Saturday, May 29, 2010

Blantyre, Malawi

If I put together a slideshow of our time spent Malawi, the photo sequence would go something like this:

- A really crowded chappa.
- A horrific rash.
- A hospital room.
- Antihistamines and a mosquito-netted bed.

That pretty much sums up the experience.

Lucky for you, dear blog reader, we did take some pics at the Carlsberg brewery (and out the taxi window on the way to the airport).

Have a looksy HERE. It's not the most exciting album you'll ever see. You've been warned.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Just when you think you have reached the end of your rope, when frustrations pile on top of one another and you're ready to throw in the towel, it really is miraculous the difference that giving it one more day can make. On our last (and pretty much only) day out in Malawi, we were granted with one of those days.

It began with a leisurely walk to the cathedral, "probably the most impressive building in Blantyre" according to Lonely Planet. After a few obligatory photos, we ventured inside and met an American pastor who has been living and spreading the gospel in Malawi on and off for the past 20 years. A lovely woman, we chatted about our travels and trials before she prayed over our trip and invited us to her home for lunch. Over some fresh pineapple, egg salad sandwiches and chocolate cake, we learned much about Malawian people and their culture. It was an incredible afternoon, and we were super disappointed to be unable to accept her invitation to join her on a visit to a local village this weekend.

Envigorated by our pleasant morning, the obvious next stop was a tour of the Carlsberg brewery. Accompanied by a friendly group of peace corp volunteers, we enjoyed free bottomless beers into the evening. For the first time in a while, it felt like we were back in stride. Exploring...meeting...chatting...learning...traveling.

Did we begin to feel like perhaps we were a wee bit hasty in booking a flight to Tanzania? Kinda. But, everything happens for a reason. And we are feeling really good about whatever lies ahead.



Thursday, May 27, 2010

Change of plans

Our upcoming travel plans through Malawi and into Tanzania consisted of the following:

- Travel to the southern tip of Lake Malawi to visit a town called Cape McClear for a few days.
- Make our way to Monkey Bay, where a once-weekly ferry departs for a three day journey up the lake, stopping at 13 villages along the way.
- Disembark the ferry (halfway through) on Likoma Island for a week before finishing the journey.
- Upon reaching the northernmost part of the lake, travel by land to the Tanzanian border.
- Cross the border and make our way north to a city where a 25 hour train journey will take us to Dar Es Salam. From there, we could hang for a few days then venture on to Zanzibar.

The challenges posed by this plan were as follows:

- Nobody really knows how to get to Cape Maclear from here. We asked around like crazy, and pretty much the only advice we got was to make our way via several chappas from one town to the next until, eventually, we'd probably find one going to Cape Maclear. Perfect.
- There are no ATMs at ANY of the places we'd visit on this journey. Which means we'd need to carry enough cash on us to last about 2-3 weeks. Always a dreadful idea, especially when in and out of ferry ports, notorious for robbery.
- On the day we attempted to leave Blantyre, our ATM cards decided not to work. Delaying our departure until we could sort things out with our banks. Not really giving us any time in Cape Maclear before we had to be in Monkey Bay for Friday's ferry.
- The ferry must be booked in person several days in advance, which means we may not even get on this week's departure and have yet another ATM-less week to worry about. Did I mention that none of these towns accept credit cards either? WTF?!
- Same booking rules go for the 25-hour train journey in Tanzania, meaning we could be stuck in some crappy city for yet another week waiting for tickets.

Given that travel in Africa is guaranteed to be roughly 27 times more difficult in practice than on paper, we anticipated alot of time, money and stress associated with this trip. We've had a rough go of it lately and frankly, aren't in the mood. So, we decided on something drastic.

Today, we are flying to Tanzania! We visited a travel agency and found tickets directly from here for just about the max we had decided it was worth to us. And we really feel like we're leaving all of our issues behind and landing in Tanzania with a fresh clean slate. It's just the new start we need. In just a few days, we'll be livin it up in Zanzibar! Onward and upward.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Africa is a doozie. The flu is horrendous. Bus travel is torturous. Mosquitos are out for blood. I mean, even more so than normal. For the first time ever on this trip, we have begun to question how much longer we really want to do this. Ahead of us lie the great pyramids of Egypt, the intrigue of Zanzibar, a volunteering job in Kenya. But if I am to be perfectly honest, right now my own bed, a stack of blockbuster movies and some take out sounds much more enticing.

