Friday, April 20, 2018

The cost of setting up

When setting up life in a new country, you will need some cash. If you need to wait until you get paid, it will be quite difficult. We took a guess at what we would need to get set up at about 20k CHF, and that has proved out to be about right. Here is a breakdown of the things we needed to pay for: 

  • Rental Deposit = 3x montly rent
  • First Month rent
  • Heath insurance premiums - in Switzerland, you need to select a plan within 90 days, and then you are back-covered. Of course, you also owe back premiums. So, for us, they sucked out two months of premiums. 
  • Renters insurance - annual premium
  • Rail passese
  • Registration fees for the city/canton
  • Money for moving-related incidentals (car rental to procure household goods)
  • Down payment on furniture rental or purchase of necessary furniture pieces
  • Grocery and incidentals budget during first few weeks until paychecks roll in

Question Assumptions

When setting up life in Switzerland, we've noticed some differences from things we take for granted in the US.  One of the notable ones is that dental treatment is not part of the basic health insurance. Then, when you buy a premium coverage package, you are basically only covered for one cleaning a year.

At first, I rejected this idea. I thought that if I get two cleanings a year in the US, I should get the same everywhere. But, then, I decided to question the assumption. The Swiss have some of the healthiest people in the world. Do we really need two dental checkups a year? Only time will tell. I suspect it's not good or bad - just different.

Friday, March 30, 2018

Dreams and Intentions: An Expat Journey Begins



I'm sitting here hoping to avoid typos as I compose this blog post from my temporary apartment in Zurich, Switzerland. I type on the soft keyboard on my iPad; still waiting for the air shipment with my computer to arrive.

The Dream

When my now husband, Rick, and I took our first trip together in 2002 to go cycling in Italy, we waxed poetic about what it would be like to live in Europe. Over the years as we've traveled together to all parts of the world, that desire started to grow. Also, as my career grew in leadership dimensions, I began to crave an opportunity to lead outside the culture I had spent my whole life in. I wanted to stretch and grow as a leader, and that would be one way to do it.

The Action

About a year ago, I decided my next career move should likely be the one that took us overseas - preferably to Europe or Latin America. Rick also decided to step away from daily work in 2017, which would free us up to consider a move. In mid-2017, I started having conversations with my management chain about whether such a move would be possible given we had very limited software engineering happening outside the US. Concurrently, I stared entertaining exploratory discussions for leadership positions at other companies in my target areas. In October, I got the call for the thing I was pretty sure would be the one. It captured all the things I was looking for - a product I admire, an area of focus aligned with where I wanted to work next from a technical standpoint, and a location in Europe near the mountains.

Sharing Learnings

I have a ton to learn now, which is both terrifying and incredibly exciting. A new language, a new country, and a new job all await. I feel honored to have the privilege of going on this adventure. I will be blogging about the things I've learned and things that happen along the way - from silly things like how groceries are packaged to cultural things to logistics of getting set up as a US citizen expat.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

New Zealand - November 2017







Nov. 13

Arrived in Christchurch mid morning. Picked up Maui camper van. Took a couple hours for that errand. Then, looked for a lunch spot. Decided on King of Snakes Asian fusion. Had Panag curry beef cheeks and salad with sashimi yellow tail along with stir fried veggies. After lunch we visited the cathedral ruins and the shipping container shop area. There was a nice NZ phot competition and we tried to pick our favorites. Upon leaving, we brushed the side of the camper van on a parking barricade :(. Our last stop was Pak n Save where we loaded up on food for the first few days. Then we settled in at the Top 10 Holiday Park for the afternoon and got to know the logistics of our van.


Nov. 14

We drove out in the morning to find mountains - enough suburbia was already had. The first couple hours were like driving through the Central Valley of California. Then, after a small pass, we were in a Valley and a town called Fairlie. We stopped and tried the famous meat pies. Rick had salmon and bacon and I had a decaf almond latte thanks to my elimination diet. Then, we stopped at the market for a few more provisions. The town was like an old gold rush town. Very cute. Another pass had us gazing at the lovely peaks of the southern alps. We stopped at lake Tekapo holiday park. We climbed to the Mt John observatory and did the long lakeshore walk back. After dinner, we walked to the Church of the Good Shepard, which was still a zoo at 8 pm. We took a short nap and the got up at 11 for night sky photos over the lake as Telapo is a dark sky reserve. Amazing!



