Monday, December 19, 2016

First Steps in Madagascar: Andasibe

Ranomafana, Madagascar

So to break a recent trend, I am actually writing this blog post while still in the country in which the action takes place.  I have caught up on my posting backlog to mid-November, when Terri and I arrived in Madagascar.  I will try to break our time in Madagascar into three or four smaller chunks to keep it a bit more manageable, and this first part will deal with our time in Andasibe, a wonderful introduction to the wilderness of the country.
Chameleon sticking his face into the light
Arriving in Madagascar in the afternoon of Thursday November 10th was a bit disorienting; seen from above, the highlands of Madagascar look very clearcut and denuded, with dense rice cultivation in the valley bottoms in tightly-packed terraces.  I looked in vain for any evidence of surviving rainforest.  Immigration took a long time, and was spectacularly inefficient, and then buying local SIM cards took a while as well, as did changing money. Eventually we piled ourselves and our luggage into an ancient banger of a Renault and set off for town.  There was none of the usual Third World window-dressing of a fancy new expressway from the international airport leading downtown to wow diplomats and businesspeople.  The drive was agonizingly slow, along narrow potholed roads clogged with traffic, vendors, pedestrians, cyclists, beggars and animals.  It took an hour to move less than 10 kilometres to our hotel, the Sole, and if anything the centre of town was even poorer-looking and more chaotic than the outskirts had been.  We checked into our room and then went out for a short orientation walk around town.  I have been to a lot of poverty-ridden big cities around the world, and while Antananarivo (aka “Tana”) isn’t as godawful as Dhaka or Delhi, or as soul-destroying as Manila or Jakarta, it is not a pleasant town.  There is rampant poverty, widespread begging, indescribable filth and hopeless traffic.  It was quite an assault on the senses after a month in eastern Europe and six months in southern Africa, and we were glad to retreat to the hotel for food and an early night.

The expressive eyes of a common brown lemur

Restored by a good night’s shut-eye, we set off into the chaos the next day in search of airplane tickets.  We had decided to fly northeast to Sambava in a few days, and to explore the national parks nearby Tana in the meantime.  We found a nearby travel agent and paid the excessive price of 210 euros per person one way for a one-hour flight leaving on the 16th.  Madagascans pay only two-thirds of that, and there are also discounts for people who fly into the country on Air Madagascar, but we had to pay full fare.  It costs a lot, but it saves days and days of miserable overland travel, so we gritted our teeth and pulled out our credit cards.

After that we hired a taxi to head out to the old Malagasy royal capital of Ambohimanga, about 20 kilometres from downtown.  It was another Flintstones-era Renault, but it still cost 80,000 ariary (MGA; about 23 euros) to hire for a few hours.  We crawled through the traffic, watching the faces of people in the streets.  Madagascar has a complex history of settlement, with the earliest immigrants (and the Malagasy language) coming from Borneo.  In the Tana area the people look very Indonesian indeed, and the ricefields everywhere adds to the Asian feel.  We eventually got out of the central knot of cars and drove into the surrounding hills which reminded me more of the Kathmandu Valley:  ricefields, multi-storey red-brick buildings and surrounding hills and distant mountains. 

The view from Ambohimanga
Ambohimanga is located on a pleasant hilltop overlooking Tana, and is full of trees and gardens and all the peace and tranquility absent from the capital.  The old royal palace was interesting historically, although it was a bit underwhelming physically.  I preferred the palace gardens, full of birds and jacaranda trees and providing views over the surrounding valleys and hills.  We had a great lunch at a restaurant with sweeping views, having the Malagasy staple of ravitoto (pork cooked in bitter greens, one of my favourite Malagasy dishes) for the first time.  We crawled back into town and I went off to the main downtown street, Avenue de l’Independence, to change some more euros into ariary.  All the legitimate moneychangers were shut (downtown starts to shut down by 4 pm, and it was 4:30) and I ended up changing money with some distinctly dodgy young men on the street.  I didn’t get ripped off, but it wasn’t an ideal situation, and I was happy to get out of there with my pocket brimming with ariary (the biggest bill is 10,000 ariary, less than 3 euros, so you end up carrying around fairly thick stacks of Malagasy currency.

Male Madagascar paradise-flycatcher on his nest
Saturday, November 11th found us in a taxi fairly early in the morning headed through the streets of Tana headed towards the taxi-brousse station.  We got ourselves into a taxi-brousse (a minibus that leaves when full, the basic standard public transport of much of the world), waiting a bit for it to fill up and set off for Moramanga, the nearest big town to the east.  It wasn’t comfortable and didn’t provide views, and the Malagasy pop was loud and inane, but an iPod full of podcasts eased the pain.  We changed in Moramanga for another taxi-brousse to Andasibe, our destination, and spent part of the ride chatting with a Dutch backpacker, Manon, who was full of stories and useful information about her travels.  We finally arrived in Andasibe in early afternoon (what was supposed to have been two and a half hours from Tana having stretched in common Malagasy style into four and a half hours) and settled into our comfortable cottage in the Fean’ny Ala Hotel, an oasis of calm and beauty after the noise and griminess of the road.
Beautiful frog
Andasibe is the most accessible place from Tana to see Madagascar’s wildlife, and as such is the most visited set of parks in the country.  There were several busloads of birdwatchers in the Fean’ny Ala during our stay, and there were always other tourists around during our wildlife walks, but the numbers were by no means excessive.  Andasibe is one of those places that is popular for a good reason:  it’s the best place to see several lemur species, along with lots of chameleons, snakes, geckos and birds. 
Sleeping chameleon

We walked along the road that connects the hotel with the village centre (about 3 kilometres away), via the entrances to three separate wildlife areas:  Andasibe National Park, Parc Mitsinjo and the MMA.  The latter two are administered by local village organizations independent of the Madagascar National Parks, and we decided to do our first wildlife-spotting trip, a night walk, with the folks at Parc Mitsinjo.  On the way past the National Park, we stopped in to find out about admission rates (they had tripled in price since our edition of the Lonely Planet was published in 2012!) and ended up seeing one of Madagascar’s prettiest birds, a male Madagascar paradise-flycatcher, seated atop a nest right beside the entrance gate. We strolled back for a sundowner on the lovely riverside balcony at Fean’ny Ala, spotting several common brown lemurs crossing the road on overhead telephone wires, got our spotlight and headed back to Mitsinjo for our night walk.

