Travel Goals Master Checklist: Part III – Africa

Narrowing down the most wondrous places in the world to just 72 was hard enough. Picking which of the numerous incredible sites to be found in Africa to include was even harder. To date, I’ve covered the backstory of the selection and inspiration for the destinations from North America and the Caribbean, and South America and Antarctica in previous articles. Here I will explain the rationale and artistic motivation behind the ten African destinations featured in my new Travel Goals Master Checklist.

Cape Town, South Africa

While my own travels in South Africa were confined to the northeast, and few people come to Africa to experience the cities, Cape Town is by all accounts the exception to the rule. Dominating this pivotal location on the continent is world-famous Table Mountain, which I felt would make the proper backdrop for any artistic representation. The result is a spot on the Travel Goals Master Checklist and a peaceful view of the city’s “skyline”.

Game Parks, South Africa

The aforementioned northeastern corner of South Africa is full of game parks and natural reserves where visitors can get up close with Africa’s signature wildlife. My first safaris in the Klaserie and Timbavati Reserves, where I got to see lions in the wild, were a highlight for me, and therefore a natural subject for the artwork depicting this exciting corner of the world.

Sossusvlei, Namibia

I only visited Namibia by the barest of margins, when our motorized canoe pulled alongside a small island in the Caprivi Strip bordering Chobe National Park, Botswana. But I would love to get back to experience the mighty dunes and desert panoramas such as Sossusvlei and the surrounding area for a unique landscape that draws visitors despite its desolate nature.

Victoria Falls, Zambia

I cannot imagine a more impressive sheet of falling water than what I witnessed at Victoria Falls. And while I recommend seeing it from both the Zimbabwe and Zambia sides, it was from the Zambian side that the pervasive spray caught the sun at just the right angle to provide me the muse for the image I chose to feature. This world wonder was never in doubt to make the top 72 world class travel destinations. In fact, it would make the top 10.

Avenue of the Baobabs, Madagascar

Madagascar is a fascinating place that I’m determined to see one day. The island itself has a wealth of interesting features, but what comes to my mind when I hear the name Madagascar mentioned (Besides a dancing lemur singing “I like to move it, move it”) is the Avenue of the Baobabs – a collection of towering baobab trees that encapsulates the unique nature of this African island.

Masai Mara, Kenya

I’ve yet to get to East Africa, but if I do, the Masai Mara is just the kind of place that safari dreams are made of. In my mind I envision the oft-repeated trope of a lone acacia tree standing above the savannah during sunset, while the silhouette of – insert your favorite wild animal here – grazes beside it. So I went with giraffes, not only because I like them, but because nothing says you’re in Africa more than a giraffe (except maybe a sign saying “Welcome to Africa” but that’s not quite as impressive”).

Mt. Kilimanjaro, Tanzania

The idea of a snowcapped mountain that sits on the equator is cool in its own rite. Add to that the surrounding national parks for which it serves as a backdrop, and Mt. Kilimanjaro – straddling the border of Tanzania and Kenya – was certain to land a spot on the top 72 checklist destinations. I may be too old and fat to climb it, but I definitely have it on my radar to visit someday.

Pyramids of Giza, Egypt

As the world’s oldest tourist attraction, how could the pyramids of Giza not make it onto the list? I can still recall the first time I saw them and the sense of wonder and awe they provoked within me. Few world monuments if any are more recognizable than these sentinels of the desert, and I’m proud to have marked this destination off on my own Master Checklist.

Chefchaouen, Morocco

I went back and forth before choosing this quaint town in northern Morocco for the list. It’s only become mainstream in recent years, while more famous destinations like Marrakesh and Tangiers have been well known for centuries. But tiny Chefchaouen, with its blue palette of maze-like alleys just seemed to better encapsulate the North African vibe that I felt deserved to be represented among the world’s best. Plus, I really like blue, so there’s that . . .

La Digue, Seychelles

As the star of calendars and screensavers the world over, tiny La Digue in the upscale Seychelles archipelago hosts Anse Source D’argent – a sandy cove strewn with erosion-worn boulders that typify these tropical islands. This ubiquitous image was a natural choice both for its recognizability, but also because it was one of my favorite spots as well.


So far I’ve covered 34 out of the 72 destinations on the master checklist. How many can you check off? Even if that number is zero, the beauty of the checklist is that it inspires a person to new adventures and specific travel goals. If you’ve enjoyed the artwork and want a Travel Goals Master Checklist to display in your home or office, please visit my Custom Travel Art store, or my Etsy store to order a copy for yourself or the traveler in your life.

Stay tuned for Part IV . . .



