Botswana: Day Trip to Chobe National Park, 27 August 2018

Chobe National Park

I actually had a great internal debate about whether to do this – not from the fundamental value of visiting Chobe National Park, but mostly because I was trying to stick to a budget of 100 USD/week, and this was going to blow through my weekly budget. In the end, I decided to visit Chobe National Park, and it was worth it. Also, because I was lazy, I did not do it in a cost-effective manner. However, if you choose to do it in a more cost-effective manner, here are some details on how to do it.

Cheap Ways of Visiting Chobe National Park from Livingstone, Zambia

  1. Absolute Cheapest Way to Visit Chobe National Park from Livingstone

You take a shared taxi from Livingstone to Kazungula, take the ferry across, and take a taxi to Kasane, and return to Livingstone the same way (plenty of taxis at the border). This method should cost ~$10 round trip.

Booking directly with Botswana operators will net the best prices. For instance, a standard 3 hr river safari and 3 hr game drive can be had from 60 – 100 USD. Here are some operators Big Sam Hubber and Chobe National Park

Total price: 70 USD – 110 USD

  1. Not absolute cheapest, but one of the cheaper tours leaving from Livingstone

Book through Jollyboys Hostel or Fawlty Towers

Total price: 156 USD

  1. My lazy, lame way of booking

Booked from the hotel, hassle-free, pick up, drop off from hotel. The actual operator was Shearwaters, which priced the tour at 170 USD, but yeah, I did it last minute, and the phone call from the hotel’s tour agency cost me $15.

Total price: 185 USD

Chobe National Park

0900 – 1230: River Safari

1230 – 1330: Lunch

1330 – 1630: Game drive

Chobe National Park

Mine was operated by Chobezi, which is quite a large operator. They launch their river safari from Chobe River Lodge. The river safari itself was not too bad – we saw elephants, crocodiles, rhinoceros, but towards the last hour, I fell asleep from the gentle rocking of the boat. As several operators run very similar tours, expect to see several boats all chasing the same few animals in Chobe River. Having said that, watching the elephants go for their daily afternoon swim at around 11 am was the highlight of the trip.

Lunch was a buffet at Chobe River Lodge. Nothing much to report on that – it was filling, and the bathroom at Chobe River Lodge is nice. They served warthog at their carving station.

Given that it was my first game drive, I didn’t know what to expect. We had a great guide, Emmanuel, who explained all that we were seeing on the game drive. We saw a lot of kudu, and I wound up with a newfound appreciation of these beautiful, graceful animals. He pointed out the different types of birds. I felt rather bad when he pointed out a warthog – what I just had for lunch (sorry I ate your mama!). My friend didn’t help when he texted back with this picture.

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Yes, I ate Pumbaa.

Our afternoon during the game drive got rather exciting. At one point, a bunch of vehicles gathered at this particular spot. As it turns out, an elephant had died, and a family of lions was feasting on it. It was quite hard to see through the foliage, but we did get a peek of the lions, and heard an occasional low roar. That took up quite a bit of time for the game drive, and by that 3.45 or so, Emmanuel had to turn back to drop us off at the Botswana border. Luckily for us, as he was trying to exit Chobe National Park, the giraffes had migrated to the river as well, so we spotted some 6 giraffes taking a drink by the river.

Chobe National Park

That concludes my day trip to Chobe National Park from Livingstone, Zambia. I am not sorry that I exceeded my weekly budget – it was worth the money.

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A Walk by the Numbers: Crossing from Zambia to Zimbabwe on Foot, 24 August 2018

Screen Shot 2018-08-24 at 1.34.25 PMCountries number: 69 & 70.