Nov 15

We decide to stick with a less driving, more being plan for the week. So, we set off for our next destination - the Hooker Valley. We stopped on the way to scout out the freedom campground at Lake Pukaki and snapped some photos. Then, we drove the final 45 minutes to the White Horse campground. After paying and staking out a spot, we did the 3 hour hike to Hooker Lake and back. Then, we refueled and I had a nap. In the late afternoon, we hiked down to the village to enjoy a beverage and then hiked back to make dinner. After dinner,
We hiked back to the mountaineering memorial to watch the golden hour before going to bed. 



Nov 16

We got a fairly early start with a morning hike up to Kea Point. After snapping some pics of Mueller Lake from a new angle, we walked over to the Mueller Hut track and did the first 30 minutes to where we could get a view of the mountains. Following our early hike, we drove down to Twizel. I got my first chance to drive a camper van and to drive on the left side. Woo hoo! We made arrangement in Twizel for a bike hire for the next day to ride part of the Alps to Ocean A2O route. And, we made a stop off to buy some groceries. We had some lunch at Shawty’s - a local watering hole that was recommended by Lonely Planet. I had a walnut and arugula risotto with a side of fried eggs. Following our errands, we headed up to grab one of the prime camping spots on Lake Pukaki. We had a clear view of the lake and mountains behind it. I took a brisk dip in the lake in the early evening. Then, we enjoyed reading as we watched the sun go down. 



Nov 17

We got up early to pick up our bike hire. Just before 9, we headed out from Twizel toward Lake Ohau. The route followed the valley along the canals connecting the lakes. As we headed south, we had glimpses of a range that very much looked like Rohan from Lord of the Rings. We imagined we were chasing the riders as we entered single track on the shore of Lake Ohau. After 10km of single track, we arrived at the village on the lake and sat on the shore of the adjoining Lake Middleton to eat our packed lunch. After lunch, we headed back, but took a hillier route over Makuna Terrace, which gave us some new vistas. We arrived back a bit earlier than expected and stopped for a smoothie after our ride at Poppies Cafe. The afternoon was spent driving to the Wanaka area for the next couple days. We went via a mountain pass that reminded me of the American West. Just before bed, we made it down to the Wanaka tree for golden hour.



Nov 18

We had a lazy morning. We walked to town and got some groceries and provisions for the trek. After taking those back to the camper, we walked back to town and had lunch at a brunch spot. I had eggs - delish. Then, we met up with our kayaking tour. It was us and another couple from Bern. We went out in a smaller inlet called Johnson Arm and ended at a small island for a tea break. Then, we had a difficult paddle back into the wind. We made a stop in town for a glass of wine before meandering back to our campsite. I crashed and after a shower and an hour of reading fell asleep for 10 hours!



Nov 19

My shoulders weren’t as sore as I expected in the morning, which was good. We headed out after breakfast to climb Iron Summit overlooking the two lakes. Unfortunately the view of Haewa was minimal to none. We had a nice hike nonetheless. Rick took a crash at the end, which meant picking gravel out of his hand and knee, but we got him patched up and bought some bandages to supplement what we had in our kit. We drove downhill toward Queenstown through a landscape right out of the American West and ended at the bucolic Lake Hayes. We took a walk around the east side of the lake in the afternoon before cooking our lamb rump steaks for dinner.



Nov 20

We got up early and hiked around the east side of the lake, admiring the foxgloves and gorst in bloom. Then, we slowly packed up our things in the camper and prepared to return to civilization. We made a rubbish stop and then returned the camper and caught a taxi into Queenstown. After checking in the hotel, we got our tickets for the trek and transport and looked for lunch. Lunch was Japanese featuring an asparagus salad with smoked salmon. Then, we headed to the hotel to do laundry and prepare for our trek. We dined and watched the sunset from the hotel.



Nov 21

At 6am we were down for breakfast. Then, we got picked up at 6:45 by Shael of Go Orange tours. Shael was a pretty funny guide and excellent bus driver. We arrived in Milford Sound fjord after about three hours. We loaded up on the boat and took our two hour cruise of the fjord. We had the treat of seeing dolphins and whales, which is a bit unusual. The skies were clear, which meant the  waterfalls were less impressive, but that was a good price to pay. Following the cruise, we were dropped off at the Divide to start our trek. We walked 30 minutes uphill, and then took the diversion to Key Summit along with the side trip to the Lake Marian overlook. That was a worthwhile hour with 360 views of the peaks. The last 20 minutes dropped us to Howden Hut and its charming lake. We got to work cleaning up, making dinner, and avoiding the sand flies. 



