Archive for the ‘Africa’ Category

Land of the Pharaohs (May 18 – June 12)   1 comment


It’s easy to romanticize Egypt: Terraced balconies overlooking sand colored cityscape, minarets jutting up in every direction echoing the call to prayer throughout the day, large pillows surrounding a table with mint tea and apple sheesha, the Nile lazily meandering through the scorching Sahara bringing life to where it would otherwise be impossible, and ancient ruins carved from stone showing the might of the pharaohs who ruled the world’s super power of their time. And if you can look past the vicious touts, occasional terrorist attacks, current political unrest and spree of kidnappings this is very much what you will find.

Great Pyramids of Giza

Egypt for us began on a trip to Gaza. A few kilometers out of town we caught our first glimpse of the famous pyramids of Giza; the last remaining wonder of the ancient world. As we mounted our camels we were met with the 4,500 year old stare of the giant monolithic sphinx who sits perched up front, guarding the pyramids. Behind it were three great pyramids and six smaller queen’s pyramids. The first pyramid, the Great Pyramid of Khufu completed in 2560 BC, is the largest ever built (146 meters) and is truly an amazing sight. These large stone structures have withstood time and mother nature with relative little damage. The huge stones used to create the pyramids make you ponder the logistics of moving such stones hundreds of kilometer down the Nile and up the structures themselves.

The second pyramid, of Khafre (Khufu’s son), is slightly smaller (136 meters), but rests on a higher section of the plateau. It maintains a portion of the polished limestone covering at its apex. To see these pyramids fully covered in smooth stone and perhaps painted and covered in hieroglyphics would be a fantastic sight. After climbing up a ways for some pictures we head back to the camels and start towards the third pyramid.

The Pyramid of Menkaure is smaller than the other two (65 meters) and is flanked by 3 satellite pyramids. Despite a 12th century caliph’s attempt to demolish this pyramid (unsuccessful 8 month attempt) it stands as magnificently as the other two. Magan and I climbed one of the satellite pyramids and got a great view of the surrounding area. After taking in the panoramic view we headed up the Nile to Saqqara.


Traveling south along the Nile to the town of Saqqara we come to another large necropolis with the center piece being the Step Pyramid of Djoser. Entering the courtyard we pass through a long corridor of columns connected to the walls shaped to resemble large bundles of plant stems. At the end the court-yard opens up to Egypt’s oldest pyramid – one that served as a prototype for future pyramids. Its six distinct steps create an interesting yet underwhelming experience after the showpiece in Giza. On the opposite end of the courtyard lie several tombs while in the distance, through the dusty air, sit other pyramids including the famous bent pyramid.

Abu Simbel

From Cairo we boarded a luxurious sleeper train for the over night journey to Aswan. While Aswan doesn’t offer  much more than a pretty view over the Nile and laid back atmosphere, it serves as the gateway to the temple complex of Abu Simbel. The convoy (to avoid sand people) departs at 4 am and takes about three hours. Abu Simbel consists of two large structures built by Ramsses II to commemorate a large victory and show his might to Egypt’s Nubian neighbors. Although the temples were built around 1250 BC they were relocated in 1968 AD to a man-made mountain to avoid being covered in water due to the Aswan dam. The first temple we visited was the temple of Hathor and Nefertari. The temple is dedicated to the goddess Hathor and the front has 10 meter tall monuments of Ramesses II and his wife Nefertari. The interior contains small rooms attached to a main large room covered with hieroglyphs, carved and painted. Thanks to the glorious revolution happening in Egypt at the time we were the only people in the temple.

Next door sits the much larger Great Temple of Abu Simbel dedicated to the gods Amun, Ra-Horakhty, and Ptah. The out side is covered with various hieroglyphs and carvings, but most impressively with four 20 meter tall statues of Ramsses II. Inside the temple is a large room with eight large pillars and statues of the pharaoh. The walls are covered in carvings showing various victories in battle as well as some graffiti from the mid 1800’s AD. Attached to the main hall are multiple smaller rooms full of colorful pictographs of upper egypt.


