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Africa Pictures!

It only took 5 weeks, but they’re finally finished!  Click below for the full slideshow (with some accompanying music), and be sure to check out the videos too!

Full Slideshow


Cape Town – This Time for Africa

Another reason that I like Africa?  Our flight out of Botswana and back to South Africa served beef jerky as the in-flight snack.  I’m not sure what kind of meat it was, the bag didn’t say, probably human meat, but I think it was delicious.  On this beef high we landed in Cape Town, South Africa.  We arrived early enough to watch Spain beat up Portugal, a game happening in our fair city, but viewed on the TV.

The next morning we got up early, taxied into town and prepared to drink some wine.  The Stellenbosch region of South Africa produces the vast majority of South Africa’s wine and is located about 45 minutes from downtown Cape Town. Our drive out included some SA history and sites such as the location of the first heart transplant, District Six (if you’ve seen the movie “District Nine”, it was loosely based on the SA government moving out black residents in slums from desirable real estate in the 70’s), and a crap load of townships.  Stellenbosch itself was beautiful and hilly, with mist pouring into the crevices between hills and vineyards and strawberry fields as far as you could see.

We started the wine tour by visiting Ernie Els’ winery.  It was super fancy on a hill top and mostly forgettable, like Els’ golf career.  After we were done drinking expensive wine there, we decided we hadn’t had enough cheetah fun and decided that we should go pet some.  I’m very allergic to cats so I was very excited to see if I’d be allergic to a cheetah.  After petting one that was very content to just lay there like a wet towel, I took my petting hand and molested my right eye.  This was in the name of science after all (and my secret black-market desire to ride a cheetah to work each day (more economical than using gas)).  No reaction!  My dream lives on.

After lunch brought some champagne tasting (although I guess that term is technically patented and so they call the booze MCC) into the picture.  We got to drink four or five nearly full glasses.  Excellent choice by our guide.  I even spilled some while talking to some Kiwis about American sports using some overly (thanks champagne makers) animated hand gestures.  Our last stop was to a place that was run by a guy who has created wine and chocolate pairing and that our guide called “the Rock Star of South African wine” – Kevin Arnold.  This did two things for me made me think of The Wonder Years (the lead charcter was Kevin Arnold) and how I love movies/shows much better when they have a narrator and a funny older brother, and it got me singing classic rock tunes in my head the whole bus ride home while everyone else slept.  Our guide also claimed, while we were tasting, that the tourists don’t know how to properly blow a vuvuzela and they he was “really good at blowing them”.  I didn’t think a plastic horn required much talent but I may need to work on my skills and then start Austin’s first vuvu free jazz experimental plastic instrumental band.

The next morning we got up ready to explore the city.  Cape Town is nestled between a big bay and Table Mountain, a huge table shaped mountain to the West.  There’s a funicular running up to the mountain, trouble is that it’s not always open because it’s rainy and/or really windy often in CT.  Locals say that if you’re in town and see the cable cars running that you should hurry to the mountain so you can see the top while it’s open.  Fortunately for us, after breakfast, we saw movement and made our way up.  The car that takes you up is an engineering marvel, as the floor does a full 360 rotation as you move up the cable so that everyone gets the same view.  It was a sunny day at the top and you could see all of Cape Town and halfway to the tip of Africa.

After Table Mountain, we took a bus tour of the coast, saw Green Pointe Soccer Stadium, walked the waterfront, explored the Bo Kaap – CT’s traditional muslim area and heard the call for prayer coming from a nearby mosque, searched for beers I hadn’t tried yet, and bartered for Africa trinkets.  While my bartering technique has changed a bit from my first Mexican experience, my general core techniques of starting really low and fake walking away served me well in picking up even more clutter for our house and friends.

The beginning of our last day in town, we had the bright idea of renting moped to drive from Cape Town to the Cape of Good Hope (the Southwestern most point of the continent).  We did this without really having any idea of the distance to the tip, an idea of speed limits, the joy of driving on the left hand side of the road, and with a looming 5pm flight back to the States (via Europe).  This presented many dangers, and since Tiff is definitely one for danger, we got some crude directions and set off.  After maneuvering up and around Table Mountain to the Western coast we both had a hang of our mopeds, we rented two, and had escaped most of the traffic.  We stopped a few times for pictures or to stretch our legs.  A few of these times, Tiff’s scooter didn’t want to start, and as we contemplated how we’d make do with no phone and a broken bike, we were always able to start it with the kick start.

I have to say that once the sun made its way over the mountains to warm us up, this was one of my favorite experiences of any of our foreign trips.  We were cranking along at 70 km per hour and I’m giggling at signs (“Baboons!”, “Robots in 250m”) and screaming along to lyrics from that Killers song “HE DOESN’T LOOK A THING LIKE JESUS / BUT HE TALKS JUST LIKE A GENTLEMAN” over and over mainly because there was no radio and that’s a good song when wind is plowing across your body.

Our scooter luck soured a bit when we noticed that my bike’s gas gauge was past the ‘E’ and into the red and we were in the middle of nowhere.  So we ditched my bike at a restaurant at a road junction and rode on Tiff’s to the Cape.  It was pretty amazing to be at the edge of a continent and we had a nice walk up to a lighthouse on a hill protecting the Cape and down to the beach at the southern most point.  I debated swimming but the water was in the 50s and I think it would have been a cold ride back in a wet jacket.  We were still relatively on time heading back but Tiff was starting to sweat the time just a bit.  On the ride back to get my moped, we noticed a clanging metal sound on Tiff’s scooter.  When we pulled into the restaurant, we noticed that the muffler brace was dangling, just barely on.  I took the brace off and left Tiff to contend with a moped that didn’t start all the time and had a clinky muffler.  The best part is that this was our better bike, only 400km old and didn’t rattle like mine.  Back to two bikes, we rode on looking for gas.  Fortunately we found a station and I filled up.  This is where trouble began though.  As Tiff went to open the seat access to her wallet and the gas tank, she inserted her key into the lock for the seat latch, turned to the right, and had the key snap off in the lock.

