A Travellerspoint blog

Day 3. Namibia. Arrival in Windhoek and drive to Sossuvlei

sunny 27 °C

Since the car rental place doesn’t open until 8:30 we spend 3.5hrs at the Windhoek airport looking through all the airport brochures, drinking coffee, and doing the New York Times crossword. After some fussing about (standard) we get to Asco Car Rental south of the heart of Windhoek, fuss around some more (they think we arrived a day late and want us to pay for yesterday), drink more coffee, get all of our camping equipment and do a once over on how the car works. After getting groceries and trying to unsuccessfully find what is supposed to be a fabulous bookstore (The Book Den) we get on our way South at 1pm. Since we thought we might leave the city at say 11, we are a bit behind schedule and not sure we can make it all the way to Sesriem, where we have a camp site booked. We’ll see how it goes.
One thing you can say immediately about this country is that it is beautiful. And very sparsely populated, which is a nice break after being in West Africa, which is relatively densely populated. The drive was gorgeous. As we headed through the pass South East of Sesriem we realize we’ve got at least about an hour before we reach Sesriem and decide to pull off the road and get our tent set up before we lose all light. We were balancing the fact that we thought the park wouldn’t let us in if we arrived past dusk (closing time), that you are not supposed to camp at the side of the road, and how dangerous an area we were in. You hear a lot of stories about some of the crime present in South Africa also being present in Namibia (we were worried about a car jacking) but in the end we thought we had found an inconspicuous spot and were exhausted. My one regret is that we didn’t take more photos of the pass as the sun was setting (we were at that point still thinking we would try to make it all the way to Sesriem). Once the sun is down it gets really dark, so by 7:30 you feel you should just go to bed, which is exactly what we did.

Posted by Jmclellan 17:11 Archived in Namibia Comments (0)

Day 1/2. Getting to Namibia..

sunny 30 °C

And I was starting to think intra-Africa travel wasn’t so bad..
Having been to Accra for the Emerging viruses workshop in November and from that trip thinking the city was quite interesting and also feeling that they were one of the most organized and progressive West African countries I was looking forward to our 36 hr transit on our way to Namibia. I knew you could obtain transit and emergency Visas on arrival so we didn’t bother organizing any type of Visa ahead of time (I think you know where this story is going..). Stew offered to take us to the airport at 6am for our 8am flight and, after a quick stop to pick up a homemade breakfast of cake and chocolate covered almonds from our friend Jackie on the side of the road (she had texted Stew in the early morning hours- ‘I’m under the streetlight’). Goodies in hand we continued on our way.

At the airport it immediately became clear that the airport staff that decide who will board the plane had a problem with the fact that we didn’t have Visas. Jackie and Stew I know were googling Visa requirements for Canadians as we tried to explain that we could obtain them on arrival. No, no, they said- you are therefore longer than 24hrs therefore you need a transit Visa. Yes, yes we said- we know and which we can obtain on arrival. This went back and forth for an hour at which point we were getting close to missing our flight. They said their boss couldn’t take the risk that Ghana immigration would fine them for letting us board the plane and arrive in Ghana without the proper documentation. I must say I was both frustrated and near tears because I was so exhausted from the last 2 weeks of work and also somewhat amazed theat they were taking their jobs so seriously. I flat out asked if there was anything we could do to board that plane, and by that we all knew I meant ‘can I bribe you to board that plane’. That is in fact the first time I have offered a bribe and fitting that it be our last day in the country. They insisted we could take the Accra flight the next day but of course when they confirmed the flight details it was going to Lagos- unhelpful. They had said that was a good solution because we would then be under 24hrs. We knew the next day flight to Accra didn’t exist otherwise we would have booked it.