Luxor, formerly Thebes, was the ancient capital of Egypt and contains many temples and tombs. On arrival we hired a taxi and set off for the west bank of the Nile that contains a huge necropolis. The first stop was the Valley of the Kings. This valley has many underground tombs carved into the mountainside sloping down toward a large burial chamber. These were all full of pictographs and hieroglyphs as well as large sarcophaguses that once housed the mummified remains of the pharaohs.

Further along the west bank we passes two large structures known as the Colossi of Memnon depicting the pharaoh Amenhotep III en route to the impressive Mortuary Temple of Queen Hatshepsut. This monument sits at the bottom of a cliff and  rises 97 feet high consisting of three levels with double colonnade and a large ramp up the center. The temple is covered in reliefs and is by far the most impressive structure on the west bank.

Back on the east bank, in the center of town, sits the Temple of Luxor. While this temple certainly adds character to the city the only thing of note is a hieroglyph on an obolisk that I am pretty sure is a X-Wing.

A couple kilometers north of Luxor sits the best temple in the area, the Temple of Karnak. This vast complex covers 2 square kilometers and contains many buildings and courtyards, but the main draw is the forest of gigantic pillars. These massive columns stand at 80 feet and create a humbling environment. Standing and walking amongst these pillars rates with the pyramids of Giza.



The last few days spent in Egypt were in the Sinai Peninsula. We first departed at 10pm for Mt. Sinai to see the sun rise over the desert. Mt. Sinai gets its claim to fame because the pharaoh was the first in a long line of people to kick the Jews out of his country. Once completed they wandered for some time and during this time Moses went up Mt. Sinai where God gave him the 10 Commandments. Here sits the famous Saint Catherine’s Monastery that continues to house monks at the base of Mt. Sinai.

The remainder of our days were spent under an umbrella on a beautiful beach with clear blue water in Dahab.


Posted June 14, 2012 by Magan and Brenden in Africa, Egypt

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Rwanda: Genocide and Jesus (May 16 – 25)   1 comment


Upon crossing into Rwanda it felt as though we were able to take a large breath of fresh air. The air is crisp, the countryside is green and hilly and there is no litter. While throwing trash in the street is a hobby in most African countries, here it is actually illegal and you’re not even allowed to have plastic bags. The people happily smile, wave and shout camara (hello) or mozungu (white person) rather than crowding you trying to get you to buy something or give them money.

Rwanda’s nickname ‘the land of a thousand hills’ becomes obvious as we travel south along a winding road to Huye (Butare) through undulating hills covered with lush plots of green crops and banana trees all sloping down, sometimes terraced, into a valley of rice or cassava fields. We were extremely lucky while in Rwanda because we were able to spend time with John who took us around with ZOE Ministries, which is a Methodist organization that works with orphans here. We also had a chance to see the history first hand of the 1994 Tutsi Genocide.


**The first two pictures below are off the web, because they wouldn’t allow us to take pictures inside the memorials.**

The very mention of Rwanda often evokes images of a gang of machete wielding Africans marching through the streets slaughtering men women and children for belonging to a different tribe. This is exactly what we saw at many of the country’s memorials and museums. Since the 50’s, while under Belgian rule, the Hutus had continuously tried to kill and remove the minority Tutsi from Rwanda. In 1962, after independence, the killings continued culminating in the 1994 genocide.

A few kilometers from Gikongoro on a hill that used to be a campus for a technical school houses the most grotesque and captivating memorials I have ever seen. The area was called a ‘safe zone’ and at one point was even occupied by French troops. Many Tutsi were told to seek shelter from the slaughter there, but rather than safety they were simply being gathered for mass execution. Everyone there was killed and thrown into mass graves while the french troops played volleyball.

