Thursday, February 26, 2009

The Amazing Race and Conan Go Bye Bye...

cape cross fur seal
This Cape Cross Fur Seal will miss Conan O'Brien at Late Night more than you'll ever know...

I don't watch a lot of television.

But, I do watch The Amazing Race on CBS, late night television (in particular, David Letterman and Conan O'Brien), the news, and a smattering of PBS shows.

Occasionally, I'll comment on how the boob tube is turning my brain into mush.

The Amazing Race (TAR) 14th edition, Episode One.

For loyal readers who live overseas, TAR is a reality show that pits 11 teams (composed of pairs of people undergoing existing relationships eg. bf/gf, mother/son, brother/sister). The object is to "race" around the world. There are 13 or so segments, one per week, where teams must overcome a series of tasks. The last team to complete each segment may be eliminated from the race. The winning team takes home a cool million bucs. As an ongoing series, I thought it'd be interesting to comment on The Race and how it relates to real life and my travel experience.

I find it amazing how efficient and integrated the transportation system is in Europe. Teams in this episode arrived in Lausanne, Switzerland as their first stop in The Race to find the train station (the required mode of transport to the next check stop in the race) located RIGHT IN the airport.

I found this to be the case in Frankfurt, Germany as well. On a stopover on the way to S. Africa, Ahmed and I just jumped on the train in the Frankfurt Airport. In minutes we were downtown scarfing down bratwurst and beers. Now that's efficiency...

Here in Calgary, the system is so disjointed. Our little trolley system doesn't even come close to connecting to airport. We don't even have proper train system in Western Canada.

There's the usual "hillbilly" couple (husband/wife) from the deep south of the USA. I found the hillbilly lady's comment, "we're real scared of leavin' the US of A", kind of amusing.

Then I thought about my own experience. Back in the day, I let my first ever passport expire (after 5 years!) blank because I couldn't even work up the chutzpah to travel to Europe of all places. What a pansy, eh?

Yep, it really takes some nerve to take that first step out the door.

Eventually, I had the audacity to travel to Nairobi on my first trip. Suffice to say I hid in my hotel room for the first 3 days.

From what I can observe, the Race requires some physical ability to complete the tasks. However, it never seeks to amaze me that so many contestants show up totally out of shape. You know... big tubs of goo. C'mon people! We're talkin' a million bucks here.

I'm note sure who the favourites are yet.

Suffice to say i'm cheering for the Chinese siblings. Ha!

Conan Go Bye Bye...

I finally had the chance to watch the final show of Late Night with Conan O'Brien.

I consider Conan one of the most brilliant funny guys not only late night television but all of show business.

He didn't disappoint in his final show.

As the show came to a close, I couldn't help but feel somewhat sad. It won't be the last we see of him but his move to the Tonight Show maybe an end of an era. You see, Conan's brand of edgy humour may be terminated as well.

Case in point, when Letterman, who I regard as the best talk show host ever at the height of his tenure at Late Night, moved to CBS and an earlier time slot he lost a lot his edge.

Apparently, the 12:30 AM tv audience is supposed to be a little more staid than the wild late late crowd. Apparently, the more mature audience can't handle characters like the "masturbating bear". Oh, how I fear the slippery slope of dumbed down comedy.

Encouraging was Conan's closing remarks, where he vowed he wouldn't be changing his "childish" antics in his new show. Let's hope not. If he grows up, we'll all be poorer for it.

Time will tell.

Here's a rarely seen Conan clip. The commentary is in Finnish but still funny in an odd way for non-Finnish people as well...

On June 1, he takes over Jay Leno's spot on the Tonight Show.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Cape Cross Seal Reserve - Namibia...

cape cross fur seals or Arctocephalus pusillus
Cape Cross, located 142 km north of Swakopmund along the coast, harbors the largest breeding colony of Cape Fur Seals/Brown Fur Seals (Arctocephalus pusillus pusillus) along the Atlantic coast of Namibia and South Africa.
cape cross fur seals or Arctocephalus pusillus
It's been reported that during the breeding season (November/December - we were there in late November), the population of seals may exceed 340,000.
cape cross fur seals or Arctocephalus pusillus
Crazy fellow tourists awestruck by the seal covered landscape and breathing in the awesome stench of that new hit fragrance Eau De Seal.

View Larger Map
Map marks the Cape Cross Seal Reserve.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Swakopmund, Namibia - Adrenaline Sports Capital of Africa?

Swakopmund prides itself as the centre of extreme sports. Buzzing around the giant dunes between on an ATV seems to be one of the more popular activities. My friend Ahmed really enjoyed himself. If that doesn't turn your crank there's tobogganing and flights/hot air ballooning over the desert. All they need is bungee jumping off the dunes...
all terrain vehicles
This particular ATV park is between Swakopmund and Walvis Bay. You can't see it but I think Brangelina hunkered down in a condo unit across the street during their first pregnancy. That's hot, eh?

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Swakopmund, Namibia - Ich liebe Swakopmund!

Swakopmund lighthouse... appropriately located for we are on the southern end of the infamous Skeleton Coast, home to numerous unfortunate shipwrecks over the centuries.

The rough and tumble Atlantic coast off the Swakopmund jetty.

The local architectural style gave me a hankering for a few of my favourite things like schnitzel and bratwurst.

