Sunday, February 23, 2014


About 5 hours after we departed from the United Arab Emirates, our flight landed in Nairobi. We chose Kenya as our travel arrival/departure point because it was significantly cheaper than flying into Tanzania. Originally we had hoped to spend more time in Kenya, but that plan changed when we decided to head to the States before our Africa jaunt. We received a transit visa on arrival (good for 3 days...paid in post-2006 printed US dollars, and that seems to be the way most Africans want to be paid), which was quite easy as we were the only people in line. The airport has seen better days (there was a major fire last year and it is also undergoing renovations), but I think in a few years after the remodel, the airport will be much nicer.

I had arranged for our hostel to pick us up at the airport. Our driver was there when we came out of baggage claim and we headed off to Wildebeest Eco Camp, where we would stay for the night. On the drive from the airport, the most noticeable thing was people walking EVERYWHERE! So many people walking to work, public buses waiting to fill up to take people places, and insane traffic. The other noticeable thing was the smell of burning rubber. Wildebeest is located out of the city, in a more quiet suburban area. We arrived to find a gate with a guard for the property (we later learned guards and gates are generally standard in Kenya), which was about a 30 minute drive from the airport. 

We chose the cheapest option at Wildebeest, so we would be sleeping in a basic tent. Our tent was not set up when we arrived (we expected that, since it was about 7am!), so we had breakfast and then hired a driver to take us to an elephant orphanage and a giraffe sanctuary. Both of these were quite touristy activities, so they drew large crowds, but they were educational and informative as well. The elephants have been orphaned due to their mothers being poached for their tusks, so the money that people pay to watch the elephants feed (every day at 11am for one hour it is open to the public) goes towards helping to raise the orphaned elephants. Watching them run down the hill to the feeding area and then go straight to chugging down the massive milk bottles was really entertaining. Employees also answered questions about the elephants, the mission of the orphanage, and poaching. At the end they tried to make sure that people had a chance to pet an elephant as well. 

Who needs help holding the bottle? Not this guy!

The giraffe sanctuary was really crowded, and we encountered some rude people, so we had a more negative experience there. We did benefit from a brief information session about the different types of giraffes in Africa. We also got the chance to hold a few different giraffe bones, which were ridiculously heavy. Right next to the sanctuary is Giraffe Manor, where I would have loved to have stayed if we were rich, ha!
Yes, this sign is for real.
"Make sure you get my good side"
Don't judge! Giraffes have antiseptic saliva! Kelly and I were bonding in this photo.
Erik chose to feed the giraffe in a more traditional way.
We could have squeezed in a few more things in the afternoon, but we were happy to head back to Wildebeest to relax after our long day of travel from the States. We met some nice people (including the owners, who are Aussies) and enjoyed a delicious buffet dinner on the deck overlooking the grounds. The permanent tents look really nice, but we couldn't justify the splurge and our cheap tiny tent allowed for just as much sleep given we were exhausted when it was time for bed!
View of property from the deck where meals are served.

The next morning was spent at Wildebeest, again enjoying the relaxed atmosphere (they are putting in a pool soon, which will make it an even better place to stay!). Around midday, we took a taxi into the city centre, where we boarded Rainbow Shuttle for a 6 hour bus ride to Tanzania. The bus station area was a bit chaotic, but our driver was helpful in letting us know we were in the right place. After an hour or so of waiting, we were heading south to the country where we would spend the next 2.5 weeks!

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Abu Dhabi

As I mentioned in the last post, we took Amtrak from Maryland to NYC. I was a bit worried about how that would work given it was New Year's Eve, but surprisingly it was far less chaotic than I expected. Upon arriving at Penn Station, we navigated our way to the LIRR (Long Island Rail Road), which we decided to take instead of the subway in order to avoid the NYE crowds. Turned out to be a great call, as there was hardly anyone on our train. We got off in Jamaica and from there hopped on the AirTrain to JFK.