The fat-tailed dwarf lemur we saw at Fean'ny Ala
It was a wonderful introduction to the Madagascar forests.  We saw no fewer than six species of chameleons, including the largest species, Parson’s chameleon.  Our guide had an unerring eye for chameleons, as well as for frogs.  On the lemur front, we saw two small nocturnal species--Goodman’s mouse lemur (Microcebus lehikhytsara) and the fat-tailed dwarf lemur (Cheirogaleus medius)--as well as an Eastern wooly lemur (Avahi laniger).  Seeing eyes glinting back at us when we shone our torches around was an unforgettable experience, and we walked back in the dark along the road very satisfied with our walk.  The show wasn't over, with more chameleons visible beside the road, and another fat-tailed dwarf lemur appearing in the trees beside the restaurant back at Fean'ny Ala (as he did every night that we were there).

Crested ibis
The next morning we awoke early, at 5 am.  Partly this was inevitable, as the sun rises at 5:20 and the sky was already light, but the main wake-up mechanism is the sound of indris calling to each other across the river at maximum volume.  Their call, a series of rising “whoop” sounds increasing in volume, can be heard for several kilometres around, and is impossible to sleep through.  We had breakfast and then wandered along to the MMA reserve to see what we could see by daylight.  Our guide, George, was excellent and had a good eye for birds.  We had several encounters with groups of indris (Indri indri, described accurately in our guidebook as resembling “an eight-year-old in a panda suit”), saw common brown lemurs (Eulemur fulvus), lots of well-disguised geckos, some beautiful flowers and a number of new bird species, including the Madagascar crested ibis, a spectacular species that can be hard to see.  It was our first encounter with the beautiful blue coua, and we saw a juvenile Madagascar long-eared owl still in his fluffy infantile plumage and looking slightly like a baby penguin.  Sadly we missed seeing the diademed sifaka (Propithecus diadema) by a couple of seconds, unable to spot him when George pointed him out before he scooted into the shelter of the canopy layer. We were done by noon, had a slightly disappointing lunch at the truck stop at the junction with the main highway and spent the afternoon napping and taking a run along the road.
Our juvenile Madagascar long-eared owl in his fluffy plumage
November the 14th was devoted to exploring a park slightly further afield with George, our guide from the previous day.  We rendezvoused at 6:30 am and walked out to the main highway and then 4 kilometres along the road to reach the Maromizaha Forest Reserve, a little-visited mountainous park that has more undisturbed primary forest than the reserves in Andasibe village.  It was a long walk, mostly uphill, at first through clearcuts and then through secondary bush before finally joining the undisturbed primary forest in which a research team studies diademed sifakas and indris.  We were lucky with indris, having a number of good close encounters with these, the largest surviving lemurs, but our bad luck with diademed sifakas continued despite our best efforts and those of George.  We saw lots of new birds, including Henst’s goshawk, the Madagascar buzzard, the Madagascar cuckoo, the Madagascar brush warbler and the souimanga sunbird.  We also got good views over the surrounding countryside, where fires were visible in all directions, and every bit of land that wasn’t inside a protected area had been clearcut.  The immensity of the pressure on the few remaining pockets of forest was immediately obvious.  

The view from Maromizaha
We finished our walk, backtracked to the road and hitched a lift back with a friendly trucker.  After lunch with George at the little restaurant across the street from Fean’ny Ala, we retreated to the cottage for a big nap and then sorting through the photos from the previous few days.  We waited in the restaurant for the full moon, billed as a “supermoon”, but super or not, the clouds covered the moon most of the time, making for a somewhat disappointing full moon experience, although a couple of pegs of duty-free Aberlour whisky made the waiting enjoyable.

Young indri in Parc Mitsinjo
November 15th was our last day in Andasibe, and we were up early again with the indris to get in one last walk in the forest.  We went back to Mitsinjo and saw it by daylight on a 2-hour tour.  We had our closest-yet encounters with indris, including one curious youngster who came right down to us to have a close look, and accepted fresh leaves from the guide.  We also saw another huge Parson’s chameleon and a lovely spectacled tetraka before heading back to our hotel to gather our possessions and brave the taxis-brousses back to the capital.  Despite a very long, hot wait in Moramanga, we were back in Tana by mid-afternoon with a few extra gray hairs caused by truly reckless overtaking by our driver.  I went out to change more euros into ariary, again with the dodgy street guys; this time I was ripped off, but only by about 20,000 ariary, or about 6 percent:  annoying, but not catastrophic.  (Not like the time a dodgy street moneychanger gave me $2 worth of Polish zloty in exchange for $100 US in Prague in 1988 when we thought we were buying Czechoslovak korony at a really good rate…..).  An excellent Indian dinner at the Taj Majal restaurant, and we were in bed early, ready for a very early morning’s start to our Marojejy adventure the next morning.
Big Parson's chameleon at Mitsinjo
Andasibe was a wonderful introduction to Madagascar’s wildlife.  It gave us lots of birds, plenty of chameleons and great encounters with the indri, one of the crown jewels of the lemur world.  The only real downer was not seeing the diademed sifaka, which we never saw anywhere else later.  In retrospect, I wish we had stayed a few days longer, which would have given us a chance to visit more of the further-flung reserves and parks, like Mantadia, Vohimana and Torotorofotsy, all of which provide different lemur, bird and reptile species.
Common brown lemur mother and baby using a lemur overpass

Practical information:  The taxi-brousse to Moramanga from Tana was 7000 MGA (about 2 euros) and the second leg to Andasibe was only 2000 MGA per person.  In fact it cost almost as much for the taxi from our hotel across Tana to Ampasampito taxi-brousse station as it did from there all the way to Andasibe.  Budget a good 4 to 5 hours for this trip, even if it’s only 140 km in total along the best paved roads in the entire country.  The Fean’ny Ala was a great place to stay, with clean, quiet cottages with great views, a good restaurant and lots of birds and (if you’re lucky) indris to see across the river inside the National Park.  It’s a good 30-minute walk to any of the park entrances from there, but it’s a pleasant walk through lemur- and chameleon-filled woods.  Getting to any of the other reserves requires some sort of transport; mountain bikes would be good, but I didn’t see any for rent.  Hiring vehicles is relatively expensive, and there’s no public transport to Mantadia or Vohimana or Torotorofotsy.  I don’t see the point of spending the extra 45,000 MGA per day to enter the national park; Mitsinjo and the MMA have free admission and you just pay for the guide, and even the guide is cheaper than at the National Park.  Other tourists, some of them serious birdwatchers and herpetologists, have sworn in particular by Mitsinjo as a very professional organization that is worth supporting, rather than the rather bureaucratic and overpriced national parks.