Have you been to any of these destinations? Or do you have a favorite in Africa that you feel should have made the list? Share it with your fellow travel lovers by leaving a comment!

An Apology to the 14 Countries I’ve Visited More Than Once Without Doing Them Justice

I’d like to start by apologizing to Mexico. I know it is a country with a rich cultural background, amazing natural scenery, and world-class architecture. It’s just that in the five times that I’ve been there, it was never my intended destination. I don’t mean that in a ‘kidnapped-and-left-for-dead-in-the-Sonoran-Desert’ sort of way. It’s just that my visits (3 times to Tijuana as a day trip from California + two stops in Cozumel via cruise ship where I literally spent 80% of my time underwater) were never about Mexico and I kind of feel bad about that. It also got me thinking about the other 13 countries where I’ve “visited” more than once and haven’t always given them the attention they deserve. So Mexico, and you other countries I’ve neglected, this one’s for you.

Germany

DSC02949
Castles aplenty in the Rhine Valley, Germany

The first time I visited Germany it was for a few days on my whirlwind honeymoon road trip through Europe. Staying near the famous Neuschwanstein Castle, my visit was certainly deliberate. My return however was a matter of chance. My Lufthansa flight on my way to Zimbabwe had a ten hour layover in Frankfurt, giving me just enough time to rent a car, overcome some terrible directions and taste the flavor of the stunning Rhine Valley (for more on this adventure see the post The Rhine Valley Has All You Need, Unless You Need Directions). I know I haven’t truly gotten to explore this beautiful country as much as it deserves but am open to someday doing so.

Japan

mvc00521
The neon glitter of Ginza, Tokyo

Few cultures are as dominant and distinct in Asia as Japan. My first trip there – a few day layover after a visit to China – got me to Tokyo, Mt. Fuji and of course, Disneyland. I happened to pass through a year to the day later, this time on my way to Thailand, but did little more than explore Narita Airport and try to get comfy on the floor while waiting for my continuing flight. My apologies to you as well, Nippon. I know you deserve better. Maybe next time…

Spain

This one-time seat of empire boasts far more World Heritage Sites than my own U.S.A. but other than a three day layover to explore the museums and plazas of Madrid on my first visit, my second visit was limited to traversing (with much grumbling I might add) the entire breadth of Barajas Airport for my connecting Iberian Airlines flight, which was inconveniently parked somewhere near the border with France. I know Spain deserves further time and exploration to it justice. Next time I just hope they park the plane a little closer.

South Africa

gg-lions13
Members of the infamous Big 5, Timbavati Reserve, South Africa

My first visit to South Africa was a delightful week in 2009 where we explored the northeast’s animal reserves and traveled the awe-inspiring Panorama Route. My second time didn’t take me to any such places. Instead, I was connecting for my flight to Harare in Johannesburg’s massive airport, shopping at the same airport shops as I did 5 years earlier. Amazingly, it was all the same stuff. Next time Cape Town is calling, even if the souvenirs are the same.

Costa Rica

Costa Rica 046
Tabacon Hot Springs, Costa Rica

While my trip of 2006 was exclusively to this Central American jewel, my return was for just one day when my cruise ship docked at the shady Pacific town of Puntarenas. At least this time I was able to see something else, taking our rental car down to Quepos and the idyllic Manuel Antonio National Park. It wasn’t the two weeks in the jungle I would love to do, but at least it was better than nothing.

Jamaica

IMG_9188
Dunn’s River Falls, Jamaica

 
My first trip to Jamaica was on a FAM (familiarization trip) trip through Sandals resorts. For $50 agents were flown down from a snowy NY to Montego Bay, so as to experience firsthand a Sandals Resort before being flown back home later that afternoon. I took the occasion to lose my group, sit at the bar, eat like a pig, drink like a fish and nap on the beach before it was time to go home. I’m proud to say that my second visit- this time via cruise ship – allowed me even more time to visit amazing Dunn’s River Falls and drift the White River before I was again compelled to leave the country after less than 24 hours. One of these days I’ll stay longer Jamaica – I promise.

As for you, Italy, Canada, Puerto Rico, the Bahamas, US Virgin Islands, Greece & Vatican City, I’ve had my reasons for coming and going and was not disappointed by my experiences there. Keep an eye out for me, as I just may return. And to you Singapore, Malaysia and Hong Kong, get ready for my return in November 2016. I will try to do you justice, but just in case, I apologize to you in advance, as I have for these countries here.


Have you traveled to the same country more than once – perhaps just passing through? Share your thoughts by commenting below.

Share Your Love For All Things Travel With A Gift From Customtravelart.com!

Whether it’s a custom tee, bucket list design or personalized departure or arrivals board, Custom Travel Art can create the perfect gift for the traveler in your life – even if that traveler is you! Browse our collection now for the perfect travel gift.