Nov 22

I started the day by giving Rick his birthday card before breakfast. We got rolling about 8am due to the long day ahead. The trip to Mackenzie Hut was relatively fast, and we arrived before lunch. The next part up to Harris saddle was a long slog and quite warm out. We went through a lot of water. We were grateful for the ample streams of glacial water running off the mountains. On the way, we saw a large avalanche across the valley from us. We arrived at the saddle exhausted, but needing to focus for the descent. We took a nice break at the shelter before pressing on. About an hour later, we rolled into Routeburn Falls Hut, which was quite a bit more luxurious than Howden and was filled with young people. We had a restful evening.



Nov 23

There was a fast descent from the hut to the river valley below, and the rest of the walk followed the river canyon down. The temps rose as we descended and the last few km were unbearably hot. But, we finally arrived at the trailhead and had a pleasant surprise when Shael showed up an hour early to shuttle us back to town. We were the only two passengers on the entire bus. We got to town, did laundry and cleaned up and had dinner at Flame, which Shael recommended. It was a nice Thanksgiving day for us.



Nov 24

We took a lazy day around Queenstown having a long breakfast at the hotel followed by a stroll across town for a massage to try to work out my shoulder after the long trek. After the massage, we took a lunch break and then headed back to the hotel for napping and packing. In the evening, we had dinner and then headed up the gondola to catch the sunset. It wasn’t quite as good as the evening before, but was still a stunning sight and nice way to close our time out in the South Island.



Nov 25

We got up at 4:30am to catch our flight back to Auckland- ugh. After arriving in Auckland, we picked up our rental car and drove to Raglan - a beach town with a nice surf break. We had lunch at a local diner called Orca and then walked to a local surf school, which turned out to be a guy named Steve’s house. He was gearing up for a lesson at 2pm, so we rushed back to our car and got our swimming gear and headed back to his place. We ended up taking a lesson until about 6pm with a young French couple from Strausbourg. I got up a couple of times and thoroughly exhausted myself after many years since the last surfing. Rick was grinning ear to ear riding the waves. All in all a good time. We ended the day checking into our AirBnB and showering before heading to dinner at the Wharf, which was amazing.



Nov 26

We drove out to the Tongariro National Park and checked into the Tongariro Crossing Lodge, which is a Victorian era B&B. The room was spacious and hosts generous. We took two short walks to a waterfall and the “mounds” as an easy recovery from surfing. We had “Sunday Roast” dinner at The Station Restaurant, which was the hotel’s recommendation. 



Nov 27

The Crossing was “on” for the day based on the weather forecast. We took the 7:00am pickup and were at the trailhead just after 7:30. We aimed for a brisk pace, trying to target the 1:30pm shuttle back. The first hour we covered 4km. Then, the first big climb to south crater slowed us down, followed by an easier climb to Red Crater. The descent from Red Crater was epic with deep volcanic sand, but a nice view of the emerald lakes. I only fell 11 times! Sadly, the view was socked in all day and we never saw the top of Mt Ngauruhoe (aka Mt Doom) or Mt Tongariro. But, we enjoyed our walk up past Blue Lake and through the very long descent. In the end, we barely missed the 1:30 shuttle and ended up on the 3:00 shuttle. But, we still had time for a nap and call to my parents at the end. We dined at Eivens, which was serviceable.


Nov 28

We took the long drive back to Auckland and dealt with construction traffic preventing our entry to the parking garage of the Grand Millennium. But, we prevailed. Then, we took a walk out to the wharf and had delicious Peri Peri chicken at the Afro-Portuguese chain Nando’s in the evening.



Nov 29


We took a free walking tour of the city and then enjoyed lunch at Mexico. After lunch we toured an exhibit of Maori portraits at the Art Gallery done in the late 19th century. Then, we headed back to the hotel for our long journey home. We left around 8pm and arrived back at 11am the same day - an amazing International Date Line time warp.