Baby indri

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Barrelling Around the Balkans--October/November 2016

Ranomafana, Madagascar

Our three weeks in Europe in October and November seem very long ago now as I sit in a tropical valley in the mountains of Madagascar, but with an effort I can shift my attention back to that action-packed period of time long enough to get it down in print. 

Terri and I hiking in Meteora, with a small uninhabited monastery behind
We arrived in Athens on October 18th from Johannesburg, via Dubai. We were there to lead a trip for school students, and the first ten days were devoted to doing the pre-trip and then running the trip itself.  We spent most of our time in the Meteora area, a beautiful part of northern Greece that had been on my to-see list for decades, ever since watching For Your Eyes Only back in about 1983.  The monasteries really look like something out of a fairytale, perched high atop eroded conglomerate cliffs.  We (and our student group) did a great 4-hour hike in the Meteora hills leading ultimately to one of the monasteries; they definitely need to be approached on foot in order to appreciate them properly. 
Meteora landscape
The surroundings are not what you immediately think of when you hear the word “Greece”:  no Mediterranean blue, no maquis bush.  Instead there are ancient oak forests full of wild boar and even wolves and bears.  There are obscure little hermitages tucked away in tiny hidden valleys, and even a cave full of Neanderthal and Neolithic remains (sadly closed, although we did drop into the museum).  One day, we drove up to Lake Plastiras, a lake high in the Pindus Mountains, along a spectacular road that I wanted to keep following to see where it led.  Overall, we were quite pleased with our Meteora experience.
Salamander in the Meteora forests
One of the Meteora monasteries
Terri, me and Leonidas at Thermopylae
We also visited Delphi, one of the most evocative ruins in all of Greece, nestled under the bulk of Mount Parnassus, and (on the way between the two) passed the site of the Battle ofThermopylae (a strangely forgotten and unatmospheric spot but a place of huge historical resonance).  In Athens we went through the amazing new(ish) Acropolis Museum, one of the great museums of the world, and strolled around the Acropolis itself on Oxi Day, a national holiday devoted to the word “No” (said to the Italians in 1940); there was free admission to the Acropolis that day, and the crowds were astonishing.

Meteora hermitage carved into a cliff face
Driving around rural Greece, though, the signs of the economic plight of most of the country were everywhere, with shuttered factories, boarded-up shops and derelict half-built buildings everywhere.  Thiva, ancient Thebes, stuck in my mind as a particularly grim example of post-2008 post-industrial wasteland.  Talking to Greeks, it doesn’t sound as though anything has really improved despite 8 years of bailouts, austerity and political brinkmanship.
The view from Delphi
Friday, October 28th found us on a flight to Tirana, Albania.  We wanted to do a quick busman’s holiday around the Balkans, and the Greek rental car companies are not keen on letting their cars go across borders into countries like Albania, so we decided to start in Albania, where we picked up a rental car in the airport for 15 euros a day.   I had been to the Balkans twice before, both times on a bicycle.  In 2009, after finishing my Silk Road Ride, I had cycled quickly through the countries of the region in November, too late in the year to really appreciate the surroundings.  In 2015 Terri and I had ridden down the Danube, ending up in Bulgariaafter passing through Croatia, Serbia and Romania.  This time we were in a hurry once again, but we had a few objectives:  we wanted to visit friends in Mostar, I wanted to see Sarajevo, Terri wanted to add Macedonia, Albania and Montenegro to her country list, and I wanted to see the mountains of northern Albania.  I also wanted to see Gjirokastro, in the far south of Albania, but we just didn’t have time to fit that in.
Terri in the Accursed Mountains above Boga
We spent the night in a cheap guesthouse in a tower block in Tirana before pointing our wheels north on Saturday morning.  We escaped the manic traffic of Tirana and got onto a newly built motorway that made for easy driving.  Our objective was a mountain range in the far north of the country known as the Accursed Mountains; with a name like that, we had to visit!  After passing through more snarled traffic in Shkoder, we turned off the main road and entered a spectacular world of mountains and old stone villages.  We drove up, up, up along a valley lined with autumn colours on the trees.  The weather was perfect, and every turn of the valley brought another postcard-worthy view.  The limestone cliffs shone white in the sunshine and contrasted sharply with the deep blue of the mountain skies.  It reminded both of us of fall weekends in the Swiss Alps, and the brand-new asphalt road could have been straight out of Switzerland as well.  Finally, atop a 1600-metre high pass, we ran out of asphalt and although we bravely tried to push on in our tiny two-wheel drive compact Maruti, it was an unequal struggle and after having to back up on a narrow dirt track in the face of an oncoming livestock truck (actually we gave the keys to one of the farmers to back up for us, as it was a pretty scary stretch of road with a huge cliff on one side), we gave up and retreated to the pass.  
The valley of Boga
We had to abandon the idea of driving ourselves to the village of Theth (visible far, far below) and instead parked the car and went for a walk for a few hours up the valley to a dramatic viewpoint perched atop a cliff, looking down at the Theth Valley below our feet.  This mountainous area has gotten onto the radar of western European hikers in the past decade, and it’s easy to see why.  This area has all the beauty of the Alps at a tiny fraction the price, and with a tiny fraction of the number of hikers on it (we saw exactly none that day).  The hiking trail was well marked and well maintained.  We had read about a new international long-distance hiking trail, the Via Dinarica, and it passes right through this area.  If I had much more time, I would love to hike the length of the Via Dinarica, getting to know this mountainous area of the world that is so little known in the West.
Hiking in the Accursed Mountains
After our hike, we drove back down the asphalt to the village of Boga, where we found accommodation in the home of the family of Zef, a gruff farmer.  He, his wife and his daughter Madgalena made us welcome in their farmhouse and we had a great time, despite not having any language in common other than a tiny amount of Italian.  Like everyone in the valley, the family is Catholic; I hadn’t really appreciated what a multi-confessional country Albania is, with Catholics making up the second biggest religious group (10% of the population) after Muslims (about 57%), just ahead of Eastern Orthodox (7%).  Mother Teresa was an ethnic Albanian Catholic (born in Skopje when that was a Turkish city; it was then a Serbian city before becoming the capital of modern Macedonia; this is why four different countries now claim her as their own; we had landed at Mother Teresa International Airport in Tirana), and it is encouraging that in a region not noted for its religious tolerance in the past few decades, Albania has not had any religiously inspired civil strife.  We had a wonderful evening trying to talk to the family, and Terri hit it off with Magdalena in particular.
Terri with our wonderful host family in Boga
It was a chilly evening, and we delayed our departure the next morning while the sun warmed up the bottom of the valley.  We went for another short hike up above Boga in the sunshine, drinking in the views and watching the villagers walking back from church service.  We returned to the farmhouse to find the parents entertaining neighbours with coffee and cake after church, while other villagers took themselves to the local café for something a little stronger.  We said our goodbyes and drove off down the valley, snapping photos and promising ourselves that one day we would return to explore the Accursed Mountains properly.
Fall colours in Albania
Sveti Stefan, Montenegro
We drove north along the main road, past fields planted with medicinal herbs (a big cash crop in the area) and eventually to the northern shore of Lake Shkoder, where we crossed the border into Montenegro.  It was a quick, painless process, as all our subsequent Balkan border crossings proved to be.  We bought our 40-euro car insurance Green Card (good for all European countries for 15 days), showed our passports and car registration, and two minutes later we were off into Montenegro.  It was a very pretty drive along the lakeshore, past monasteries, prettily situated villages and a smattering of holiday homes.  Eventually we popped through a tunnel linking the lake with the Adriatic coast and turned north.  We drove along one of the prettiest coastlines in Europe, one of the highlights of my 2009 bike trip, and eventually turned off the road in Sveti Stefan to find accommodation for the night.  We first had a stroll along the coast, past the bridge to the gorgeous offshore island of Sveti Stefan (once Tito’s summer fiefdom, now a private and very expensive Russian-owned hotel) and past another couple of top-end hotels on the mainland.  It was a very pretty walk, but eventually we returned to the car and got serious about searching for a place to stay.  Most rental apartments were closed for the season, but just before sundown we found a place for 30 euros, ran to a nearby grocery store for wine and toasted a dramatic sunset over a wind-whipped Adriatic. A takeaway pasta carbonara dinner and an early night completed the day.