Time at start of walk: 8 am

Time at end of walk: 11.30 am

Temperature at start of walk: 16 degree Celsius

Temperature at end of walk: 31 degree Celsius

Total spent: $30 ($20 for entrance fee into Zambia’s side of Victoria Falls, $10 for the taxi ride back to my hotel)

Total time spent in Zimbabwe: 20 mins

Total distance walked: 13 km

Total steps taken: 19,000

Number of baboons seen: Over 20. 4 young ones, 6 crossed the road, 2 fights witnessed

Number of birds seen: about 3 dozens

Number of butterflies seen: 2. I was brave, and didn’t scream.

Number of broken beer bottles seen: Countless.

Number of soda bottles seen: Less than the number of beer bottles

Number of flies that flew into my face: 8. Why do they do that??

Number of bicycles overflowing with produce: ~50

Number of tourists in ridiculous safari gear: 2

Amount of water consumed: 1000 ml

Bridges crossed: 2. Victoria Falls Bridge and Knife Edge Bridge

Change in elevation: Probably 1 degree. The walk was flat.

Livingstone, Zambia

It’s ‘winter’ in Zambia. I don’t like negotiating with taxi drivers, and I’m poor AF. So, I finally did it. I crossed a border on foot from Zambia to Zimbabwe, spent $0 and 20 mins in Zimbabwe, and got a new passport stamp (I’m rather ashamed of myself for doing that, by the way). Honestly to cross from Victoria Falls on Zambia’s side to Victoria Falls on Zimbabwe’s side is actually just about ~ 4 km round trip, but what added to my trip was deciding to make that 8 km walk from my hotel to Victoria Falls.

I wouldn’t do this walk in summer. Starting in the cool morning after a full breakfast was a good idea. By the time I was done, the mid-day temperature would have made this walk unbearable.

Livingstone, Zambia

Victoria Falls is really majestic. Interestingly, the best place to take a photo of the Falls doesn’t require entrance fees – from the Victoria Falls Bridge. You’ll also encounter a lot of touts asking you to do the bungee jump. The Zambian side charges $20, but doesn’t take credit cards. I paid in USD. The Zimbabwe side charges $30, but they do take credit cards.

Welcome to Zimbabwe

The Zimbabwe Dollar devaluation crisis must be getting bad, because the immigration person stamping me into Zimbabwe asked if I would give her my USD in exchange for Zimbabwe Dollars, and pay my entrance fee in Zimbabwe Dollars.

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Argentina: Wandering in Cordoba, 20 July 2016

Cordoba

My only full day in Cordoba. My hotel isn’t exactly in the centre of town, but it was probably a 15 min walk to the heart of Cordoba, where the Jesuit block is located. Cordoba was founded in the 1500s, making it one of the oldest Spanish colonial cities, and the architecture reflects that.

Cordoba

I don’t have much to contribute to the conversation on Cordoba, but it’s a pretty lively town that makes it perfect for walking. Nice architecture, many passage ways for exploring, and a rather compact city centre are some of the pluses. I wanted to check out the Jesuit mission, but the number of bugs biting me stopped me in my tracks. I did go to the Colegio Nacional, which is pretty cool. They maintained the colonial facade, but updated the interior of the building.

Cordoba Wandering around for food was quite a challenge. I was initially inclined towards trying their local fastfood, but then the lines turned me off. I ended up exploring the various passage ways, letting various sign boards posted outside to guide me. I wound up at a cafe that surrounded a fountain, and had a ham sandwich with fries. Tostados con fritta, Cordoba

The rest of my day was spend dealing with logistics like changing money, and figuring a way to the airport for my flight the next day.

Cordoba

Argentina: Bussing from Rosario to Cordoba, 19 July 2016

Terminal de Omnibus, Rosario

The only grand plan for today is to get from Rosario to Cordoba. The older I get, the less I can deal with longish bus journeys. I used to be ok with 12 hr bus-rides, but these days, even the 6ish hours bus ride seems a bit much. And because I value my comfort more than anything else these days, I opted for a noonish departure, which means the bulk of my day is spent on the bus.

