Tag Archives: Africa

Our Year in Travel, 2013

Yes, I realize it’s a little late to be looking back at 2013, but I’m a procrastinator, so this is how I roll.  Better late than never, right?

64,373 miles.  That’s the number of miles I flew last year (Dawn’s number is a bit less thanks to my extra trip back to the States).  I’m a numbers and a list kind of guy, so it’s probably no surprise that I know how many miles I flew.  Granted, the only reason I know that number is thanks to Tripit (for keeping track of all my flights throughout the year) and OpenFlights.org (for taking all of my TripIt data and sorting it out).  Half of those miles (right at 32,000 actually) came from my Thanksgiving and Christmas flights back to the States, and another 8,000 miles came from the flights I took to move to Doha.  With only a solitary work trip from Kansas City to Minneapolis and back (about 800 miles), that leaves me with about 23,000 miles that I flew for ‘fun’.  Even without all of those flights back and forth to the States, that is a pretty decent amount of flying.  I’d love to bump that number up even farther this year, but I don’t really see that happening.  Two and a half trips back to the States is some pretty serious mileage, and I don’t foresee that many trips back to the States this year.  Even if I was to make that RTW flight in business class that I want to take at some point happen in 2014 I still don’t think I’d get up to 64k  again.  It’s amazing to think that there are business flyers that put in over 100,000 BIS (butt in seat) miles a year, year after year.  Even I might get a little sick of flying at that rate.  Well, maybe, maybe not.

Ok, enough boring you with the numbers.  Let’s take a look at where we went.

My US routes courtesy of openflights.org

My North American routes courtesy of openflights.org

Prior to moving to Doha, Dawn and I got in some really great weekend trips.  The first trip of the year was a single day turnaround in January to meet up with some friends for shopping on Chicago’s Magnificent Mile.  It was the first time I’ve ever flown in and out of my destination on the same day.  To be honest, it was a little ridiculous, but when it comes to flying and trips, the more ridiculous, the better in my opinion (typically not Dawn’s opinion, although, in this particular case she was completely on board due to the friends we were visiting).  The fact that the flights were free (maybe $10 each in fees) thanks to my British Avios stash made it completely worthwhile.

Our second trip of the year was a long weekend to San Antonio.  Neither Dawn nor I had been to San Antonio before, and it just seems like everyone should see the Alamo at some point in their life.  The Alamo was pretty commercialized, but we did really enjoy visiting the other forts in the area.  Flights were courtesy of my Southwest Airlines credit card sign up bonuses and the Southwest Companion Pass that I had earned in early 2012.  Thanks to SPG points we stayed on the Riverwalk at the Sheraton Gunter Hotel for free.  The property was beautiful, the location was perfect, and we even got upgraded to the lounge floor where we had access to free breakfast, snacks, and drinks thanks to the $20 trick.  Money well spent.

In March we took a pilgrimage down to Florida to enjoy the warm(er) weather, outlet shopping, and, of course, spring training.  We planned this trip as our delayed Valentine’s Day present to each other.  We much prefer travel experiences to gifts, and this trip was a lot of fun.  We only saw two spring training games – Rays vs. Orioles in Port Charlotte and Phillies vs. Blue Jays in Clearwater – but it was a very relaxing trip knowing that I was about to move to Doha in a few short weeks.  Thanks to a blog giveaway I won, we stayed one free night at the Westin Tampa Bay.  We stayed the other 2 nights in a Fairfield Inn & Suites in Brandon, Florida that was somewhat convenient to the ball parks.  While I love staying in luxury hotels on points, I’m a sucker for a deal.  And, at 7,500 Marriott points/night, that was too good of a deal to pass up.  My Southwest Rapid Rewards account and the companion pass picked up the flights again.

It doesn’t get much better than hot dogs and baseball.

Just before moving to Doha, we flew to Indianapolis for Dawn’s brother’s wedding.  The wedding was a lot of fun, and it was great to spend some time with family right before my flight overseas.  Once again Southwest took care of our flights, and I think we stayed at a Comfort Inn.  I can’t remember if we used points or paid cash, but I know we chose it due to convenience as it was close and some family and friends were staying there.

