The title really speaks for itself. Joann anticipates there will be many more of these as the trip progresses. Greg dreads it.
Not Wild Animals Right?
After becoming accidental daredevils with our trip to Lamu, we thought we'd take a different kind of risk by heading up to Naivasha, an area two hours outside of Nairobi, for a walk on the wild side. Or a bicycle ride, more specifically.
There's lots to see in Naivasha, but the big draw for us was Hell's Gate, an adventurous national park where you can walk or bicycle among the animals. These include zebras, cape buffalo, baboons, hyenas, gazelles, elands, hartebeest, giraffes and, apparently, just a few large predators.
It's honestly very safe, but that didn't stop Joann from giving her family a bit of grief. (Sorry, Mom.) :)
There were no lions nearby, but we were nonetheless engrossed in our bike ride so didn't take very many photos. The few below will give you an idea of the plentiful wildlife and stunning scenery we got to enjoy.
The prize at the end of your bike ride through the park is that you reach Hell's Gate Gorge, a fascinating landscape through which you can hike with a Masai guide. We got to wander through gorgeous (*wink*wink*) scenery like this during an amazing three-hour hike.
The gorge has unbelievable and ever-changing formations as well as many waterfalls and mini pools of piping hot water from the geothermal activity underground. It's such a stunning landscape that it was featured in Tomb Raider 2.
On the bike ride back through the park, Greg couldn't resist a climb on Fischer's Tower, one of the well-known landmarks of the park.
We've got a few days ahead to rest up in Nairobi before we head to Uganda for a short trip. We can't wait to tell y'all about it!
- JC & GK
Today is officially the last day of our first month away. It's been fascinating, surprising, breathtaking and unforgettable, and we have been counting our lucky stars along the way.
It seems we have one more lucky star to add to the tally this week because after a sunny and relaxing four days in Lamu on the coast of Kenya, we found out that the State Department had issued a travel warning for the area the day we arrived. Whoops.
(To our Moms - Deep breaths. We're both fine. See proof from today below.)
That said, there were also travel warnings for the coast when Joann was here two years ago, and both then and now our local friends were largely unconcerned and continued to tell us about how amazing Lamu is.
After four days there, we can't help but agree. Lamu is an island that historically served as an Indian Ocean trading post. Its architecture was unlike anything we've seen before, with a mix of African, Arabian and Asian influences.
The small alleyways of the town necessitate a unique form of transport: donkeys! Donkeys still serve as the primary mode of transportation as there are almost no cars on the island.
Lamu is also known for its dhows, a traditional sailboat that is still used. It lacks a main sail and has a single spinnaker sail up front that can be re-positioned.
Greg got a chance to try his hand at one when we took a sailing "lesson". We use that term loosely because by "lesson", we mean that we got to sit in a dhow while our captain, Isaac, had Greg steer the rudder and kept yelling "Make move, make move!"
When we weren't sailing, we were enjoying the gorgeous 12km beach just steps away from our room at Banana House, a beach we had all to ourselves since tourists don't flock here for another few weeks. We essentially only had to share the beach with the cats that wander everywhere in Lamu.
We are now on Lake Naivasha, just a couple hours outside of Nairobi, and we're excited to share more about our upcoming adventures. Thanks for following us this past month, and we can't wait to share more tales from the road!
- JC & GK
We made it down to Nairobi about a week ago, and after two nights getting our bearings and seeing some friends, we took another flight down to spend five days in the Masai Mara, which is a National Park in the south of Kenya that connects seamlessly into the Serengeti in Tanzania.
Touching down in the Masai Mara - you're greeted with an airport that looks like this:
Not only is there no security check, it turns out you don't even need a ticket to fly back to Nairobi when your trip is done! Our camp was a short drive from the air strip, and set in a big group of trees next to a river (it was called Mara Intrepids for those interested).
We stayed in a tent set right on the river, with a big deck overlooking the water where we could see crocodiles, hippos, monkeys, mongooses, monitor lizards (~2-3 feet long), genet cats, and TONS of birds, especially kingfishers, who were almost always fishing in the river. Quite a bit to see without even leaving camp!