Bay of Kotor, Montenegro
The wind howled all night, but once the sun came up on Monday, October 31st, the sea calmed down.  We had a slow, relaxed start with time for me to have a run up and down the hilly streets of town before a breakfast of bread, honey, olives and jam.  By 10 am we were underway, driving further up the coast before turning inland to drive halfway around the dramatic (and dramatically traffic-choked) Bay of Kotor.  We turned inland up a big climb over the coastal mountains and onto a limestone plateau that continued for many kilometres to the Bosnian border and beyond.  We continued along the plateau, through the Republika Srpska (the Serbian bit of Bosnia-Hercegovina) until further progress was halted at the pseudo-border with the Bosniak-Croat confederation by mine-clearing operations beside the road, a reminder of the lasting aftereffects of the Bosnian War.  Once the mine-clearers were finished, we drove upstream to pretty Trebinje, then along a lovely valley and over a hill to reach Mostar where my friend and former LAS colleague Jonathan and his wife Jane are living.  We rendezvoused with Jane at the United World College, located in the old Gymnase building in the centre of town, and drove to their apartment overlooking the old Turkish centre of Mostar.

Night over Mostar Old Town
Mostar is one of my favourite places in the Balkans, and I used to have a print of the Hungarian painter Csontvary’s painting of its famous Ottoman bridge hanging on my bedroom wall at university.  Jane, Terri and I walked down to the bridge and enjoyed the beautiful old Ottoman architecture of the surrounding streets.  The bridge was lit up (evening came early now that daylight savings time was over) and looked very pretty indeed.  We returned to the apartment to meet up with Jonathan, and the evening passed by very pleasantly over dinner and wine, catching up on the past few years since they left Leysin.

The next morning was the first day of November.  Jonathan left early for school and Jane waved us off as we drove our trusty Maruti upstream in the direction of Sarajevo.  It was a relatively short drive, and we arrived in the city by 1:30.  We found a parking spot near our rental apartment, right beside the massive Sarajevo Brewery, but couldn’t get hold of the apartment owner to get the keys.  We repaired to a nearby café to use their wifi and have a beer and realized that the non-smoking revolution in bars and restaurants has not yet come to Bosnia.  We were thoroughly fumigated with cigarettes before the owner showed up with the keys and let us in. 
Terri and Jane in Mostar's Old Town

Where the First World War kicked off
Terri had been to Sarajevo a decade before, but I had never made it that far into Bosnia.  We strolled into the old Ottoman centre of town and headed straight for Sarajevo’s biggest claim to fame, the street corner at which Gavrilo Princip lit the fuse that led to the carnage of World War One by assassinating Austro-Hungarian Archduke Franz Ferdinand on June 28th, 1914.  It’s just an ordinary-looking street corner, but a branch of the Sarajevo City Museum occupies one of the buildings on the corner and displays pictures of the fateful day and its aftermath.  The amazing thing to me is that Franz Ferdinand had already survived one assassination attempt by the Serb nationalists of the Black Hand that very day.  Rather than keeping himself safe and out of sight until he could leave the city, he decided to drive right back into the city centre an hour later, which is when Princip was more successful second time around.  We took a few photos and then continued our stroll around the old town, past mosques and medressehs and the old market.  It was very atmospheric, and we eventually retired to Pod Letom for a hearty meal; photos outside and on the wall attested to the fact that Bill Clinton had eaten there twice over the years (both times since he retired from the presidency).  We returned to our apartment, re-parked the car out of the paid lot we had left it in onto the street outside the brewery, and retired early for the night.

Mosque in Sarajevo Old Town
Sarajevo was the furthest north we would reach on our Balkans peregrinations.  Wednesday, November 2nd found us heading out of town along a dramatic gorge cut into the mountains.  Sarajevo hosted the 1984 Winter Olympics, and we climbed up to the village of Pale, site of the ski races and then the capital of Radovan Karadzic’s murderous Serbian republican forces.  We continued along, past other ski towns, until we suddenly came upon the border with Montenegro.  As soon as we crossed the border, we left behind the dark, slightly gloomy valleys of Bosnia for radiant highlands in the interior of Montenegro.  It really seems as though Montenegro is the scenic highlight of the former Yugoslavia, no matter what part of the country you visit.  After driving for hours along small roads, we found ourselves in the town of Berane as afternoon turned to evening, so we found a cheap hotel and called it a night.