Ok so now we’re down to 5 minutes to boarding. Jackie finds on www.ghanaimmigration.com that transit Visas are available for travelers up to 48 hrs. Stew bribes (I mean- provides money for their breakfast) the guys checking passports to smooth our transition though while in the meantime we print this web page out for them to see in writing (on the computer screen is no good at Banjul International) and show it to the airport guys (I say guys because we are not certain who they are or what they do). Guy 1 in charge had assured us this would be enough but then his upon consulting with his boss it was decided, that no this would not be sufficient. At this point you ask yourself for the 50th time why this is so bloody difficult. Their little book of regulations didn’t say anything about the 48hr transit Visa therefore the fact that it was on Ghana’s official immigration site didn’t matter. They are now showing us letters they hav recived from Ghana immigration saying in the past they have let people board without Visas and the airport has been fined. We are trying to explain that Canadians, as part of the Commonwealth follow most of the same Visa policies with the US, who are mentioned in their book. We also reinforce that we have provided evidence that we can obtain a transit Visa on arrival. Obviously no sway. They did the final passenger count, at which point I was prepared to give up. At this point another employee from the airline shows up and he somehow enables a call to Ghana immigration and someone answers. They will double check and call us back. Guy 1 call the flight crew to delay the flight by 5 minutes, 5 minutes only- then adds right before hanging up ”..or 10”. We are standing at the check in desk waiting for someone in Ghana to call back so that we don’t miss our entire flight series to Windhoek, from where we also fly back to Canada 5 weeks later. Waiting. Waiting. Oh! Call comes in. We are cleared for the 48 hr Visa (Yes Immigration says- they offer 48 hr transit Visas to pretty much anyone, even Canadians. This is, after all, what the website says..). Ok let’s get on that plane. Oh wait. Now they want to know about our Namibian Visas. We don’t need a Namibian Visa- that is very clear from the Namibian immigration website. So as a tip if you want to leave Gambia you need to be able to prove, and not just by providing website printouts, that you do or do not need a Visa for any destination or transit country.

I just can’t take it and walk out of ear shot. Don does some magic, maybe he went and printed off that page… I’m not sure what happened during those minutes. But now we’re clear. We back and forth about checking Don’s bag- it has all his camera gear in it plus a lot of USD and they want us to check it. At this point what can you do? It gets checked, and then we are rushed through security, put on an empty bus and driven to the plane. I thought we looked like crazy people by the time we boarded and the, we both agreed later adorable and fulfilling all the of the gay stereotypes, flight attendant welcomed us and assured us he would be by shortly to provide a drink. I can’t even believe we are on the flight. All our baggage is somewhere in the main cabin because it didn’t have time to be checked (although was shuttled into checked baggage on arrival). We touch down in Dakar 25 minutes later and I am still trying to calm myself down.

We arrive in Accra after a 3 hr flight from Dakar, head to immigration. All is fine. In fairness I will point out that they asked us for our transit Visa clearance letter and Don explained we didn’t know we needed one. This is not mentioned on the website but apparently you need a letter from the Embassy indicating you need a transit Visa. We pay what I consider an exorbitant price for a transit Visa (50USD each) and head to immigration. But wait- we are stopped for our Yellow Fever certificates. I’m pretty sure they were only checking select bribe worthy individuals. I show mine but Don’s is in his cameras/cash carryon bag that was whisked to checked baggage. Lady 1 suggests that is ok but maybe we can just give Lady 2 something. I can’t believe this- Ghana- the best place in West Africa (in my opinion) is disappointing me with flagrant bribes. This isn’t supposed to happen in reasonable, progressive Ghana! I say I can get his certificate from the luggae and bring it back. No, no- you should just give Lady 2 something. What is a good amount for a Yellow fever bribe? Turns out 20USD is satisfactory. The kicker of all this is when we get to the immigration area immigration guy 1, who is helping direct people to a free officer, looks at Don’s passport and just tells us to go around the side desk and skip customs. He doesn’t even look at mine. Come on Ghana! Are you kidding me? No, not at all. What a fitting (and only days later hilarious) departure from The Gambia.