We freaked out a bit here.  We were in a Dutch town that neither of us could pronounce, we were three hours from leaving Africa and one hour from our hotel and bags, we had most of Tiff’s key stuck in the lock, had no access to her wallet or camera, and no way to start the bike.  Hmmmm.  We called the scooter company and they didn’t answer.  We then made an executive decision to abandon the bike at the gas station in the town we couldn’t pronounce in the continent where it’s not a good idea to even park your moto on the street at night.  Before leaving, we fiddled with the lock and decided we’d break the latch so we could get Tiff’s stuff.  For a bike that kept breaking, this would just be another step in the moped’s maturation process.  After a lot of pulling, we got the stuff out and didn’t have to smash up everything.  Tiff jumped on the back of my bike and, amazingly, we made it back without running off the road, breaking down, or wrecking.  We never got a hold of the moped rental place though.  We just hightailed it the hell out of Dodge.

And with that our African journey ended.  I’m already getting ready for Brazil in 2014.  Who’s in?

Quick hits:

  • In my quest for the world’s best cheeseburger, I had a “breakfast burger” with hashbrowns, Canadian bacon, cheese, grilled onion, and some weird red sauce.
  • Shakira’s song “Waka Waka (This Time for Africa)” is very good and I’ve been practicing the dance for Adam Boedeker’s bachelor party when we watch the World Cup finale where she’s going to play it live.
  • At the Cape of Good Hope, we were briefly chased on our bike by an ostrich.  I hate ostriches and was very freaked out while I contemplated jump kick moves to destroy the ostrich and save Tiffy.
  • “Mr. Big” (aka Christopher North) from Sex & the City was on our flight from Madrid.  I noticed him leaving the men’s room in Madrid because he didn’t wash his hands.  Then I noticed who he was.
  • Traffic lights in South Africa are called robots.  This is amazing.

I ain’t lion…

Hello from our third plane of the day.  We are en route to Cape Town to begin the last leg of our trip.  This morning we departed the fine country of Botswana and camp Xakanaxa.  Sadly, this camp is actually pronounced “Cock-a-knock-ah”.  Because of this, every time an employee would come up to me, I would flinch and cover my crotch.

Besides the crotch endangerment, we had the experience of sleeping in a tent with a King sized bed in it, but no power past 5pm.  So when we’d get back from afternoon game drives, the room would be lit up with candles and lanterns.  Each night at the camp, a guide would have to walk you to your room so that you weren’t eaten by wild animals.  This seemed funny to me until this morning when we unzipped our tent and saw a leopard lying in the grass 20 feet from us.  We debated whether or not to sound the alarm (an air horn in a leather case on our bookshelf) and instead opted to try to take pictures of the leopard while standing large.  The leopard quickly got tired of our paparazzi attempts and slunk further into the nearby woods.

Xakanaxa proved to be the camp with the coolest room and had lot of animals that we hadn’t seen.  This morning we caught up with six cheetahs and followed them from our jeep while they stalked some impala breakfast.  The whole jungle reacts as the cheetah get near.  Birds start squawking, impalas stare and snort but don’t run (stupid impala), and even the squirrels make a noise that our guide liked to impersonate.  In the end, the impalas got away because the cheetah was lazy (my opinion) and didn’t want to continue the chase.  But it was fun to watch them hunt.  We also got to see some wild dog hunt and a whole lot of lions sleeping in funny poses.  I hope to come back a few years down the road and embarrass the lions with these pictures the same way my mom loved to show the pictures of me potty training.

Xakanaxa sits on the Okavongo Delta and we also got to take a boat ride through the swamp which was relaxing and felt a bit like a video game come to life as we would maneuver through narrow lanes of high delta grass.  While on the Delta, we also got to ride in a traditional mokoro canoe made from the local Sausage Tree (despite my attempts to wait under this tree with eggs and pancakes, I couldn’t cajole any sausage to fall from the tree onto my breakfast plate.  We saw some hippos who looked just like the Hungry Hippo game (minus the neon pink one) and got to see a land hippo mark his territory by pooping and then spreading it like lawn fertilizer with his tail.

Before Xakanaxa, I had experienced my first small plane ride of my life going from Chobe to Savuti Safari Lodge.  That plane, a five seater Cessna, was possibly the first plane ever invented.  I think the name was the Spirit of Saint Louis and the Red Baron was our pilot.  Anyway, it was fun (scary) for the first five minutes and then bumpy and crazy enough that I had the pleasure of using the in-flight sick bag to deposit my lunch, and my breakfast, and possibly all of the candy I’ve already eaten on this trip.  It was the exact opposite of awesome.

Once on the ground though, the Gods of Equality allowed us to get the Honeymoon Suite room at Savuti – a series of private little cabins arranged throughout the camp.  It was possibly the most exciting, smelly and loud room (all good things) that I’ve ever stayed in.  Right outside our front door was a watering hole (set up by the government because much of Savuti is in the desert) that elephants loved to frequent.  At all hours of the day there were usually two to seven elephants slurping water, pushing each other out of the way with their tusks, and being awesome.  There was also a high voltage fence between our room and the elephants so they couldn’t crush us like ants.  When the sun would go down, there was a spotlight on the elephants so we wouldn’t miss the action and when we felt like sleeping, the elephants would trumpet to let us know they wanted more pictures taken.  Elephant – the most vain animal in Africa.