As we walked past the museum we saw long brick buildings that once housed vocational classrooms but now contained the remains of the genocide victims. As we walked toward the farthest building we could smell a faint stench in the air, almost like a rotting animal must be near by. As we turned the corner and entered the first room our senses were overloaded by the acrid smell of decaying bodies piled onto tables and contained in a small concrete room along with the sight of scores of bodies twisted and contorted, shriveled and covered in lime, frozen in time in their death throes. Their faces seemed to call out to your soul while their withered skin revealed rib or leg bones ripped back by machete strikes and their skulls were shattered by nail ridden bats or blunt wooden clubs. Standing there with your stomach in knots, breathing through your mouth to minimize the pungent odor and gazing through tearing eyes due to the vapors of lime or decaying flesh you ask yourself how could this have happened.

Bodies fill every room in multiple buildings that range from adult to toddlers and 2 month old babies. Even our guide pointed out the room that contained her family. A true reminder and solid proof of the attempted genocide that killed 1,000,000 people and left many more wounded or displaced.

We also visited churches in Nyamata and Ntarama where 10,000 and 5,000 people were killed respectively. While many people went to churches to seek refuge, this simply acted as a convenient place for the Interahamwe (Hutu death squads) to find large numbers of Tutsi. The churches are filled with the clothes of the dead as well as hundreds of skulls and bones. The outsides are punctuated by large holes from grenades and the insides are riddled with bullet holes. One building had a large brown stain at one end; the guide informed us that this is where babies and small children were smashed against the bricks. Outside each church were large underground vaults that serve as mass graves for those killed at the churches.

ZOE Ministry

(Orphan with two younger sisters now has a house, pig and business selling avocados)

The other extreme of human nature was shown in the work of ZOE Ministry (Click here for more information). If anyone is looking for a great ministry or charity, this is it; although it is more of an empowerment movement than a charity. The group gathers orphans from poor areas and puts them through training for food security, income generation, hygiene and more. Rather than give them food and clothes (which is an ephemeral solution and merely creates dependency) ZOE teaches them to earn their own money or grow their own food and not rely on anyone but themselves and each other.

Kid and Father with one leg (year 1)  –  Pig given by ZOE for family to sell piglets

Kid and mother with crippled leg (year 1)   –    Bananas given to ZOE by orphans

The people we met and stories we heard were truly amazing. Orphans living under bridges at age 7 were raising pigs and goats or growing bananas two years later and looked completely different. Many of the kids were raising younger siblings or looking after their old or disabled guardian and had no hope until ZOE Ministry gave them a chance. The kids in the program for 2 or 3 years no longer needed help from the organization and would even tell ZOE they no longer needed help and to move on and help others. Many of these kids had found other orphans in the area and were helping them to get established. Even if your attitude is “screw them Africans”, at least look at the above link and see how ZOE truly lets these orphans help themselves. America could learn a thing or two from ZOE.

1) This orphanage gave us many gifts and told us they no longer needed help and that we should move on and help others. 2) Magan helping feed the orphans at lunch time.

Posted June 7, 2012 by Magan and Brenden in Africa, Rwanda

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Safari (May 9 – 12)   1 comment


Since we took so many photographs on this Safari, we have put them all into a slide show at the bottom. There are around 60 pictures, so it might be a good way to pass time at work.

Lake Manyara

Our safari began with scenic Lake Manyara. This large salt water lake is surrounded by lush forest and small plains. Here we saw many animals all congregated in a small area, perfect for a short game drive and introduction to the area.


The second two days of our trip were spent in the Serengeti. When you imagine Africa this is what you think of. While this park has a vast array of landscapes, the most impressive was the large sea of grass that stretches for miles in every direction punctuated with the occasional granite rock island or lone acacia tree. On these plains were thousands upon thousands of zebra and wildebeest. During our stay there we saw a wide variety of animals including lions, leopards, hippos and many different types of antelope. It was amazing seeing the kilometer long lines of hundreds of wildebeest beginning their annual migration to follow the rains.

