Don’t Try This At Home

Day 8 (of 141): The last seven days have been epic, very fun and totally unexpected. I came into this trip without any expectations, and that’s how I plan on going for the rest of the trip, because it’s always more fun without expectations.

After departing Cape Town, we headed north to the Namibian border. There are 7 of us on the trip all the way to Cairo, and an additional 11 to Nairobi, plus two guides and an amazing chef named Charles from Kenya. I suspect I won’t be losing weight on this trip thanks to Charles’ cooking. There is strong representation on the trip by Aussies, Brits, Kiwis, Canadians and a couple Californians including myself. We caravan in Land Rovers and safari jeeps for local drives, and we also have a beautiful expedition truck nicknamed “Claudia” (after Claudia Schiffer) for long distance drives. Claudia is basically our home, our kitchen, our storage locker, our best friend, until she breaks down and cries… and then we have to push her to start, which we’ve had to do several times already when she gets stuck in the mud… it’s going to be a long drive pushing her to Cairo…


Stuck, over and over again...

After eight hours of driving on the second day through the harsh Kalahari desert, we finally crossed the Orange river which demarcates the border between South Africa and Namibia. Unfortunately, the Orange river had flooded our campsite and burst its banks because of massive rains in Gauteng province in northern South Africa (near Johannesburg), and it all came swirling downriver. We saw a snake swim in the river right next to our pool, and as soon as we found out that it was a Cape Cobra snake (one of the most poisonous), we all jumped out of the gnarly green pool we were wading in since we couldn’t see the bottom! Thankfully, we weren’t staying in the cottages that were under water with cobras swimming all around! This was one time I was happy to be camping, in my own tent.

Fish Canyon

On our first full day in Namibia, we went to Fish River Canyon, which happens to be the second largest canyon in the world after the Grand Canyon (yeah, who knew?). It’s over 350 million years old. We had a couple sundowners at sunset and returned to basecamp, where it must have been 42 degrees Celsius in the shade at sunset (well over 100 degrees Fahrenheit). During the day, it was easily 50 degrees Celsius (122 Fahrenheit). It’s pointless to shower in the desert in this heat because you start sweating 5 minutes after finishing your shower. And when you’re bush camping, sometimes you go days without showers and have to rely on wet wipes.

What do you think? Hot or Not?

I couldn’t take the heat anymore, so I decided to shave my head entirely. The local barber was hesitant at first, but then he really liked it at the end and asked me if I wanted to shave my eyebrows too. Funny. It’s unbelievable how much cooler one feels without hair! It’s actually downright chilly and draughty some mornings!

Our second night thankfully brought some relief from the heat, but only because we were stuck in a massive sandstorm with more than 50 mile an hour winds and tornadoes all around! Setting up a tent in 50+ mph winds is NOT easy, trust me! Sand, sand, sand EVERYWHERE! At night, you could still feel the heat of the desert radiate from the ground we were sleeping on. It’s so hot that all of my 6 month supply of chapstick melted. I guess the Namib is a good precursor of how things will be when we cross the Sahara in April.

On Day 5, we woke up before 4am (you know how much I love these) to go see a sunrise over the sand dunes of the Namib desert – the oldest and driest desert in the world. This had better be one spectacular sunrise for getting up so early! We got to Dune #45 just before sunrise, and after what seemed to be an eternity (i.e. 45 minutes) we finally made it to top of the 450 feet sand dune for a stunningly gorgeous sunrise over the Namib desert. We ran down the side of the dune and went to breakfast near Deadvlei – a former desert river oasis now cut off by new dunes. Deadvlei still has trees on it that have been dead for more than 600-900 years! It’s a hauntingly beautiful, yet eerie oasis. These trees have not decomposed because of the lack of humidity. The desert is so dry that it preserves all life for eons – a banana peal will stay intact for 30 years, while an orange peel will stay intact for more than 80 years!

Deadvlei, dead for 600-900 years!

The highlight of this first week was camping in the bush and learning from our bush ranger about the desert. The desert is not dead at all like we think it is; on the contrary, it’s teeming with life! The desert hates the rain though, because it makes the sand hard and animals can’t escape into the soft sand underneath where they live in the top 30cm of the sand. The animals can breathe underneath the sand because there is oxygen pockets between the sands, and they have smaller nostrils than a grain of sand which lets the oxygen in, but not the sand! Nature is amazing.