The camp was great and the people running it and guests were the most interesting of our trip.  We made some Australian friends and each night got to dine under the Botswana sky, a full moon, a different view of the elephants and enjoyed some really good food.  We even were treated to some traditional African song and dance by the staff complete with a woman doing shrieking cries that made the camp very worthwhile to me.

Our guide at Savuti, “Bubba”, was a bit of a renegade.  He wasn’t too good at spotting animals but he did like to drive really fast over very bumpy and sandy roads as soon as someone else would spot something.  On our last morning, we pulled into a spot where a leopard was stalking a small antelope.  The antelope got within five feet of the leopard and somehow was able to avoid the leopard’s pounce.  The leopard didn’t chase because it was lazy.  This furthers my theory that cats (jungle and domestic) are super lame.  After falling short, most cars watching the leopard left the area but we stuck around and sojourned off-road and about five feet away to take a picture of the leopard sleeping up close.  Bubba didn’t think this was a good enough picture for us so he drove at the sleeping leopard until it had to scramble away.

Now we’re headed to Cape Town – hopefully with fewer leopard encounters and more wine glasses.


I’m back to our room after just having had British High Tea whiling viewing the mist come off of Victoria Falls and two warthogs hangout on the nearby lawn. We arrived in Zimbabwe today, Monday, June 21, on a morning flight from Johannesburg. When we touched down, I thought for a second we might have to bribe the local officials to get into the country but apparently $60 US Dollars is the going rate. The economy is so bad here that they’ve all but abandoned the Zimbabwean dollar and have now opted to strictly use Euros and American Dollars which is good if you’ve got the cash, bad if you didn’t come prepared. Luckily, Tiffy plans for everything.

We toured Victoria Falls the following morning, taking a backwoods path accompanied by a security guard. There was elephant poop all over and we saw lots of monkeys hanging out. When we got to the Falls, we paid a $30 entrance fee and then decided to save $3 by skipping out on a poncho purchase. I have to remember to stop being so cheap. We got absolutely drenched. AND IT WAS AWESOME. It started out fairly innocuous with some light mist. As we moved closer to the bigger parts of the falls it moved to heavy mist to light rain to torrential down pour where we couldn’t see the falls in front of us. We dried off a little watching people bungee jump off the bridge between Zambabwe and Zambia. I think I’ve found a new worst job. After you’re done soiling yourself and are dangling upside down, they lower a local guy down on a rope to help you gather yourself and to help you back on the platform.

Later that afternoon we went shopping in town. We had heard a rumor that you could trade clothing for souvenirs so I brought along an old Purdue shirt. Sure enough, right away some guy wants to trade an elephant statue for my shoes. No dice. We stopped at the real stores to buy a $1 soda to break a $20. I guess they don’t have too much American currency because I got back a $2 bill and, I’m pretty sure, the first $1 bills ever printed. We decided to walk to the craft market next when two guys came up and wanted to sell us some trillion dollar bills. Trillion dollar bills? Yes, please. I worked out a deal with the guy but before I could pay a Tourism Police Officer showed up and ran the guy off in another language with me still holding the bills. I thought I might get revenge-killed for stealing but luckily, even though the cop walked around with us, the bill seller snuck into the craft market to collect and I gladly paid him. I’M A TRILLIONAIRE NOW!!! YOU WILL RESPECT ME OR I WILL HAVE YOU DESTROYED (on account of the fact that I have a trillion dollars and you don’t). I MIGHT BUY THE INTERNET OR YOUR CITY. I ONLY EAT BALD EAGLES TOPPED WITH GOLD SHAVINGS AND I WIPE MY BUTT WITH HUNDRED DOLLAR BILLS BECAUSE THAT’S HOW TRILLIONAIRES LIVE.

The next day, we crossed the border into Botswana (complete with stepping on some wet rags because Botswana is against foot and mouth disease and this helps). Then loaded into an open air jeep and headed into “the bush”. I’m fond of this. We got to our camp after a brief elephant encounter near the road. Our hotel is awesome and sits in Chobe National Park on the Chobe River. Across the river is Namibia. Our hotel host says it’s safe to swim in the river. Today we took a boat ride and I saw a crocodile the length of a mini-van. Tiff says you’d have to pay her $7000 to just get in the river enough to submerge her body. So there’s that. We may not get to cross off Namibia. We have seen more elephants than I thought existed in the world. We also saw giraffes (nature’s weirdest animal), monkeys, baboons, water buffalo, a leopard, lions, impala (I haven’t seen a black SS with the nav-i-ga-tion version though), kudu, monitor lizards, bush bucks (our guide said they could “make their meat taste flavorless” if a predator shows up), warthogs (super ugly), badgers, and hippos. Sadly, I have not been able to pitch a watermelon into the mouth of a hippo yet. When we saw the leopard, he was hunting something and lying low on the ground. We pulled up perpendicular to him and watched him lying there. Shortly after, he saw something he liked and started moving – directly at me. I clenched my fists, and prepared to hide behind Tiffany. Then he ducked under our jeep and I got to live another day. There was much rejoicing.

Tomorrow we fly to another part of Chobe Park for more safari-ing and hopefully some cheetah sightings. I’ve been lugging around Cheetos and sunglasses for over a week now hoping to blend in and make lots of cheetah friends. We will see.



Hello from Africa.
Our Africa trip was spurred last fall based on three main motivators:

  1. We had airlines miles to burn and wanted to do something super cool.
  2. I’ve claimed that before having kids, I wanted to visit all six habitable continents
  3. Paul Simon’s “Graceland” album. One of my all-time favorites.

