’d meet again later to watch the sunset.
I tried to have a cold shower but the water just wouldn’t get completely cold. Anyways, I’m not complaining. I LOVE the heat and how I could wear short clothes all night long. Plus, doing laundry was so much fun too because everything dried so quickly, that I easily could wash all my things.

IMG_4977
Later, Andrew brought us to the Ski Club. I thought they just tried to be funny with the name until I realized that they meant waterski.
It was an outdoor bar at the ocean on green grass under palm trees and there was live music too. So, the place on its own is pretty cool but then I also got to see my first incredibly beautiful and kitsch Darwin sunset. The colors in the sky were so pretty, it looked like a painting was being painted. And to make it really kitsch, there were black silhouettes of sailboats in front of it.
Then, we went to have dinner in a small Vietnamese place next to McDonalds and the beef rice noodles I had were really good! So already my first day in Darwin gad been a success. And even though I then already went to bed at 9.30pm, I had a great sleep because everybody in my room was really quiet when they came in. I like working hostels 🙂

IMG_5009

The next day, I wanted to go to the fish feeding but then decided against it since it cost 15$ and I already saw two fish feedings off the boats I was on. Therefore, I strolled to the marina and went for a swim in the lagoon. It’s a controlled area in the port. So, the water was salty but rather murky. But I guess you have to swim here when the ocean is too dangerous because of crocodiles.
I went back to the hostel to cook a late lunch. That was a bit a pain again, since the flies were back.
In the late afternoon, I wanted to walk down to a different beach, to watch the sunset again. I didn’t end up exactly where I wanted to but it was also a very nice spot at the ocean and there were some couples or families having picnics. What a nice way to end the day!
When the sun was down, I had to hurry back into town to make it to the Peterpans night here (I also spent some time with them today, since they had forgotten to book my last night in Alice Springs). We all walked to Monsoon’s where a few were selected to play games and win prizes. Then, they started to bring free pizza and here they brought so many that in the end I felt really full. Luckily, they then put on good music, so that I could go dancing. They also handed out vouchers for free drinks and the men kept buying jugs, so that I think none of the girls had to pay anything all night 🙂

IMG_5014
Then, there also was a table with body glow paint, where everybody tried to be creative. Just as I thought I should leave soon, a really good live band came on stage and so we kept dancing. And that in my backpack-sneaker outfit (in other towns, they wouldn’t let me enter like that. I like Darwin!
At midnight, there was a bikini contest. Since I had never seen one before, I stayed for that too. Hopefully, I won’t have to see a second one! One of the girls could win 200$ but in the end it was just who showed their boobs longer…
After that, I thought it would be good have some fresh air. However, the temperature felt pretty much the same outside. The 20min walk back to the hostel was quite nice in the now about 29ºC though.
Thursday, was a lazy day at the lagoon and in town. In the afternoon I was lucky to run into some French guys from my hostel who were just finished with work, so I could ride back with them.
I went for a walk in the botanical gardens. They are pretty small but with local plants and as I mentioned, the café is nice plus there is an air-conditioned info house with free wifi.
Afterwards, it was time to head to Mindil Beach for the famous sunset markets. There were a lot of booths with handmade things to buy. It was really crowded with people, there was live music and the smell of good food. And all this in the soft light of the setting sun. The atmosphere really reminded me of the Seenachtfest in Switzerland. When the sun really started to set, I bought a delicious smoothie and joined the hundreds of other people on the beach to watch the spectacle. Of course it was another stunning sunset but not as romantic in between this huge crowed.
Afterwards, there were people playing didgeridoo and others who had a show with fire.

IMG_5030
I wished I could go to the markets again on Sunday but then I d already be on a tour.
Friday was pretty relaxed again. I checked out of the hostel and brought my suitcase to the storage room of the Youth Shack, where we’d be staying when we come back from the national parks. We were only allowed to bring a small backpack for the first few days.
Tonight, I’d be able to stay with Andrew. As he lived on the army base, I wouldn’t have been able to walk anywhere without him and therefore that wouldn’t have been very practical during the week. But now it was Friday and so I met him at the Esplanade at 5pm, where an interview, that he organized, with someone who won an award, was taking place. I watched that and also happened to be at the right spot to see the cancer rally cars arrive. They drove from Perth to Darwin and wanted to raise money against cancer.
Andrew and I then drove to the base, where I had to be signed in properly and show my passport. I received a visitor card, which I had to carry with me all the time.
The apartment was one room with a nice bathroom and view of the ocean.
I didn’t want to miss the opportunity to watch the sunset on my last night here and therefore we this time drove to East Point. Again, an extremely pretty setting! Actually reminded me a bit of the rocky beach behind the Romantica Hotel in Mallorca we used to go to when I was a child.

IMG_4931

After the sunset, we picked up a woman that had just started working for the army in Darwin. Together, we went to a bar to meet some other friends of Andrew. I was expecting all military people but actually it was the crew from the interview in the afternoon and their other colleagues. So suddenly I was sitting at a table with people from ABC, having a great time, since part of me still wants to work for a radio or tv:)

Before I came to Darwin, I knew nothing about it. But then I was so openly welcomed and had such a great time and I think anybody who went to that city would experience the same.