We arrived at the airport about 3 hours before our departure time (we were supposed to have about 4 hours, but Amtrak was delayed from DC, so it was an hour late when we boarded at BWI), which I expected would be plenty of time. The airport was a madhouse. In particular, the line for Etihad, which we were flying to Nairobi, was ridiculously long and wasn't moving very fast. Turns out that some of the delay was because Etihad attendants were measuring carry on bags. I have never seen this on an international flight, but after watching multiple people trying to get away with 4-5 carry-on bags, I then understood why there was a need to tag carry-on bags. The guy behind us in line explained that because things are so cheap in the USA, people traveling home to the Middle East take as many things as possible and they try to avoid paying extra fees for bags by carrying them on the plane. They must still get away with taking too much on, because Erik and I ended up not getting any overhead bin space on the plane!
Flying over Saudi Arabia
We made through the line to check in after about an hour and then it took almost another hour to get through security. The flight was boarding when we made it to the gate, so we waited in that line and went straight onto the plane. This was our first flight with Etihad and overall it was quite good. I had picked our seats in advance, and we were in the back of the plane, in the first row that was 2 seats instead of 3, which gave us a bit of extra space (and a seat to store one of our backpacks under without compromising leg room). The seats were comfortable and had a nice amount of recline (maybe more than Qantas?) and the quality of the blankets and headphones were really good. Our eye mask, earplugs, and socks came in a cute travel pouch (which we now own 4 of), which was a nice touch. Of course there were heaps of movies to choose from for our 12 hour flight to Abu Dhabi, and we took full advantage of that. We were happy with the food choices/quality and the flight attendants were nice. Etihad is the first airline to offer a flying nanny, who helps parents with kids on the flight, which I think is a really great idea!

We arrived in Abu Dhabi around 7pm local time and our flight for Nairobi did not leave until 2am. Since we had some time, we decided to make the most of it and head out into Abu Dhabi. After doing some searching before we left home, I thought that the best place to visit would be the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque. Since we are American, we were able to get a free visa on arrival (no paperwork necessary). Immigration was very welcoming and there was no line, so we were out into the warm fresh air within a few minutes. We took a taxi to the mosque, and our friendly driver assured us it would be easy to get a taxi to the airport in a few hours when we were ready to head back.
Inside Abu Dhabi airport, which was really nice!
The mosque is massive, and as we approached it from afar, the sight of it was amazing (according to Wiki, the mosque and grounds are equivalent to about 5 football fields). It is made up of materials like marble, stone, gold, and ceramics, and these have come from different places all over the world. It was completely free to visit, and in order to go inside the mosque, I had to wear an abaya (which was also free) even though I was wearing long pants and a long sleeved shirt.
Blurry picture, but that is me standing at the entrance!
Inside the mosque, wearing my borrowed abaya.
Awesome corridor view
The prayer room is at the far end behind Erik
Pretty lights outside the mosque

The architecture inside the main prayer hall was stunning, as was the attention to detail on every part of the room from the floor to the ceiling!

We spent a few hours at the mosque before heading back to the airport to grab some dinner. If we had a longer layover we would have really enjoyed seeing more of Abu Dhabi. Etihad offers a free shuttle bus to Dubai also, so that could have been an option if we had a day to spend in the area. Lots of flights these days seem to stop in one of those 2 cities in the UAE and we would definitely consider extending our stopover if we happen to fly through the UAE again in the future.

Our next flight was on Kenya Airways, which was not nearly as nice as Etihad, but they still got us safe and sound to Nairobi at 6am, where we would start our African adventures!

Sunday, February 9, 2014


A couple of hours and two friendly Southwest flight crews later, we made it from MSP to BWI on Christmas night. My parents were there to pick us up and take us to Westminster, my hometown, where we would stay until New Year's Eve. We didn't have any major plans for our time in Maryland except to hang out with family, which is what we did for most of the time we were there.
Another member of our family, my sister and brother-in-law's dog, Nola.
On the 26th we got to meet the newest addition to our family, Bryce. He was about 6 weeks old at the time, so we got in plenty of baby snuggles during our visit! My sister and I also got to spend some quality time together with her new baby boy, taking him on his first long walk around the neighborhood on a warm winter day.
Out and about on our walk. :)
Bryce chillin' with Uncle Erik and his crazy hair!
In addition to spending time in Maryland, we traveled to Virginia to meet my aunt and uncle for lunch, which was another highlight of our time at home. I was also able to catch up with a few friends, including one who is expecting a baby in March and one who just got engaged, and I was very happy to get the chance to see friends even though our time in Maryland was limited.