We are fairly confident that this phase shall pass. Once we are fully back to good health and in destinations with lots to see, we'll get back in the swing of things. People say you hit a hump around three months, and if you survive that you can keep going forever. At three months we laughed at the thought of it. Looks like our hump has arrived two months late.

The thought of venturing through India after a few more months in Africa blows my mind. To jump in the fire after being put through the ringer. To add insult to injury. We have had thoughts of skipping the challenging stuff and going straight to someplace like Australia instead. Though who knows, maybe we will be hardened, rugged travelers by then and approach India with ease. Either way, it's good to know we have otpions. Our itinerary could change, the time spent on the road could be shorter or it could be longer. We just have to keep reminding ourselves that we aren't bound to anything and can, at any time, do as we please.

Today, I had to visit the hospital in Malawi for emergency shots of adrenaline and hydrocortizone. Prompted by what, we'll never know, my entire body had broken out into a horrific rash. In 24 hours it had spread from bug-bite looking dots on my arms, to welts covering my entire body and working their way quickly up my face. My knees were so swolen from scratching them that I could hardly walk. It was pretty terrifying, and in my head I began to develop a plan for finding the nearest international airport and getting home asap.

Luckily, however, our hostel is literally around the corner from a hospital. A good hospital, clean and efficient and nearly as nice as any you may find at home. I can't think of any place we have been in weeks that could have offered us this level of care. The doctors are also English speaking, a luxury that would not have been the case if this had happened to me even one day sooner. We truly have been blessed.

And that, I suppose, is one of the most important things to learn from this experience. To know we are being watched over, and that somehow it will always work out in the end. To have faith that no matter what befalls us, it could always have been worse. To gain confidence in our ability to take care of one another under any circumstances, so far away from home. To embrace that we can choose any path in this journey, and support one another in whatever decisions are made.

So, for the time being, we're stickin' within the vicinity of this hospital. Then it's onto whatever may lie ahead.

A day in the life of African travel

- Rise at 3:15am for the half-hour walk (there are no such thing as taxis) to the bus station. Line up for your 4:00am departure.

- Be forced by the driver to pay an additional 100 Mets for each backpack, even though they told you when you purchased your ticket that luggage was included. Since the ride has been paid for in advance, you have no negotiation power. Refuse to pay, and they are leaving without you.

- Pay for your bags, and watch them be tied to one another on the roof with a shoelace. Then a single rope will be used to tie the backpack bunch to a windowsill on the left side of the bus. This gives you confidence that the bags won't fall off the right side of the bus. Sweet, your chances of arriving with your belongings just rose to 50%!

- Of course, there are people seated in your "assigned" seats when you board, so you choose two empty seats. Get yelled at in Portuguese that you must move. They expect you and your boyfriend to share the one empty seat in the back of the bus.

- Play dumb, and refuse to move. Mahem ensues. You can't tell if the other passengers are angry that you won't vacate the seats, or angry that the driver won't just get going.

- Your resistance pays off, and eventually everyone is seated. Then it becomes quiet, and you wait for two hours. From what little you can understand, it seems the bus cannot leave until the sun rises cause the headlights are broken. Th driver knew this yesterday of course, but it never dawned on anybody to postpone the scheduled departure time. So, you wait.

- It becomes light out, and a group of men push the bus backwards out of the parking space. You gain some momentum before crashing into a curb, and are certain your bags must have flown off the back of the bus. Eventually with some more pushing they get it started. The sounds coming from the engine indicates there may be one good mile left in this thing.

- Ride for a few hours, stopping every few miles to pick up more people. Thank goodness for those seat assingments. As the temperature rises, the giant box of dead fish in front of your lap begins to stink terribly. The massive jugs of gasoline at your feet begin to get increasingly hot with the roar of the engine underneath it, and you realize if the bus crashes you'll be incinerated immediately. During a roadside pee stop, some chickens are thrown out the door to do their thing, then hop back on. Very considerate of them.

- It begins to rain heavily. Your bags and their contents are completely soaked.