Instead of regular German fare, I did find a much more exotic menu. I'll have the bloody crocodile fillet, leeches on the side please. (1 USD = 6.65 $N)

Swakopmund Chinatown. OK, this was the only Chinese restaurant I found. You think I came all this way for chicken balls? Hell no! Ostrich Hot Pot or Sweet and Sour Warthog maybe...

View Larger Map
Map pointer indicates the Pension De La Mer. Excellent accommodations with secure parking. Delicious brekkie buffet included.

Friday, February 06, 2009

Flamingos, flamingos, flamingos - Walvis Bay, Namibia

After spending the first two weeks of our trip wallowing in the hell fires of the Kalahari and Namib Deserts, we were finally greeted by the fresh sea breezes lapping the Atlantic coastline of Namibia.

Greater Flamingos (Phoenicopterus roseus) off a Walvis Bay beach...
Walvis Bay, renown birdwatching hotspot because of nearby wetlands, was where we caught our first glimpse of flamingos. Flamingo sightings are infrequent in Southern Africa; however, Walvis Bay has a regular population of flamingos.

Greater flamingos and Lesser flamingos (Phoenicopterus minor) sometimes flock together. The latter species have pinker plummage and darker maroon bills than the Greater Flamingos. Immature individuals are grey/brown (foreground).

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

the blue list of africa...

Solitaire, Namibia
Heading north from Sesriem to Swakopmund on the coast, the land was pretty bleak. There weren't many places to stop for gas except for an aptly named place called Solitaire.

The gas station here is famous for it's delish apple strudel. Mmmmm...fresh-out-of-the-oven 10 cm by 25 cm chunk of apple strudel. I looked for strudel in Frankfurt, Germany (waiting for the connecting flight to Jo'burg, SA) only to find out that it originated in Austria. It was ironic that I found it in Namibia (out in the middle of nowhere), a former German colony back in WWI. Anyway, I'm glad I got my studel when I did because shortly after this pic was shot, the "Rollen Hotel", a massive overland truck, rolled into the station. At least 30 German tourists piled out and they went straight for the apple strudel.

The Ultimate African Itinerary.

Recently I received an email from Aubrey (whose thinking of a prolonged 8 month trip through Africa) asking for a top ten list of must see/do's on the "dark" continent. That was a daunting task to say the least. After reviewing my responding list, I don't think I did Africa justice. Here is what I came up with:

  1. Egypt. all the big sites in Cairo and along the Nile. if you want to get off the beaten path, i'd get out to siwa oasis in the west. Dahab's ok.
  2. Sudan. see as much of this as possible. particularly along the Nile in the north.
  3. Ethiopia. If there's only place you want to see that is Ethiopia: Simiens for walking, Lalibela, Gonder, Axum (maybe), Danikil depression (if you can afford it), Harar, Omo Valley, Gambella. you can easily kill a couple of months here. such a beautiful place. Test you mettle as a traveler though. The roads and people will challenge u.
  4. Kenya. Definitely head out to Lamu on the coast. Nairobbery is not so bad. Couple of days to re-charge there. Didn't make it to lake turkana. My bad. definitely next time for me. if you make it there, please post the pix.
  5. Uganda. Rafting the Nile is a must (here, Zambezi river in Zimbabwe or both). Lake Bunyonyi in the south. Kampala is pretty lively (ie. chaotic), definitely worth a visit. I was going to the north but got side tracked.
  6. Rwanda. See the gorillas here. You'll be able to get permits on the spot. Pricey but worth it. Kigali is nice. Lots of genocidal memorials to visit.
  7. Tanzania. I climbed Kilimanjaro a long time ago. Don't know if it's worth it anymore. it's nice up there though. Zanzibar is pretty interesting. Good source of photos. Ngorongoro crater is like a zoo (animals and tourists). I really recommend getting out to Kigoma and riding the SS Liemba down Lake Tanganyika.
  8. Malawi. Another hangout spot. I'd recommend Senga Bay and Point Maclear if you want to hang out by the Lake. Livingstonia's not bad.
  9. Zambia. I wish I spent more time here. Livingstone is a big tourist hangout. I believe that's your base for seeing Victoria Falls. They're pretty nice. But you can't go there without rafting the Zambezi, another must do.
  10. Botswana. Expensive place but you must get to Maun and into the Okavango Delta.
  11. Namibia. Etosha National Park, Swakopmund/Walvis Bay, and Sossusvlei are the must sees. in fact, if you only go on safari once, i recommend etosha.
  12. South Africa. I wish I could spend more time here. Capetown and Johannesburg are nice. Kagaligadi National Park was just brilliant, really wild. The Garden Route is a bit overrated. I'd certainly check out the Otter Route next time. It's a hiking trail along the south coast.
  13. Mozambique. Poor poor poor place. Maputo is a must. Pretty vibrant city. Go up to tofo if you're into snorkeling with whale sharks. You don't want to miss Ilha do Mozambique either.
Ok, I tried my best (I couldn't keep it to ten items). Just too many variables to crunch.

Tell me what you think of the list, 'cause I haven't been everywhere in Africa...

Not wanting to sound corny, I should have wrote, "go and meet the people and feel fortunate everyday that you're in Africa." Well, at least that's how I felt when I was there...

Aubrey is based in Dharamsala, India, right now, hanging out H.H. the Dalai Lama. Check out his blog Ketchup with Aubs for swell pix and stories of his travels.