Monthly Archives: June 2009


Checking in from a place called Swapmokund, Namibia, pretty close to where we got this picture taken.  Going to be gone again from online, this time we’re not sure if there will be Internet again, but hope all is well and we’ll be back later to tell of our amazing adventures! (they involve jumping out of planes, giant sand dunes, quad bikes, and jackals trying to steal our shoes… stay tuned…)

Cape Town

If you ever want to start a running for the prettiest city in the world, there is no doubt that Cape Town is up near the top of that list.  It’s rather Auckland-like actually, from the waterfront area to all the mountains around.

The most famous moutain around here is, of course, Table Mountain, and you can take a cable car to the top if you’re feeling lazy-

Chilling at the top of Table Mountain, which is at 1,000m and surprisingly chilly from the wind-

And the views are all-around spectacular!  This following picture was when I worked out the fact that my camera has a widescreen function, don’t know if you can tell a difference though…

It goes without saying that it’s not your average city where you can get a range of mountains like this just a few minutes drive from downtown.  But to top it off, being British they also figured out that it would be cool to place the Cape Town botanical garden at the foot of Table Mountain, and since my mom is obsessed with flowers (I was going to write “loves” but that doesn’t cover her true feelings) we headed over.

Clearly, some of us are more interested in resting rather than checking out plants- guess our obsessions are not particularly genetic?

To be fair, I did like quite a few of the flora in the garden, such as the yellow bird of paradise plant named after Nelson Mandela (as I’ve only seen orange ones before, and yellow looks quite nice!).  The flowers above, called protea, are my favorites though.  Don’t they look like some sort of alien plant?  They feel fuzzy on the inside too.

It should be noted that Cape Town is famous in the botanical world for being its own floral region due to the surrounding desert.  What this means is you have several thousand plants that occur here and nowhere else- by comparison all of North America counts as the same region, just to give you an idea of the special plants that crop up here!

And no journey to Cape Town could be possible without coming to this place.  Cape Point, one of the places out there that qualifies as “the end of the world.”

Rather dramatic, isn’t it?  Though it is a common misconception that this is where the Indian and Atlantic Oceans meet- that’s a few km over- but this is where the warm current mixes with the cold current and what really matters in the natural world (compared to what our human naming system dictates).  It’s also a really trecherous stretch of coast- for the past 400 years it is estimated that 600 ships have wrecked at or around Cape Point!

And last but not least, the scenery is pretty but no trip to Cape Point would be complete without visiting the penguin colony.  These guys are called “African penguins” officially but used to be called “jackass penguins” due to the noise they make- the claim is other penguins make the braying noise and that’s why they needed to change the name, but I suspect otherwise.  Either way, let it be known that it is impossible to encounter a non-cute penguin.  Something about how they walk on two legs and are so immaculately dressed in tuxedos will get to you every time.

Mala Mala

Safari is actually a Swahili word that means “journey.”  It is surprisingly descriptive because if you ever go on an animal safari you’re basically driving around and discover what you discover-

The  4×4 truck we drove around in and Lucky, our guide, at Mala Mala Game Reserve adjacent to Kruger National Park (there are no fences between the areas so the animals can roam as they please).  Going around in a 4×4 is awesome by the way because of the off-roading you can do, on the grounds that a herd of wild buffalo do so much worse damage compared to a mere Land Rover.  Small tree in the way?  Smash.  Bushes?  Gotta be kidding me, those suckers are gone!

Mind you might be in a Land Rover but safari can still be dangerous- the most dangerous is an elephant because they’re bigger than a car, and can flip them over if provoked.  We learned this a little too well during our first elephant sighting (not this guy, this was a nice elephant) where there was a mother, a baby, and the equivalent of a teenage boy in a wooded area.  The teenage boy was, in the fashion of teenage boys everywhere, with excess energy and burning it off by chasing impala and baboon around.  Then there was a bit of ominous rustling in the bushes… and a huge gray thing started streaking towards us.  Lucky, being experienced in such matters like a charging elephant, knew enough to turn the Land Rover in the direction of a quick getaway and we sped off, the elephant receding behind us looking like that T-Rex scene in Jurassic Park.

It should be noted that during the elephant charge (which we were later informed was a “play charge” and hence not as serious) I was laughing my head off, to the bewilderment of my parents later.  I suppose I should mention that I wasn’t worried at this moment, frankly because there was absolutely nothing I could have done had the situation become serious so I may as well have fun with it right?

My sister being a studier of birds (“not a birder!” I am informed) kept a good eye out for interesting ones, and this one is definitely the prettiest bird of the veld- a lilac-breasted roller.  My favorite though was called a gray lorrie because of the “nyahhh” sound that is straight out of my “I’m being too lazy for words” vocabulary and always made me smile.