Sunday, April 16, 2017

Patagonia, March 2017



Rick's Flickr for the trip. https://www.flickr.com/photos/itinerantrick/sets/72157681937724215

Timelapse of all our lunch stops in the mountains: https://youtu.be/n7Ab87K-BIk


March 12



We arrived in Buenos Aires and headed to our hotel in the Palermo neighborhood, called the Miravida Soho. Rooms were nice and traditional, but small. We spent the afternoon walking around and enjoying lunch on the sidewalk. In the evening, we took the hotel wine tasting. We had a torontes/Sauvignon Blanca blend, a Malbec from Mendoza, a Malbec from Salta and a Malbec/Cab Franc/Metlot from Patagonia. And, some rare beef, some cheese, some prosciutto and empanadas, which means we have no room for dinner...


March 13




Another mostly travel day today. Flew from Buenos Aires to El Calafate in Patagonia. We did get a couple hours in the afternoon to wander around town. The best views today were coming in for a landing along Lago Argentina. We stayed at Hotel Michelangelo, which was the least exciting of the trip, but clean, family-friendly and serviceable. We dined in the hotel restaurant on traditional local stew - the restaurant was called Isabel. We had 'El Vigilante' dessert. It was cow cheese with a sweet potato 'pudding', which was very much like quince paste. Talk about Spain meets South America!


March 14



We went to the Parque Nacional Los Glaciares for a day trip. We had about two hours of hiking along walkways along the Perito Moreno glacier in addition to a boat ride up to the glacier itself. Most of the big calving happened while we weren't watching, but we saw a few pieces fall off. We dined in the evening at Mi Ranchito restaurant.


March 15



We took a "day trip" to Torres del Paine in Chile. It was a stunning and clear day. Our guide said it's only 1 in 20 days when the entire massif is clear of clouds. We got in quite a few vistas and a 1 hour hike to stretch our legs. We saw condors, flamingos, guanacos, rias and a grey fox. We arrived back in town around 10pm, and were happy for local late-night dining. We dined at Buenos Cruces, which was delicious and a charming restaurant.


March 16



We arrived in El Chalten after a 3+ hour bus ride from El Calafate. We checked into the Don Los Cerros hotel and walked around town-another beautiful day! We scoped out restaurants to try and grocery stores and had a quick lunch at a forgettable pizza place. The ice cream place - Domo Blanco was worth a re-visit. Dinner was at Don Los Cerros.

March 17



Epic mountain day today. 21km hiking to Lagune del Torre just below Cerro Torre. Clouds finally lifted off the peaks around 2:30 pm. Warm weather, light winds and epics views. Life is good! Dinner was at La Tapera - universally the highest rated in town.


March 18



Another epic day in the mountains. Rick officially declared this one of Sarah's Death Marches. A bit over 25km and about 1,000 meets of gain - 500 meters in the last "1 kilometer" (really 1.68, but who's counting!) to Laguna de Los Tres at the foot of Fitz Roy. For those not familiar, this is the "North Face" made famous by the clothing brand. Dinner was again at Don Los Cerros.

March 19



Took a recovery day today with cloudy skies and feet that felt like hamburger. Hiked up to Mirador de Los Condores. It's only about 3km round trip, but after we crossed town on foot. Did lots of roving about town - stopping at park headquarters to tell them about our huemule sighting, shopping for groceries, etc. and still ended with about 15km for the day. Oh, and a nap, which is required at least once on all vacations, and a massage. Life is good! Dinner was at Fuegia. We had paella, which was good.


March 20



Super-spectaculoso Fall color today. We did the Madre y Hija route connecting the Sendero Cerro Torre and Laguna de Los Tres routes. It might be the most under-appreciated route in the park. The trail has no kilometer markings or colored markings like the rest, but is very clear to follow. Something like 23k today with stunning views after the early rain cleared. We got clouded in for sunrise, but the weather made up for it when Roy G Biv made an appearance across the Cerro Torre watershed. In the evening, we thought it was time to try out a traditional parrilla - Asador - Parrilla El Viejo Nando. I had the biggest plate of lamb I've ever seen. Ok, that is off the list.


March 21



The sunrise did its magic this morning, and then we got in our last 20km+ hike to Lomo del Pliegue Y Tombado, a 1000 meter high outcropping where you can see all the major peaks of the area - if they aren't shrouded in clouds (which they were). We bundled up and ate our lunch before making our descent. We decided another visit of Doom Blanco and Fuegia were in order.


March 22



We bussed back to El Calafate and enjoyed a walk around the lake in the early evening. We even found some flamingos! This visit we stayed at Hotel Kosten Aike, which was a very nice place and only 10 dollars more than the Michelangelo. We returned to Buenos Cruces for dinner, which was again fantastic.