The following day (Thursday, November 3rd) was grey and rainy, a sharp contrast to the brilliant sunshine we had had almost every day so far.  We drove past tiny ski resorts and then up, up, up to the mountain pass leading into Kosovo.  Terri had never visited Kosovo and was keen to see the country.  Our plan was to stop in Peja (Pec) and spend the afternoon doing some hiking and visiting the Serbian monastery.  The weather didn’t improve, however, and Peja proved to be a crowded, chaotic construction zone of a city, so we just kept driving (along streets named after Tony Blair, John Kerry, Bill Clinton and others involved in ending the Kosovo War back in 1999) towards the Macedonian border.  I remembered in 2009 not being overly enamoured of Kosovo, and this trip confirmed my previous opinion.  The mountains along the frontiers are very pretty, but the country is very densely populated and is just an unending straggle of half-built new houses, of little interest to the casual tourist.

Alexander the Great statue, Skopje 
We crossed into Macedonia on a road down a deep gorge and immediately the weather and the depressing industrial landscape changed.  We drove into the traffic snarl of downtown Skopje and got immediately lost.  We went in circles, we cursed our smartphone app, and eventually we parked the car in an obscure backstreet and set out on foot to find a place to stay.  We ended up in a nice apartment overlooking the remodelled centre of Skopje and set off to explore.

I remember Skopje as a slightly artsy town with a bunch of cafes and Irish pubs in the slightly worn downtown core.  The past seven years have seen immense changes to the cityscape, as the government has lavished hundreds of millions of dollars completely gutting and redeveloping the city centre in a style best described as Las Vegas Marble Kitsch.  Alexander the Great has been adopted as the national hero (even though the ancient Macedonian kingdom was centred further south, in modern-day Greece, and modern Macedonians are Slavic speakers with a language most akin to Bulgarian), and the government has erected immense gilt statues of Alexander, and of his father Philip and mother Olympias and baby Alex, in the middle of a huge pedestrian thoroughfare.  New pedestrian bridges have gone up over the river, lined with more statues of historical figures (both ancient and nineteenth century), while a historical museum, an opera house and several government ministries all rise in Corinthian columns above the bemused Soviet-era concrete lowrises surrounding the centre.  It all looks very kitsch, and it’s apparently not hugely popular with a large section of the population, fed up with official corruption and political underhandedness.
Anti-government paint bombs, Skopje
Some of the marble wedding-cake buildings in Skopje

If you look carefully, you can see blotches of purple, green, red and yellow staining the white marble of the new constructions, the result of protestors hurling balloons filled with paint against the hated symbols of theregime.  We wandered around the downtown taking pictures and reading the captions on dozens of statues.  We were divided in our opinion of the city’s makeover:  I thought it looked very fake and artificial, but Terri thought it was an improvement on the soulless concrete that was once there.

In 2009 I had enjoyed Macedonia more than any other country I visited on my Balkan bike blitz, and I was keen to see new parts of the country and to show Terri the undoubted highlight of Macedonia, the ancient monastery town of Ohrid.  We drove west out of Skopje the next morning and then turned south, passing through pretty valleys studded with minarets (this northwest corner of Macedonia, abutting Kosovo and Albania, is where the country’s sizeable Muslim minority live), over a couple of passes and finally into the resort town of Ohrid.  We found our holiday apartment (at 15 euros a night for a big apartment, it was a deal) owned by a personable professor named Joce, checked in and then went for a wander. 

Veletsevo village, overlooking Lake Ohrid
Ohrid is historically a very important spot, as it was at the monasteries along the shores of the lovely highland lake that Greek Orthodox monks like Clement of Ohrid developed the Cyrillic alphabet to write down Old Church Slavonic, the mother tongue of all the Slavic languages.  We strolled past a couple of the monasteries (sadly one was under reconstruction and the other was locked) and then along the lakeshore, past another big government project to build a new university in the old town.  We bought roast chestnuts to ward off the early evening chill and watched the light fade over the lake.

Hiking in lovely Galicica
The next day we didn’t have to drive to a new city to sleep (the only time we spent two consecutive nights in the same place on the entire trip), and we took advantage of this to have a day of hiking under glorious sunshine in the mountains of the Galicica NationalPark that rise straight out of Lake Ohrid.  We had only a vague hint of a map, and the trail markings were pretty inconsistent, but we still had a splendid day in the mountains, soaking up huge views that extended across the lake into Albania and south into Greece.  We had the entire area almost entirely to ourselves, although our starting point, the village of Veletsevo, was crowded with people laying flowers and having picnics at the graves of family members in the village cemetery (perhaps because it was the first weekend after All Saint’s Day?).  We underestimated the amount of time we would need for the trek, and did the last half hour in the dark, but it was a huge highlight for me on this Balkan adventure, and reinforced my desire to come back with a few weeks to spare to do some long-distance hiking through this mountainous hiker’s paradise.

Hiking in Galicica
Sunday November 6th found us finishing up the driving of the trip with a few hours from Ohrid back to Tirana.  The scenery was dramatic much of the way as we dropped out of the highland basin of Lake Ohrid down a narrow canyon to Elbasan, where we stopped for an immense lamb feast.  From there we were only an hour or so from Tirana, and we managed to navigate the traffic horror of the Albanian capital more or less unscathed.  We checked in again to Guesthouse Mary and had an early night before our morning flight.

The next morning found us dropping off the car at the airport and checking in for our Aegean Airlines flight back to Athens.  We made our way to the Adonis Hotel, retrieved our stored luggage and then spent the afternoon separately on frustrating errands.  I wanted to get my camera cleaned as there is dust on the CCD, but Monday afternoons by law all shops in Athens close at 3 pm, just after I got to the camera shop.  I didn’t yet know about the early closing law, so I wasted more time trying to find outdoor equipment shops, which were similarly shut.  Terri meanwhile was navigating the crowds and hopelessness of the Greek medical system, trying to get her left knee, still sore 7 weeks after falling on it in the Tsodilo Hills, looked at.  She eventually saw an overworked doctor and paid a ridiculously low 9 euros to do so, but didn’t get much useful practical information on what to do to get better. 

The evening made up for the day, however, as I found some Spanish cava for sale and brought home some take-out gyros sandwiches.  We sat on our perfectly-situated terrace looking out at the lit-up Parthenon and savouring the historical atmosphere.  We both agreed that Greece and the Balkans deserve more time on a future trip, although it’s not clear when that will be.

