Monday, June 30, 2003

Digging it in Durban... 

6/29/03 - 6/30/03: After our third straight steak, egg, sausage, hamburger patty, tomato, yogurt, cereal, banana breakfast at the place we were staying in Rastenburg, Shannon & I were ready to hit the road (And the restroom). We decided against buying a car in Rastenburg for a couple reasons: 1: We have no idea what we're doing. 2: Both of the cars we test drove were a little pricey and didn't exactly scream reliability (Think chitty, chitty, bang-bang, with a ton of black smoke) 3: We found a couple deals in the Autotrader we wanted to check out. Even with out a car, Rastenburg was a blast, so once again, everything happens for a reason. The drive to Durban was a doosy, but after about 9 hours and over 700 kilometers, we pulled into the Banana Backpackers Hostel in downtown district and hit the pillow hard. Today was our first real day in Durban and it was incredible! When you see the pictures you'll think we were on the boardwalk in Pacific Beach, only the waves are bigger. It just so happens that we pulled into Durban at the right time too. They're busy setting up for the "Vodacom Beach Africa" a 9 day festival starting July 4th that combines live music with a skate park, motorcycle jumping, pro surf contest, pro volleyball tournament, and much much more. Needless to say, we'll be here for a couple more days. Besides kicking it on the beach and playing cribbage in the sun (I'm undefeated now, but I have a feeling Shannon's getting ready to go on a hot streak) we've gathered a ton of great information from the locals and the Overland drivers staying at the hostel. Here's a couple cools tips: 1: About 50% of the cars for sale in the area are stolen or salvaged, so we're going to have to pay close attention to the VIN numbers on the chassis, body, and engine of any car we purchase. 2: Muggers and pickpockets are all over the place in Durban, so we've learned not to wear our watches, to always look like we know where we're going (Yeah right), to carry an extra wallet with about 20 Rand in it to give to muggers (And hope they don't search us), to run to the middle of the street if we feel threatened, and to always keep our eyes out for muggers working in teams. 3: We need to pack "Bags full of patience" for any border crossing because "The Swiss may make the best watches, but Africans have the most time". 4: There's a good chance there's a couple other people planning to drive themselves to Nairobi or Cairo, and the best place for us to find them is on the Internet or in Getaway magazine. We're definitely going to look into that one. As you can see, the trip has gotten a little more interesting, and I'm digging it more and more. Whether we buy a car or not, get mugged or not, learn to sail or not, one way or another, the sun is going to come up tomorrow, and it will all make a unique memory. As my Mom would say, "Show up, pay attention, tell the truth, and let go of the outcome"...

Saturday, June 28, 2003

Rastenburg? Where's Rastenburg? 

6/26/03 - 6/28/03: After renting a car in Centurion using Mo & Bernie's special rate (Great discount), we pulled out our South African Atlas and hit the road. I have to admit I underestimated how long it would take me to to get used to driving on the wrong side of the car AND the wrong side of road, but thanks to Shannon's navigation we only got lost twice on the way to Rastenburg. I think anyone who knows how to make street signs could make a killing here, because they are definitely short a couple hundred signs (Or we're just blind). Anyway, we pulled in Rastenburg, found a great bed and breakfast place and made it down to Mo's cousin's lot without too much of a problem. Our biggest challenge turned out to be figuring out what we wanted to buy. We originally set out to get a car, but then we started leaning towards a four wheel drive when we read about the roads along the East coast of Africa. Mo's cousin Emritiz (I'm spelling this wrong), was amazingly helpful and drove us around to almost every car lot in Rastenburg looking for a 4WD in our price range. (Emritiz and his wife were just as incredibly giving as Mo and Bernie, reminding me once again how much we have to learn from South Africa). Unfortunately 4WD's are hot commodities down here and so it looks like we'll be driving out of Rastenburg in our rental. During our second day in Rastenburg we decided to check out our first game park and it was better than we ever could have expected. In just 4 hours of driving around Pilansberg Game Park on our own, we saw (I'm going to spell everything wrong) giraffes, elephants, wildebeasts, warthogs, zebras, orangatangs, and much, much more. As first I wasn't sure about the self guided tour idea, but now I'm not sure I'd have it any other way. Just wait until you see the pictures! Well that brings me up to the present moment. Shannon and I stopped by the resort town Sun City on the way back to Rastenburg to check it out and use the internet, and it's pretty nuts. It reminds me of a mini-Vegas except it only has one casino. It doesn't seem to fit in, especially after driving past 20 miles of poverty-stricken townships, but Mo told us that's what we'll see in South Africa - "The best of the first world right next to the worst of the third world". I have a feeling our education is just beginning.