I want to give a big, Big, BIG thanks to Jackie and Stew without whom we would have never made it to Accra.

We were picked up at the airport and taken to our nearby hotel where we spent the entire day sleeping and occasionally waking up to watch videos streamed from u-tube, something that has, except for about 3 days out of the last 15 months, not been available in our apartment in Gambia because the internet signal is so poor. The next day we headed into Osu, the trendy part of Accra, but as most things were closed we has a busy day of eating, then having desert, then going for a drink at the various restaurants/bars that were open on Sunday. Without hassle we boarded our 11pm overnight flight to the German city of Windhoek!

Posted by Jmclellan 05:30 Archived in Namibia Comments (0)

London, UK

Transit to West Africa from India

sunny 17 °C

I had an absolutely fabulous time in London. I haven’t been here since I was about 15 when my parents used all of their 5 years of saved 5 vacation and we spent the summer in Europe. Since the only practical way for me to get to Hyderabad was through London, and my trip home had me in London for 3 days (tough life), Don came up from Gambia a few days in advance and stayed a few days after I headed home. He has family there that we stayed with who were absolutely lovely. On the first night I was in London we went to see the musical Wicked. Don was able to get tickets to Book or Mormon by putting his name in a ticket lottery several days in a row. Wicked was wonderful and Don raved about Book or Mormon, which he saw after I unfortunately had already headed back to Gambia.
Our days were filled with sightseeing, market going, and shopping to find me an outfit I could wear to dinner with Don’s family. My favourite part of our touristy days were definitely the markets. We visited several markets including the Bricklaying market, Spitalfield market, Columbia Rd flower market, and an open air market we encountered on our way whose name was and still is unknown to us. This was my first time out of Africa and in a developed country in over a year and I was really enjoying the change. Africa is a wonderful place but some things (well, a lot of things are challenging, the cities quite dirty, and a completely different culture than what we are used to. The cultural differences are part of what makes visiting a new place wonderful but I would be being untruthful if I said I didn’t absolutely and completely enjoy my time in London. The markets had all sorts of interesting items to look at and buy made by talented entrepreneurial young Londoners. The flowers were beautiful, in full bloom, and made me remember that it was of course the beginning of spring in the Northern hemisphere. The seasons in West Africa are certainly less varied, except for when the humidity rises to 100% after the rains. Don and I joked that the best way to differentiate winter from summer, according to the northern hemisphere was when the tourists were or were not there, escaping the UK or German winter.
Our tourist tour included Tower bridge and the underwhelming London bridge, both in the background of the photos below. If you don’t know which is which, I’ll let you guess. ‘London Bridge’ in fact refers to several historical bridges that have spanned the River Thames between the City of London and Southwark. The current crossing, opened in 1973, is the bridge you see in the photo below. This replaced a 19th-century stone-arched bridge, which in turn superseded a 600-year-old medieval structure. This was preceded by a succession of timber bridges, the first built by the Roman founders of London. The more impressive Tower Bridge was completed in 1894. In the second half of the 19th century, increased commercial development in the East End of London led to a requirement for a new river crossing downstream of London Bridge. A traditional fixed bridge could not be built because it would cut off access by tall-masted ships to the port facilities in the Pool of London, between London Bridge and the Tower of London. It is close to the Tower of London, from which it takes its name, and has become an iconic symbol of London.

Posted by Jmclellan 01:10 Archived in United Kingdom Comments (0)

Our last days in The Gambia

sunny 33 °C

We said goodbye, or until next time, to a lot of wonderful people that we met over the last year. We had a going away BBQ and visited Kartong region near the Senegal border on a day trip with some of our friends to check out a beached whale (or so we had heard. Don took a photo of a cow, the largest animal we saw that day). We said goodbye to our resident gecko, pictured here in his favourite spot behind the water heater.. We also had neighbours over at Bob’s bar, our favourite Gambian bar conveniently located a few tens of meters from our front door on the eve of our departure.
My colleagues hosted a really lovely going away lunch and put together a care package with wonderful gifts including a custom tailored dress and Gambian patchwork computer case embroidered with mine and our research group’s name. The toubab (the word locals use for all white people) wore all of their Gambian dresses for my last Friday at work, which is the most important day of the week here for the Muslim religion and when everyone dresses up. It was hard to say good bye but at the same time looking forward to the next adventure.
Thank you to everyone for such a wonderful year. We miss you. Please stay in touch!