And then it was November 8th and we were on an air odyssey, first to Dubai, then Johannesburg, then Nairobi and finally to Antananarivo, ready to spend the next six weeks exploring the “Eighth Continent”, the wildlife diversity hotspot of Madagascar.  Stay tuned to this space to read up on our various adventures in Madagascar!

Lake Ohrid seen from Galicica

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

By The Numbers--Up to Date (December 2016)

Here's a newly updated list of the countries I've visited over the course of my life, arranged by the date of my first visit to the country.  I don't count my home country, Canada.   Of course, exactly what constitutes a country is a bit slippery.  My well-travelled friend Natalya Marquand holds that the only objective list is the 193 permanent members of the UN.  Others hold that these countries, plus the non-UN-member Vatican City, make up the 194 canonical countries of the world.  I think the reality is a bit slippier.  When I visited Nagorno-Karabakh and Abkhazia, despite the fact that these countries aren’t universally recognized, I had to get a visa to visit them and cross at a border post manned by people in uniform who stamped my passport.  Somaliland not only has its own consulates and border guards, it even has its own currency.  And, to take an extreme example, anyone who claims that Taiwan isn’t effectively an independent country isn’t really recognizing what’s been de facto the case since 1949.

So my list of independent countries is a bit bigger than 194.  It’s about 204 countries; the number may fluctuate a bit, and it doesn’t include three countries (Western Sahara, Palestine and Tibet) with pretty legitimate cases but without their own border guards. One of the many lists of countries on Wikipedia lists 206 entries that either are recognized by at least one other state as being independent, or effectively control a permanently populated territory, but they include Western Sahara and Palestine which are at the moment illusory pipe dreams, to the distress of the people who inhabit them.  If I'm not counting Canada, that would make 193 or 203 possible destinations.

Anyway, without further preamble, here’s my list of the countries I have visited, arranged according to the date I first visited them.  The non-UN/Vatican members of the list are coloured red; there are eight of them, so if you’re counting by the UN+Vatican list, it’s 117 (out of 193).  I would make it 125 out of 203.  Whichever way you count it, I’m now well over half-way to my goal of visiting them all, and my to-visit list is now down into double digits.   

1. US

2.  France
3.  Switzerland
4.  Liechtenstein
5.  Germany
6.  Netherlands

7.  Tanzania

8.  Norway
9.  Italy

10.  UK
11. Vatican
12.  Greece
13.  Hungary
14.  Austria
15.  Czech Republic (Prague, then part of the now-defunct Czechoslovakia)

16.  Belgium
17.  Monaco
18.  Poland

19.  Australia
20.  New Zealand
21.   Fiji
22.  Cook Islands

23.  Egypt
24.  Turkey

25.  Spain
26.  Kenya
27.  Uganda
28.  Democratic Republic of Congo
29.  Japan
30.  Singapore
31.  Indonesia

32.  Philippines
33.  Malaysia
34.  Thailand
35.  Cambodia
36.  Nepal

37.  India
38.  Sri Lanka
39.  Pakistan
40.  Luxembourg
41.  San Marino
42.  Andorra

43.  China
44.  Portugal
45.  Morocco
46.  Tunisia
47.  Jordan

48.  Israel
49.  Syria
50.  Lebanon
51.  Chile
52.  Argentina
53.  Peru

54.  Bolivia
55.  South Korea

56.  Mexico
57.  Brunei
58.  Laos
59.  Taiwan

60.  Kazakhstan
61.  Kyrgyzstan
62.  Tajikistan
63.  Uzbekistan
64.  Turkmenistan
65.  Iran
66.  Bahrain

67.  Vietnam
68.  Burma

69.  Mongolia
70.  Palau
71.  Bangladesh

72.  Bhutan
73.  Cyprus
74.  Northern Cyprus

75.  Kuwait
76.  Azerbaijan
77.  Georgia
78.  Armenia
79.  Nagorno-Karabakh
80.  Iraq
81.  Bulgaria
82.  Serbia
83.  Kosovo
84.  Macedonia
85.  Albania
86.  Montenegro
87.  Bosnia-Hercegovina
88.  Croatia
89.  Libya
90.  Malta

91.  Ethiopia
92.  Somaliland
93.  Djibouti

94.  Denmark
95.  Abkhazia
96.  Russia
97.  Ukraine
98.  Trans-Dniestria
99.  Moldova
100. Romania
101.  Slovakia
102.  Belarus
103.  Lithuania
104.  Latvia
105.  Estonia
106.  United Arab Emirates
107.  Oman
108.  Qatar

109.  Slovenia
110.  Togo
111.  Benin

112.  Maldives
113,  Iceland
114.  Ireland

115. East Timor
116. Solomon Islands
117. Papua New Guinea

118. Finland
119. Sweden

120. Paraguay
121. Brazil
122. Uruguay
123. Zambia
124. Botswana
125. South Africa
126. Mozambique
127.  Zimbabwe
128.  Malawi
129.  Madagascar

Over the rest of 2016 I should add Swaziland and Lesotho, with Namibia, Rwanda and maybe Burundi, South Sudan, Sudan and Eritrea joining the list in early 2017 (those last 4 are all dubious but possible).  So by mid-2017 I should be at about 135 countries visited.  The 70 or so countries left will then be concentrated in west and central Africa (around 25), Central America and the Caribbean (another 25 or so), with outliers in the Indian and Pacific Oceans and a few in Africa.  Stanley's Travels II could account for a lot of the remaining African countries, while a sailboat trip or two might be called for when it comes to the oceanic islands and the Caribbean.  We will see.

I turned 48 in September.  I think I still have 20 good years of travel left in me, which would mean averaging 3.5 new countries a year over that period of time if I want to end up visiting all the countries in the world.  I think I can do that fairly comfortably.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Closing the Loop: the last leg of Stanley's Travels, version 1.0

Nosy Be, December 1, 2016

Sociable weaver nest, Kalahari
When we crossed into South Africa from Botswana at Bokspits, a microscopic border crossing in the far northwest of the country, on Monday, October 3rd, it was in one sense a homecoming for Stanley (a South African registered vehicle), and in another sense the end of the adventurous part of our big loop around Southern Africa.  We still had well over 1500 km to drive to the Johannesburg area, where we were going to store Stanley for a couple of months, but suddenly we were in a country full of shopping malls and sprawling suburbs and it felt as though we had left Africa behind at the border.