Johannesburg, here we come! 

6/24/03: The time had finally come. Shannon and I were just getting over our jet lag in time to get fired up for Africa. I'm not sure if it was fear or excitement, but our blood was pumping as we boarded the KLM flight for our 9 hour adventure. Shannon's travel savvy came in handy again when she booked the exit row for my oversized body, but it turned out not to matter too much considering the flight was half full. We could actually lay out horizontally over three seats! A part of me started to wonder why more people didn't want to go to Africa, but I cut that thought off before it got too far. Thanks to some amazing help from my buddy Atul in the bay area, we had a friendly face waiting for us at the airport. A literal "Life saver" according to our guide book considering all the violence in Johannesburg. Mo and Bernie were some of the nicest people we met on the trip so far and they not only picked us up at the airport, but they let us stay with them in their HUGE house in Centurion, an super-safe suburb north of Johannesburg. We owe them both more than we'll ever be able to repay. It was with Mo and Bernie that we really started thinking seriously about buying a car to use in Africa. There are strong arguments on both sides of the issue, but we were leaning towards buying. It just so happened that Mo's cousin had a great car for sale in his car lot in Rastenburg (3 hours out of Johannesburg), so we were on our way!

Can Anyone Help Me Find the Red Light? 

Believe it or not, we did NOT spend our two days in Amsterdam camped out in the Red Light district. We did go there right after we checked into the hostel (6 bunks to a room), but our tour was pretty quick considering the place didn't smell that hot and I think the 1st string window dancers were saving their stuff for the after 6PM street walkers. We did manage to find our way into an incredible exhibition by World Press Photo. It was staged in an breathtaking old Church and it consisted of the best photo-journalism of the year, along with the overall winners of the last 20 years. While Shannon had heard of most the events featured in the photo's (Almost all from 2002 and 2003) most of them were new to me. Most of the events featured were disasters or tragedies, but come to think of it, that's a lot of what's covered in the news nowadays. Here's a couple quick quiz questions to see how many of the events you would have recognized. Did you know about the war in Sierra Leone? How about the one in the Ivory Coast? Did you know about the massive oil spill off the coast of France and Spain that could have been avoided? I know we all heard about the incredible carnage between Israel and Palestine, but how about the 52,000 tons of nuclear waste in the US that we don't have a home for? Did you know about the 3800 people that are still missing in Kosovo? I didn't either. The fact that 29,000 people from 20 countries partied together at Burning Man in Nevada last year was news to me too. The chaos between the Muslims and Hindus in Gujarat blew me away. There are over 900 dead so far. The Palace of Culture theatre in Russia was also featured. 50 Chechen (sp?) separtists and 90 hostages were killed by a "mystery" gas when the Russians charged the complex to stop the standoff. There were a ton more events featured for 2002 and 2003, but some of the incredible shots from the previous years are worth mentioning. In 1996 Hurricane Hortense dropped 18" of rain and killed 16 in just a couple days. In 1992 there were 30,000 people living at the dump outside Manila. Finally, in 1985, a debris flow from a volcano's eruption in Armero (sp?) Columbia, killed 23,000 people. The rest of our time in Amsterdam was pretty incredible also, however; we were a little spoiled by Brussels, so Amsterdam seemed pretty scummy by comparison. The Van Gogh Museum and the Anne Frank House were bright spots though. I was humbled by the lack of knowledge in both places, however; they are both "must see's" for anyone visiting the area. Thank you to everyone that recommended them. (Jenni, Nick, Kristen, and many more) The Heineken musuem is closed on Monday's (Go figure), so we missed that one, but considering the jet lag haze we were in, it's probably good we didn't make it into their "all you can drink" happy hours. All in all, after about two days, we were ready to head to Africa.

