UAE - Round The World Tour 2003 Day 106

Flight to London

Thursday 26th June

Well, it’s finally here. The end of this leg of the trip is now fully upon us. We’re sitting in the plane on the flight back home to London. What a trip it’s been. Exactly fifteen weeks of adventure have left its mark on the both of us. We’ve seen so much, experienced so many new things and have so many stories to tell.

Going home is a bit of a mixed bag of emotions. I’m dying to see all the family again yet so sad to be finished with the travelling for a while. Over the past couple of weeks, my thoughts have been slowly returning to life back in Europe. There is still very much the sense that we don’t really belong anywhere right now. The last place we lived, in any permanent manor, was Florida but we left our house there last November. Since then, we’ve been in transit from one temporary residence to another, relying on the generosity of others. Travelling has only heightened that sense of disconnect. I have no doubt that we will struggle to fit into to normal life again. This is the price we pay for the experience of a lifetime

As we meet new people and tell them of our adventures, they invariably ask what the best place has been that we’ve visited. It’s the most frequent question that we are asked and yet it still remains the most difficult to answer. Different places have touched us in different ways. Each country has its own charms and pleasures and it’s unfair to judge, for example, a safari experience in one country against the temples of another. For me, the highlights, in chronological order, have been as follows:

The Amazing wildlife of the Kruger National Park in South Africa: This was our first real taste of the African wildlife. We saw some amazing things there and we will never forget the thrilling experience of watching the Lion climb the tree to capture a baby Baboon, literally just feet from our position. We saw an immense amount of wildlife in Kruger both small and large. The birds of the park are amongst the most stunning that we’ve seen anywhere and it definitely spoilt us for the rest of the trip, as everywhere else that we went only paled in comparison.

Finding the Black Rhino in the Mkaya game reserve in Swaziland: The short-tempered beast was one of the very few animals that we missed in Kruger and by the end of our time there, the wildlife bug had bitten us good. I desperately wanted to find the Black Rhino somewhere in the wild and it was until the tail end of our Mkaya game drive that we found it. It was doubly pleasing when it happened as we stumbled into not only one but two of them together – a mother and a five-year-old juvenile.

Diving in Sodwana Bay: We had learned to SCUBA dive expressly for the benefit of this trip and this was our first foray into the underwater world without our instructor in tow. I’ll never forget the nausea of the first day but the memory of this quickly faded as we got to know other people there and started to enjoy ourselves. We started to feel like we were a part of a community that was previously unknown to us. The drive through Swaziland and down into Sodwana Bay was also noteworthy as this was the first time that we started to feel like we were in the real Africa.

The guided tour of Sossusvlei in Namibia: The sheer presence of Bushman, our guide, was awesome. His knowledge of the area, the desert and the surprisingly abundant wealth of wildlife is legendary and just blew me away. At the end of the tour, he stood in front of us all (we were all sat under the shade of a tree) and told us a moving and poignant story about the Bushmen people of long ago. It was captivating and it felt like I was sitting in front of Dad when I was a child listening to a story. Everyone in the group left the tour in awe of the experience.

Quad biking over the dunes of Namibia in Swakopmund: I’ve never had so much fun before. The exhilaration of raw speed over the brilliantly coloured dunes at sunset was a pivotal moment for me. There were a couple of times that I got too close to a huge hole or the edge of a high dune and genuinely felt like I was going to lose my life. I felt free.

Befriending the locals at Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe: Perhaps it was because I was so nervous about going to Zimbabwe to begin with that I was so impressed with the place once we got to know it better. The locals that we met there are all extremely nice people and the picture that I had of Zimbabwe was completely obliterated by their warmth. Shopping and bargaining for curios in the curio markets was also a highlight for me in Zimbabwe and I only hope that the packages we sent through the post office from there actually arrive home – they haven’t yet.

