I met the stars...enough said.
13 countries + 6 months + 1 backpack = Realizing a Dream
The last international stop before heading home was Hong Kong. HK may seem like a weird way to go home from Africa, but with my airline ticket, I had to fly through HK on every major flight leg of my trip. To this point in my trip, I had spent plenty (and I mean plenty!) of time in the HK airport but had never actually been into the city. After a 14 hour flight from Johannesburg, I couldn't stomach another 15 hour flight home so I decided to spend a few days in the city. Going from the wide open spaces of Africa to the chaos of HK was a bit of a culture shock. Being four days from home, I tried my best to keep myself busy to help pass the time because at this point, I was just ready to be home. This isn't to say I wasn't enjoying travelling because I definitely was but now that I was on my way home, my mind had already shifted.
I spent the first and second day exploring HK Island, the third day at HK Disneyland (post to follow...) and the final day exploring Kowloon. There is so much to see in HK, its hard to summarize it all here. There are some iconic things of HK; Victoria Peak and the Peak Tram, the Star Ferry, HK Harbour and the Symphony of Lights and designer stores.
To me, HK was a dichotomy. It was a combination of old and new, traditional and modern. Without this combination, I don't think HK would be the same, it wouldn't have the same appeal and I don't think it would be such a draw. I think this combination of the old and the new, the traditional and the modern, is what makes HK so fascinating. HK is a modern, vibrant and bustling city but behind all of this, there are traditions that run deep and are held sacred. In some places, the streets are lined with more designer stores than I even knew existed. The shopping malls were gigantic and I think I rode more escalators in the four days I was there than I have in my entire life. The MTR (HK subway) whisked you anywhere you wanted to go in minutes with the quick scan of a chip card. On the flip side, there is the deeply traditional side of HK. The Star Ferry connecting HK Island and Kowloon is an icon of HK's heritage and the British influence. Riding the boat across the harbour, you couldn't help but feel the history. There were temples, both obvious and those hidden in the back-streets, that were smelt before they were seen. Big spheres of incense were burning with smoke escaping into the streets reminding the modern streets of the cities past and its strong Chinese heritage. Junks sailed in the harbour alongside big tankers demonstrating the harmony of old and new. Peaceful Chinese gardens were flanked by towering skyscrapers showing the two sides of this diverse city.
Its was a cool experience and a great way to end the trip!
Livingstone and Victoria Falls is one of those places where its hard to get bored. The activities on offer are endless and you could end up spending too much money if you weren't careful. There are tons of different ways to see the falls...helicopter flights, river cruises, even a bungie jump over the canyon. There were animal encounters, extreme sports and more. Being the end of my trip, I splurged a little bit and did something I never thought I would do. No, I didn't jump off a bridge, but I think what I did is equally as crazy. I took a micro-light flight over the falls.
For those of you who don't know what a micro-light is, it is basically a seat with wings powered by a lawn mower engine. Trust me, I'm not exaggerating. When I signed up, I didn't really put a whole lot of thought into what I was doing but when I arrived at the air field it all suddenly became very real. Luckily I found out afterwards that micro-light pilots only need 30 hours of flight training to get their license.
When walking out to the micro-light, the first thing you see is warning signs...not very reassuring. The seat was smaller than I expected and the seat belt was similar to something you would get on a carnival ride...again, not very reassuring when the flight takes you over one of the biggest waterfalls in the world. At this point, however, it was too late. I was strapped (I use that term loosely) and we headed down the runway.
Getting Strapped In...
Heading Down the Runway...
Boy was I scared for the first few minutes in the air! The wind is strong and the air is cold. You realize very quickly that your completely out in the open way up in the air and the feeling is very unnatural but as soon as I saw the falls, I forgot all about it. Seeing the falls from the air, like being in its spray, was spectacular. It gives you a completely different perspective of the vastness and size of the falls. As we flew over the falls, a rainbow appeared. It couldn't have been more perfect. We flew through the spray and I was speechless.
Seeing the spray of the falls for the first time from the air
Taking in the falls
Loving every minute of it!!!