Terminal de Omnibus, Rosario

The Argentina bus system is pretty easy to navigate online. I used Omnilineas to check the departure times. Thankfully, buses from Rosario to Cordoba are fairly frequent. As this wasn’t an overnight bus, I opted for the semi-cama, which features quite a bit of recline, and the chairs were arranged as 2 by 2s. The bus ticket was about 460 ARS (~30 USD), and comes without any service. For more information on what the different classes mean, do check out this page, so you may select a service that works best for you.

Plusultra (Semi Cama) bus from Rosario to Cordoba

Cordoba is the first city of Argentina, and is home to one of the oldest universities in the world. The Jesuit missions in Cordoba are also a UNESCO world heritage site. Arriving at 7pm, I got a glimpse of these older buildings, but I was too tired to explore. I simply went to the mall that’s beside my hotel, grabbed some food from the food court, and passed out for the night.

Plusultra (Semi Cama) bus from Rosario to Cordoba

Plusultra (Semi Cama) bus from Rosario to Cordoba

Plusultra (Semi Cama) bus from Rosario to Cordoba

Uruguay: Montevideo to Colonia, 13 July 2016

Colonia Del Sacramento from the lighthouse

Our grand plan today involved getting from Montevideo to Colonia. Colonia is a UNESCO World Heritage site that was built in the 1500s as a Portuguese town, and a fortification of sorts. It’s about 3 hrs by bus from Montevideo, and 1.5 hrs by a fast ferry from Buenos Aires.

The night before, I checked online, and seeing that buses run from Montevideo to Colonia 20 past the hour almost every hour, I decided to just wing it when we get to the bus station. At around 11.45 or so, we checked out of the hotel, and got an Uber to bring us to the bus station (we were running out of Uruguay Pesos, and didn’t want to change more). It was a longer-than-expected 20 min ride, because there were traffic diversions.

We arrived at the bus ticketing counter at 12.05, got the last two seats on the bus by the lav (argh!), and hopped onto the bus by 12.10. Sitting beside the lav isn’t ideal, but it does beat waiting another hour for the next round of buses. We paid 330 per person for the 3 hour bus ride, and with that, we spent the last of our Uruguay Pesos.

The bus ride was uneventful, and rolled by the bucolic Uruguayan countryside. It made several stops along the way. It probably pays to do more research than we did, and find out which bus offers the most direct route, because our meandering bus ride took about three hours. At around 3.30 or so, we arrived at the Colonia del Sacramento bus station, which is across the street from the ferry terminal.

Colonia Del Sacramento

We walked some 15 min or so to the fortified town of Colonia, the site of the UNESCO World Heritage site. The area has very clear signage, and maps are located around the little town, with different points of interest. While the +1 was climbing the fortifications and jumping over mud puddles, I just took it easy as I was getting increasingly hangry, not having eaten a thing the whole day.

Despite my increasing hangry-ness, we decided to climb up the lighthouse for a bird’s eye view of the Rio de la Plata and the town of Colonia.  As a very tourist-y town, Colonia takes you can pay in Argentinian Pesos or Uruguayan Pesos. Uruguayan Pesos offer the best rate, but if you aren’t looking to go change money, Argentinian Pesos will be accepted at a shitty rate. The lighthouse was kinda nice, but we wouldn’t recommend it for taller people. It did get to be quite a squeeze with visitors, even though the ticket vendors do manage foot traffic. We had a bit of trouble getting to the top, because it is pretty hard to climb to the top with a bag. We had to relay our bags up before climbing up. I’d still recommend hiking up, though.

Santa Rita, Colonia Del Sacramento

After the lighthouse, I was done. By this point, all I wanted was to sit down and eat. Unfortunately, a lot of the restaurants in the square were closed, because the day trip tourists have left, and so many restaurant operators make the decision to close shop. We had to walk to the edges of the square to find a restaurant that had a kitchen that was still operating. We wound up at Santa Rita (the +1 said they have bad reviews on Google, but whatever – beggars can’t be choosers).