Because there is so little water in the desert, animals get their water by eating each other. Spiders eat ants, lizards eat spiders, snakes eat lizards, and snake eagles eat snakes. This is how water gets totally recycled in the bush! Last year there was 2mm of water in the Namib. Some trees and shrubs go between 5 and 25 years before drinking any rain water! For example, the acacia tree has roots that are 80m deep to get underwater drainage water from rains that came 5 years ago! And some animals, like the oryx can, go their entire lives (25 years) without every drinking any water!

Do you remember watching your favorite Roadrunner cartoon as a kid where Wile E. Coyote would sneak up to the Roadrunner in a walking bush? Well, we owe this ingenious and ridiculous idea to the Bushmen. Bushmen had to sneak up to their prey because their poison darts only reached 5m. So sometimes they would have to sneak up to their prey carrying a bush for cover, and the early European settlers in Africa called them Bushmen for that! And you thought it only happened in cartoons… Apparently, they were so feared by the Europeans (and blacks too) that the Europeans settlers had license to kill Bushmen until as recently as 1918 and it wasn’t even considered murder!

After living for 30,000 years in the Namib, the Bushmen developed a yellow skin to blend in to the desert. Obviously, a black lion would stick out in the yellow desert, so it makes sense that natural selection preferred the yellow skin gene after thousands of years. A Bushman’s first lesson in life is to identify his mother’s footprint in the sand. This is how they identify where their families are in the desert in case they are out in the bush and get lost. Can you imagine having to track down your parents by the tracks of their shoes? The Bushmen are the real survivors of the desert; they’re ingenious and we have so much to learn from them. Unfortunately, their way of life has been totally decimated by modernity, and the 30,000 or so left now live in impoverished shantytowns in Namibia and South Africa. 



On day 6, we drove to Swakopmund, the extreme sports adventure capital of Namibia, on the Atlantic ocean. We crossed the Tropic of Capricorn and I wanted to take a fun photo underneath the sign. Suddenly, I saw a tiny little snake crawling next to my foot. It slithered away very quickly and hid under a rock. I was about to move the rock when my guide told me that it was a very poisonous Viper snake and that removing the rock would likely make it recoil and attack me. Bad idea. It’s a long way to Cairo and I don’t want to play Russian roulette so soon…

We finally arrived in Swakopmund after taking the trans-Kalahari highway and had an early evening in a simple lodge (a bed for the first time in 7 days!) Though I must admit I‘m getting better at camping and enjoying it more and more as the days pass, there are fewer bed bugs and mosquitoes to worry about than the basic lodges we stay at. What I don’t like about bush camping is that we have to air dry our utensils, plates and cooking pots by flapping them individually in the air with our hands until they dry. We can’t use dishcloths to dry them because that would leave bacteria on the plates, and over the course of several days, that’s likely to give us all the stomach bug. So, dishcloths are illegal on this trip and we have to air dry them, which takes quite a while every breakfast, lunch and dinner. It’s a funny sight to see a group of people all flapping plates at the same time, it’s sort of like a cross between doing jumping jacks and Chinese Tai Qi.

Swakopmund lived up to its reputation as the extreme sports capital of Namibia. Yesterday, I jumped out of a plane at 10,000 feet over the Tropic of Capricorn and the Namib desert! Jumping out of a plane wasn’t scary at all! Thankfully I didn’t have vertigo anymore, even though I’m scared to bits of heights. I did a tandem jump with a jump master who is in full control of the parachute, and has jumped thousands of times over the last 10 years. Even though the plane doesn’t have doors on it, it’s a very calming experience to climb over the Namib desert and Atlantic ocean. 30 seconds before the jump, we got in position with our jump master, and before I could get scared about what I was about to do, we’ve hurtled ourselves out of a flying plane at 10,000 feet and are doing somersaults and backflips as we reach 300km per hour in about 3 seconds! Beat that Mr. Ferrari. The first second is the proverbial “oh shit” moment, and then you fly like a bird! We free dove for 30 seconds before we pulled our parachute and floated down while doing super fast spins for another 5 minutes until we reached ground. I must admit that skydiving was INCREDIBLY fun! All you can do is laugh! I now understand why people say skydiving is addicting (much more so than kiteboarding), I would do it again in a heartbeat!