Camp was patrolled fairly routinely by a big tribe of Vervet monkeys. On our first day after we had moved in, they came by our tent all together to check out the newcomers. While a few were hanging off the roof distracting us, one of them unzipped and ripped open the tent flaps, peeking his little head in to see if we had anything good inside!! Here's one of the adults in the pack:
And here's the best shot we got of one of their babies (which were adorable, but pretty tough to photograph):
Pretty much immediately after we checked in, we headed out on a game drive in a 9-seater open air Land Rover, which was absolutely indestructible (we could drive across rivers, over huge rocks, pretty much go anywhere we wanted). Game drives were our predominant activity during the rest of our days, and each drive we did was amazing & quite different. It's hard to even know how to sum it up, so below we'll share a subset of our favorite pictures and a little bit of the story, etc. behind each. We've tried to group it here to be a little more organized, so we'll cover 1) Big cats, 2) other iconic African species, 3) some of our favorite unsung heros / lesser knowns.
1) The Big Cats:
There is something magical about being close to big predators in the wild & the leopards, lions, and cheetahs certainly fit the bill (not to mention the Servals and smaller cats we saw). We had assumed big cats would be relatively scarce, but we saw >40 on our short trip - they were everywhere! Unlike many of the smaller animals, they were not remotely troubled by the land rovers we drove around, and so we saw a lot of the most interesting behaviors from them: eating, keeping food away from scavengers, mating, grooming, etc.
Greg's favorite shot from the whole trip is of a mother cheetah feeding on a fresh wildebeest:
It is certainly a bit gruesome, but it also shows a very caring and effective mother. We saw this cheetah w/ kills on two separate days, both around the outskirts of the great migration herd. Her three cubs would be jostling with each other for the best position to eat, but she would look up very frequently, scanning for hyenas and other scavengers who might come to take the kill. It's hard to tell from the photos, but cheetahs are actually not all that large, and are usually unable to defend their kills once they have been discovered, so they need to eat fast and stay alert so they are not ambushed. The full scene looked like this:
And if you turned your head from that and looked in any other direction, you'd see the huge "great migration" herds of wildebeests, apparently untroubled by the cheetahs presence (at least while the cheetahs still had food in front of them):
Joann's favorite big cat from the trip was the leopard. We only saw two leopards, but they were absolutely mesmerizing to watch up close. Leopards are solitary and fairly shy, but also extremely strong and excellent hunters. Here's a pic of the first leopard we came across on our first drive down there:
Quite striking! Unlike cheetahs who have to eat quickly and watch out for scavengers while feeding, leopards solve this problem by first cleaning their carcasses (i.e. removing stomach, intestines, etc), and then literally hauling the whole animal to the top of a tree where most scavengers can't get it. Here's what a typical leopard kill would look like (you would see these in trees when driving around, and you'd know a leopard was close, even if you couldn't see it):
And last but certainly not least in the "Big Cats" category is the lions. We saw a TON of lions and they were very fun to watch. The lions were by far the least skittish of any animal we saw (they know they are king!), so it was easy to get up close and watch them as long as you wanted. It was hard to even pick which photos to share, but here are a few of our absolute favorites:
We also took quite a few videos of all of these animals. The video files are huge and many we need to edit, so we'll try to figure out how to share that at some other point. Here's one clip though that is fairly complete as is and didn't need editing. In addition to feeding, the other activity we saw a lot from the lions was mating. They pair off for a week at a time and mate something like 360 times to ensure conception, staying in largely the same spot and not eating, so they were pretty easy to find. Here's the video we shot (sorry it's a little shaky... Greg is still trying to get the hang of the video functionality on our camera):
2) Other iconic species: This is way too broad of a category, but below are some of our favorite shots of the other iconic, well-known african animal species we saw. We expected to see most of these guys, and were definitely not disappointed!
3) Highlights from the lesser known species: In addition to all the animals you hear about before you come, we were struck by just how many other very interesting animals we saw frequently down there. We got pictures and positive IDs for something like 64 different species and we've only covered ~15 so far in this post. #16-64 were just as cool, and we wish we had space here to share them all (and the internet bandwidth to upload them in a reasonable period of time :p). In there interest of space, here are just a few of our other favorites:
Welp, that's it for now. We fly to Lamu today on the coast of Kenya for a little beach time. We'll try to post again soon, and may share more Masai Mara pics as well once we get them cleaned up and uploaded. We'll leave you with this sunset pic from our last full day there.