Posted by Jmclellan 05:13 Archived in Gambia Comments (0)

Hyderabad, India. Part II

sunny 35 °C

Surprisingly I met a few Canadians who were also attending the conference. One night we went out to a night market that was selling everything from plastic gold elephants to bracelets, sandals and saris. We strolled around for quite a while, taking in the sights. Like Gambia if you show the slightest interest in anything at all there is a conversation that ensues, whether you like or not, about how you’ll get a good price and how much you are willing to pay. At first when I moved to Africa I felt rude about just saying no and walking away, or pretending I didn’t hear what people were saying (dark sunglasses are a great way to allow you to look without being caught and then hassled) but now I feel it is all part of the game. They try to give you a good price, they may even share a story about their family or how they’ve been unable to sell anything. More than anything I think you just need to grow a tough shell, which is in some ways very unfortunate. We ordered take away from a little restaurant in the market (Ravinder, our Indian Canadian counterpart was all about the street meat but wasn’t convincing the other three of us).

Leah and I got henna done on our hands (you have to- you’re in India!). I thought it would take agea but what took the most time was choosing the design. And then you wonder why you bothered because the only resemblance is that the henna on your arm takes up the same surface area as that in the photo. In any case, 2min after the women started the henna we were both done, and now walking around, each with a useless arm because we were trying not to smudge the henna.Our next move was to acquire beer, which we did through Ravinder’s direction at a small, sketchy restaurant/men’s hangout nearby. We walked together into the back where they had a small bottle shop, made our purchases, and then quickly got back on the open street.
On my last day in India Ravinder and I went to visit the Golconda Fort, about 5km outside of the city centre. The region comprising modern Hyderabad and its surroundings was known as Golkonda ("shepherd's hill") and was ruled by the Chalukya dynasty from 624 CE to 1075 CE. The Golkonda fort was first built by Kakatiyas as part of their western defenses in 945 CE-970 CE. After the collapse of the Bahmani Sultanat, Golkonda rose to prominence as the seat of the Qutb Shahi dynasty around 1507. Over a period of 62 years the mud fort was expanded by the first three Qutb Shahi kings into a massive fort of granite, extending around 5 km in circumference. It remained the capital of the Qutb Shahi dynasty until 1590 when the capital was shifted to Hyderabad. The Qutb Shahis expanded the fort, whose 7 km outer wall enclosed the city. Many famous diamonds are from the mines in the region surrounding Golkonda, including Darya-e Nur, the largest and finest diamond of the crown jewels of Iran, and the Hope Diamond, now housed in the Smithsonian museum. While visiting the fort we saw a lot of couples, out spending time together in public places. Ravinder explained to me this is in line with Indian customs where young people are not respectfully permitted to be along together before marriage. This is certainly a nice place to spend the afternoon in the shade.
We had considered doing a bus trip out of town but there just wasn’t enough time. We hired a three-wheeler taxi for the day and visited the fort in the morning. I must say I was really impressed. This is also a traveller’s guide ‘must do’ while in Hyderabad. Afterwards we headed back to Charminar so Ravinder could see it and also to try and find me a sari I liked. No such luck on the sari but I did get way too carried away buying bracelets. We spent the afternoon hanging out at the Hilton pool in the IT core, which is filled with relatively new buildings, manicured grass, and interspersed with the chaos that is India.

Posted by Jmclellan 07:59 Archived in India Comments (0)

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