Nine months and lots of grassroots Tiffy details planning later, we found ourselves on the way to Africa to take part in the World’s biggest sporting event, The World Cup, with planned stops in South Africa, Zimbabwe, Botswana, and back to South Africa.

We arrived in Johannesburg, South Africa on Friday around lunchtime after about 40 hours straight of flying. We were a bit like angry zombies as we rode the train into town and then roamed the streets of J’burg looking for our hotel with a vague sense of bearing and a strong scent of BO. It’s pretty weird, at first, being the obvious ethnic minority, something we hadn’t experience except in Japan (where skinny me had six inches and 50 pounds on 99% of the country). After lots of sweating, we found our “hotel” and checked into a house in a neighborhood that has been turned into a “guesthouse”. We quickly ran right back to where we started to catch a bus to our first soccer match – USA vs. Slovenia. We figured out the mass transit after about 15 minutes of “ambassador” (official title) confusion of people telling us “you should take taxi” (I’m pretty sure that was the only words that guy knew because we accidentally asked him something later and he said the same thing), “you missed the bus, you should ride with us” for triple the price, and finally, “just go over there, I think the bus will come there”. Fortunately, the latter was right and after a crazy hour long bus ride where our driver’s daringness and tailgate-ability could compare well with Dale Earnhart (RIP Intimidator), we arrived to the stadium and started running to catch kick-off.

We got a little sidetracked and made it into the stadium about three minutes before Slovenia scored to go up 1-0. Long story short, the game was great, the American fans were mega-crazy, the local fans jumped and danced all game long, and I deleted a video of the blown call on the USA’s go-ahead goal on which I was going ape-poo until someone pointed out the goal didn’t count.

After the game, we headed back to our hotel in the suburb of Sandton. Everyone says that Johannesburg is dangerous and it’s not safe to walk around. For this reason, everyone we met took taxies everywhere and acted like wimps. We walked about 25 minutes each way from our hotel to the main transportation area each day with no problems (Mom, I was vigilant though and would puff up my chest if someone sketchy was walking by). Plus, we bought vuvuzelas (those annoying horns that sound like bees on TV) and nothing says tourist tough like a plastic horn.

Having seen the lily white side of town and toured enough of the local mall as I could stand (this is the place where everyone goes, to the mall), I decided we should do a tour of Soweto. Soweto stands for South West Township. A township is basically an African ghetto complete with some houses without electricity, plumbing, etc. The day before, we went to the Apartheid Museum and got to see the terrible and totally legal racial segregation history of South Africa. The country didn’t start legally respecting the rights of “non-whites” until the 1990s!!?! Seriously. Anyway, it certainly makes for a very strange racial dynamic (at least to me – I couldn’t stop thinking about that atrocity) when interacting with the locals. So we booked a tour of Soweto, something that would definitely be on (if that existed).

Our tour guide, Mandy was a gregarious life-long resident of Soweto who picked us up at a nearby hotel and told stories and jokes that entertained all 12 people on the tour. Soweto was originally an area of mining homes set up during the late 1800s during the African gold rush. We drove through row houses without power with people congregating around water wells. A part of the township (with sponsored signs by Coca-Cola) had houses made from discarded trash. We got out of the bus there and were guided around in groups of six by a local who explained who lived there, what they did for a living, and their sense of community (strong). Lots of people wanted to shake our hands and know where we were from. It was the craziest living situation I’ve ever seen. After the city tour, we were given a tour of a local church. We entered during a Catholic mass on Father’s Day and got to take part in a Catholic mass that was way more fun and joyous than anything I’ve ever seen. Ladies were dancing and singing, the band played the drums, and people encouraged us to come and sit by them. It was the most real Africa experience I’ve had on the trip and quite moving.

We ended with a museum visit (to commemorate the shooting of a Soweto child by police during rioting for equal rights), a trip by Nelson Mandela’s home, ate some Soweto food, and had the grossest beer I’ve ever tasted. I asked Mandy where I could get some local brew (I had read about it in our guidebook). She sent me down the street to a tin shack called, The Shack. Once there, I was led to the back by some locals and shown the ordering window. I asked for two beers in boxes (Mandy gave me the name but it was in Zulu and had a click in the title. I decided to go with the descriptive packaging route). The guy was confused at first. Then I asked for Soweto brewed beer. He went to the back and I ended up with two 1 liter milk carton boxes with grossness all over them. He cleaned them off for me and told me to shake them before drinking. I started walking back and shook them while walking, got about ten steps, and one erupted all over me. So some guy showed me how to properly shake them. Tiff and I toasted and tasted the sourest nastiest concoction I’ve had in some time. It was so bad, Tiff stopped after one drink. I had three or four more sips but decided to stop when I noticed the spilled beer on my shirt had turned my green shirt white. As of this writing, I have not gone blind.

Other random quickhits:

  • The South African team is known here as Bafana Bafana, which has sparked my wife’s newest nickname – Tiffana Tiffana.
  • Every building and business in J-Burg has razor wire, spikes, and/or electrified fence around the perimeter to keep out thieves. There are also a lot of random guys lying in lawns near the street. I’m not sure if they are sleeping or recovering from electrical shock.
  • Soweto, which has many real homes in addition to camps, has no thief deterrents in place. I asked Mandy about that and the lack of police and she said that Soweto polices itself. If something is stolen, the city and people take care of the problem.
  • I’m writing this from Zimbabwe, a country whose economy is so terrible that they:
    • Printed million, then billion, and then trillion Dollar notes
    • Decided this wasn’t enough and decided to drop seven zeros from the bills.
    • Finally decided to scrap their money all together and now only take US Dollars or the Euro.
    • On TV now is a “news segment” about how great the economy is and the measures being taken to improve the crime rate.
    • Now there is a show on about traditional Korean music. I might not go to bed just to see what’s on next.
  • We took a jet lag reducer herbal supplement on the way over and neither Tiff nor I had any jetlag.