Of course, the trick about safaris is most of the animals sleep during the day and only come out at night, meaning you drive around with a flashlight trying to catch animals by the reflection of their eyes (you only keep light on non-predators like impala for a brief amount of time though because it gives the predators an unfair advantage).  This here is a lesser bushbaby hiding in a tree, which is a small primate.Another cool night find- a chameleon!  We picked one up to play with a bit and he even started changing color to match Linda’s dark blue sweater when she held him, like any proper chameleon should.  Quite awesome.

There are a lot of safari stories to tell, but the best one happened on our last game drive.  We got word on the radio that a leopard had been caught killing a baby zebra and we headed for the spot, to find the leopard eating as seen above.  We watched him mesmerized for a few minutes until another car reported hyenas up the hill, making everyone in the group hold their breath for what would happen.  Hyenas are bigger then leopards, see, meaning they usually carry their kill into trees but this kill was just too big for the leopard to do such a thing.  And no one knew if the leopard would give up without a fight, or if there would be one, or…

I have it all on video that I will upload once I’m not at the mercy of slow African internet, but here’s a synopsis of what happened.  They hyena showed up and snarles were exchanged but they proceeded to feed on the carcass together for an uneasy minute, until the hyena got greedy and started heading for the leopard’s side.  The leopard retaliated with a well-aimed paw swipe to the right side of the hyena’s face, just below the eye, and after a few seconds the hyena slunk off, undoubtedly injured.  I’m still not over seeing that with my own eyes, frankly!

Safari is awesome.  Good thing I have some more in my future or I’d be a little upset right now.

And That Was The Last They Heard From Them

(Alternative title if you are my mother- “How They Spent the Next Three Weeks Cautiously Having A Safe Time”)

My sister and I just took our first malaria pills- the non crazy dream inducing kind, sorry to disappoint- in anticipation of our overland safari starting tomorrow morning.  We’re in Cape Town right now and will spend the next three weeks traveling through Namibia and Botswana to Victoria Falls, and I don’t have much faith in finding Internet connections in the bush.  On the bright side though, at this rate you will probably get to keep reading about Africa even after I’m gone!

To keep you amused until our return to civilization, I finally updated the “By the Numbers” page for interested parties, and I invite you to tell me  whether a round the world trip ends when you enter the country you left from or when you go back to the exact point you started.  I’m returning to the States around August 1, see, but will be heading to New Hampshire for a few days before going to Pittsburgh to see if my stuff is still in my parent’s basement.  And I haven’t completely made up my mind on this yet.


The Lion King Has Ruined Everything


Nants ingonyama bagithi Baba (Here comes a lion, Father)

Sithi uhm ingonyama (Oh yes, it’s a lion)


Ingonyama nengw enamabala (A lion and a leopard come to this open place)

(repeat ad nauseum… did you know they’re talking in Zulu in this song by the way?)


From the day we arrive on the planet

And blinking, step into the sun,


There’s more to see than can ever be seen,

More to do than can ever be done,


There’s far too much to take in here,

More to find than can ever be found,


But he sun rolling high through the sapphire sky

Keeps great and small on the endless round…


Um, yeah.  I realize this is not the average adequate way to introduce Africa, but you’d be surprised how often you’d find yourself quoting The Lion King whilst on safari.  After all, the sooner we get to the water hole the sooner we can leave! (Oh, turns out Zazu is a type of bird called a red-billed hornbill.  Who knew?)

Of all the places I have gone so far on my trip, Africa is the one I wanted to see the most.  Which is why it’s last, actually- I might be sad to go back soon, but until then I’m in AFRICA! (South Africa actually, for those keeping track.) More to follow, but until then have fun with some of my many, many safari pictures just outside Kruger National Park.  Because we all love furry animals that can kill us, right?  Cheers.

Summary of Greece

Greece is the sort of lovely place you stumble across and realize you could spend several weeks in and never get to the bottom of what all there is to see.  There are just too many beautiful islands, too many priceless artifacts, and too many good dishes to consume in this corner of the world…


– First of all, I got to see Greece with my family who I have not seen in several months.  This is good.  The fact that we all went on to Africa afterwards was even better.

– I liked every place we (briefly) stopped at in Greece, but my favorites have got to be Delos, Mykonos, and Santorini.  And I sincerely think Athens has a bad reputation as I thought it was a perfectly fine city for a few days to see the major sites.

– Oh, and the food is exemplary here.  Even if you need to hold regular negotiations with the cats in order to have your share.


– I’m just gonna come out with it and say I’m not a cruise person.  I mean sure, if I only had a week of vacation I would probably warm up to the idea but can’t say I do partway into a trip around the world where I’m used to moving at my own pace and my way of things.  So I got a little annoyed at this aspect at times.

