2018 Additions to my Country Count

This year’s 5 “new” countries need a few asterisks because I counted two of them before as I had either spent time in the airport or somehow passed the border without getting a stamp in my passport.

It was 50 some years ago on my first overseas trip when my Icelandic Airlines stopped for refueling in Reykjavik…it was a prop plane!  This past January I did Iceland up properly, with good food and great adventures from snowshoeing to catching the Northern Lights.

    

And I discovered  that of the “two” Mongolias (outer and inner) I had been to the one before that wasn’t really a country, only part of China.

   

Congo was supposed to be one of the five but according to the GPS info on my photo I missed it by over 100 feet.  Although I was told later that in such rural areas the coordinates may not have been correct.

However, Rwanda, Uganda and Senegal were all legit first-timers!

   

 

Iceland*

Mongolia*  inner and outer

Uganda

 

Rwanda

Congo**

Senegal

 

 

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More Misadventures

Even though most of my travels are free from serious hassles I occasionally get caught in one of those quagmires that threaten to ruin one’s trip.  My return flight from Dakar was scheduled for 11PM and check out time from the hotel was noon….usually in this situation I leave my suitcase with the front desk and venture forth on foot for a few hours of exercise and last-minute site checks. Since I had decided to leave my sneakers and most of my clothes behind for the hotel maids, I settled into a comfortable lobby chair and read a book.  An hour before my ride to the airport I received a text from the airline saying my flight was cancelled.  I checked on-line and discovered that there was only one flight a day.  Whoa, panic started fluttering but I knew the tricks or so I thought.

Unfortunately I do not have an international plan on my phone and What’s App was not connecting to Delta or Air France.  I tried Twitter. I tried Messenger. Finally I texted my daughter and gave her my airline info and requested her to call and get me rescheduled.

She happily reported about 30 minutes later that she had secured flights starting 24 hours from now.  She added that she had requested middle seats way in back next to fellow adventurers who had not showered in days.  I smiled in spite of my angst.

         

The last of my clothes…to be worn for 2 days in a row and the view from my new room.

Not knowing if the airline would reimburse me my expenses I tried being frugal.  I inquired at the hotel if they had a room and they happily reported that they had an ocean view with the buffet breakfast for $475.  I almost choked. I replied that the view and food were not necessary and the price dropped to $350.  Unsatisfied, I  inquired if a near-by hotel might be less expensive, explaining in detail my predicament.  The kind manager offered me one at $185.

     

Breakfast on a budget: a roll left over from dinner. It’s tough to feel too badly when you’ve happened upon one of the largest birds ever!!!

Finished another book and survived a trip where all 3 legs were late leaving, late arriving but somehow managed to get me home….just 24 hours late.

 

 

 

 

 

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The Scene in Senegal

What drew me to Senegal was its reputation as the colorful and musical soul of Western Africa. First, a disclaimer, apparently the music and dancing begin around midnight, an hour I rarely experience outside of dreamland. So I cannot speak to that. But the clothing colors, fabrics and design are evident  everywhere scattered among those who choose to dress in Western garb. The Boubou is a long, light and wide garment worn by both men and women although the female cloth is much more vibrant and often accompanied by a head scarf called a moussar that is tied in many fabulous forms. Because I was being respectful I did not sneak any photos of the many beautiful people I encountered. These pictures are attributed to Afroculture.net.

    

Dakar is a city like many in that it has mosques, churches, big buildings both new and old, and of course more than a few futball stadiums.  I was surprised to discover that the national sport is actually wrestling!

   

     

While the roads seem to be in fairly good shape the sidewalks are either non-existent or cracked and dirty. I would not consider it a walkable city.  The corniche has a long boulevard that stretches along the Atlantic on the West side.  Here you will find many hotels, restaurants and the huge African Renaissance monument, symbolizing Africa’s rebirth and commemorating Senegalese independence.

     

The airport is new and at least 30 miles from downtown. As of yet, the only transportation offered are taxis which supposedly are metered (not) but adhere to the posted tariffs (again, not really).  I made sure that the driver agreed to a price before I got in and I paid the extra money for the good toll road which he took upfront; however, I never saw that road.

   

The tour of Goree island was a haunting  expose of the largest slave-trading center from the 15th to the 19th centuries. It has been called the “memory island” as it has preserved the stories and buildings of this horrific time in the joint European, American and African history.

         

This trip I used miles to stay in a fancy hotel, a promise I made to myself after staying in hostels and tents on my last African trip.  The Pullman was in the city proper, abutting the Atlantic ocean and a couple of blocks from the President’s house!

    

 

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It’s All About the Flight!

Delta advertises its service on their new Airbus 350 as “like flying on a cloud.” Really? This I needed to try. Their service from Los Angeles to Shanghai started a few months ago and they offered 3 different classes, all supposed to be superior to the old 747 that they have retired. Often times one can find a great deal on a new route or new service.  I did just that.

    

The 306 seats include two newer additions to Delta.  The first cabin is actually 32 suites where you can close a door for more privacy and a premium economy section offering a leg rest as well as an amenity kit for those 48 seats.  While this plane has at least 100 fewer seats than the 747, it has been calculated that because the plane is lighter and more fuel efficient it will be more profitable.