Until later, I leave you with my favorite song of the year and the World Cup theme.

Sing in me, Muse, and through me tell the story

Yassas from Greece.

(click to skip straight to the pics)

I’m finally taking a break from scurrying around islands and getting rocked on our cruise ship to scribble down some thoughts from the journey so far.  We arrived in Athens last Saturday after a long night of flying.  Because our rooms weren’t ready at  11am when we arrived, we decided to try trekking to a flea market, got mega lost, got rained on (note: white marble, which is everywhere in this city, is super slippery when it’s wet – Bon Jovi titled it correctly), and ended up at the new Acropolis Museum which just opened in June.  We strolled through the four floors but everyone was so tired that we’d all nod off when sat down.  So we headed back to the hotel and napped.  Afterwards we were out looking for dinner when we heard some live music.  We followed it over and found a Communist rally where everyone was wearing red and holding flags…and singing along to a Carpenters song.  Pussies.  That said, when I saw about 30 cops hanging around the periphery, we skedaddled.  That night we went to a nice traditional greek taverna and my dad, who is known for making bold clams, proclaimed that his lamb stew was “the best meal that I’ve ever had”.  The rest of the night I followed him around asking him, “serious, the best EVER?”.

On Day 2 we got up early and headed to the Acropolis to try to beat the crowds – who were drawn in by the ancient theater where Yianni performed his legendary concert “Live at the Acropolis” (aka Big Moustaches, Big Tunes).  When we got to the Parthenon at the top there were only about 10 other tourists on the far side.  That made for some really cool time on top, being able to see something that’s been standing for thousands of years.   What shocked me most about the top is that there seemed to be a lot of ancient ruins scattered around the grounds and anyone could basically climb on them.  Pretty shocking stuff to me that they weren’t preserving it better but I guess you can’t spit in Athens and not turn up some clay pot or naked Greek wrestling memorabilia.  Case in point, at the Acropolis metro station they had a picture of the result of the digging when they first drilled the new subway line.  The whole tunnel was filled with priceless relics, either that or gypsies had set up a fake souvenir shop on the new territory because they didn’t think there were enough bad tourist shops selling the same Athens shirts, fake pottery, statue replicas, or dirty playing cards.

On Monday, my 30th birthday, we got up and headed to Pireaus (the port of Athens) and I boarded my first cruise ship for our Aegean cruise.  That night we docked in Mykonos and had some time to stroll the alleyways and shops.  Everything on the island (and the other islands that we’ve seen) is painted white.  It’s like every Greek got together at the local Sherman Williams and asked the cleric, “How much of a discount could we get if bought 10,000,000 gallons of white paint and 500,000 gallons of blue paint for our roofs?”

The next morning we woke up docked in Kusadasi, Turkey.  In Turkey we went the House where the Virgin Mary supposedly spent her last days.  In the 1800s a German nun who had never been out of her homeland had visions in her dreams of a place in Turkey.  A scribe took down here story and they searched the Turkey country side and came upon a place exactly as she had described it.  From there we moved on to the remains of ancient Ephesus.  Pretty cool ruins mostly still in tact and a 24,000 person amphitheater that’s hosted two extremely ugly things – Bob Dylan (musician) and alligators (beasts for beast fights).  We ended our trip at a rug maker shop where we were given free drinks and got to see the rug director yell out Turkish commands to two servants who ran around the room like mad men throwing out rugs of all colors.

That afternoon we cruised to Patmos, the location that St. John wrote the Book of Revelation after he was exiled from modern day Turkey.  The main selling points of that tour were a cave filled with some religious art, a hole in the wall where John would rest his head, another hole which he used to help himself get up (sleeping in a rock cave had to be painful), and the desk that his writing was done on.

Today we were in the ancient city of Rhodes, the original home of one of the Ancient Wonders of the World – The Colossus of Rhodes.  The Colossus fell down a long, long time ago but in its place now are two statues of deer.  How this is related, I don’t know.  From Rhodes we rented a car and drove to the southern tip of the island to see the acropolis of Lindos.  Not knowing where to park, we headed towards the ruins down a very steep road that was filled with hundreds of people walking.  When we got to the bottom we realized it was a dead end.  Normally, this wouldn’t be a problem, but considering there were so many people and the road could barely support two cars and considering the fact that I haven’t driven a stick shift much in the last 10 years, it was an interesting experience.  At one point with cars behind and in front of me and with just a little room, I tried easing on the gas and ended up peeling out so loudly and for about four or five consecutive seconds that it scared the crap out of the pedestrians and made them slide over.

We arrived in Santorini late Thursday, ready to get off the cruise ship.  Santorini is known as the Sunset island, it’s the one in all the pictures of Greece with the white churches with blue domes, and some people think it’s the lost city of Atlantis.  Because of this, I was hoping to see some merpeople (half man, have mermaid). Tiff had booked one of the coolest hotels I’ve ever stayed in.  We had the top floor of a converted windmill with one of the best views of the island.  Cool fun facts about the hotel include the fact that it came with a free rental car and free mini bar use.  Which meant that the second we arrived, we drowned all the beer in the fridge and considered bathing in Coca-Cola.  Sadly, we later learned that the mini bar didn’t get refilled so maybe we should have taken it easier on the soda.