Ngorongoro Crater

The third night of our safari was spent on the rim of the Ngorongoro Crater, a collapsed volcano, where we had a spectacular view. That night we camped in a grass field which is apparently grazing ground for water buffalo because they kept us up half the night munching the grass around our tent. Worried that we would spook them and start a stampede or mauling frenzy Magan and I laid perfectly still and let them go about their grazing. The next morning we descended into the crater which contains large grass fields surrounding a soda lake (full of flamingos) with small patches of forest. This crater creates a micro-environment where all the animals live in close proximity. Although the animals can move over the steep cater walls they prefer to stay there due to the year round supply of water and green grass. Here there were many lions as well as a few black rhinos.

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Zanzibar (May 1 – 5)   1 comment


After a long-awaited hot shower in Dar es Salaam we enjoy a night in a bed before being woken up by call to prayer which Magan described as a satanic sound that gave her the chills. From Dar we took the ferry to Stone Town on the once independent (formerly Portuguese then Omani Arab) spice island of Zanzibar. Here we wandered aimlessly through the winding streets enjoying the smells of the distinct culture of this island. Since the town is more of a labyrinth than a grid we let ourselves get lost amongst the kids running and men playing dominoes often being greeted by hello, jambo and even Hakunna Matata or Rafiki.

St. Josephs Cathedral and Slave Memorial

Slave holding cell and inside the cathedral

Stopping at random stalls to try the local cuisine or grab a cup of spiced tea we were able to immerse ourselves into the flow of daily life. While in Stone Town we also visited the former slave market and St. Joseph’s cathedral. Hundreds of thousands of slaves were captured by the Omani Arabs and sold through here to the Seychelles, Mauritius, Persia and other destinations. Thanks in large part to Dr. Livingston slavery was abolished and a church built on this site. The baptismal pool is where baby slaves (unwanted) were drowned and the altar sits at the former whipping post.

Baptistry and Altar

The next few days were spent at Matemwe beach on the eastern shore where white coral sand beaches meet clear turquoise water. Here we had the entire resort to ourselves and enjoyed good food and warm ocean. One day we hired a local to take us snorkeling at the reef near a resort island a couple of kilometers away. The beautiful coral and hundreds of colorful fish made for a day of fun that will be long remembered and more than makes up for the down side of the beach, which is the local population coming down to defecate on the shore during low tide.


TAZARA (April 28 – 30)   1 comment


Zambia to Tanzania

After our fill of Victoria Falls we decided to head for Tanzania. This can be accomplished via flight (too expensive), bus (no fun) or the TAZARA train; we chose the latter. To begin we took the bus to the Zambian capital, Lusaka, where the TAZARA office is located. Upon arriving we are immediately pounced upon by Africans like a pack of dogs on a three-legged cat. They all want to taxi us to our destination, however, since it was only about a kilometer away we decided to walk. While taking in the sights we notice this city more closely resembles a land fill than a capital city.

Later at the TAZARA office we asked for tickets on the Friday train (the other departs on Tuesday) and were told the ticket salesman is not there. “OK, we’ll come back tomorrow.” “No”, we’re told, “they will be back next week.” Apparently only two people in the world can issue tickets, the other one must be in Tanzania. I can’t imagine the training and certifications one must need to issue train tickets.

Maintaining high spirits we hop on a bus for Kapiri Mposhi to buy tickets at the station. Kapiri Mposhi is located 200km north of Lusaka and is truly the jewel in the Zambian crown. A bustling metropolis with one paved road and a couple of guest houses acts as the gateway for TAZARA. The logic for making the train depart/arrive here rather than Lusaka is lost on me, and probably anyone who dares to put logic and Africa in the same sentence.

A dirt road leads to the TAZARA station built along with the train and track in 1970-1975 (none of it changed/upgraded since). “No train today” was how we were met, “try tomorrow.” Ah, we get to enjoy Kapiri for another day. There is a God. The next day we buy tickets and are told we are to be separated into male and female cabins. After my initial frustration I realize that a bunch of Africans cohabited together on a train for 2 days is probably a bad idea.