Game On! A Rundown of What to Expect on a Safari Game Drive

Timbavati Reserve, South Africa
Timbavati Reserve, South Africa

An African safari is common entry on a lot of people’s bucket lists. It was certainly on mine until March of 2009 when I visited the Timbavati & Klaserie Reserves in the Northeastern corner of South Africa, which is just to the west of Kruger National Park. Now that I’ve gotten through all the points on the compass with that last sentence, allow me to share my insights on what to expect when on a game drive—the staple element of any safari vacation.

 

If you’re on safari, then it’s probably safe to assume you want to see some animals. If you’re not on safari, and just wandering around the African bush, then the opposite is most likely true, but I’ll move forward on the premise that the whole reason you came is to encounter animals in the wild. If so, then good for you. With the exception of diving with sharks (also an animal encounter) there’s nothing I’ve ever experienced more exhilarating than seeing apex predators in their natural habitat, unencumbered by fences, cages, or leashes and doing so well within pouncing and/or trampling range. Sound scary? It should be—at least a little bit. One thing I noticed about all the wild animals I saw was that they were…well, wild. That fact commands respect, so in the interests of preserving your life and increasing your enjoyment, please note that everything taking place around you is for real, and the danger, while very low, can jump dramatically if you’re careless or just plain stupid. Got it? Good. So here’s how it works.

 

Chances are you will be roused from sleep by your guide somewhere between very and ‘are you kidding me?’ early. This is not because they particularly enjoy early mornings, but rather because they know that animals are most active during the margins of the day (dawn and dusk) and that since you’re on vacation you’re going to want some coffee and breakfast—which will be provided. Considering the steep price tag on a safari vacation, you’d want some food too to go along with your adrenaline rush.

 

My wife and I trying our hand at Guide & Tracker
My wife and I trying our hand at Guide & Tracker

Once breakfast is out of the way, you’ll be loaded into an all-terrain vehicle—usually with open sides and top—and whisked off into the surrounding bush, which depending on where in Africa you are, can be grassland, brush, forest or savanna. Generally, you will be with a guide and possibly even a tracker. This is a guy who sits in the front of the vehicle, hops out to check on how recently an animal passed by just by looking at the tracks and pointing out things that an untrained eye wouldn’t think to look for. In my case, our tracker also did us the favor of knocking down the resilient Golden Orb Spiders’ webs and their harmless but enormous residents as we drove through them, saving us all the trouble of screaming like little girls.

 

Depending on the lodge that serves as your base of operations, the animals may or may not be undisturbed by your intrusion. Usually the guides will have some familiarity with the prides, herds and packs that roam their neighborhood, and direct their search accordingly.

 

Members of the infamous Big 5
Members of the infamous Big 5

While a stay of only a few days will likely result in your seeing much, bear in mind that this is not a zoo, and there is no way to predict which animals will reveal themselves or when. A common goal on a safari is to see the so-called Big 5—lion, rhino, leopard, elephant and Cape Buffalo. This is not a reference to physical size (giraffes and hippos are bigger than all except elephants) but a throwback to the days of the Great White Hunters, who considered these five species as the hardest to kill. While the only shooting you should partake in should be with your camera, seeing these magnificent animals up close is worth the tedium of driving around for hours and sometimes not seeing much of note.

 

Most outfits will break up the 3 hours or so of the morning drive with a coffee & tea break, often accompanied by muffins or scones. You can stretch your legs, chat with your fellow riders and prepare for the second act—just don’t wander too far. You are still well within the borders of the animal realm, and carelessness or overconfidence can be dangerous.

 

Upon return to your lodge there will be an opportunity to rest and have lunch—both of which are quite welcome at this point. At times a guide will lead a nature walk on foot—allowing you the chance to pay attention to all the small stuff you either drove by or over earlier. Naturally, they try to keep away from the big game at times like this, and the little stuff—unique trees, huge termite mounds, delicate flowers and colorful and/or terrifying insects—are certainly worth paying attention to and allow for a well-rounded experience.

 

In the late afternoon it’s time to hop back in the vehicle for your second drive. At this time of day the animals are waking from their naps and shaking their lethargy from the midday sun. Once again patience is a virtue. Yes, it is frustrating, even exhausting trying to be on constant alert, scanning the landscape for movement or a familiar silhouette. But when you do find something, the payoff in excitement and jealousy-inducing photo opportunities is so worth it. Allow me to relate my own experience.