Three Flavors of Amsterdam
As we were planning our travels, Greg and I thought a lot about what kind of trip we wanted to take. We could go the classic tourist route and try to see all the major sights and check off as many of the "Top Ten Things To Do In ____". We could try to be like locals and skip the famous sights for the hidden gems. We could also be less directed and just wander along, waiting to be surprised.
The amazing thing about our time in Amsterdam is that we got to do all three. Here's a glimpse of our favorite moments from each of the three ways we saw the city.
We got to see some of the city's most famous sights with Joann's family, and there's not a lot we can add to what is said about Amsterdam's most famous sights and to dos. The canal cruise is lovely, relaxing and informative. The Van Gogh Museum is a real treasure (though surprisingly no mention of Starry Night!). Museumplein is gorgeous and perfect for people-watching. The Anne Frank museum is an enduring reminder of the power of even the smallest acts of good in the face of overwhelming hatred.
A friend from Chicago - one of the most fascinating people we know - moved to Amsterdam to work for a company that is growing the circular economy. He showed us around some places that we never could have found on our own, including NDSM (a neighborhood of innovative spaces), FabCity (a temporary exhibition showcasing leading innovators in sustainability) and Instock (a fascinating restaurant that rescues imperfect food to create marvelous three-course meals).
With a few days on our own in the city, we spent a fair amount of time wandering around on our own, stopping at anything that looked interesting (or delicious). Vondelpark, though famous, wasn't on our list of things to see, but we happened upon it because it was close to our hotel, and it was Joann's favorite sight in the city. We also wandered into some totally delicious food along the way. Naturally, we sought out the chance to pet some cats.
We have now made it to Kenya, and we're heading on a safari tomorrow. We're excited to share more when we get back!
- JC & GK
We are back on dry land after a week on a cruise with Joann's family from Amsterdam to the Norwegian fjords. It was a week of stunning landscapes, SO much food and countless hours with family. We couldn't have asked for more.
To give a quick cast of characters, traveling with us on the cruise were Joann's mom and dad; Joann's sister, brother-in-law and nephew; Joann's brother and his girlfriend and Joann's grandmother.
We ranged from 22 months old to 81 years old, which basically meant that we usually didn't go more than 30 minutes without someone needing to pee. :) We're a loud, boisterous family, and at any given moment, about a third of us is in a huge hurry and another third is dragging behind. All to say, it was a week of hilarity and wonderful memories, as a week with Joann's family always is.
With this crazy crew in town, we sailed out of Amsterdam and headed off for a full day at sea.
Over the course of the week at sea, we made four stops in Norway:
With that, we are back in Amsterdam for a couple more days before we head to Kenya. We'll post again shortly about our time in Amsterdam before and after the cruise!
We'll end the post with a HUGE thank you to Joann's parents for bringing us on this wonderful family cruise and to Joann's brother-in-law, Albert, for planning the whole thing!
Iceland - Parting Thoughts
We finished up our last couple days in Iceland and have now met up with Joann's family in Amsterdam. We're getting ready to board our cruise to Norway, but wanted to share our summary thoughts on Iceland now that we've left.
Our Last Two Days in Iceland
We ended our trip doing the famed Golden Circle route and spending some time in and around Reykjavik. Some highlight pics are below and our route for the last two days is at the end of the post.
Thoughts on / Tips for Iceland
Overall, we left as huge Iceland fans. If we were to travel here again (and we will certainly try), we'd definitely plan more time here (I think over a week for sure, maybe two weeks) and driven the whole island. For those of you thinking about a trip and who are fans of nature, be generous with time - there's A LOT to see.
Most of our tips/views are probably fairly generic (i.e., amazing scenery and wildlife, extremely tourist friendly, very good food). A few more idiosyncratic tips though for those who are interested, with some pictures:
This may be heresy for modern travelers like us who want to be 100% sure to see every one of the best things in a new place, but there is something kind of magical in having no idea what is coming on your route, and this was certainly the case for us on a good part of the trip. Iceland is a good place to do this because it's so easy to get around, and pretty much everywhere you go is drop dead gorgeous. See here for a little Icelandic guide that will help you decipher the signs for what you can see at each stop (e.g., words ending in -foss are waterfalls).