We drove south from Bokspits on perfect new tarmac, past big fenced-in ranches and huge communal nests built by sociable weaver birds on top of telephone poles.  Desert melons, the life-giving moisture source of the Kalahari, grew beside the road wherever fences prevented the cattle from eating them.  As we approached Upington, the regional centre, a structure oddly reminiscent of the Death Star appeared in the distance, glowing strangely.  It was a solar-thermal electricity plant, built by a Spanish company, in which a huge array of mirrors reflect sunlight upwards, concentrating the rays at the top of a high tower where the combined heat is used to generate electric power.  Apparently Upington has three of these structures nearby, although we only saw one, and hundreds of Spanish engineers live and work in Upington building and maintaining them. 
Kalahari desert melons

Upington was a culture shock after the emptiness of the Botswanan Kalahari.  We drove through fancy white suburbs to an immense Pick’n’Pay supermarket and shopping mall.  We refilled Stanley’s fridge (working well since its repair in Maun a few days before), changed our leftover Botswanan pula for South African rand, ate some meat pies (our favourite southern African quick lunch), bought Terri a new pair of binoculars, and then drove west towards Augrabies Falls National Park.  It was a pretty drive along the Orange River, past a long series of irrigated vineyards that contrasted sharply with the dusty Kalahari scrubland beside them. 

The Upington Death Star
There was no camping available at Augrabies Falls National Park, so we found a place to stay a few kilometres outside the gate at the Augrabies Falls Lodge and Campground.  It was well maintained, with pretty grounds and good facilities, but a bit close to the noise of the main road.  We finished up the huge pot of lentil and pea soup that we had been carrying around and slept soundly inside Stanley.

We set off for Augrabies National Park the next morning on our trusty folding bicycles after some fresh scones for breakfast courtesy of Terri.  We went first to see the waterfalls, an impressive sight of crashing waters even in the dry season.  The canyon into which the river hurtles is deep, steep and made of beautiful slabs of reddish sandstone.  We set off on the Dassie Hike, but turned back when Terri’s leg, still sore from her tumble at Tsodilo Hills a few weeks earlier, complained about the steep river crossings.  We opted for the shorter but more scenic hike out to Arrowhead Point, where two side canyons join the main river.  One of those tributaries has Twin Falls on it, another beautiful waterfall.
Terri at Arrowhead Point

We had a picnic lunch seated in the scanty shade of a small tree (it was properly hot by midday) and watched a pair of rock kestrels nesting on the sheer cliff on the opposite bank of the canyon.  Pale-winged starlings, a characteristic species of Augrabies Falls, flew by in small groups.  As we walked back to the lodge, more new species appeared:  acacia pied barbets and southern masked weavers, along with dozens of fat, contented rock hyraxes (dassies, if you’re South African).  We rode back to our campground, then returned shortly before sunset for a night safari.  We were hoping to see aardwolves (a secretive type of hyena) but had no luck, although our spotlights picked out fleeting glimpses of the eyes of genets, African wild cats and spotted eagle owls.  We had more substantial views of eland, springbok, steenbok and klipspringer, as well as Cape hare, scrub hare and red rock rabbit.  We cycled home in the pitch black under clear starry skies and went to bed immediately.

Twin Falls
The next day was less productive, although we did manage to do some laundry, bake brownies and catch up on e-mail, as well as getting in a long run, some yoga and broiling some delicious lamb for dinner. 

Thursday, October 6th found us backtracking to Upington.  We had originally planned to head further west to see the desert flowers around Springbok, but a phone call there revealed that in fact the flower season had peaked a month earlier and there were almost no flowers to be seen.  Rather than drive 400 km on a wild goose chase, we started the long retreat to Johannesburg instead.  It was a short, pleasant drive back to Upington, once again through the vineyards and orchards along the river, and we picked a big municipal campsite, Die Eiland, as our base for the next few days.  It was pleasantly situated on the banks of the Orange River, even if it did look a bit past its prime.  We set up our table and camp chairs to claim a spot, then drove back downtown to get some work done on Stanley.  An auto-electrician fixed the malfunctioning door switch that had been setting off our car alarm intermittently for the past two weeks (for the princely sum of US$ 18), and then while Terri went shopping for some new clothes, I dropped off the car at a garage to replace a blown front shock and to replace a worn-out and leaking tire, and dropped off my malfunctioning watch to get repaired.  By 5:00 I was picking up Terri to head back to Die Eiland.

Some desert vegetation
When we drove into the campsite, it was immediately obvious that our camp table, chairs and our dish drying rack were all gone.  We asked around, both the three locals sitting around having a braai, and the campground employees, but nobody (of course) had seen anything.  Infuriated at the pointless vandalism of such a theft, we went back to reception, demanded (and received) our money back and called the police to report the theft.  The police were spectacularly unhelpful, much to Terri’s disgust, and we eventually gave up and moved across the river to a tiny private campground, Sakkie se Arkie, where we stayed for the next 4 nights.  It was safe and friendly and well-run, very unlike Die Eiland.  We were annoyed about losing our chairs and table, but we heard that we had gotten off lucky; other campers who have stayed the night have had far more stolen, and one couple staying indoors at Die Eiland’s bungalows had thieves break in while they were in the bungalow and clean them out of all their valuables.  Everyone in town agreed that Die Eiland had fallen apart over the past 15 years under dubious municipal management, having once been rated the top municipal campground in the country back in the apartheid era.
Lovely rock face, Augrabies Falls
The next day we went to the Kalahari Mall to buy me a few new clothes, and to replace our table, chairs and dishrack.  The chairs were expensive, but were so comfortable that we didn’t really begrudge the money.  We headed back to our campground and I spent a while trying my luck at fishing; although others were getting bites, I got nothing but snags, and had to cut off three hooks in a row. 
Terminally relaxed hyrax, Augrabies Falls
Saturday, October 8th found us ready to head off, but when I went over to pick up my watch, the watch repair shop was unexpectedly closed.  Since I had specifically asked if they would be open Saturday morning, I was quite annoyed, especially since they didn’t answer their various phones.  We had lunch, then cycled off to the big tourist sight in Upington, the Orange River Winery, for some wine tasting.  We were surprised to find that something relying on the tourist trade closed at 3 pm on a Saturday, so we were out of luck.  We retreated to town, frustrated, and found an Irish pub to have a huge meal and watch the New Zealand-South Africa rugby match.  It was a massacre, with the All Blacks running in 9 tries to humiliate the Springboks.  Strangely, Terri wasn’t the only person cheering the All Blacks; a number of non-white South Africans were cheering for the visitors as well.  Apparently the Springboks are still viewed as the team of the apartheid-era Boers, and don’t enjoy universal support among coloured and black South Africans. 
Augrabies Falls scenery
Sunday, October 9th was another fairly lazy day, spent doing a few exercises, writing a blog post, having a long lunch, taking a long bird-watching stroll along the river with Terri, running and then having sundowner drinks with an interesting older couple, Ros and Anthony, both white East Africans (one from Kenya, the other from Tanzania) who are keen sailors and bird watchers.  We sat listening to some of their stories, then retreated to our campsite for a late dinner.  I stayed up late taking advantage of having good internet for once to post some photos from Botswana and upload my blog post.

Augrabies sunset light
Monday, October 10th saw us finally break free of Upington, not without resistance.  The watch repair guy was open, but the watch wasn’t yet fixed.  We went to the grocery store to stock up, then returned to find the watch not repaired, but at least physically present.  Muttering imprecations, I took the watch and drove us out of town towards Johannesburg.  It was a long day of driving, most of it through not very interesting countryside (a mix of bleak desert, grim mining areas, rough towns and commercial farms), ending up at sundown in the small town of Delareyville, where we spent the night camped at the Pigmy Lodge, a small campground attached to a cheese farm.  We sampled some of their excellent goat cheeses with some wine before dinner, ate some leftovers and were in bed early, tired from driving.

Tuesday, October 11th was the end of the road for the first leg of Stanley’s Travels.  We had a leisurely bacon and avocado breakfast and set off by 9 o’clock, carrying a couple of packets of the farm’s goat cheese.  Terri drove the first 100 km before I took over for the final 325 km.  We cruised into Johannesburg past the endless mining towns of the Witwatersrand.  We made it most of the way through the Johannesburg suburban sprawl without incident before hitting a traffic jam that saw us take an hour to cover 3 km.  Then, as suddenly as it had started, the traffic jam was over and we were flying out of town headed east towards the tiny town of Delmas, the headquarters of Blinkgat, the small camper manufacturer who had made Stanley’s camper insert.  We stopped off for meat pies at Pick’n’Pay, then followed directions out of town, past a dismal looking township of corrugated iron shacks, to a small farm just outside town where Sarel and Elize de Klerk, the owners of Blinkgat, live and run their workshop.

Maree and Stanley with Stanley's creator, Sarel de Klerk
We had thought about taking Stanley camping for the few days before our flight to Athens on Oct. 17th, but Sarel and Elize urged us to camp in their garden, an offer which we gladly accepted.  We spent a few hours the next day going over Stanley, detailing the modifications and repairs that we wanted to have done in our absence.  A sliding drawer for our fridge, a new awning and some changes to the food and dish storage system, along with some much-needed rainproofing, were the main items, along with a general servicing of the pickup truck. We figured that since we had spent so long living in Stanley, we had figured out what we most wanted to make him even more user-friendly. 

The days slipped by easily, cleaning our stuff out of Stanley in preparation for the workshop and storing them in one of the farm’s outbuildings.  We had a lot of interesting discussions with Sarel and Elize, both of them keen explorers of southern Africa’s wild spaces, ate lots of good food, did some exercise and running and generally relaxed after five and a half months on the go. 

On Saturday we drove into Johannesburg to have lunch with my friend Angelo and his family.  We stayed overnight in The Birches, the small backpackers’ lodge where we had stayed when we had first bought Stanley back in April; Ian, the friendly owner, was curious to hear our stories from the road.  We also heard from one of our fellow guests that he had been mugged on the street in downtown Johannesburg that very day; we were glad that we had avoided the worse of South Africa's crime frenzy.  On Sunday we had brunch with my fellow Thunder Bay-ite Erin Conway-Smith (the southern Africa correspondent for the Economist) before heading back to Delmas. 

On Monday, October 17th we bid Stanley a fond farewell for two months and caught a lift with Elize to OR Tambo Airport for a flight to Athens.  We won’t see Stanley again until December 21st, when we return from Madagascar.  It will be good to see him fixed up and looking spic and span, and it will be good to resume our nomadic lifestyle on our own 4 wheels.  We have both really enjoyed how well we have lived, and how much unforgettable wildlife and scenery we have seen, since late April.  Our final tally for the first leg of Stanley’s Travels is something like this:

Total time since leaving Johannesburg:        5 months and 19 days
Total distance covered:                                 20,558 km
Number of countries visited:                        6
Number of national parks visited:               17
Number of flat tires:                                     2
Number of sunsets viewed:                          at least 130
Number of bottles of wine consumed:        probably too many
Number of amazing campsites:                   a large number
Favourite country:                                       Botswana

It really was a life-altering sort of trip, seeing so much of the beauty of the African bush up close and personal.  It would have been nice to get in more hiking and physical exercise (I feel a lot flabbier than would be the case after a bicycle trip of this duration!) but that is a minor quibble given the amazing time we had on a consistent basis for months on end.  Sitting around the campfire in so many beautiful locations, watching the sun set in a blaze of orange, gazing up at the stars, listening to the sounds of hyenas and nightjars and owls and lions in the distance:  all these experiences were made possible by us having bought Stanley. 

We look forward to lap two of Stanley’s Travels around Africa starting in December and continuing until…..we don’t know.  The plan is to head through South Africa, Swaziland and Lesotho, then head north into Namibia (the favourite country of almost everyone who explores southern Africa), cross into Zambia again and then drive further north into Tanzania, Burundi, Rwanda, Uganda and Kenya.  If the security situation and visas permit, I’d like to head through Ethiopia (currently in the midst of serious unrest) and Sudan, but I’m not sure that will happen this time.  If we do make it to Sudan, it’s a bit of a dead end:  Egypt is a bureaucratic and monetary and security nightmare, and the other ways out are to take a ferry to Saudi Arabia (then Kuwait, Iran and Turkey to get to Europe), to return south to South Africa, or to ship Stanley out of Sudan somewhere else in the world.  We have not yet come to any final conclusion what the end game will be, but I am sure that the next leg of Stanley’s Travels will be as rewarding as the first one was.

Yet another African sunset at Augrabies Falls