 

Baby Elephant, Timbavati Reserve, South Africa
Baby Elephant, Timbavati Reserve, South Africa

I remember it was about three days into my trip, and I was anxious because I only had two more days of game drives and I had yet to see an elephant. I was told that just a day before I arrived a herd of twenty were drinking from our water hole, but so far they had eluded me. I had seen some lions, a few giraffe and some ornery Cape Buffalo, but as one of my favorite animals, I couldn’t bear the thought of going all the way to South Africa and not seeing one. That morning it was overcast and a little cool, and my enthusiasm waned. Then without any notice, we were suddenly in the midst of a large herd of elephants. I couldn’t believe how quietly they had approached and watched with glee as they passed by, grazing all the while. We saw the immense mothers step forward in front of their adorable babies, and enjoyed the posturing of the young males who were showing off (apparently this is a trait of all young males regardless of species). Just like that a boring, fruitless drive through the bush soared to one of my most memorable life experiences. That’s the upside of being patient. You just don’t know what amazing scene is coming up around the bend.

 

With the approach of sunset, you will likely pause for what may be the British’s greatest contribution to the African continent: the sundowner. The custom involves taking a moment to have a drink—usually alcoholic in nature—and watch the amazing African sunset. This prepares you well for your return to camp and the (weather-permitting) open air dinner around a boma (fire pit). Sitting under the stars, bathed in soft firelight and the glow of kerosene lanterns, while listening to the noise of a million insects was among my favorite memories and always left me feeling rather content and reflective.

 

At this point you can sit around and talk about your animal encounters, pump your guides for dramatic stories, or continue drinking. You can also return to your tent/cabin/chalet to wash off the wilderness. And as you lay down after an exciting day, don’t be surprised to find yourself mentally reliving the amazing experiences of the day’s activities and feeling excited about what the next has in store. Just don’t think too much. You guide will be waking you up shortly.

 

Have you been on safari? If so leave a comment and keep the conversation going. Is a safari on your bucket list as well? Tell us why. And if you haven’t already done so, follow Trip Accomplice on Instagram for a different travel pic each day at #tripaccomplice

Maximization & Other Made-Up Travel Philosophies

In my previous post If You’re Going To India, Turn Right At Finland, I mentioned the concept of ‘maximization’—a self-invented term of travel philosophy—when discussing the art of the stopover. I will now elaborate further on that concept and how it applies to planning travel. Just a word of caution: I WILL be using some made-up words. English language purists beware!

 

While one can certainly maximize their vacation by means of a well-placed stopover, my maximization philosophy encompasses a wider scope. In a nutshell, it posits: While you’re in the area, see as much of it as you can. That may sound so simplistic as to hardly count as a philosophy at all, but there’s actually a lot more to it than that.

 

Bonus Beach Time! Anse Source d'Argent, La Digue, Seychelles
Bonus Beach Time! Anse Source d’Argent, La Digue, Seychelles

Take as an example a trip I took in early 2009 to South Africa. This country is richly blessed in natural beauty and attractions, and could have easily filled the entire two weeks I had at my disposal. But—and here’s where the maximization philosophy comes in—while we were in the relativish area (yes, that’s a made-up term, in this case indicating a radius of a thousand miles) I opted out of a full two weeks in South Africa, and spent one of them in the idyllic Seychelles Islands. The benefits are two-fold. For starters, this gave us great variety in our vacation activities, allowing us to go from a safari in the bush to some gorgeous tropical beaches—the ultimate surf and turf if you will. We also saved ourselves another 16 hour flight to return to the ‘neighborhood’ of the western Indian Ocean, not to mention the cost of another set of airline tickets. In doing so, we mostified (got the most out of) the fact that we were already going to be within relativish striking distance.

 

Blue Mosque, Istanbul, Turkey
Blue Mosque, Istanbul, Turkey

Another example would be in 2007, where we took advantage of an open jaw ticket. As the name would suggest, this is when you fly into one city but leave from another. Arriving in Istanbul, Turkey, we saw some of Turkey’s amazing attractions (See the post The Witty Traveler’s Guide to Cappadocia) before taking an overnight train to Greece, and then renting a car to explore all the way down to Athens, before hopping on a plane to finish up in Rome. Again whilst (I know it’s not a made-up word but Americans never use it) in the relativish area, why not take in not one but three former seats of empires?

 

So how can you go about maximizing your next travel plans? You can hire a competent travel professional such as myself to do it for you at a reasonable price (Pardon the blatanistic [i.e. shamelessly self-serving] plug for my Trip Accomplice travel service) or you can get out a map and see what else is in the general area you’re seeking to visit. With a little thought, some imagination, and a handful of guts, you can take your plainified, humdrumicated itinerary and turn it into an awesomotic, fantabulous maximized adventure. Just be sure to turn off spell-check.