March 23 & 24



We flew back to Buenos Aires and stayed in the wonderful Hotel Fiero - definitely recommended for service and quality. We did the wine tasting and dined in their restaurant, which was highly rated and very good. A great meal to close out our time in Buenos Aires.

The next morning, we walked all the way across town to the Recoleta neighborhood and visited the famous Recoleta Cemetery and an artists' market before walking back. It was about 10km each way. The Hotel Fiero was nice enough to offer us showers in the pool area before heading to the airport to return home in the late evening.









Tuesday, December 27, 2016

A journey in Sub-Saharan Africa - November 2016

I recently had an invitation to collaborate with technologists in Cameroon, so took the opportunity to explore a bit of that country and to then jump off for a safari in Kenya and Tanzania and visit the partner of a friend from here in the states in the Arusha area.

Professional Journey in Cameroon
For a description of the professional part of the journey, I posted a bit on LinkedIn.

Photos
My Flickr from the whole trip
Rick's Cameroon (with a real camera)
Rick's Kenya (with a real camera)
Rick's Tanzania (with a real camera)

A few non-professional observations about Cameroon




Development

The country is probably the least developed I have visited, followed by Bhutan - and not counting our visit to the runway in Bangui, Central African Republic. While Cameroon has a bit more western influence than Bhutan as evidenced by a couple of French grocery stores and ample French imports, Bhutan has a much more deliberately developed tourism industry that is also quite environmentally progressive, along with a stable supply of electricity for those who can afford it. If I weren't surrounded by mobile phones and people discussing digital entrepreneurship, I would think I was in 1960 in the cities of Cameroon and 1890 in the country. The country is not set up for tourism at all. This is a shame, because it could be a perfect destination for ecotourism. There are very few roads, and we only experienced one that was of modern standard on the drive from Douala to Kribi on the coast.

Dress

Cameroonians are pristine in the way they present themselves. I was dressed business casual during our trip and felt significantly under dressed most of the time, while being significantly more dressed up than is typical of Silicon Valley. People have custom-tailored clothes made of local waxed-cotton batik and each person really expresses herself or himself in clothing. Colors and a cacophony of patterns rule the day. It is not unusual to see a man dressed in head-to-toe batik suiting. Women also make modern and traditional shapes out of these batiks and combine them with more western attire. I bought a couple bolts of fabric and had a skirt made while in Yaoundé. It became a bit of a goose chase, as we ended up flying out earlier than it was ready, so a friend picked it up and sent it to Douala by bus. Then, we were barely able to retrieve it in Douala before leaving, as it came on a later bus than expected - after two trips to the bus station.


Religion

We attended a Presbyterian church during our stay. The music presentation was significantly more robust and lively than what we have here at home - with a choir in the loft above and another one in the front of the church. Hymns were sung from shared songbooks with lyrics, but no printed music. Some of the hymns we knew, and others we did not, but definitely had roots in French classical music. Based on my comparison with Baptist services in Ivory Coast as a child, the Presbyterians are still on the reserved end of worship style - even in their cultural context. The sermon was in French on Luke 8 where Jesus healed the man with demons and cast them into a herd of pigs. The preacher was energetic, but call and response somewhat limited. I again admired the colorful and attentive dress of the parishioners as they processed out of the church row by row. After the service, the elder women formed a very colorful prayer circle outside the church. Cameroon appears to be primarily Christian and primarily Protestant, but with a significant populations of Muslims - probably about 1/3. Cameroonian Christians and Muslims seem to be quite well integrated and united. However, in the capital, there is a Muslim neighborhood, primarily comprised of migrants from other African countries that is much less integrated.



Time

Cameroonians, on average, don't have much money - so time becomes a currency and something to spend or lavish on others. We found people were extremely generous with their time - taking ample time away from their business and other concerns to assist us in discovering their country. I also found that people were extremely optimistic about time - how long travel distances would take to cover, how much traffic would impact things, etc. We often found ourselves starting adventures much later in the day than we anticipated and to our fast-paced Silicon Valley minds, everything just moved slowly. Many times things that seemed like they should be simple transactions required inquiring with lots of individuals by phone or in person. Planning was something that happened in real time - we often felt like we were in a JIT compiler. In addition to being optimistic about time, I also found Cameroonians are generally more optimistic than I would expect about lots of things.