Hunting for Leopards and Cheetahs in the Serengeti: Kruger was good, but the Serengeti was even better. The time we spent on the plains of the Gol Kopjes searching for Cheetahs was very memorable and made even more so by the film about the life of the Cheetahs on the Serengeti plains that was showing that evening in the lodge. The film was a near perfect recreation of our own experiences out on the plains that very day and it was extremely moving. Extending our trip to search for the Leopard also made finding one that much more memorable. The Ngorongoro Crater is probably the most impressive one physical landscape that I will remember most from the entire trip (perhaps along with the Namibian dunes).

The temples and monuments of Pharonic Egypt and, of course, our very good friend Ehab: Egypt was the first place that was completely different to all the previous countries we’ve been to. Standing in awe at the foot of the pyramids and the temples of Abu Simbel and others made everything that we’ve seen on the Discovery Channel that much more appreciable. And, of course, Ehab, our mild mannered tour guide that became our good friend and even came with us on a two-day holiday to Hurghada - bless him. People like Ehab are very rare and we feel privileged to have met and gotten to know him.

Diving in the Red Sea at Sharm El Sheikh: Sodwana bay was great because it was the first place that we dived but it pales in comparison to the sheer beauty of the underwater world of the Red Sea. The richness and variety of both marine life and corals alike is something that I doubt we will ever see elsewhere. The night-dive in particular just blew me away.

Floating in the Dead Sea in Jordan: This has always been a life’s to-do list entry of mine and it was everything that I expected of it. My only regret is that we never got to go back and visit it for a second time due to the security measures being taken as a result of the Middle-East peace conference at the time.

And finally, living in the lap of luxury at the Burg Al Arab – the world’s only seven-star hotel: We wanted to go out in style and it just so happens that we finished our trip in Dubai where the Burg Al Arab is situated. The only real reason we included Dubai on our itinerary to begin with was because we wanted to see this magnificent work or engineering art. The documentary that we saw dedicated to it on TV doesn’t do it justice and we thoroughly enjoyed being pampered with a complete disregard for the bill. The opportunity to do this may never come round again in our lifetimes but at least we can say that we did it once.

There are many more highlights that I can think of and it is so hard to narrow the list down. Picking one overall winner is near impossible as all the experienced I just listed are there for very different reasons. If pushed, however, I think the Serengeti would have to take the winning spot.

With our lives having been touched in so many ways after just a few months on the road, I can’t help but feel the anticipation of what is to come with all the other wonderful and faraway places that we are planning on visiting. There will be good times and bad times ahead of us, this much we now know from experience.  Who knows what the future will bring. Living life today and not tomorrow is what it’s all about and this is how we plan on living in the coming year and beyond.

Here are some of Sandy’s highlights …

Apart from some of the things Chris has already mentioned the highlights I enjoyed most are:

Roaming around in the Kruger National Park, driving ourselves, camera at the ever ready to photograph any unsuspecting animal that we might just find around the next corner. The feeling of excitement and teamwork and so many close encounters with these wild animals still show in the thousands of great photos that we took.

Riding an Ostrich and being photographed whilst petting four Cheetah cubs in Oudtshoorn really put a nice finish to our last days in South Africa.

Sand boarding the sand dunes in Namibia. Though the climb up the dunes was strenuous, the experience was worth the climb - one of the very few things on our trip that I was better at then Chris. Having good control of the flimsy piece of wood that they called a High Tech Speed Machine, I whizzed down the dunes at high speed, took corners like a pro and usually ended up a quite bit faster and farther than Chris…. Funny it doesn’t show that in the pictures……. The down side of that was, of course that I also had to walk back up the dune further….. Maybe I wasn’t better than Chris after all, maybe he was just smarter……. Yeah right, at least I didn’t fall of like he did…..

The local people that we befriended in Victoria Falls, the markets and the people, their humour and helpfulness, and the way people would stand up and look out for their family and friends. The way our new friends would look out for us and make sure we wouldn’t get “ripped of” at the markets, and how the people magically stopped from harassing us to helping us out on the street once realising we were friends with some of the locals. The fact that our friend at the post office kept it open an hour after closing just so that we were able to mail our package full of curio’s that we had bought at the local market!