Our overland trip from Kenya led us to Victoria Falls or Mosi-oa-Tunya, "the Smoke that Thunders", in Zambia. Victoria Falls, the seventh natural wonder of the world, is located on the Zambezi River between Zambia and Zimbabwe. The explorer David Livingstone, as in "Dr. Livingstone I presume...", was the first explorer to see the falls. He came down the Zambezi River and first saw the falls from Livingstone Island, right on the edge of the falls (luckily he got off there or things could have been very different...). Livingstone said of the falls, "scenes so lovely must have been gazed upon by angels in their flight".
Statue of Dr. Livingstone
We arrived at the falls late in the day after another long driving day on bumpy roads. Everyone was excited for what was to come which made the drive seem particularly long that day. Travelling in Africa is different that anywhere else I have travelled. There are so many awe inspiring things to see across the continent but when travelling overland, it takes a long time to get from one to the other which leads to some long driving days. You can see these things faster by flying but besides it being ridiculously expensive, I think you miss too much. You miss seeing the real Africa; the mothers going to collect water with their babies strapped to their backs with brightly coloured cloth, the kids screaming and waving excitedly at the truck as they walked home from school in their uniforms, herds of cows, elephants or even giraffe crossing in front of the truck, and just seeing what normal life on the continent of Africa looks like. So, while we were all a bit tired of driving by the time we arrived at the falls, we definitely remembered that its not just about the destination, the journey is just as important (if not more).
Our leader Hannah gave us a bit of a briefing of what to expect of the falls. Because we were visiting the falls at the tail end of rainy season, there would inevitably be a significant amount of water flowing into the canyon. Just as the traditional name implies, we saw the smoke and heard the thunder long before actually seeing the falls. She warned us that we would get wetter walking along the viewing pathway than we would in a shower. While we understood what she was explaining, the amount of water didn't really hit us until we felt the spray coming from the falls.
Walking along the beginning of the pathway, there were puddles of water. They got bigger and bigger the closer we got to the falls. We started the fun puddle jumping our way through these excited about what lay before us. We found out quickly than Hannah was right. We were hit with the force of the spray and it absolutely blew our socks off! The power of the water coming off the falls was shocking. About 30 seconds after walking into the spray, we were soaked. As we walked across pathway in front of the falls, the force of the water was blowing us backwards. With really flimsy slash non-existent railings, we all got a bit nervous of being pushed off the edge so we walked very slowly. There were times when we were in the spray that it was so strong we couldn't even open our eyes. What an experience! To be drenched by the spray of the infamous Victoria Falls was just surreal and almost indescribable and something I will never forget! I didn't want to leave...
After spending almost 45 minutes in the spray, we were cold and headed back to the truck to dry off and grab our cameras. At the beginning of the pathway, there was a cunning entrepreneur that set up a stall renting ponchos and crocs to all those many tourists. I mean, good for him, because some tourists will pay for anything but lets be honest, a cheap plastic poncho was not going to keep any water out!
After drying off and fighting off souvenir salesman, we headed back towards the falls to try and get some pictures. We obviously couldn't get as close as we had before because of the spray, but I wasn't going to go to Victoria Falls and not take any pictures of it. It was a bit of a feet to get clear pictures of the fall but with some patience and exploring, we were able to get some nice shots.
The Falls through the Spray
Ending my time in Africa at Victoria Falls put a huge exclamation mark onto my trip. There is one thing at Victoria Falls that I have always dreamed of that I didn't get to to experience. Years ago on Globe Trekker, I saw one of the guides visit the falls and visit Livingstone Island. During the dry season, you have the opportunity to visit Livingstone Island, the place where Dr. Livingstone first saw the falls from Zambia. Livingstone Island is right on the edge of the falls in the center. From the falls, you swim across the falls to something called "Devil's Pool". Devil's Pool is a safe swimming pool on the edge of the falls that allows people to swim as close as possible to the edge of the falls without being pushed over. A natural rock wall under the water, at the very edge of the falls, stops people from falling over despite the strong current. I saw the guide on Globe Trekker do this on that episode and ever since that day, have dreamed of doing this. Because I visited at the end of the rainy season, this was not an option (understandably...) but one day, I will go back and I will swim in Devil's Pool!