Food

Cameroon is a veritable fruit basket, with a lot of plenty and ability to cultivate any number of crops. Meals typically involved "casava" or manioc root, fish, chicken or meat, fried plantains and sometimes dishes made with spinach or other greens the most unique thing we tried was pureed spinach with peanuts. The raw peanuts gave it an acrid taste. For breakfast, people typically had beignets and red beans and tropical fruits. It's clear a number of the dishes that we associate with the south have their roots in West Africa. Due to the relatively high nutrition levels, Cameroonians are of significant stature. Most of the women were my height or taller.

Albinism

I was shocked at the numbers of people with Albinism we saw during our stay in Cameroon - much higher than I've observed in other places we've traveled. In subsequent research, it appears that rates are about 4x what we see in North America. I also learned that Albinos are subject to superstition and violence, particularly in Tanzania.



Adventures

Both of our attempts at outdoorsy things resulted in interesting stories. Like many developing nations, it seems that there is an aspect of "why walk, when I can drive"? But, I do so like to walk. So, we looked for a couple opportunities during our week.

The first attempt was successful, walking to a hill-top hotel in the capital one afternoon with Laura, a Peace Corps worker. That was lovely. The second and third attempts in nature was where things got interesting.

The day we arrived in Douala, we took at car out to Buea, at the base of Mt. Cameroon. See the section above about time. :) Essentially, we arrived in Douala 1 hour late at 9:00 am due to a late flight. Then, the van that picked us up at the airport had a flat tire. Then, after arriving at our hotel, we met up with our host in the city, Georges. Then, we ate lunch. Then, we started driving toward Buea. Traffic was bad. We made a grocery stop, picked up a friend, Lionel, in a hotel on the outskirts of Buea, but couldn't find him right away, so 30 minutes later resumed our journey. Then, we encountered road construction, so the drive to Buea was another two hours. This put us at the base of Mt. Cameroon around 3:45 pm. Then, the mountain was covered with clouds, so Lionel did not want to walk. But, I insisted we should enjoy the forest regardless. Apparently, I'm a bit naive. We pulled over in the village at the bottom of the mountain and inquired with a lady running a fruit stand who then made a call. A young man appeared who could take us up the mountain (I didn't know we needed an escort!). Then, we had to stop at the village chief's home and request permission to walk the trails. We answered questions about where we were from, why we wanted to go on the mountain, how long we wanted to walk for, etc. and eventually received permission. We started our walk around 4:00 pm and came down in the waning twilight with Lionel and our guide, Emmanuel. It was a really nice walk, but there were a lot of logistics involved and we ended up shelling out 30,000XAF to Emmanuel and the chief - or around $50 USD.

After our meetings were complete, we headed down to a beach town called Kribi. The idea was that we would overnight in Kribi and then take a day trip to hike in a national forest called Campo Ma'an the next day. We stopped at the department of forestry the afternoon we arrived in Kribi to seek permission to enter the park, but were told we had to sign in from the town of Campo. We decided instead of heading down to Campo we would enjoy a nice lunch by the sea and leave early the next morning for Campo. Our intent was to leave at 6:00 am, drive for a couple hours, hike for a couple hours and return for lunch. We got up at 5:00 and were in the hallway at 6:00 along with Lionel, our guide. However, our driver, Martin, and car were nowhere to be found. We waited until 8:00, and then Martin arrived. Even though we were starting later than anticipated, we still had plenty of day ahead. The first 30km of road was great - well paved down to the new port being constructed in Kribi. After that, we entered the dirt road, which was more mud than dirt due to being in the tail end of the monsoon. The car rolled through deep mud puddles and over dodgy bridges. Three hours later, we passed a sign saying the town of Campo was 40km ahead. I asked Lionel if he was SURE that we could still get there, hike and return within the confines of the day. He said yes, so we continued. Six hours later, we arrived in Campo and found a ranger. He got in the car with us and took us to talk to the custodian, who was having lunch. But, he called ahead to the park office and someone said they would sign us in. So, we headed down to the park office, which was 1km away. As we made the last turn, we crossed a bridge and headed into another mud hole. This time, we got stuck! As much as we tried to go back and forth, we just got more stuck and the car covered in mud. Some villagers came and got us out after 30 minutes. We backed on to the bridge and they started washing our car off with river water. They found some damage to the plastic under the vehicle, so another villager crawled under and chicken-wired our underside back together. While this was happening, I approached Lionel and the ranger, who were having an animated conversation. I was told that after we signed in, there would be another 25km to get to where we could hike. It was 2:30 pm and would be completely dark at 6:00 pm. I said "absolutely not!", and we decided to head back. The ranger insisted it would be faster to take a logging road instead of the highway, even though it was 50km longer. He led us out on a dirt bike and we arrived back in Kribi around 6:00 and started the 200km drive back to Douala after that. We got to Douala around 8:30 and had dinner at the hotel before crashing. This was yet another example of the eternal optimism around time :).