Yeeha! 300+km an hour over the Namib Desert

We also sandboarded down some desert dunes, but it wasn’t as much fun as jumping out of plane, even though you’re speeding down a sand dune at 70+ km per hour, face first. The part that sucks is climbing back up the sand dune after every run while wearing snowboard boots in 100+ degree whether. Trust me, the repeated treks up the dunes were harder than a heavy Cindy Crossfit workout.

72 km per hour!

Flying Over the Namib Desert

In the afternoon, we went on a township tour around Swakopmund. Townships are where the non-white population was sequestered during apartheid when South Africa controlled Namibia. They are shantytowns and middle class black neighborhoods all in one, and are the heart of African urban life. We met a beautiful village chief who is 86 years old, and then were entertained by a group of super fun kids singing and dancing for us while we ate dinner (roasted caterpillars!) at a shabeen (a local bar). A couple 12 year old girls had a crush on me (they couldn’t decide if I looked Mexican or like Kumar) and wouldn’t let me go until I gave them kisses on the cheeks. The other kids also wouldn’t leave me alone (I don’t think it had ANYTHING to do with the fact that I was passing out stickers). The kids had incredible personalities, and will go far in life with education; they had so much spunk and were full of smiles, even though they lived in poverty. Goes to show happiness doesn’t come through material possessions. It’s a good lesson to learn from Africa!

Village Chief, 86 years old

Posted in Namibia | Tagged , | 5 Comments

Goodbye Cape Town, Hello Cairo!

So this is it, I’m leaving Cape Town tomorrow morning and heading for Cairo, and I’m super excited! With all luck, I should arrive there sometime in mid-May. Here is the route I’m taking through 11 countries:

Cape to Cairo

People ask me what my goals on this trip are. Well, I have three major goals, in no particular order:

  1. Not to contract malaria, or any other communicable diseases
  2. Not to get taken hostage or abducted
  3. Not to get mauled by an animal while sleeping in the bush

Any other achievements would be icing on top! But seriously, my goals are to read a lot, learn a lot, write a lot, think a lot and have a lot of fun! I’m looking for inspiration in Africa for my next entrepreneurial pursuit when I return to California later this summer. In the meantime, connectivity will be a major issue, so my blog postings will be more sporadic going forward and only when and if I can get online in the bush.

Beautiful Cape Town

This is how I got up Table Mountain

This is how I got down Table Mountain

Table Mountain Fog

South Africa has been wonderful, and Cape Town rocks. I especially like the Bo Kaap and de Waterkant neighborhoods – lots of beautiful multicolored houses. It’s been a great five weeks here (on the luxurious side!), but now I must bid adieu and get ready to rough it in the bush, all 6800 miles up the continent. Well, thankfully at least I have my butt pillow with me.

See you in Cairo!!

De Waterkant

St James Beach

De Waterkant

Bo Kaap Local

Bo Kaap

Bo Kaap Boy

Bo Kaap

Bo Kaap Propaganda: Very interesting & surprising, see if you can read this

Umm, no thanks. I'll take the luxury version

Local Cape Town students

Nelson Mandela's jail cell, I hope not to be behind these anytime on my way to Cairo

Posted in South Africa | 6 Comments

Things that are out of place

Oops, not head first buddy!

I’ve spent the last ten days in the bush in South Africa, Botswana and Zimbabwe, and my oh my, the animals we’ve seen! My bush ranger taught me that to find animals in the bush, I must look out for “things that are out of place.” So this blog is appropriately dedicated to “things that are out of place!”

Indy, say it ain't so!

We first flew into the Sabi Sands Game Reserve of the Kruger National Park in South Africa (on the border with Mozambique) in what seemed to be an Indiana Jones propeller plane, an entirely empty plane except for my mom and I. Hmm. I wondered if this would have a similar exit as Indy did high above the Himalayas in the Temple of Doom. Thankfully for my mom (she can’t swim), we landed gently on solid ground, albeit on an airstrip surrounded by giraffes and elephants. It seemed like we were about to nick the giraffe’s necks as we landed, but the animals couldn’t care less about the buzz of the arriving propeller plane!

Next time, stay away from the plane!