- Your body begins to ache from the discomfort, and you count three people physically on you. The man in front of you laying on your knees. The woman to your left resting on your shoulder. And the guy behind you with his feet propped up on your butt between the broken seat cushions.

- About 10 miles shy of your destination, the bus breaks down. Everybody gets out to hang on the side of the road in the rain, while your driver attempts to repair the engine with a wrench and some string. An hour later, he succeeds.

- About 1 mile shy of your destination, the bus breaks down again. You decide to walk.

- What I mean by "destination" of course, is where you catch a small van to the town your are actually looking for. These vans, known as "chappas", are the 12-seater vehicles that regularly transport about 25 people wherever they need to go.

- Your bags are strapped to the back and you hop on. Many people get in and are seated in front of you. All of a sudden there is some excitement up front, and the driver speeds off in a hurry with all of the doors still open. You see some men chasing after you. You have no idea what's going on.

- A minute later, the chappa seems to have broken down, and the men catch up to you. A fist fight ensues. You are trapped on board behind the dozens of people seated in front of you. Two men grab the driver by his bare feet and try to yank him from the vehicle, while he holds onto the steering wheel for dear life. Others seem to find this funny, so you try not to be alarmed.

- Eventually the fight is broken up by a large, angry looking man. Someone else takes the wheel and speeds off in a fit of rage, yelling in Portuguese the whole time.

- "Were we just hijacked??"

- The fact that the van is full of local passengers gives you hope that you still may actually be going where the driver says you're going.

- Delighted and exhausted, you arrive at the final bus stop of the day. You pay the chappa driver a few extra bucks to take you directly to your hostel. He manages to only get lost once on the way.

- After 14 hours of travel, you have just enough time to eat some dinner and get to bed. The following day you will rise at 3:15am and do it all over again.

- Tomorrow's ride will include not two, but FOUR different means of transportation, plus one border crossing. Malawi here we come!

Saturday, May 22, 2010

#38-41

Based on your input (thanks!), I've decided to keep posting about the places we stay. But only in detail if it's interesting, and lumped together into fewer posts.


#38
Maputo Backpackers
Maputo, Mozambique
2,200 Mets (approx $68)/night - split 5 ways

Nothing interesting here. Moving on.


#39
Fatima's Nest
Tofo, Mozambique
950 Mets (approx $29)/night

This is the kind of place that most people would absolutely love. Mentioned briefly in a pervious post, the whole property (and town for that matter) was sand. Sand floor huts. Sand restaurant and bar. Sand reception. Sand bathrooms. Those who know me well, know I hate sand. Weird, I know. I would take a nice clean swimming pool over the beach any day.

So, it was really nice for a bit, and the location could not be beat. But when we both got sick and ended up stuck here for eight days, I started to go a little batty. Reece said, "If this place was in Hawaii, people would pay hundreds of dollars a night to stay here!" I argued, "If this place was in Hawaii, there would be concrete paths connecting everything, and a basin of water outside of your hut to rinse off your feet."










#40
Zombie Cucumber
Vilankulo, Mozambique
980 Mets (approx $30)/night

This was way more my scene. Concrete floors in the huts and common areas. Grass. A sparkling swimming pool. Directly across the street from a beach we didn't even go to. And a French woman running the place who cooked AMAZING meals every night.












#41
Pink Papaya
Chimoio, Mozambique
400 Mets (approx $12)/night in a dorm

A one night stopover en-route to Malawi. Again, nothing special here. Except that the detergent they wash their sheets in may have almost killed me. Details to come.

Mozambique

Our time in Mozambique has been light on sight-seeing and heavy on socializing. For photos of Ponta D'Ouro, Maputo, Tofo and Vilankulo, click HERE.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

In the past few weeks, I have spent more time horizontal than vertical. I haven't decided whether that's incredibly luxurious or outrageously lazy. Granted, I have a few excuses. Most of all, Reece and I have been battling a helluva cold and/or flu. A hammock is an ideal place to recover.

When you don't have a lot to do, it's amazing how little you actually get around to accomplishing in a given day. There are times when reading or listening to music actually seems like too much of a chore. And it's not just us, I swear. This phenomenon has struck every person in our group. You know you've fallen into a particlarly sedentary lifestyle when "took a shower" is a perfectly legitimate response to the question, "What did you do today?" In fact, that is pretty much all I did on this fine sunny day. Well, that and took a dip in the pool, read a chapter of my book, and wrote this blog entry.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Safari-venture!