On Safari - Kenya and Tanzania


On Sunday, November 20, we flew to Nairobi via Bangui, Central African Republic. Bangui has been a site for refugees from the conflict in Democratic Republic of Congo, and there is a UN camp right off the tarmac.

We only spent the late evening in Nairobi, enjoying a relatively luxurious stay at the Sarova Panafric Hotel, which is highly recommended.

Monday, November 21

We drove from Nairobi to Lake Nakuru passing through the Rift Valley and enjoying the rainbows as the rain clouds cleared. We saw zebras, impalas and baboons all along the highway. We made a brief stop at a chapel built in 1942 by Italian POWs in Kenya. We enjoyed lunch at our hotel and then set out for an afternoon game drive.

We saw the following on our drive around Lake Nakuru: superb starling, long-crested eagle, zebra, Grant's gazelle, Thompson gazelle, impala, cape buffalo, waterbuck, lion, white rhino, black and white colobus monkey, vervet monkeys, guinea fowl, flamingoes, baboons, giraffes, warthogs, and Egyptian geese.



Tuesday, November 22

Tuesday was a transit day, where we drove into Masai Mara and stayed at Lenchata Tourist Camp. 

Wednesday, November 23

We woke up at 3:30 am to go hot-air ballooning on the Mara, followed by a champagne breakfast and a Loo with a View.

We had a very long game drive that followed and saw the following: ostrich, black-backed jackal, spotted hyena, banded mongoose, secretary bird, bee-eaters, bateleur, nile crocodile, elephants, lions, hippos, wildebeast, eland, gazelle, impala, Coke's hartebeast, topi, waterbuck, giraffe, zebra, warthog, cape buffalo, african hare, vultures, cranes, bustards, white-bellied kingfisher, souther ground hornbill, maraibou stork, lappet faced vulture, comorant, African harrier hawk, lilca breasted roller, red billed oxpecker, cattle egrets.

The interesting story from today is that two days prior, 5000 wildebeasts tried to cross the Mara river at their usual spot. However, the leader spotted some greener grass downstream from the typical exit point and led the heard that direction. Unfortunately, there was a steep cliff and 14m deep water at that point, and 1000 wildebeasts drowned. Their carcasses were floating in the river and every carnivorous bird from hundreds of miles around and all the crocodiles were enjoying a Thanksgiving feast!



Thursday, November 24

We had a 12 hour drive and somewhat difficult border crossing, but finally made it to Serengetti. I'm not sure why they don't set up immigration in the adjoining parks, but made us go all the way around. We did enjoy the views of the lusher coffee growing regions below the parks.

We also saw hundreds of elephants in the game reserve portion of Masai Mara, including a line of 14 that passed right by our vehicle!

There was a HUGE rain just as we were entering Serengetti with Ozzie, our new guide. He did spot a leopard in the grass, which Rick saw and I didn't. Then, I spotted a dikdik. We bedded down in Serengetti Wilderness Camp, which was significantly nicer than Lenchata.



Friday, November 25

We did an all-day game drive in Serengetti. It was a predator kind of day. We found a couple leopards in trees, 2 cheetahs under trees, and one chasing a gazelle that had 4 cubs! It was also a giraffe kind of day - we saw many dozens of them - males and females and caught some eating.

Saturday, November 26

Another game drive passed in the Serengetti today. We found lions in a tree, a leopard with a hyena in a tree, caught zebras having sex and another big rain. In the evening, we arrived on the rim of Ngorongoro Crater and Rhino Lodge - also highly recommended. We had to pay the park fees, as wire transfer did not happen between our Kenyan tour company and the Tanzanian tour company. It was $454 for 24 hours in Ngorongoro, and pretty much cleaned out our available cash!



Sunday, November 27

We had our game drive in Ngonrongoro and saw a couple new things: reed buck and black rhino.