The days started early – 5am in order to see the animals when they are most active. The sound of wildlife at sunrise is incessant! Birds chirping, animals yawning, crickets buzzing.  The chorus of the bush is beautiful and very eerie at the same time; but you know something’s about to go down, nothing’s ever peaceful in the bush for long. By lunchtime, the heat of the jungle was unreal – easily over 45 degrees Celsius and incredibly humid. We dripped with sweat, even sitting in a veranda under the shade and six fans, too hot to stop a couple cheeky monkeys from stealing our fruit.

Later on our first afternoon in the bush, we went off-roading in search of the Big Five (leopards, lions, buffalos, rhinos and elephants) and got stuck in the deep dense bush of the jungle while giving chase to a leopard. It took us over an hour and the help of several rangers to get our Land Rover out. I’m sure this won’t be the last time this happens to me.

A little to the left please! Ooh, yeah, ooh, I like that...

Tag, you're it!

And for sure, the peacefulness of the bush soon broke and something extraordinary happened! The highlight of the entire safari was being stuck in a fight between 4 lions and a leopard. The leopard is a gorgeous animal, but it is much weaker than the lion, or the hyena for that matter, because leopards are solitary animals, unlike the other two. We traced a leopard paw print into the bush and found her eyeing a few innocent, sheepish-looking impala. We waited for a while until the leopard started its slithery leopard crawl to sneak up to its dinner.

The Famous Leopard Crawl

It went in for the kill for an impala (which had alerted its brethren of the danger with a sharp cry), but a rabid hyena quickly stole its dinner. Pissed as all hell, the leopard followed the hyena to its den to seek vengeance but it knew it had no chance. The hyena was standing up and laughing at the leopard while enjoying its stolen meal. Did you know hyenas laugh at their enemies to scare them off from dead prey? I’ll try that tactic next time I come across someone wanting my chocolate cake.

Grubby Hyena

Beaten off, the leopard left the hyena den and went to find another kill, but unwittingly ran into a pride of four female lions. The leopard waited, sniffed out the larger cats from afar, and wondered whether she should cross the field in front of the lions to chase some other impala, or call it quits for the night, and go to bed hungry. Wisely, the beautiful cat knew it was no match for the four lions and ran away before it could get slaughtered and lived to fight another day. The lions, unperturbed by our presence, simply came over to our Rover and pissed on our wheels. “Yeah, I know you’re here watching me, but you should know that this is MY house and I AM king of the jungle, so be on your way!”

This is MY territory!

Drooling from dinner...

I can see you

Post Dinner Drink

Beautiful male Kudu, my favorite; I want one for my wall...

Warned, off we went, in search of other animals. Did you know that giraffes have very high blood pressure because of their long necks? They also always head into the wind to eat food. They are “browsers” (they eat leaves off trees, as opposed to “grazers” which eat grass only) and their favorite food is the acacia tree. As they eat all the leaves off the acacia tree and leave just the thorns (which they conveniently use as toothpicks!), the acacia tree gives off tannin, indicating that all its leaves are gone. The tannin blows downwind, so the giraffes head upwind in search of trees that still have leaves. Self-guided GPS, go figure!

Walking Like an Egyptian

We came across a bird that I thought was ingenious – the Deirdrick’s Cuckoo. It originates in North Africa, but migrates every year down to Southern Africa to nest. Except, it doesn’t nest. It steals another bird’s nest. You see, it waits and waits for the Weaver bird to leave its nest in search of food, and as soon as the Weaver bird is gone, the Deirdrick’s Cuckoo flies into the Weaver nest, shoves the Weaver bird’s egg over the nest so it breaks on the ground below, then replaces the Weaver bird’s egg with its own and flies away! The Weaver bird returns from its hunt, none the wiser that its egg has been replaced, then nourishes and weans the cuckoo chick until adulthood, even though the cuckoo chick is five times the size of the adult Weaver. Brilliant! Too bad that strategy doesn’t work for human child rearing.

Do they make Persian rugs out of these?

Eland. Say what? Yeah, I had the same reaction. Look it up.

A friendly impala duel to the death

The diversity of birds in Bostwana was simply spectacular. Fish eagles, Darters, Storks, Kingfishers – it’s a chick connoisseur’s delight! Another fascinating bird was the red-billed Oxpecker. It sits on top of other animals, like hippos, rhinos, and elephants, and eats their ticks and fleas. The larger animals don’t mind it at all. This is called mutualism, when two animals in the wild work together in a symbiotic relationship. Something humans can surely learn more from.