I can't believe I completely forgot to post an album from the game parks we visited in South Africa. What was I thinking?

For some wild African animals, click HERE!

Monday, May 17, 2010

Always

You may have thought I was alone in my love of singing along with Bon Jovi. You'd be wrong.

Stellenbosch, South Africa
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Ponta D'Ouro, Mozambique
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Friday, May 14, 2010

Tofo

We have found a little slice of heaven in Tofo, Mozambique. We're staying in a very basic, sand floor bamboo hut right on the beach, and fall asleep to the waves lapping on the shore every night. The whole town in sand in fact, so no need to ever wear shoes. Everything here is (finally) incredibly cheap, so we've taken a hiatus from boiling pasta and are eating every delicious meal out. The seafood here is meant to be some of the best in the world, and a lobster will set you back about 7 bucks. My personal favorite, a giant plate of beef or chicken curry with coconut rice, carves $2.50 out of our budget every afternoon. Top it off with a giant ice cold bottle of 2M, the local bear, for another dollar.

Last night there was an incredible thunder storm, and the entire town experienced a power outage. Beachside bars became illuminated with candle-light, while we sat outside and watched the sky light up with magnificent white flashes. When the clouds finally burst, we ran down the beach and swam in the warm Indian Ocean in the pouring rain.

Our agenda in Tofo includes whaleshark diving, sailing, catching a sunrise over the ocean from the comfort of our hut, and some heavy reading and suntanning on the silky white sand. I don't see us mustering up the motivation to leave here anytime soon.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Favorite moment in Africa so far...

Getting taught how to dance by the local children in Ponta D' Ouro
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My camera broke on this evening, and it absolutely devastates me that I wasn't able to take any photos of our night. A town with no pavement whatsoever, the hoppin' nightlife consists of dozens of wooden huts in the sand, with narrow lanes connecting them. We were, without a doubt, the only tourists anywhere near this place. And while at first a little aprehensive, the locals eventually welcomed us warmly and we had a blast.

We began our night with a delicious dinner of chicken and chips (aka french fries). Around 4pm, we were directed to the chicken lady's hut in order to let her know how many chickens we would want. We were rquired to pay a deposit on our upcoming meal, likely so that she doesn't kill one of her fresh chickens for no reason. We were instructed to come back three hours later for our feast. And I can boldly say it was probably the best chicken we've ever had.

The night continued with some fierce billiard competition, the killer local libation of rum & rasberry, and a little Black Eyed Peas for good measure.

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Wednesday, May 12, 2010

I've decided the western influence in a country is directly correlated with how many people they squeeze into public transport.

In the US, you could likely claim an entire row on a bus ride. I, personally, am deeply annoyed when someone sits directly beside me on a plane.

In South America, it's a civilized one person to every seat. And what plush seats those are.

Even in South Africa, the tiny spot reserved for your rear is yours and yours alone.

In Mozambique, however, I think we have finally began to see what travel is really like. In the middle of the night, the five of us lined up behind a few dozen Mozambicans for our 3:30am departure from Ponta D'Ouro to Maputo. (Who schedules a departure at 3:30 in the morning?!) Thing is, our pale faces signify that we don't actually own our place in line, so each new arrival casually squeezed in ahead of us and our obtrusive pile of backpacks. No worry, since when the three 12-seater vans pulled up, the line disintegrated immediately. We didn't even attempt to fight the crowd with all of our stuff, and instead hung back and watched while at least 60 people, countless massive bags and a few chickens piled into the three vehicles.

The man in charge signaled that another van would be coming for us, and we were delighted by the thought that we may have one all to ourself. Haha, that was cute of us to think that. We had been hanging out here for about two hours by now, and our heart sank with each new arrival. When the fourth van pulled up, a riot just about broke out when the man in charge indicated that our bags should be placed on first. But they were loaded in, and we snagged a few seats close to the front for our six hour journey. Slowly, each and every person climbed into the van. I know that everybody knows how crammed transport can be in other countries. But seeing it in action was really remarkable.