We found a huge pride of lions after we followed a feeding couple back to their den. We witnessed lion sex and a group of cubs hidden behind the obvious part of the den - thanks to a ranger studying the wildlife that called our guide.

Following our drive, we headed down to Arusha for the remainder of our stay.



Monday, November 28

We met, Philipo - the fiance of a former cycling team mate, Emilie. Emilie was back in the states closing up her belongings and readying to move to Tanzania. Philipo picked us up at 8:30 at the Outpost Lodge, and we started a 25km walk to some waterfalls, across the city, through the outskirts and into villages high on Mt. Meru. We picked up 4 village boys who wanted to practice English and become guides. They escorted us across the creek crossings. One of the boys, Omega, knew quite a bit of Spanish and French also. We arrived back completely exhausted, but happy to have spent time in nature and on our feet.

Tuesday, November 29

Philipo met us again at 10:00. We made a town journey - to Masai Market, Arusha Natural History museum, the central market, where I paid an American price for some spices. We rode in a collective out to the Cultural Heritage museum, which is the largest collection of African art in the world. After lunch there, we headed back to town. We could not find a collective with space, but fortunately, an older German couple stopped and offered us a ride. Philipo headed home, and we headed for the airport, and the 30 hour journey home.

Friday, August 5, 2016

Berlin, May 2016



Photo album: https://www.flickr.com/photos/itinerantrick/albums/72157666677511654

I had the opportunity to travel to Berlin for business in May 2016. Of course, this meant a great opportunity for ItinerantRick to travel along and see the sights with me.

We arrived late in the evening on Thursday, May 26 and checked into the Radisson Blu hotel. Due to being travel-weary, we headed to the hotel restaurant for a late dinner. I enjoyed my first taste of Spargel season with 250g of white asparagus, black forest ham and boiled potatoes. A nice salad rounded out the meal. After dinner, we decided to stroll the 1 mile down to the Brandenberg gate from the hotel and caught some great photos of it in the twilight.

We got up super-early on Friday to do some sightseeing. First up was the Pergamon Museum, which has the Ishtar Gate and a bunch of early near-east artifacts. We spent a couple hours touring the museum and the collection. After that, we headed for our tour at the Parliament building called the Reichstag. It has a transparent dome on top that you can tour by pre-arrangement. The dome symbolizes government transparency since the unification. Following that, we went through the holocaust memorial and had currywurst for lunch at a restaurant near by. The last part of the afternoon was spent at the National Museum, which featured German impressionists and some more well-known impressionists.

Friday evening, I made my appearance at the IATA Hackathon to present the LinkedIn APIs for developers to use. I stayed until around 9:00 pm answering questions and then Rick came by and we walked for a late dinner at a local rotisserie - Rotisserie Weingrün. The most memorable part of that meal was the smoked ribs we ordered.

Saturday, I was at the hackathon until noon and Rick went to see the Topography of Terrors and the memorial at the Berlin Wall where many died trying to cross.

In the afternoon, we hightailed our way to the Eastside Gallery to view the section of the Berlin Wall that's been turned into an art gallery. The murals were really cool, though they put up some fencing around them that made photography difficult. While waiting for the train back, we heard some great local hip hop pouring out of a building near the station.

We had an early dinner at a local place near the hotel, Emmas, known for "schnitzel the size of your head". That was certainly the case, and we shared a single portion! Best schnitzel ever. I spent the closing hours of the evening at the hackathon working with the developers.

Sunday, I spent the entire day at the hackathon, but Rick spent more time walking around town. We were able to share lunch at a local Biergarten - Zum NuSSbaum. After the finalists were announced, we headed out and across town where we enjoyed dinner at the oldest Biergarten in Berlin - Praeter Garten. It was threatening to rain, so we secured a seat under the canopy. That was a good call, as a heavy shower cleared out the place mid-meal. I enjoyed a schwartzbier for my beverage.

Monday, we got to see some sights all day. We spent the early morning at the DDR museum, the church across from our hotel and in the local park. Then, we went up into the Fernsethurm or Telespargel to enjoy lunch with a 360 view. We got a time lapse video of our meal with a huge thunderstorm rolling in.

After a brief rest, we decided to be super-touristy and took a boat along the river and enjoyed a gelato while we were waiting.

Tuesday, we had a nice walk through the center of town before packing up and heading for the airport. It was a fast and furious trip, but we certainly enjoyed our first visit to Berlin.