Salmon Skewers from Santa Rita, Colonia Del Sacramento

They started us off with a bread course. We had salmon skewers and ordered a Santa Rita paella. We thought the salmon skewers were great. I thought the Santa Rita paella was so-so, but given how hungry I was, I couldn’t care less. It was perfectly edible. We also enjoyed a sunset by the restaurant. The dinner set us back by $50 for two of us. As our hotel was some ways from the town of Colonia itself, they also called a taxi for us to take us to our hotel.

Sunset in Colonia Del Sacramento

Morocco: Casablanca – Marrakech, 28 December 2015

Marrakech

In the morning, I took the train from Casablanca to Marrekech. I got to Casablanca Voyager train station by the Casablanca tramline (7 DH). The trip was about 19 min. The schedule posted on Seat61 is slightly outdated (states that trains leave 20 past the hour), but worked out in my favor (they left 50 past the hour), because I was a little bit late to the train station. I tried to get a first class ticket, but they weren’t selling them, so some money saved (90 DH). They seem to be using the newer trains, which are faster – the journey took a little over 3 hours. While waiting for the train to arrive, I popped into a cafeteria by the platform, and got myself a 20 DH sandwich. Sitting on my roller carry-on, munching on my chicken sandwich, while waiting for my train, all was right with the world.

Boarding second class was quite a mad house, but after walking through a few private cabins, I managed to find one with some empty seats, with the other seats filled with some lovely ladies. It was a very pleasant 3+ hour ride from Casablanca to Marrakech, whereby these lovely ladies just stuffed me with chocolate wafers!

Pulling into the very modern Marrakech train station, it seemed like yet another tourist death trap, with taxi drivers approaching tourists to offer taxi rides. I decided to try walking to the Le Meridien N’Fis (it’s about 1.5 miles from the train station). Eventually, I did get picked up by a taxi driver, who was out hunting for tourist meat, but I negotiated my rate to 15 DH.

After a short rest at my hotel, I ventured to the Marrakech medina, which is about a 20 min walk from my hotel. The medina was quite the adventure that I did not emerge from. I did not pick up a map, nor did I have GPS on my phone. What transpired in the next 5 hours was me just getting very, epic-ly lost.

Marrakech

Things started off well enough. I located the Koutoubia Minaret. I moved towards the outer limits of the medina, and stopped off at a nice snack store, which sold a crepe-like pastry filled with potatoes and spices. It was 7 DH for one, with a cup of tea. I finally made my way into the medina, and that’s when the craziness began. At every corner of the medina, there’re generally young men standing around, offering to bring you around, or offering to practice English/French/whatever. Well, avoid them – if they accompany you, there’s a good chance they’ll be demanding money from you for their ‘services rendered’.

Marrakech

Being in the medina is like a corn maze. My initial game plan was to try and use the minaret as my guide, but in the medina, you can’t see anything. Also, a lot of the stores looked rather similar, so that wasn’t helpful. After a while, it seemed like I was just going round and round and round. My hotel provided a complimentary entry (otherwise, 40DH) to the Maison de Photographie, which offers great views from its rooftop. Eventually, I located it with the ‘help’ of a ‘student’. The rooftop is excellent for a bird’s eye view of Marrakech, and if you love taking photographs, it’s an amazing spot for sunset photography of Marrakech.

Marrakech

After leaving the Maison de Photographie, I wanted to check out the Djemaa El-Fna, and have my dinner there. I was trying to follow the signs, but at some point, I lost it, and wound up just walking round and round the medina, and ended up in some residential neighborhoods. Eventually, after some two hours of walking around, I finally managed to find an opening, where I spotted the Koutoubia Minaret, and made my way to Djemaa El-Fna, which is beside the Koutoubia Minaret.