– It should also be noted that Greece at this time of year is hot- about 35C during the day is pretty standard, meaning walking around routinely involves elaborate street geometry to move from one shady spot to another.  What it must be like in July and August around here I dread to think.


Before you ask, Peloponnese is that peninsula of Greece that sticks down into the Mediterranean.  Which I was kind of excited to hear about as I’d always wondered where it was.Africa 2 007

This is the lovely town of Monemvasia, which is a lovely old mideval fortified town and where the cruise stopped for a morning (I confess by this point I had no idea what the names of any of these places were so I needed to look it up just now).  They sure picked a lovely spot!  The entire place is surrounded by city walls and has old stone arches that you pray “please Poseidon, no earthquakes now ok?” when you pass under as it looks doubtful they’d survive any shaking.Africa 2 008

The other neat thing about this place is how the roads are so narrow that cars and trucks can’t come in.  What does this mean?  Well if you want to build within the city you need to use horses and mules to bring the stones and cement in.  I’d never seen such a thing happen anywhere in Europe, and it was certainly entertaining to see.Africa 2 009

My other favorite place in the Peloponnese- Agamemnon’s palace!  Ever read The Illiad or The Odyssey? (I’m betting you did one or the other for lit class at some point.) Agamemnon was the king of the Myceneans, ie main guy in charge when the Greeks invaded Troy, and his palace still exists.  In fact, this is the famous lion’s gate where his wife’s lover killed him after he came back from ten years in Troy.  If you think this wasn’t very nice of her don’t bother to sympathize, as he had killed his daughter in order to get a good wind to sail to Troy.  What a nice lot those ancient Greeks were…

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The view from Agamemnon’s palace- they sure picked a lovely spot didn’t they?  There isn’t much left of the palace, just some stone foundations, so the Lion’s Gate is the most impressive spot.  They do have a great museum though.

And with that, my story of Greece is done, as the next day we were back in the Athens airport waiting for a plane.  But not to worry as the story is about to get really interesting- time for the continent switch to Africa!


I stopped complaining about the pace of the cruise when we got to Crete. Possibly because we spent two nights here for a change and because I have eagerly wanted to come here for years.  Why?  Because of the palace at Knossos-

Knossos is the largest set of ruins of the ancient Minoan civilization, which flourished about 4,000 years ago.  I took an ancient civilizations course once during my copious free time as a physics major, and I concluded at the time that if I could choose which ancient civilization to be a part of it would be Minoan, the first ancient civilization of Europe.  There are a few reasons for this- women actually had a bit of power, their art is a beautiful transitional mix of Egyptian and Greek, and they were the first people in the world to figure out indoor plumbing.  Seriously, this is the queen’s sitting room and to the left there is a flush toilet, which had water coming from a mountainside 10km away!  The moral of the story here, of course, is that of all the modern technology you can figure out indoor plumbing gets priority.  Let that be a lesson to you.

And before you ask, no, this picture is not actually what the palace looked like when they discovered it.  This is because it was originally discovered a hundred years ago when archeologists didn’t just leave everything as they found it as a rule, so Sir Arthur Evans reconstructed various parts of the palace to show what it would look like.  I realize this is the biggest faux pas ever nowadays and they would never do it, but I must say it’s quite helpful to visualize a palace when you actually have a few rooms to work from and not just the foundations!

Another detail of the palace Linda and I enjoyed were the giant vases- there’s one behind her for scale.  These things are huge- so huge that they were never moved, and the entire kiln was built around them to be fired.  Which leads to the obvious question of why you would ever do such a thing, but it turns out these giant jars were where the daily wheat rations were stored for the workers in the palace.  Can’t make off with a jar of grain if it’s friggin’ huge, can you?

The most interesting thing about the Minoans though, or at least to me, is you hardly hear about them compared to the Egyptians or the Greeks for a very simple reason- we can’t read their language.  They wrote in a form of writing called Linear A that has never been deciphered, though this doesn’t mean it never will.  After all we had no idea how to read Egyptian hieroglyphics until the Rosetta Stone was discovered, and there is an ancient form of Greek called Linear B that was a mystery until just a few decades ago when a British schoolteacher worked it out.  Until then, all we know about the Minoans language-wise is from ancient Greek myths- for example, this palace is where the minotaur legend came from (not a surprise, with 1,500 rooms to stumble through) so it is said the word “labyrinth” is Minoan.  Huh.

So what else is there to do in Crete once you’re done with the Minoans?  Answer: the beach.  Crete is a popular holiday spot for Brits and Germans to come sun themselves, which means the beach has ladies bathing topless but they’re all women guys would rather wish to see covered up because they’re fat and beet red.  Even after three months here this is one aspect of European culture I can’t say I’ve figured out.