Male Impala & Red-Billed Oxpecker

The safari highlight in Botswana was running into a herd of about 200 elephants! They all walked into a mud pool right next to us, frolicked in the mud and had a fantastic time! Made me want to roll around the mud. When was the last time you saw 200 elephants together? Yeah, I thought so. Come to Botswana, it happens everyday.

Elephant Romance

Wandering Teenagers, "Guys, wait up!"

75% of all human deaths in the bush are due to Hippos, they are very dangerous!

Charging Rhino

One afternoon, we had a close encounter with a rhino which didn’t like us very much at all. It was happily going to the bathroom and relieving itself of a big #2, when my mom suddenly screamed, disgusted by the size of its dropping.  The rhino got startled and charged our Rover. We had barely enough time to get away. We also got charged by a teenage elephant in Botswana, clearly my mother hadn’t learned her lesson. Moral of the story, don’t make fun of a rhino’s dung. They’re pee shy.

Charging Elephant

Which reminds me, did you know why dung is the color it is? Apparently, dung is greenish if all you’ve eaten is grass. But it turns reddish-brown if you’ve eaten leaves and flowers. So next time you go to the loo, don’t be surprised by the color, it all depends on what you eat! Until next time, happy bush trails!

Beautiful Botswana Blue

Can I get a man purse made out of this?

Things that are out of place!

Natural Wildlife?

Posted in Botswana, South Africa, Zimbabwe | Tagged | 6 Comments

Happy 2011 From the Bush!

The Karoo

Three weeks into my trip from Cape Town to Cairo, I’m finally getting around to my first blog entry. This is not for lack of wanting to write, but has been almost entirely due to poor internet connectivity. After all, “This is Africa.” I’ve heard that phrase will be repeated very often over the next six months… I won’t bore you with all my travel details here in this blog, but rather hope to give you some highlights and interesting stories, and share with you some of my pictures from Africa’s stunning landscape.

The trip for Los Angeles to Cape Town was exhausting… 36 hours to be exact. I arrived after 2 delayed flights, 1 missed connection, and 2 missing bags. The flight from London to South Africa had a few nice surprises, like a huge midnight meteor shower over the Sahara (yes, I made a wish!), and a gorgeous pastel colored sunrise over the Congo. As we flew the last 8 hour leg over Africa after sunrise, the horizon kept on going and going, seemingly without end. I remember thinking to myself, “And I’m planning on doing this reverse trip up the continent in a 4×4 truck?” No wonder it will take over five months…

I arrived in beautiful Cape Town with a wonderful case of vertigo. My first. Apparently I got an ear infection during the long trip because of the airplane pressure, and I could barely keep my head straight once I got to Cape Town. Vertigo is a funny thing, you feel dizzy, but not lightheaded, and it’s worse in the morning than at night, and it lasts five days… It’s an awkward feeling.

The end of the world at the Cape of Good Hope

Cape Town is stunning, and the highlight was going to the Cape of Good Hope, where the Atlantic and Indian Oceans meet. It’s an incredibly windy place, and wind gusts regularly hit 60+ knots! It feels like the end of the world, as there’s nothing else beyond the horizon besides Antarctica. Which makes sense, since there are hundreds of thousands of penguins at this tip of Africa. I never knew that penguins are white on their bellies to avoid being mis-identified as seals by sharks from below, while they are black on their back so they blend in to the sea from stalking birds up above. Go figure. Nature is incredible like that.

Cape Vineyards

I left Cape Town soon after arrival and headed for my friend KK’s wedding in the wine country outside Cape Town, in a small town called Robertson in the Karoo (a semi-arid plateau that covers much of western South Africa). South Africa’s scenery reminds me a lot of California: mountains, desert, sea, and farmland all co-exist side by side. A small group of friends had come in for the wedding as well so we made several stops along the way at wineries to

London House friends

reminisce about old times. We also did a detour to see an ostrich farm, but thankfully it was raining and they were wet, as no way was I about to ride that prehistoric looking thing! The wedding was a beautiful event, at a spectacular sunset; it was great to celebrate with old friends.