    

I thought it was difficult to get in and out of that pod and I’m relatively small. With the door closed it was almost claustrophobic.  However, it’s pretty tough to complain when you can stretch out, actually sleep and watch current movies on a much larger screen!

 

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Flashpacking or Not

It’s not like I’ve never been camping.  As a kid my folks would load all of us in a refurbished school bus with a huge tent in the luggage compartment underneath and we’d be off usually for the entire month of June.  I could pitch or strike that tent in 30 minutes by myself!  I’m talking about real camping too, not a KOA or other site that offers showers and indoor toilets.

       

I’ve used squatter toilets, out-houses, loos with a view as well as a few make-shift devices throughout a few continents.  I’ve carried my belongings on my back many times as well. When I was 20 years old I took my first transatlantic flight with the book, Europe on $5 a Day, as my only guide-book.  When necessary due to no other accommodations on treks in the Himalayas or Kilimanjaro it is still worth it, BUT I really do prefer a little more flash and style in my tent, hotel and bathrooms!

    

 

 

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Adventures in Africa: Arduous but Awesome!

When I first discovered Helen in Wonderlust’s Rock my Adventure Tours, I was super  excited about the possibility of  trekking with gorillas, a definite bucket list topper. The fact that the itinerary included countries that I had never visited was an added bonus.  I didn’t hesitate to sign up knowing that she only had 7 spots available.

   

The price was right and the other activities planned were not discouraging; however, I was somewhat concerned about the age of the other travelers. I suspected this was not an excursion for elders.  My group turned out to be incredibly well-traveled and younger than me by decades.  But as we all were willing participants we dove right into all the action with true gusto!  The very active pursuits were matched by some extraordinary cultural events like the Rwanda Genocide Memorial, visits with local families and meals taken as their guests.

    

One of the first fitness tests was our mountain bike ride along the Congo Nile River, a 43 kilometer tortuous dirt and rock trail that almost killed me.  Only three of our eight finished.  I walked over half and even found a youngster willing to push my bike for a few dollars. Although in fairness, he did ask me to carry his school bag.

Two days later we hiked up Mt. Bisoke where each of us had our own porter to assist with our backpacks and hold our hands on the slippery rocks. It turned out to be a long day! We climbed into the van without cleaning up and drove hours crossing the border into Uganda and then boarding a boat after midnight to get to our camp!

        

After a full day of rest on Lake Bunyoni we made our way to Bwindi Impenetrable Forest to find the gorillas! While heading in the direction the trackers suggested we were unable to keep up with those fast-moving creatures. Time and again we’d arrive at a spot just deserted. A few hours later our guide decided to engage one of the trackers to assist us as we were showing out disappointment with each grueling step. This new guy moved as fast as the gorillas!  In fact, my group was unsettled with the pace as he kept disappearing in the jungle’s high growth.  We had to manage as we wanted to see the gorillas as much as we didn’t want to be lost. Once we located the extended family we were allowed to stay with them for a full hour.  Heaven.

      

Safari time in the van and on a boat in Queen Elizabeth National Park was next on the itinerary. We looked for the tree climbing lions and instead happened upon a pair mating in the tall grass. Quite an experience! We also saw a charging young elephant who went after all animals and birds who were basking near the water. Nature is fascinating to say the least.  This is one time in my life when I am capable of staying completely still for hours, just watching in wonder.

    

We then traveled to Kibale National Park where chimpanzees are protected in their habitat.  The trek was not nearly as difficult and we discovered a couple of families quickly.  Our guide, upon noticing my inefficiency taking pictures with my phone, confiscated it and took some of my best photos!  I was way too excited.

    

The next night we went to another sanctuary, this one for the white rhino….and spent the next morning tracking them expecting one of them to give birth any moment.  Unfortunately, we missed that, but one did enter the camp making us stay in the bar for a second drink!

   

Adventures were not over. The last day I was able to paddle board on the River Nile!! FYI, I’m still recovering….but home does offer a few missed amenities.

    

 

 

 

 

 

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Calling on the Congo

My African adventure was to include a hike up Mount Nyiragongo, an active 2 mile high volcano in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and spend the night camping at the rim and seeing the fiery lava lake in the darkness.

I have never been to the Congo and was excited to add it to my growing list of countries.  A month or so before departure,Helen, our tour leader, informed us that some British tourists had been abducted in the Virunga National Park (where we were going) and the gunmen killed a park ranger.  She followed the situation letting us know that she may have to change the itinerary. She suggested that if we still wanted to go we should consider kidnapping insurance and apply for an additional visa to get back into Rwanda afterwards. Without any proper thought I purchased both of those. Who knew? Kidnapping insurance is a thing!

                  

Luckily for me, Helen put forth an alternate plan when the park decided to stay closed for the rest of this year.  We would now climb Mount Bisoke, a volcano within site of the DRC in Rwanda with a lovely crater lake and an easier ascent.

    

Upon reaching the summit one of the park rangers told me that the border between the two countries was within a few 100 feet and they agreed to take those who wanted across that invisible line. Of course! I had someone take my photo as proof. One of the tech-savvy youngsters who had joined me suggested that once I had WiFi I could double-check the coordinates on the picture. Unfortunately I didn’t do this until I returned home only to find out that I was still an additional 100 feet short…..last photograph is actually our group’s pizza delivery for lunch, a porter was paid to carry it up!

           

 

 

 

 

 

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