As we depart for our 40-48 hr train ride we watch the scenery flow past and are regaled by stories of our fellow white passengers about Lusaka that include many muggings and one incident where a drunk driver passed out and ran over several people sleeping in the bus parking lot. The next day we entered Tanzania and the scenery immediately improved. Almost as though whoever drew the borders created a squashed telephone shaped country purposefully avoiding nice scenery. Beautiful green forests and mountains surround the train and the remainder of the journey passed rather uneventful, except for an exploded bottle of Coke. It was a very nice train ride even if it did take 56 hrs and arrive near midnight at Dar es Salaam.


Chobe NP (April 23)   1 comment


Taking a day trip from Victoria Falls we headed out to Chobe National Park in Botswana. The park runs along the Chobe River which divides Botswana from Namibia and eventually joins the Zambezi before pouring over Victoria Falls.

We began our safari in a small boat gliding along the river surrounded by some of Africa’s most beautiful scenery. We were accompanied only by our guide and one introverted Jap girl giving our trip the feel of a private safari; one advantage of traveling in the off-season. While in the river we saw elephants drinking at the river’s edge and covering themselves in dust or creating mud to spray on their backs. We also saw crocodiles, water buffalo, a giant lizard and large herds of hippos which stayed submerged with the exception of the tops of their heads, ears twitching, coming up only to stretch and yawn.

Elephants and Hippos

Water Buffalo and Giant Lizard

After the boat we stopped at a nice resort where we had a delicious buffet lunch then headed out in an open top vehicle . Along this portion of the trip we saw many animals including baboons and monkeys, giraffes, various antelope and a surprisingly large number of elephants. Chobe has around 60,000 of them. It was amazing to drive amongst these large animals and watch them playing and grazing, many of them only a couple of feet from the vehicle.

Elephants and a Crocodile

View from the boat on the river and Lily pads in the river

After our ride through the park we headed back, this time taking the ferry to Zambia, where we stayed in Livingston for a few days and saw the falls from northern side of the river. The overall view was nicer on this side, but that is about all Zambia has to offer; except for the train to Tanzania…

On the river and a baboon having a drink


Posted May 13, 2012 by Magan and Brenden in Africa, Botswana

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Bungee! (Apr 21)   4 comments

Victoria Falls


In the heart of Africa Magan and I head out to the suspension bridge spanning the Zambezi river that separates Zimbabwe and Zambia. To our back is the giant and stunning Victoria Falls. To our front is a large gorge with the rapidly churning Zambezi river 128 meters below. While this may not be the highest in the world (they claim 3rd highest) it is certainly the most beautiful.

**Just to recap, for Vicky Lou, we must all remember the Australian who did this jump back in January of this year where her cord snapped sending her splashing into the croc infested and rapidly churning waters below: Click here for the story and video.**

As we step out to the ledge and into the breeze the beautiful scenery surrounds us. We are flanked by steep cliffs that drop straight down to the river that is covered with mist from the falls forming a permanent rainbow below. Suddenly you’re snapped back to reality as your told to stand up and put your toes over the line. You look down and it suddenly hits you that you’re about to jump 111 meters (cord length) toward the fast flowing, crocodile and hippo infested water below. Every instinct tells you to stop and take a couple of steps back, but before you even know what’s going on your arms are outstretched and you hear the countdown: 5…4…3…2…1…BUNGEE!!! You swan-dive out and feel yourself being pulled toward the ground and watch the water rushing up to meet you.

After a few seconds of gut-wrenching free-fall you feel the cord tighten and you bounce and swing around for a minute or so while the employees strap a cable to you and haul you up. This is a complete adrenaline rush and by far one of the best things we have ever done. The awesome feeling of jumping 111 meters towards the ground leaves you with a buzz for the next few hours. It takes two joints (marijuana cigarettes) just to calm our nerves.

Below are our videos and photos from the jump; Enjoy!

Video 1: Brenden’s Jump: Basic video with our camera. Enjoy my spastic jump into the abyss.

Video 2: Magan’s Jump: This is a more professional video taken by the company

Getting Ready

The Fall

The Bounce

After the jump


A few pictures from the Zambian side of the falls. This side of the falls was just as impressive as the Zimbabwe side, but gave a better view and comprehension of the immense size of Victoria Falls.