Mayhem ensued when they decided our bags were too large and they needed to be strapped to the roof of the van. Out they went, while three men climbed on top with ropes. And the entire time, people continued to pile in and on top of one another in the back of the van.

Eventually, all the was left was a man and a very sick little boy. Anybody who knows Reece, knows that he absolutely loathes traveling in the vicinity of sick people or children. Sick children are his worst nightmare. And this kid wasn't fucking around. Droopy eyes swolen half shut, snot and mucus pouring from every orifice on his face. It wasn't clear at first whether he was there for the ride or not, and we're not proud to admit that our first thought was "Please don't let this child be getting on this bus." But after further consideration you realize that he needs to be on this bus more than you do. And when the bus is jammed to the brim and you realize they are about to put this child on your lap and leave his father behind, there is only one thing to do.

Oh, you can imagine the friends we made when the five of us jumped up and declared that we weren't going. They reasoned with us that if we paid for an extra seat, we could have a childless row to ourselves. We explained to them that there was no way we were going to kick a sick kid off so that we could stay on. They pleaded with us that the van would not leave now, cause it was not full enough, and it was all our fault. Surely, the kid could go tomorrow. We argued that we could not in good conscience leave him behind (and in all honesty, we sure as hell couldn't ride with him either). Eventually, to the utter dismay of everyone involved, we got our bags off the roof and hiked the long sand road back to Sara and Lance's. By now, it was 5:00am.

So, how did we evetually get to Maputo? We heard rumor of where we might find a man who could arrange of private taxi van. We found him. We negotiated. We got picked up that evening at 6:00pm. And we learned just how misreable the ride would have been with two dozen other people inside...

The trip to Maputo is on a narrow and bumpy dirt road through incredibly thick vegetation, seemingly taking you further and further into the bush. We have been told that this is definitely NOT the typical backpacker route through the country. Our private driver manuverued his van at speeds I wasn't aware were even possible for a van on a dirt road. I had to physically hold onto my seat to remain in it, and a few times I'm pretty sure we caught air over the steep sand dunes. And even with a roadside pee stop, he got us there in three hours flat.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Traveling in a small group has had many effects on our lifestyle. Along with Kirstie and Hannah, a guy by the name of Fraser has joined us, so we're now rolling in a crew of five. It makes shared expenses more affordable, and bus travel more difficult. Above all, it makes us feel like we are in college all over again.

It helps that most of the places we're visiting lately are beach towns with not much in the way of "sight-seeing". So, we cook a lot of pasta, we play a lot of drinking games, and we bum around on the beach a lot. We talk about our families and where we are from, we ponder the most difficult of "would you rather" queries, and we go out dancing. We sleep in dorm rooms, battle over internet use, share boxes of wine and jars of peanut butter. And it appears our travel plans overlap for a few countries to come, so we anticipate a few more eventful semesters.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

St. Lucia & Kosi Bay, South Africa

Without further ado, our last two stops in South Africa (finally)! For photos of St. Lucia and Kosi Bay, click HERE.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Alright guys. It's time to speak up. I am told that there are a few people who actually read this thing every now and then. And I'm wondering exactly how bored they are by my accommodation posts.

I thought it would be fairly interesting to take note of the types of places we stay, the amenities and prices of various accommodations around the world. The producer in me loves to keep track of weird shit like this. But as I grow bored of taking photos of our rooms, I can only imagine the collective snore from home, "Oh great, not another hostel entry". I've gotten super lazy about documenting them lately, yet a little nagging part of me itches to keep it going.

So, here is a quick note about the last few places we've stayed, while I wait for your responses to come flooding in.


#34
Shonolonga Lodge
St. Lucia, South Africa
500 Rand (approx $68)/night - For an two bedroom apartment, shared 4 ways

Along with our new British traveling friends (Kirstie and Hannah), we rented a fantastic, spotless little apartment. Cooking meals, watching TV on our couch, chatting on our patio, hanging by the pool... All of the luxuries that come with actually having a home (which we are admittedly, starting to miss a tiny bit). If we weren't in such a rush to wrap up South Africa and move onto the next country, I could have enjoyed staying there longer. No photos, cause I'm lazy.