Post Wedding Sunset

The Garden Route

After the wedding, I parted with my London friends and started an 8 day trek through the Garden Route, Addo Elephant Reserve, the Wild Coast, the Drakensberg Mountains, and all the way to Durban. The Garden Route is a very lush, green region of the country dotted with lots of holiday towns and B&Bs on the waterfront. The highlight was definitely zip-lining down the jungle canopy like Tarzan, swinging from tree to tree, thankfully without vertigo!

World's highest bungee: Look carefully under the bridge, I'm not the one jumping 290m, sorry, I have vertigo!

Look mom, no hands!

I spent Christmas on my own in the Wild Coast — a gorgeous stretch of verdant, very rural scenery on the southeastern coast of South Africa. This area is also called the Transkei — a former “homeland” for blacks during the apartheid era. The Wild Coast is sort of like a cross between Ireland and Switzerland (at least I think so), with incredibly green rolling hills and pastel colored villages dotting each hill top. I’m not sure why the apartheid regime thought it was doing the black population a disservice to banish them to this area — it looked like paradise to me!



After Christmas, I headed up into the Drakensberg Mountains, an escarpment that borders South Africa and Lesotho, with 3000m peaks. The colors in the Drakensberg were surreal, I think the sun must shine differently in Africa. I almost had a panic attack when I found a tiny garden snake outside my lodge room here. A whopping 18 inches long. And I willingly chose to camp all the way up the continent? Better get used to the wildlife, Kian; There ain’t no shoe shampoo in the Bush.

The Drakensberg: Lesotho on top of the mountain ridge, South Africa at the base

Kiting in Jeffreys Bay

My first road trip in Africa ended in Durban, the country’s third largest city and a huge beach haven on the Indian Ocean. Be careful though, sharks abound and there are shark nets all over the popular beaches. The locals like to gather right next to the lifeguard shacks (for security maybe?) thus forcing 1000 people to share a 100m stretch of beach. Cozy…

Whose afraid of a few sharks?

Two weeks after leaving Cape Town and 2500km later, I’ve returned to chill out here for a few days before New Years. Cape Town doesn’t feel like what you imagine Africa to be. It’s a gorgeous European city that begs one to linger. And I had no problem doing just that as I had a semi-private villa to myself with my own pool in a gorgeous part of town with amazing views! Lucky for me, the other guests canceled. But the peace would not last for long. On Dec 30, I woke up to what sounded like an armed invasion of the villa. I rushed out to see that my entire street was being evacuated, with South African Defense Force airplanes hovering overhead. The hill next to where I was staying was on fire, and a score of helicopters and planes were water-bombing the hill to put out the fire and save multimillion dollar homes just 100m away from my villa. It was a super windy day (55+ knots), and very hot, so the fire spread all day, but firefighters were able to contain the arson fire by nightfall without much property damage.

Signal Hill on fire, 100m behind my villa, planes hovering overhead, Table Mountain in the background

On New Years Eve day, I forced myself to do two things I hate: 1) get up before dawn, and 2) go swim with sharks. I got up at 3 in the morning to catch a shuttle to Gaansbai, the great white shark capital of the world. Did you know that there are only 5000 great white sharks in the world? (and yes, they are in the Med too!) 2500 swim South Africa’s waters, and 500 call Gaansbai home at some point of the year. But not on Dec 31. For the first time in over a year, not a single great white shark was sighted that day, maybe they were on strike for a better pension, or resting in anticipation of the New Years Eve party later that night. Pity, as I had become increasingly comfortable with the idea of flailing helplessly in a steel cage, dangling like bait from the side of a boat in icy Antarctic waters as a 14 foot great white shark swam by. I was bummed, but I wouldn’t have made a good snack anyway, not enough blubber for Whitey…

Waiting for Whitey

I’m off in the morning to meet my mom in Johannesburg as we head off for a ten-day safari through Kruger National Park and Zimbabwe. Lots of animal pictures to come for sure on the next blog entry. Wishing you all an adventurous 2011 from the Bush!

Posted in South Africa | Tagged , , , , | 6 Comments

Survivor Africa?

Follow me “into the bush” as I do a six-month overland safari expedition from Cape Town to Cairo through 13 countries. Lions, zebras, hippos, oh my! Sign up for my blog to get automatic email updates from the Bush! (or subscribe to the RSS feed on the right-hand side). Hope you enjoy the stories!

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment