What exactly is overlanding, anyway?

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The term seems easy to grasp, right? Traveling over land. There’s a little more too it. I’ll be honest that I didn’t really do my research when I booked a trip with Dragoman, but they had an itinerary I liked and I booked it. It turns out that it’s a pretty… hands on adventure.

You spend most of your time on the truck. Yes – “It’s not a bus, it’s a truck.” And it really is a truck (even though I called it a bus every 5 minutes and was constantly scolded for it). It sounds and looks like a truck. It has wheels like a truck. It drives like a truck, and this is all because it’s a truck. This truck carries all of our tents, luggage, food, and camping supplies for up to 24 people. Wow. I’m with a small group, so the inside is really spacious and just made for us to lounge around. We basically travel from place to place and when we get there, buy our own food at the local markets, then cook that food ourselves at the campsite. I’m obviously comfortable doing all of this (I just climbed a mountain people!) but to say this not what my usual trip looks like is an understatement.

It’s a lot of fun, but a lot of work. Cooking for 10 takes a long time when it’s your turn, especially because I don’t really cook. Fortunately, my cook team partner is a great chef (Thanks Krishna!) and we are consistently making the most delicious meals of the group.

A hippo walked into our camp at Lake Naivasha! A HIPPO! I single-handedly ran up to take a picture and scared him away. Oops.

Our first night overlanding took us to Lake Naivasha. Everyone else went on an uneventful boat ride through the park, but I was still sorting out my Ethiopian visa. I met up with them at the Elsamere Conservation Center just in time for tea and cakes! Woohoo! We learned a lot about George and Joy Adamson, two expats who raised a lioness named Elsa and successfully released her into the wild. Elsa is a local legend and her named and likeness is everywhere.

After another cold night in a tent, my new idea of a standard night of sleep, we woke up the next morning and made our way to Nakuru. Nakuru is the fourth largest city in Kenya, which is to say it’s kind of small. We quickly did our local shopping and drove on to the campsite. That afternoon we visited a local women’s knitting project that really seemed to impact the community and I bought a warm hat to combat the cold. It was our night to cook and Krishna and I cooked Indian. Since I had just taken a cooking class in India and she was, well, Indian, it was quite tasty.

The next day we went to the local Nakuru National Park that surrounds Lake Nakuru.  We did another game drive and were incredibly successful! This park is famous for its flamingos, but it had been raining too much for them. However, we did see lots of animals that I hadn’t seen yet: tree-climbing lions, white rhinos, Rothschild giraffes and tons of buffalo, zebras, water birds, and baboons who almost attacked me for my sandwich. We spent the afternoon lazing at the local lodge before returning to the campsite and getting ready for the next day’s adventure.

We spent about twenty minutes looking for the tree-climbing lions. They were too far in the distance for my dinky little zoom, but we also spent those same twenty minutes looking at a lizard that turned out to be a tree branch. I felt… observant.

The elusive white rhino.

In a month and a half I’ve forgotten the name of this bird. Paul?

We went to a “picnic site” called Baboon Cliff and when I brought out my lunch, BECAUSE IT WAS A DESIGNATED PICNIC SPOT, I was ruthlessly ATTACKED BY A BABOON! BECAUSE IT IS CALLED BABOON CLIFF! Fucking bastards.

Distant Rothschild Giraffe.

At Lake Naivasha we briefly visited a workshop where local women would be given supplies and paid to knit stuffed animals and clothes for sale. This octopus is possibly the cutest thing to ever be knit. Why is an octopus wearing a scarf?!?

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How Not to Get an Ethiopian Visa (Part 1)

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I guess I didn’t take a single picture in Nairobi so here is a picture from the internet of jacaranda trees, my new favorite tree, in Nairobi.

As I was traveling and sharing my itinerary with friends I would meet along the way, I would mention that I was going to Africa and specifically Kenya. Every single person I had met had either been mugged themselves or had never been and only had friends who were mugged while in Kenya. I had a panic attack about safety and decided to book a proper overlanding tour (more on that later) through Kenya and Ethiopia to ensure safety. As of writing this, I made it out of Nairobi without getting mugged and I consider it a personal victory.

But I arrived in Nairobi the evening before my tour group met and I was talking to someone about my trip. When I mentioned Ethiopia they asked about applying for their visa. I responded that I would just get it at the border, because in my notes it said “Ethiopia – Visa on Arrival.” She informed me that Ethiopia only issues visas on arrival at the airport and now I was going overland and could not get the visa on arrival. Interesting. Panic set in.

The next morning was a Sunday, but it was my only day in Nairobi, a big city with resources, to get shit done. I knew I only had two options: 1) Beg the Ethiopian Embassy in Kenya to give me a visa or 2) Ship my passport back to the U.S. and then get it sent to the border town in rural Kenya. Both seemed titanically impossible so I set about the first.

The Ethiopian Embassy was closed on Sunday, but when I talked to someone from the tour company, they said to try the American Embassy to see if they could help at all. I went to the new American Embassy (if you remember in 1998 the U.S. Embassy in Kenya did not fare so well) and arrived at the gates. A Kenyan security guard greeted me there and asked if I had a badge. I told her no, but I have my passport. She told me I was not allowed in without a badge.

I may or may not have made a scene.

WHAT!?!?! I AM AN AMERICAN CITIZEN IN CRISIS! MY EMBASSY SHOULD ALWAYS BE OPEN TO ME! I REFUSE TO LEAVE WITHOUT TALKING TO AN AMERICAN!!!!!

I’m sorry, sir, but that is not possible. No one is in the office today.

At the moment, two Americans sauntered out of the embassy wearing badges. They obviously worked there.

CLEARLY THERE ARE PEOPLE AT THE OFFICE! I DEMAND TO SPEAK TO SOMEONE!!!

After about 15 minutes more of this, I won, and was let in… through the first gate. At the second gate, I was greeted by more Kenyan security guards. They asked me why I was there. I explained my need of an Ethiopian visa and they said that no one at the embassy could help me. Instead of repeating my explosion, I took the calm route, because clearly they could already tell that this crazy white man was not taking no for an answer. I explained that if they were traveling in the U.S. and had a problem and went to the Kenyan Embassy and were told it was closed for two days, that they would be upset too. Traveling crises don’t happen on a Monday-Friday 9-5 schedule. They agreed and after about 30 minutes of negotiating, I was able to talk to the on-duty Marine posted at gate 3 who then connected me TO THE ON-CALL EMERGENCY PERSON WHO I KNEW EXISTED THE WHOLE TIME!!! I understand the guards were just doing their jobs, but it was very frustrating. Ultimately, the on-call person told me that they couldn’t really help me, but would write down that there may be an American citizen stranded at the border. Thanks.

I spent the whole night trying to find contact information in Moyale, the tiny border town between Kenya and Ethiopia. On my third attempt, I ended up connecting a couple of dots and locating the main expat hotel in this small town and I found a phone number for it. When I asked them how to ship something to them, they responded that you actually had it shipped to a private bus company in Nairobi (which I later found out was actually owned by the hotel) and then your package rides the bus up to the border.

The next morning, my tour left without me and I told them I would meet up with them in the afternoon. I then went to the Ethiopian Embassy. I waited an hour for them to open and almost as soon as I started filling out my first form I was briskly turned away. They also did not seem to catch my hints about a bribe. Plan #1 was not going to work.

I then set off for the mysterious bus company. Most of my time in Nairobi was spent in the fancy ex-pat districts with posh shopping malls and embassies lining the streets. This bus company was on the East side, which is to say, my taxi driver parked and I climbed over a pile of trash taller than myself to cross to the bus company. When I talked to them about shipping something to them, they acted like it happened every day and of course they could send up to Moyale. I then raced back to other side of town, went to FedEx, paid a surprisingly small amount of money to ship my passport from Kenya to the States and then a surprisingly large amount of money (4x as much!) to pay for the return postage. A couple hours later, my taxi met up with the group and the waiting game began.

As I write this, I am without my passport and without internet, only hoping that it makes it to the border. God speed.

UPDATE: I made it to Ethiopia, but Part II is even better – and by better I mean I threw another tantrum.

SWEET GLORIOUS WIFI (A Very Important Post)

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Hey everyone! I know it’s been about a month since I last posted, but it hasn’t been my fault! I swear! I’ve been traveling through the darkest reaches of Kenya and Ethiopia for the last 5 weeks and I’ve been having a blast! However, wifi hasn’t exactly made it to this part of Africa in a major way. A couple places have it, but I would never be able to upload all of the pictures and since I know most of you just read this for the pictures, I felt it would be pointless to just post words. But I’m at a hotel in Ethiopia that has great wifi and in just a couple of days I’ll be leaving for Dubai and the developed world! Hallelujah! But don’t worry, I will be sure to post about all of my misadventures in Kenya and Ethiopia because trust me, there is some good stuff. Bandits, Border Police, Ancient Churches, Lions, Tribal Women’s Boobs, and much much more.

But until then, I thought I would still put something up. For Christmas this year, I kept telling my mom no gifts, and I decided to send her this email to reiterate that. Then I realized that there are a lot of people who like me and I hope get some enjoyment out of my blog or at least some people get enjoyment out of me getting throwing up on planes at 3AM. Either way, I thought I would share this with everyone! Don’t feel any pressure, but with Thanksgiving right around the corner and the holidays just beyond that, it just seemed right to put this up. So donate what you can whether it’s 10,000 dollars or 10,000 Vietnamese dong (50 cents) you’ll be making a difference! So here’s my email in full!

As I write this from a hotel in Gonder, Ethiopia having just come from the Blue Nile Falls, the Lalibela Churches, and the ruins of Axum, I can’t help but think how fortunate I am to have been given this opportunity to travel the world without a thought to the consequences. I don’t have horrible student loans that need to be paid immediately and I have the resources to be able to arrange any kind of trip I choose. I have climbed mountains, swum to the depths of the oceans, and I’m currently on my 9th country. I guess what I’m trying to say is, I feel like I don’t deserve any gifts. All I’ve been doing is enjoying myself and I certainly don’t need any rewards for that!

So instead, I’m supplying a list of charities and NGOs that I’ve either visited along the way or also just a couple that I like and support. Choose your favorite. Choose all of them. It’s up to you how much to give. I also don’t care if you give in my name. In fact, give in your own name! Take that tax deduction for yourself! Thank you so much and I can’t wait to share with all of you the gifts and stories that I’ve gathered from around the world.

Cambodia:
New Hope Orphanage
http://www.newhopecambodia.com/how_to_help.php
Visited in June with my sister and we played with lots of adorable children.
https://bhamed.wordpress.com/2012/06/24/angkor-what/

Bangladesh:
ICDDRB – International Centre for Diarrheal Disease Research, Bangladesh
http://www.icddrb.org/donate/overview
My friend Yoshika worked for them and we had fun evaluating water pumps all over Srimongol!
https://bhamed.wordpress.com/2012/08/23/tea-time-in-bangladesh/

India:
Mother Teresa Foundation
http://www.motherteresafoundation.org.in/youcanhelp/donate
I actually cried at the Mother Teresa House. Talk about one inspirational lady!
https://bhamed.wordpress.com/2012/08/24/get-me-out/

Ethiopia:
Awassa Children’s Project

http://awassa.org/

This is an extremely well established orphanage and community vocation
training center that is doing incredibly work for children who were
orphaned because of AIDS.

Obscene Amount of Plane Flights:
Carbon Offsets
I’ve been using a whole lot of jet fuel and this is how I will be able
to sleep at night.
http://www.carbonfund.org/individuals

This is a healthy mix of different things to donate to so I hope something strikes a chord with you. If you want any more information about any of these charities or my experience with them feel free to ask! Thanks for everything and Merry Christmas!