#35
Thobeka Lodge
Kosi Bay, South Africa
300 Rand (approx $41)/night

A very rural, very remote collection of wood and mud huts, run by an absolute wackjob who calls himself Mad Mike. As the only four people staying at the place, we were subjected to his insanity and shockingly rude attitude with no buffer. To entertain ourselves, Reece played bartender behind the empty bar and Kirstie played DJ on the iPod deck. Then we all stared at each other for a while and decided it was time to leave. We did enjoy a day riding around in the back of Mad Mike's pick-up truck, snorkling and surfing and suntanning on Kosi Bay's deserted beaches.








#36
Kaya Kwera
Ponta D'Ouro, Mozambique
600 Mets (approx $20) per person per night

Our crazy Kosi Bay host, Mad Mike, warned us that this place is overpriced. He threatened that the owner was a shady character, only interested in money. He boasted that he taught the man how to start and run a hostel, until some business deal of theirs went sour. Yet, despite all this, he ensured us that he could get us a good deal. If we bought him lunch. When Reece jokingly responded, "How about we make you a peanut butter and jelly?" he responded with a gracious, "How about I make it more expensive for you instead?" The man was a sheer joy to be around.

We paid him for the 4WD ride to Ponta, and upon our arrival he instructed us to wait in the car while he negotiated a special rate for us. I had a pretty strong feeling this guy was not working in our favor, but we waited patiently nonetheless. He emerged with a price that was basically what we'd been paying everywhere. I wasn't impressed. We decided on a four day reservation and coughed up the cash. Reece felt badly that we didn't have enough left to get the guy lunch, so he bought him a poolside beer. (I, on the other hand, felt no remorse.)

The following afternoon, we met a lovely surf shop owner who rents out the apartment in the back of her property for less than we were paying in our hostel. It sleeps five, and comes complete with a tiny kitchen and free use of her boyfriend's surfboard. Sold. We rushed back to Kaya Kwera to see if we could get our recently paid money back. They were happy to oblige, with one small problem. Only a portion of what we'd paid actually went to the hostel. The rest went in Mike's pocket, his own personal commission for bringing us there.

We were furious. Earning a few bucks for bringing the place business is fine, I get that and have no problem with it. But to berate them for being greedy and insinuate that we owe him for the favor he had bestowed upon us - that was super annoying. Luckily, the place was not in fact greedy, and they eventually agreed to a full refund. The owner even opened a free bar tab for us in the amount of Mike's commission. And Mike can shove his peanut butter and jelly sandwich.


#37
Sara and Lance's flat
Ponta D'Ouro, Mozambique
450 Mets (approx $15) per person per night

This was a lovely little change of pace. The apartment itself was tiny and sandy, full of mosquitos and fire ants and some cockroaches at times. However, it was steps from the beach and we began to feel right at home there. Sara and Lance were two of the nicest people that we have met, and could not have been more welcoming. In the afternoons, we kept the company of their eight year old son, Dylan, doing his home-school assignments in the garden, and their five year old daughter, Tellulah, raiding our flat for anything of interest that she may want to claim as her own. Their dog, Badger, would loyally accompany us to the beach every day and introduce us to all the neighborhood pets. We settled into their relaxing little vibe quite nicely, and really enjoyed their hospitality. On our last night, they even woke up at 2:30am to drive us to where the buses depart for our next destination. If we ever found ourselves in Ponta D'Ouro again, I would visit them in a heartbeat.





Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Country Number Seven!

The moment you cross the border from South Africa into Mozambique, the paved road abruptly ends and is replaced by soft, rolling sand dunes. We are headed to Ponto D'Ouro, a secluded beach village accessible only by 4WD vehicle. I have a feeling I'm really going to like it here...

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Has being on the road for four months gotten to us? Has not working made us a little strange? Has living out of a sack started to drive us kinda crazy?

Nah.

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Saturday, May 1, 2010

Baz Day 21: St. Lucia

Woo hoo! We have finished our Baz Bus ticket!

You'd think we'd be disappointed that our travel pass has expired. On the contrary, we are delighted to be free from it's restrictions. However, we are also really anxious to move on to our next country of choice: Mozambique. So our final few stops will also be brief.

St. Lucia is a small tropical village, best known for it's nearby estuary chock full of hippos and crocodiles. So we divided our time between laying by the pool and taking a sunset cruise to check them out. The crocodile sightings left a little to be desired, but the hippos were awesome.