Mussels in Brussels? 

6/20/03: Thanks to some incredible last minute planning by Shannon, and a couple "Platinum Status" coupons, we were able to book two free nights the Renassaince Marriott in downtown Brussels to let ourselves down easy in Europe. This option, when compared to the overpriced and overcrowded hostels in Amsterdam (That we didn't have a reservation with), sounded great! So, after two days, and two complete detours (Houston and Brussels) we were on our way! I'm not sure if it was our complete lack of knowledge about the city, or the fact that it was just an amazing place, but Brussels knocked our socks off. From the free bus service (We couldn't figure out how to pay, and they didn't care), to the downtown music festival, we were spoiled wrotten. Not mention Shannon's "Platinum Status" landed us a free breakfast coupons!(Free all you can eat salmon + my appetite = bad investment for Marriott) After hanging with about 20 drunk Irishmen in the middle of the best planned bachelor party ever, we ended our 2nd night in an Italian street cafe by pounding down a bucket of "World Famous" mussels from Brussels. Nice!

Around the World - Starting in Houston? 

6/19/03: After catching our first flight from San Francisco to Continental's hub in Houston, Shannon and I were SUPER fired up to catch our flight on to Amsterdam. However, as luck would have it, Continental had over-booked the flight with summer vacationers and offered us a $500 credit, plus hotel and 3 meals each if we would take the next day's flight. We figured this was our first "flexibility test" to see if we were able to roll with the punches, so we JUMPED ON IT! Everything ended up worked out even better than expected because we were able to hook up with my Houston relatives (Wes, Hazel, and Dru) for a fabulous meal at Crapitto's (Yup, that's how they spell it). The extra down time also gave us the time to decompress and figure out where the hell we were going to stay the next night...

Tuesday, June 10, 2003

Just the beginning... 

Well it looks like this the first entry of many for "Sam and Shannon's Great Adventure". I think "The Trip" is a more fitting name for this journey, given it's completely loose and open ended agenda, but I think that blog title was already taken. I really have no clue what you're supposed to write in something like this, but it looks cool, so I'll keep typing. Eventually Shannon and I might both post entries, but like everything else related to this trip, we'll cross that bridge when we come to it. As far as the trip goes, I'm finally starting to relax enough to get excited. It's was a little nuts, considering my over-planning anal tendencies, to spend the first couple days in Sac without Microsoft Outlook, e-mail, task lists, etc. Talk about lost in your own thoughts. I made myself dizzy. Of course that could have just been the malaria medication I started taking. Talk about side effects! You could dry out your eyes reading about all the weird stuff that could happen to you on Lariam. I seem to be adjusting pretty well so far, so hopefully I'm one of the lucky ones. Day after tomorrow I'm headed to the Bay Area to catch up with Majo, Vera, and the Cal Poly crew, so that should be a blast. I have to admit that saying goodbye to everyone has made me very aware of much I have to be thankful for. The people in San Diego, Sacramento, Ukiah, and everywhere else have blown me away. After Ukiah, I'll probably head back to Sac on the 17th and hitch a ride with my Mom to the City. I think we'll end up getting a hotel close to airport since this is a flight I don't want to miss. Hell, I even considered sleeping in the airport the night before just to make sure I didn't miss the plane. Well, enough random babble. For those of your reading this blog for the first time, bear with me, I'm sure I'll have much more exciting things to reflect on in the next couple weeks. -Sam

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