While in Westminster, we enjoyed some of our favorite American foods, namely Chipotle and Roberto's Pizza. We also had the chance to enjoy crab cakes from Timbuktu (the BEST crab cakes in Maryland, by the way!) just before my parents dropped us off at the Amtrak station. Our Maryland trip concluded with a visit from two of our friends who re-arranged their travel plans so that they could keep us company on the Amtrak train! Our flight to Africa left from JFK, so we took Amtrak from Baltimore to NYC, and our friends rode with us until Philly, where they were returning home after spending some time in North Carolina.

It never feels like enough time at home, and it was sad to say goodbye to our families, but it helped that we had 3 weeks of adventures in Africa to look forward to after our departure!

Sunday, February 2, 2014


Our overnight flight was on Alaskan Airlines, and I was quite impressed with the service (more so than my previous flight with Alaskan, from New Orleans to Anchorage in 2011). During our red eye, we were fed several snacks and the flight attendants were very friendly. The plane from Honolulu to Seattle seemed relatively new too, which always helps. After a short layover in Seattle, we were off to Minnesota.
We were actually leaving paradise, but hey, the slogan is nice!
Erik had been scheming with his brother, Max, who was the only person who knew we would be visiting Minnesota. However, Max was not arriving until much later in the evening and we were arriving around noon. We had to figure out how to get out to the small town where Erik's parents live and we had no idea where anyone would be or what they would be doing. Erik had worked on this plan before we left Australia and had arranged to Skype with his Uncle Brian at a specific time. His uncle lives in the Twin Cities and we could manage to get there via public transport. Once we arrived at MSP and collected our bags, we hopped on the light rail and headed toward the closest stop to Brian's house. From there we walked about a mile with our bags in the snow (and cold, though fortunately it was only about 20 degrees F that day!) to Brian's house. We arrived about 15 minutes before the Skype time and we knocked on Uncle Brian's door. Unfortunately, Brian was not answering, so we decided maybe he wasn't home yet. We paced outside the house to keep warm (and one point Brian's neighbor came outside and invited us inside his house to wait!) and kept checking Skype, but Brian was never logged on. At that point, Erik decided to call his Uncle Brian. He answered immediately and apologized for not being able to get on Skype, as he had a new computer and he could not get it to work. Brian was also apologetic that Erik was having to make an expensive phone call from Australia! Erik stated that he could come downstairs to the door to let us in and he would show him how to use Skype on his new computer. Brian was quite confused and obviously very surprised to see us when he came to the door! It was the first of many surprises over the next few days. Brian was kind enough to drive us out to Erik's hometown, but we still had trouble finding Erik's parents. Eventually, we caught Jill (Erik's mom) at home and surprised her (though she thought Erik was actually his brother Ben until she saw me), and later surprised Dan (Erik's, dad, whose reaction was the best!). Every new person that came out to the house was surprised to see us, and it was a fantastic way to start Christmas celebrations.
The house Erik grew up in. Love the way it looks in winter!
This was our first Minnesota Christmas since 2009 (we spent 2010 in Colorado with Erik's family, 2011 in Thailand, and 2012 in Wilson's Prom), and it was the first time we had seen snow since early 2011. We got to participate in cutting down and decorating the Christmas tree and we were able to join in the annual broomball game as well. Our timing worked out so that we got to spend Christmas with both Erik's mom's side of the family and Erik's dad's side of of the family. We even had the chance to see a few of our friends who came out to the broomball game on very late notice that Erik and I were in town, which was awesome! Overall, our big surprise was a success and we really enjoyed seeing our Minnesota family.
Cutting down the Christmas tree!
Some sort of cross country ski race between Max and Erik.
Fierce competition at the broomball game!
On Christmas Day we headed off to the airport again for a flight to Maryland, where we would finally get to meet our new nephew and we would see my side of the family!
Goodbye, MSP! Can you see the CBD in the back of the photo?