Our safari at the Serengeti, the many lion cubs we saw, the cheetahs running across the Gol Kopjes and the way they tried to stalk a prey (but didn’t succeed) reminded me so much of the many wonderful cats I know that it was difficult to remind myself that these where very dangerous animals and, if forced to choice, I to could become a meal…. so cute but oh so dangerous! And ultimately finally seeing a Leopard in the wild……. To bad it’s such a lazy animal…. It didn’t move much in the 5 hours we sat there watching it…..

Tanzania and Kenya and their inhabitants. The first time we truly felt like being in Africa… The landscape, the local people, the culture, the colours….

Our first impression of Egypt, the undecipherable language, the pyramids and temples and the strange disregard, other than that they bring in tourists, to these monuments from the locals. And the constant requests from people for “baksheesh” (tips) even if they haven’t provided any service was, even though initially a nuisance, quite memorable and funny as an afterthought. Our good friend, Ehab, who made our trip so memorable and interesting. And who helped us get to know and deal with Egyptian culture.

The 3 days on a cruise ship on the Nile where we could rest, and enjoy and didn’t have to do any walking, just rest and enjoy was a godsend. After which we were thoroughly rested to continue our visits to the many temples and other monuments that Egypt harbours.

Our trip to Petra that, despite a long strenuous walking and climbing detour of four hours, showed us some of Petra’s highlights, including The Treasury which was a main feature in the movie Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.

Chris surprising me with a two night stay at The Burg Al Arab. It wasn’t so much the luxury as the fact that I had the house/apartment to myself, was given my own laptop with unlimited internet access to use at will. The time and luxury to do whatever, when I wanted to hang out in the spa or curl up on the big soft luxury sofa with my new Harry Potter Book at will. And of course my own butler and the cleaning crew that kept the apartment neat and tidy. Now all I needed were a few brownies and a big jar of liquorices and it would have been perfect!!!

Since we have already written about all the great wonderful experiences I’d like to add some of the more “horrific” experiences:

Climbing White Mountain in the Drakensberg. What was supposed to be a little strenuous walk turned out to be a two hour strenuous climb, followed by a wonderful abseiling/repelling experience, followed by a hazardous equally strenuous climb back down. Subsequently followed by exhaustion, dehydration and muscle aches for days and days.

Our quad biking experience, though for Chris the ultimate, for me it was the most horrific. Not being able to keep good control of the bike (having a wobbly wheel and a sticky gas paddle didn’t help much) and my natural clumsiness didn’t give me a good feeling, climbing those high dunes knowing there would be a  sheer 100 meter drop on the other side…… Nor was watching Chris crossing around on those hills getting too close to the edge and raising the hair on my back as well as our instructors. I still shiver thinking about it!

Letting Chris bungee jump of a 111-meter high bridge in Victoria Falls. I did not cave in as many of you may think, Chris didn’t know I had planned this Jump for him; it was a belated Birthday present. And the only reason I let him jump here was because of the special harness they used. It did mean, however, that he had to make the jump backwards and feet first (not head first) - apparently the scariest way to jump because you can’t see where you are going/falling…..  My heart was racing and I still tremble now thinking of watching him jump. It was a hair raising experience that I would like to never ever repeat again……! Good thing he didn’t quite like it as much as he thought he would….. So no worry about him repeating it on the 220-meter bridge in New Zealand.

Our free lift from the Wildlife overland safari truck (the company we travelled with from Cape Town to Victoria Falls) that drove us from Harare, Zimbabwe to Arusha, Tanzania. The four day trip of 14 hours driving a day, with no or little rest stops, sleeping in the truck, feeling carsick more than half of the time and running out of books to read the rest of the time, wasn’t exactly a joyful ride. Our attempt to save a few dollars this way resulted in a loss of 4 days travelling and the costs we saved were overshadowed by the extra visas we’d had to pay for whilst crossing several borders.