Santorini is a volcanic island that, when it exploded, left the island with amazing cliffs, amazing beaches, and hundreds of tourist shops selling the same ten t-shirts and postcards.  Our first day we visited two of the local wineries because my Dad claimed he wanted to get “drunk enough to die.”  While he didn’t succeed in his quest, we did get to do some fun rating of wines and compared our scores with Wine Spectator.  I think Tiff has a second career in judging wine color if computing doesn’t work out.  Hopped up on booze, we made our way to a white beach, a black sand beach, and my first red beach (also known as a ginger beach). The red beach took a little hike to get to it and was probably one of the neatest beaches I’ve ever visited.

We tried to rent scooters but were denied because we didn’t have any international scooter license.  To prove our worth we offered to demonstrate our skills by emulating the riding style in old DMX music videos but our offers to “stop, drop, shut ‘em down, open up shop” were just received with confused looks.  We had to settle for the bus to ride around the island.

On our last day, my dad and I walked down 250 steps from our hotel to the beach at the bottom of the cliff.  I use the term beach lightly as it was more of a concert platform with rocks that could be considered steps.  It was cold and probably in the low 70s and the water was really cold.  After 10 minutes of “no you get in first” arguments, I jumped in.  I spent the next 10 minutes trying to convince my Dad to join me.

From Santorini, we flew back to Athens and then took a boat to the island of Hydra.  Hydra was a greek shipping center in the 1800s and is filled with big mansions and, the coolest part, no cars, scooters, or other electric transportation.  This means that the only way to maneuver the island is by walking or by donkey.  During the course of our day there we saw donkeys hauling bags of cement, tourist luggage, Greek men, food and beer, and (best of all) a dishwasher.  The dishwasher was an interesting problem and I enjoyed watching three people figure out how to strap it on.

On our last night we returned to Athens, checked into a dumpy hotel, did some last minute shopping, and went to see the changing of the guard.  It was a pretty cool ceremony but the guards, dressed in traditional garb, rivaled the Swiss guards at the Vatican for goofiest outfit of all time.  They had on a dress, tights, and shoes that looked like elf shoes and had balls on the toe.  Like in England, they have to stand completely still looking straight ahead.  Unlike in England, when changing, they did some sweet high leg kicks and foot tapping.

There was also a stray dog laying right in front of a guard stand obviously not intimidated by the fancy clothed guards.  In Greece it seemed like people didn’t have pets so much as cities had pets.  There were wild dogs and cats everywhere and they seemed to just hangout and try to get food whenever it was available.

The next morning we flew home.  All in all, it was a really nice trip.  Lots of great weather, company, and sunsets.

Direct link to Picasa album:


The pictures are up! Feel free to watch the slideshow below, or browse on your own here: Australia & Japan


Konnichiwa amigo-san,

A special shout out to all my Mexican/Japanese homies. This email marks the end of our long journey bounding across hemispheres intent on seeing different stars and watching toilet water spin both ways.

When you last left your heroes, Southern Australia was at their forefront. From Kangaroo Island we decided to swing by the Barossa Valley, Australia’s biggest wine region. After a near barf enducing ferry ride, a rental car switch, and a few hours of driving we arrived at the first of three wineries. The Barossa Valley is known for its’ shiraz wines, but being equal opportunity drinkers we sampled all over the wine map. I’m happy to report that every time we moved to a new winery, it seemed better than the last one. Also, Tiffy’s nose got tingly-er. Not sure why.

The next two days were spent driving The Great Ocean Road to Melbourne. We took the Princess Highway and fortunately had no Bowser sighting (our princess was in another castle). We drove this road because of the cool rock formations to be seen – The 12 Apostles, London Bridge, Caveman’s Dong, and Admiral’s Arch (only 3 of those are real). The first day was like driving Wyoming, lots of nothing, very brown, snakes waiting for me to run them over. The second day we arrived at the ocean and the rocks were awesome. Back in the 1800s there were over 30 shipwrecks here. I’m pretty sure it’s because on all of those boats the captain allowed his wife to ride along and every time they’d make a hairpin cliff chasing turn the captain would look over and the wife would be holding on with white knuckles and would sigh in relief until the captain just wrecked the boat.

Melbourne was as good as this sentence.

From Melbourne we journeyed onto Tokyo, land of vending machines, three-packs of used school girl underwear, and robots. Two of three ain’t bad. To say that Tokyo was a sight explosion on the senses is like saying the WWF wrestler The Ultimate Warrior was a weakling when he got possessed in the wrestling ring by Indian spirits (hooray to the three people that got that reference). Our first train station featured thousands of short folks scrambling in all directions trying to avoid the mop headed white guy pushing a bag their same size and wielding a large backpack that clanked (note to self: it’s not wise to buy five bottles of wine and haul them on your back when you still have five travel days left). I may have maimed a few, this I cannot remember because I’ve used a good portion of my Japanese memories on word memorization (“Eggo…Hannah say, ‘mas que?” (do you speak English?), “HAI TIFFY-SAN” (Yes, Tiffany), “ego hanna mas cas see” (not sure what this means but it took me three days to get “do you speak English?” down), bee rue (beer), and “Domo Arrigato Mr. Roboto (The American band Styxx? They suck)) and figuring out fancy toilet functions. The first time I used the latrine the seat was heated. Tiffany used one that made flushing sounds if you pressed a button. I was shot in the butthole with a stream of hot water that was both pleasantly refreshing and warmly violating when I pressed a button that I later dechipered had a picture of a butt being sprayed by water. I also entered a museum toilet that opened the lid for me. Arrigato toilet-san. How do I import you to America? Maybe they have one that turns into a jetpack that I can fly home.