Definitely, Definitely Rent a Car and Drive Yourself
Despite our challenges with Babe the 20-year-old rental car, we couldn't have imagined experiencing Iceland any other way. Since a couple of you asked - we rented our car from SADCars, which has a whole slew of hilarious slogans related to the dilapidated state of their fleet (i.e., "Sad cars, happy drivers"). There are, of course, slightly more expensive options like your average Avis where you don't have to fear for your life so much.
Go beyond the Golden Circle
Don't get us wrong, the Golden Circle is amazing and full of natural wonders. But we actually loved our first couple days driving around the southern and eastern coasts much more. It left much more room to be surprised, including by the amazing food and beer. The langoustines were as good as we'd heard at Humarhofnin in Hofn, the farthest we got from Reykjavik. They also had a local beer called Vatnajokull made from the local icebergs and flavored with local thyme growing in the valleys nearby. Greg loved it.
That's all for now, though we'd be happy to share more thoughts for those of you planning trips. Thanks as always for reading! We've had ~700 visitors so far, which is super fun, and we hope we you'll keep coming along our journey with us!
- GK & JC
On Monday, Greg and I left San Francisco, our friends and family and most of our worldly possessions and started our journey around the world. Our route started with a redeye from Seattle to Iceland, which unfortunately we had trouble sleeping through, although the views from the plane were incredible:
Happy and jet-lagged, we landed in Iceland and were promptly introduced to our travel companion, 'Babe.' (Greg being a bearded Midwesterner, the allusion to Paul Bunyan really isn't far off.) Babe is our blue 1995 Subaru Legacy rental. He has ~170K miles under his belt and has already added quite a bit of color to our trip...
Babe's back bumper is falling off, he occasionally refuses to allow his trunk to close and he completely blinds you if you try to use his windshield wipers in the rain. His Check Engine light turns on and off often and unpredictably, and roughly nine out of ten times you try, he refuses to let you take the key out of the ignition. Suffice it to say that he is as much of a POS as he looks. And we kind of love him, because Babe has taken us safely(ish) to some amazing places over the last couple days.
We drove out from Keflavik airport along the southern coast of Iceland and up the eastern coast, stopping our first night at a farm stay on Seglbudir sheep farm.
On day 2 we started to head up the eastern coast of Iceland where we saw gorgeous landscapes and sights including Skaftafell, a glacial & mountainous park, Jökulsárlón, a glacial lagoon & black sand beach, and Laufskálavarða, where visitors since 894 AD have stacked rocks in little piles for luck.
Towards the end of Day 2, Babe brought us to back to Dyrhólaey. It has a sheer cliff covered in bright green grass that looks out onto a black sand beach. Arctic terns swoop around, seagulls nest in the cliff and eider ducks waddle adorably along the beach. But most importantly, there are PUFFINS! The adorable birds - basically flying penguins - were all over, and a pair hung out about ten feet away from us and modeled for our photos.
What else can we say? Iceland started for us as an extended layover, not somewhere we had really planned to stop on our trip. It's been absolutely stunning on all fronts and also very easy to travel through.
Yesterday (Day 3) we hit up Iceland's famed golden circle, and today we're in Reykjavik - we'll post pictures / thoughts once we have them gathered together. More to come!
- JC & GK
Hello, world! We are about to start a four-month trip around the world. We'll hit four continents and twelve countries, including many of our top "bucket list" destinations.
Folks have asked what our itinerary will be, so without further ado, the approximate itinerary is:
June 7-10 - Iceland
June 10-12 - Amsterdam
June 12-19 - Cruise to Norwegian Fjords
June 19-21 Amsterdam
June 22 - July 25 - Kenya, Tanzania and Rwanda
July 25-29 - Thailand
July 29-31 - Singapore
Aug 1-13 - Indonesia
Aug 13-16 - Philippines
Aug 17-23 - Palau
Aug 23-24 - Philippines
Aug 24 - Sep 14 - New Zealand
Sept 14-22 - Fiji
We'll have more in depth posts about the game plan for each country, but as you can probably tell from reading the list, our bucket list countries were heavily weighted towards nature and diving destinations. Expect lots of pictures of beautiful landscapes and amazing wildlife from around the world.
We can't wait to kick off the trip and can hardly believe that it's just a few days away. We hope you'll join us on our adventures through the blog!
- GK & JC
Greg Kamstra & Joann Chen