Before going to Africa, I was so scared and almost pulled the plug on the whole thing but I am so happy I didn't. Africa is such an incredible continent. Each country is so different from its neighbor and there are new surprises around every bend. I'm so glad I went and I can't wait to go back! Dogon country in Mali, South Africa, visiting the rock churches in Ethiopia, the possibilities are endless...
While in Malawi, we spent two days in the small town of Kande Beach on the banks of Lake Malawi. When over-landing in Africa, spending two nights in the same place is a luxury that isn't taken for granted. Two nights in the same place means that you get a break from taking your tent down and likely means a sleep in. Initially when we arrived in Kande Beach, we had two things on the agenda...relax and roast a pig.
On our second day in Kande Beach, there was an opportunity to go on a village walk early in the morning. Like I previously said, one of the best things of staying in a place for two days is sleeping in; going on this village walk would have gotten in the way of this. Also, we had been on some village walks before and they weren't all that interesting. They usually led to empty classrooms and shops where the guides got commission so I was wary of going. For some reason, my friend and I decided to go and I'm so glad I did. The experience in Kande Beach turned into one of my favourite memories of my trip.
Two local guides picked us up at our campsite and led us to the village. It was a boiling hot day and we walked for over an hour through the kasava fields to reach the village. The closer we got to the village, the more people we had join our group. There were people trying to convince us to go to their shops after our tour was complete, children looking for pens and locals who were just curious. Our first stop (after getting a nice cold drink at the local shop) was the Kande Beach Primary School. We walked into the school yard during recess and were absolutely mobbed by the children. Within 30 seconds of walking into the school yard, both my hands were being held and I had a train of about 50 children following me. All of the children wanted their pictures taken and unlike my experience in India, all they wanted in exchange was to see themselves on screen. They were so excited to make funny faces, smile pretty or just look into the camera. The children were so sweet and it was fun just spending time with them taking their picture and seeing their reaction when they saw their faces on the screen.
When recess was over, we were taken into the library of the school. One of the teachers at the school gave us some information on the educational system in Malawi and more specifically, the Kande Beach Primary School. The library we were sitting had been sponsored by the Government of Canada. There was little Canadian flags all over the library. The teacher was so proud showing us their little library and was so grateful for the resources that had been sent. As a Canadian, I thought this was amazing; to see some of my tax dollars going to help a little school made me feel really good.
We learned that the school has 1500 students and only 10 teachers. Hearing this absolutely shocked me. In Canada, we complain when a class gets any bigger than 25 and in Malawi, there is an average of 150 students in a class. We are so spoiled! There are no desks, the kids sit on the floor. Some students have textbooks books and some have to share with 10 other students but they don't seems to care. The children seem so happy to be at school and that they have the opportunity to learn.
After visiting the library, we were taken to the standard four classroom. This was an absolutely incredible and unforgettable experience. We walked into the classroom and I was immediately adopted by three friends near the front of the class. They were so excited to show me their notebooks, their classroom and teach me some of the songs they learn at school.
Standard Four at Kande Beach Primary School
My New Friends
The coolest part of the visit was the songs the class taught us. I didn't want it to end! Everyone who knows me knows that I cannot dance so don't laugh at the bad dancing and the absolutely non-existent coordination. My lack of talent didn't matter to the kids, they were just excited to have us there and I had an absolute blast.
After our visit to the school, we headed over to the local clinic run by members of the community. This village tour has turned out to be one of my favourite experiences of my entire trip. Seeing the community take what little it has and work to improve the lives of its children through education and the members of the community through the small medical clinic was inspiring. Like I said in my last post, the outlook and positive attitude of the people of Malawi has made a serious impact on me. They have so little compared to what we have in Canada and yet, they are content. They treasure what little they do have use it to improve their lives and situation. On that day, I made a decision...one day, I will go back to Malawi and will volunteer at a school. The travel I have done up to this point has all been focused on me, what I want to do and what I want to learn. This is going to change and next time, it will be to help someone else.