Tokyo itself was an explosion of electricity, aforementioned small people (I was taller than 99% of the population), ancient temples, strange foods and smells, and Suntory whiskey products. You can buy beer in street vending machines (which you see every two blocks). Everywhere you walk in a train station or popular place is real similar to walking in a mass of people after a football game, except the football game always just got out. We were on the lookout for Engrish (bad English translations) and did our best detective work in California themed shopping stores. Example-san – “”.

We ate at the craziest restaurant I’ve ever been to in my life. Recommended by our book, we entered a basement with a traditional Japanese restaurant with only six tables. We took off our shoes and sat on our mats. The owner, who I had called earlier in the day and referred to me as “Crow” (a Japanese attempt at Cross) was possibly insane. This was a good thing. He brought us hot towels on the head of a robot. He brought us a menu with a flower on it that he pretended to bring to orgasm. He brought us beer and sake in mugs that belched and shook when you tried to drink out of them. He let us a pick a country when we ordered our drinks. We picked France. Soon French music played and he came out with an easel and a beret on and proceeded to sketch a picture of Tiff for five minutes. He translated our four food options by using a hand puppet to act out four stories that he told in broken English. We played carnival games. We played games where the loser got shocked. We played games where the loser got shot in the face with water. His mom was the cook. We dined on pumpkin and chicken. When another table chose Spain for drinks they were delivered by the owner in a bull mask after he finished a Spanish flamenco dance with castanets. It was the best dining experience of my life (unless you count the time that I slapped Wayne Gretsky on the back and yelled, “what’s up Wayne?” 45 minutes after eating nachos at a Clippers game as a dining experience).

We saw the Imperial Palace from the outside (not that cool). We saw temples that had swastikas on them (who knew that Hitler was a demon and a copyright infringer too boot?). We breathed in smoke on our put it on our weary feet and legs and cleansed ourselves with water. We threw monetary donations and clapped twice. We ate things on sticks from strange stands in alleys. We ate strawberries in clear goo. We grabbed sushi from a rotating conveyer belt. We met a life goal of mine when we witnessed the most amazing subway display of my life. At morning rush hour people would line up to get in the subway cars. They’d get totally packed and the “it’s leaving bell” would ring, which signaled five more idiots to try to fit in. This brought guards in neat blue uniforms with white gloves over to try to force the doors closed while another guy would try smashing the person hanging out and their stuff into the subway car. We saw Mount Fuji from the window of a bullet train traveling over 200mph. We got lost all over in a city with minimal street names and guide book directions like “Take Exit 5, and go perpendicular to the train tracks on your right. Pass three alleys and turn on the crooked street.

Needless to say, I consider Tokyo to be one of the greatest cities I’ve ever visited in this whole wide world.

Dispatch from the best Cane Toad Racers in the US

G’day from the Kangaroo Island Wilderness Retreat,

We just saw our first kangaroo and wallaby. They are handfed in these parts so we got a $1AUD bag of roo food (different than the $1.50 “Pony Poo” we saw on the side of the road earlier today) and plan on placing it in areas on our bodies that will look especially funny in picture. Maybe not but I do vow to use my hands and act dominant and tall when feeding the male (this being advice from the hotel owner).

When I last wrote, we were in Cairns. It was the Australian equivalent of Corpus Christi but with better beaches. It was filled with nothing but bad tourist shops and restaurants. Luckily, Tiff booked us in the much more quaint town of Port Douglas.

From PD we did a Great Barrier Reef snorkeling tour. It was pretty awesome. The fish were colourful and lively. At one point a shark even swam by and in an effort to protect Tiffany, I pushed her so that she shielded me from any possible attack. Luckily he swam on. There was also a huge fish near our tie-up spot called a Marioness (sp?) who was stupid and slow enough that I was able to swim down and touch him on the tail. It’s always been a dream of mine to punch a fish in the face and this, my friends, may have been as close to that zenith as I’ll ever get (he was much too nice and friendly looking to punch (unlike those stupid unicorn fish with there big stupid noses (fish shouldn‘t have noses))). While in the water we had to wear special suits to protect us from “Stingers” (aka jellyfish) which are badasses in Australia. One sting will kill you if you don’t get to a hospital quickly. If you do get prompt attention it usually takes one month of recovery time before you’re back at it.

That night we also had the pleasure of attending Cain Toad races. Some guy that looks like Owen Wilson takes pleasure in racing them at a local bar so Tiff and I made sure to attend. It was awesome. Tiff’s name was drawn for the first heat and she was matched up with Fat Bastard. A four year old little girl, who unfortunately for Competitive Tiff, liked Tiffany, was also drawn in the first match. This was bad for Tiff because she wanted Tiff to hold her, which Tiff did, during a race where you have to use a kazoo to nudge the toad off the table into your hand before depositing him in a bucket. This was hard with a little kid on one arm and I’m proud to say that Tiff did not drop the child on her head and got 5th. I, being the racing type, bought my way into the final luxurious finale and drew Fat Bastard’s toad in training, Mini-Me (a half sized toad). Using my superior toad wrangling abilities I finished second with a slam dunk of Mini-Me and won a cane toad racing hat. It was most excellent.

The next morning we journeyed north to the world’s oldest rainforest – the Daintree where we were staying in a hotel in the trees with a hot tub on the balcony. For some reason we forgot the whole jungle part of a rainforest and two hours later, when we stopped for lunch, felt like our blood was boiling because of the 96% humidity. When checked into the eco-friendly hotel where we were told it was best to just turn on the fan and let the air circulate. Once the lady who showed us to our room left, we stripped to our undies and cracked the A/C. Nice! That night we decided to go on Bruce Belchar’s Crocodile Boat Cruise because the brochure advertised a free drink and lollies (aka candy). One thing that ol’ Bruce might want to consider is getting some crocs for his boat tour because we saw not a one. It was a nice cruise and we did hear about how crocs kill about 8 people a year who are dumb enough to swim in the water.