Marrakech

The Djeemaa El-Fna is packed! There are dancers, acrobat acts, food vendors, and arcade-like games. I just went to the first stall with grilled meats, and settled down to a dinner of beef skewers (30DH, but they charged me 35DH). I was overcharged for some mysterious reason, but was too tired to argue with that. After an excellent dinner, I walked back to my hotel. The medina is actually a fun experience, but do take a map, or it could turn into quite an exhausting walk! It is also generally more manageable, if you don’t react as strongly to tourist scams as I do – I just hate getting ripped off.

Marrakech Marrakech

Costs

Transportation: 112 DH (7 + 90 + 15)

Food: 42 DH (35 + 7)

Accommodation: 4000 Starpoints

Total: 150 DH + 4000 Starpoints (15 USD)

Marrakech

Morocco: Rabat, 26 December 2015

Rabat

I arrived at the Rabat International Airport sometime after 5 pm, probably closer to 6 pm. The passport control was a little bit slow, but not out of control. I probably cleared it within 30 mins, and after changing some money (1 USD = 9.6 DH), I spotted the airport bus parked outside, and was good to go. The rate at the airport is pretty fair, and the exchange doesn’t charge a commission.

Getting In

You should see an airport bus across the street from the airport. It costs 20 DH to get from the airport to the Rabat train station. It probably took about 30 min. If you want a drop off along the route, you could probably ask. From the Rabat train station, I took a taxi to my hotel Mercure Rabat, which is located in the residential quarter of Hassan (10 DH). The bus also stops in front of the tram line, so if you are on that tram line, you can always just hop on the tram (6 DH per trip, or per hour, sorry, was too lazy to read the whole thing in French).

Getting Around

I mostly used the tram system to get from my hotel to the medina. There are a couple of stops in front of the medina. I found this to be a painless way to get around Rabat, and it is cheap (6 DH), and hassle-free (i.e. no rip-off taxi drivers). The main sights in Rabat are also quite walkable – for instance, it wasn’t too much of a walk for me to go from Hassan Tower to the Kasbah.

Rabat

Rabat

After check-in, it was getting a bit late, so I pretty much just wanted to get some food from the souk before retiring for the night. Man, it was really crowded. I think I suddenly became very aware of how much I stood out, even in the crazy crowd. Apparently, being a single, East Asian female really makes you stick out. I started to be extremely aware of my surroundings.

Regardless, hopping on the station, Tour Hassan, it was about two stations to Bab Chellah. There, the glorious smoke from meat on the grill was epic, and I wandered towards it. I wound up getting a grilled chicken sandwich for ~15 DH. I’m pretty sure I got the foreigner tax, but whatever, it was pretty tasty.

Rabat

I strolled down the street, and eventually wound up in the souk. I am generally not much of a shopper, so while souks are interesting for me to see, generally, I really have no observations about the goods on sale. I did eventually wander into another Shwarma place, and ended up with a shwarma sandwich with fries (25 DH). My best description of the souk is, a Southeast Asian night market. If you enjoy something like that, this is for you.

Rabat

After walking the equivalent of one tram station, I walked up the street towards the Rabat train station – I figured I might as well check out some of the train timing, since my plan is to take a train into Casablanca the next day. There are some cafes along the street, and dividing the main road is a tree-lined pedestrian boulevard, which seemed popular with families. I do find the café culture to be very manly – it’s mostly males lounging at the chairs, sipping their coffees/teas, and looking on street life.

Rabat

After checking out the Rabat train station, I hopped onto the other tram line (they have two in Rabat), and went back to my hotel for the night.

Note about buying tickets on the tram

If you know that you are going to need a couple of them, you might want to buy them in advance. You don’t save money this way, but their machines can sometimes break down, or just hang. So, buy tickets when you find a machine that’s working, so you won’t be stuck in a situation where you are at a station, and cannot buy tickets.

Rabat

Costs

Transportation: 42 DH (20 + 10 + 12)

Food: 44 DH (15 + 25 + 4)

Accommodation: 68 USD (stayed at a 3-star hotel, regretted it)

Total: ~ 77 USD (for convenience, I’m just using the 1 USD = 10 DH conversion)