And my family will always remember Crete because, well, this is where we discovered raki.  I think I mentioned this before.  As it turns out there is a Greek custom that a restaurant will either give you a little dessert or shot of liquor at the end of a meal, and the place we went on our first night gave us a tasty shot of clear liquid we all rather liked.  Upon inquiry our waiter told us the stuff was “holy water,” and proceeded to bring us a filled Power Ade bottle with the understanding that we should help ourselves.

So we did.  Turns out my mom knows some interesting Hungarian drinking songs.  And needless to say, we bought a bottle of raki at the airport in Athens so we could enjoy it again later.


The cruise lifestyle and me hit a low point on Santorini.  This is because this island is so beautiful, so magical, that a mere day on it just isn’t enough.  I almost feel like I can say I saw it but have never actually been there because of the frantic pace we saw the thing at.

When your boat arrives at Santorini, it’s hard not to feel amazement at the gigantic cliffs on the harbor side, with houses precariously perched on top…

The view from the top is quite a sight too!

Ok, here you can see where the cliffs come from.  Basically Santorini is what remains of a giant volcano that exploded a few thousand years ago, and the cliffs is where the island collapsed into the sea.  The island in this middle is what new lava the volcano has pushed up since (no danger now we’re told, though smoke was last seen in the 1950s), and Santorini and two other smaller islands are what remain of the giant caldera’s outside.  Very neat to see geology on a huge scale like this!

Very neat to see what people do when given an old volcanic cliff with a view too- it’s hard to believe one earthquake wouldn’t send some of the houses on the cliff tumbling into the sea.  But let’s think about something else instead while standing here, shall we?

Like the possibility that Atlantis was on Santorini!  As it turns out, Santorini was home to one of the most spectacular prehistoric civilizations on what is the outer (ie non-cliff) northern rim of the island, a place called Akrotiri. They had things like beautiful art and running water thousands of years before anyone else did, but this all ended around 1600 B.C. when the volcano erupted and destroyed the town a la Pompeii.  They curiously never found bodies- the theory is the mountain gave enough advance warning so the people had enough time to get onto boats, but not enough time that the resulting tsunami didn’t destroy them all as they never show up later in the record.  What a fascinating story.

They’re still excavating the site ~40 years after discovering it, so I suppose I’ll have to wait and see it for myself instead of just the museum pieces.  Maybe then I’ll spend enough time to say I’ve seen Santorini?

Delos and Mykonos

The weird thing about a cruise versus how I usually travel is a cruise will do in two days what I will spend a week doing when left to my own devices. Like I could spend days in a place like Mykonos but here I was, fitting it into an afternoon… and we saw Delos that morning to make things even more hectic, so I’m just sticking the two islands together for lack of any better structure.

These are the famous lions on Delos. Why is Delos famous, you ask? Because it was a holy island during the classical Greek period and home to 30,000 inhabitants, and was inhabited for thousands of years until piracy forced the Greeks to abandon the isle in the first century B.C. So it’s the best-preserved ancient Greek site in the world- the only one where you can do things like walk down streets and see houses and things like that- and the scale of the place really overwhelms you.

The reason Delos was an important religious site is it is the sunniest point in Greece, hence they said the twin gods Apollo (god of the sun) and Artemis (goddess of the moon) were born here. When we were younger my twin brother Patrick and I had the perfectly normal hobby of Greco-Roman mythology under our belts so we decided Apollo and Artemis were “our” gods, so I was happy to come here though sad Patrick wasn’t here to see it with me. The palm tree behind my shoulder is where they were allegedly born by the way- allegedly Artemis was born first but she grew up so quickly she could help her mother with the birth of her brother.

While the temples are cool, my favorite thing about Delos is how you can see the old houses and daily life the Greeks led when they used to live here. These sets of columns were the main atrium part of a wealthy house which, believe it or not, held up a second story as well. Quite impressive to think about!

Next stop: Mykonos. Where they have beautiful whitewashed architecture that you always think about when you think of Greece, such as this small chapel.

A pelican showing us his stuff on the beach…And the famous windmills of Mykonos! No idea what they would have done if they hadn’t built them, as there would be several hundred fewer tourists standing here taking a picture… This area on Mykonos is known as “Little Venice” because the houses were built right up on the water. This is because islands in Greece at a time were either attacked by pirates or the home of pirates- Mykonos fell into the “home” category, so the pirates would build houses right up on the water so they could quickly dispose of their loot. Nowadays though it’s more famous as a great party island- around midnight you’ll still see people sitting down to dinner and have people just arriving into town for a night out around 2am…

So that is a quick whirlwind tour of the first two islands we checked out. If you feel breathless at the pace then you know just how I felt!