  • Our hotel was across the street from Four Mile (why it’s not 5.2 km beach, I don’t know) Beach which is four miles long. Of that four miles, you’re only allowed to get in a 20 yard by 30 yard section of fenced off area that is Stinger free.
  • Port Douglas is the death sight of Steve “Crocodile Hunter“ Irwin two years ago on our stay. RIP brotha.
  • I’m growing a fumanchu for this trip and look sorta like a broke Morgan “The Super Size Me guy” Spurlock with more hair.
  • Cane Toads were brought to Oz (Australia’s shorter to type nickname) many years back to kill off beetles in the sugar cane fields. The initial load was 100 toads. The dumb farmer that brought them in didn’t realize they have no natural enemies in Oz so now they number 10 billion. Wowzy.
  • The following words are different in Australia. First the English word then the Australian

Flashlight – Torch
Quay – Key
Fire – Flash
Restroom – Toilet
Candy – Lollies

Tomorrow we get to pet sea lions and see koala bears. Then it’s off to Adelaide and the Great Ocean Road to Melbourne.

Best Cane Toad Racers You’ve Ever Met,
Nate and Tiff

Meat Pies, Ocean Water, and Baz

G’day from Australia,

This email is sponsored by the new movie “Australia” (in theaters soon).  The country is “banking on” the movie doing well so if you don’t get see it, I feel I might not be able to return.

We arrived in Sydney on Sunday morning bagless, a little weary, and ready to buy a knife like the one that Crocodile Dundee had in his movie.  No luck yet on the knife front but Sydney was pretty cool.  In an effort to be culturally aware, we’ve decided to emerse ourselves in the culture by speaking with an Australian tongue.  So, that means lots of “g’day mates” and whenever ordering we yell out “throw another (fill in the name of the meat being ordered) on the barbie”.  This has been met with confused looks and a fairly regular shake of the head or eye roll.  Hmmm.  Nonetheless, we push on.  Our first day in town found us rolling out of the subway into an area that the Qantas Lost Baggage Agent said would have “lots of strip bars, you’ll like it”.  I actually wished I had my Dundee knife but we made it through safely.  We decided to stroll through the city and headed through a big park on the north side of town that was filled with different trees of the world.  Tiff’s favorite was one with big purple flower that were vibrant in the sun.  It was cool.  Hanging in those tree were also huge freaky bats making awful sounds which we later learned were wombats (wom means “very large and extremely freaky” in Australian).  Except they were just actually regular bats (wombats just seemed like a cooler name).

As we were just about to round the corner to see the jewel of Australia – the Sydney Opera House – Tiffy keenly spotted the markers from The Amazing Race and a finale point across the water, so we turned and headed that way.  We saw a team running in but our cheers were met with confused faces.  As we approached the mat, the regular host was no where to be found.  In his place was another well chiseled guy and a crazy old coot dressed in old Australian garb who would repeatedly ring a bell and yell “WELCOME TO SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA”.  Now that’s a greeting.  We later found out that it was, in fact, The Amazing Race, but it was another country’s version.

We eventually made it to the Opera house which was much more 70s inside that I would have ever thought.  Strangely, my bell bottom jeans flared a bit more and my sideburn appeared fuller in the mirrors there.  Coincidence?  I think not!  The Opera house does have a stellar location though and the harbor was an awesome sight.  We also paid way too much to climb the Harbor Bridge which was well worth the money just for the views from above.  I was a little nervous about the heights but when I noticed a 70 year old lady in our group I decided to swallow my fear.  While I didn’t get to pee or spit off the top, I did get a picture and scolding from Tiffany for fake throwing her off.

Other notable items include:

  • One guy from Naughty By Nature (it’s not that I hate ‘cha), who I recognized from my glorious amounts of MTV watching in middle school, was staying in our hotel.  After this sighting and the other Amazing Race host, I thought Australia might be the D-list capital of the world.  Later we saw Nicole Kidman’s bodyguards and limos and decided maybe it was the C-list capital of the world.
  • We went to the world famous Bondi Beach where it was blustery and probably in the high 60s.  Despite this fact, I decided to go swimming.  A couple of quick facts about Bondi that I liked: you can only swim between the flags (otherwise the current is too strong and you’ll die), sharks can’t get in because there’s a big net blocking the bay (otherwise they’d get in and eat you), and the lifeguards there are all volunteers (cool).  So I changed into my suit from my jeans and long sleeve shirts and started by sprinting up and down the beach to warm up.  I hit the water which was cold with unfortunate waves that liked to splash me in the jewels before I was ready.  Regardless, I pushed on and had a smashing swim (for about 1.5 minutes) before retreating to shore.
  • I’m enjoying sampling the local beer selections and really like trying out the different meat pies around town.  Basically, meat pies are little fluffy pies filled with deliciousness.  Last night I had a Tiger at a famous stand called Harry du Wheels.  It was a beef pie topped with mashed potatoes, mashed split peas, and gravy.
  • I’m writing this from Cairns on the north side near the Great Barrier Reef.  It’s always sunny and friendly here which means we arrived to rain.  No bother, we had a midget guy (who said “no worries” all the time) rent us a car so that’s a good start.  Tomorrow we’ll reef it and then it’s on to the Daintree Rainforest.

Hope all is well with you and yours.

Nate and Tiff