Looking back, it’s pretty amazing how much traveling we did in the first three months of the year, and it’s even more amazing that we didn’t pay cash for any of the flights, and we only paid for two of our eight hotel nights on those trips.  Certainly, there were airline taxes ($5-$10/each per flight), rental car expenses, meals, and other miscellaneous costs, but if you’re not paying for flights or hotels, traveling really isn’t that much more expensive than staying home.

My Europe, Asia, and Africa routes courtesy of OpenFlights.org

My Europe, Asia, and Africa routes courtesy of OpenFlights.org

While I mentioned the majority of my traveling (at least in terms of mileage flown) was done on my flights back and forth to the States, Dawn and I did a decent amount of exploring this half of the world as well.  While I’ll always think we should be traveling more (I’ll probably never be satisfied unless we’re traveling full time), we were able to visit quite a variety of different places.

I stayed in Doha for four months straight before traveling, and I’m really hoping that’s my longest streak of not leaving Qatar.  While Greece in July was Dawn’s first trip from Doha, my first trip wasn’t until we headed to Scandinavia in August.  It was just what I needed as it was cool, green, and the exact opposite of Doha in the summer.  While I posted about our 24 hours in Copenhagen, I had hoped to eventually catch up with posts on both Stockholm and our Norway in a Nutshell tour.  Getting back to it will take a little extra motivation as we lost almost all of our pictures from that trip due to an external hard drive failure.  The fjords of Norway were certainly the highlight of that trip, but I really enjoyed our short time in Copenhagen more than I expected.  We didn’t stay in any hotel more than two nights as our trip consisted of six different hotel stays in nine days.  It was quite a fast paced trip, but I was pretty excited about how much we got to see.  Thanks to a combination of Club Carlson points, Hilton points, and a certificate for a free Marriott night we only paid cash for half a night (using Hilton cash and points in Denmark) out of our nine hotel nights.  Flights were bought with cash.

Preikestolen

Yeah, that’s us with our arms up in the air on Preikestolen (Pulpit Rock) 1982 feet above Lysefjord below.

In October my parents and aunt headed over to visit for a few weeks before we all headed to Kenya for our nine day African safari.  Traveling to my seventh continent with my dad was a pretty cool experience, and it was even better that most of the family was there to enjoy the trip with us.  The camps were crazy luxurious, and seeing the sheer quantity and variety of animals in their own environment was an experience that I won’t ever forget.  Africa is high on the revisit list as Victoria Falls and Cape Town are both calling my name.  All lodging and flights were paid with cash (thanks, Dad).

Lake Nakuru National Park

The whole country was this beautiful.

You can’t live in the Middle East without visiting Dubai.  It’s a world renowned city, and as it’s only a 50 minute flight away it was a no-brainer for a short weekend trip.  We spent two days and a single night there, and I actually enjoyed the city a lot more than I thought I would.  The highlight for me, of course, was getting to visit the observation deck of the tallest building in the world (for now at least), the Burj Khalifa.  It’s amazing what men can build these days, and I thoroughly enjoyed the videos and exhibits on the design and construction process.  Watching people snow ski in a mall in the middle of the desert is so ridiculous that it was quite entertaining.  For our one night in the city we stayed at the newly opened Conrad Dubai, a beautiful hotel right on the main street of Dubai, Sheikh Zayed Road.  As this hotel typically runs for about $300/night we burned one of our Hilton weekend night certificates.  As it was my first stay at a Conrad I had pretty high expectations that weren’t quite met.  It might have been that it had only been opened a few months or maybe my expectations were too high for this particular property.  I’m glad I only used one of our weekend certificates on this hotel.  Again, our pictures from Dubai were a victim of the fried hard drive, so most likely no post on our short stay.

The weekend after Dubai we took a 4 day trip to Cambodia and fell in love with Southeast Asia.  Beautiful countryside, kind people, and cheap food and lodging.  Angkor Wat has been on my bucket list for quite some time, and we were able to spend 3 days visiting the temples all around Siem Reap.  Our final day was spent visiting a floating village far away from city life.  A post to come on that incredible trip in the future.

Angkor Wat

Exploring Angkor Wat

Dawn headed back to the States for the holidays the weekend after we got back from Cambodia.  I joined her the following weekend on my Thanksgiving pseudo mileage run and actually didn’t hate myself afterward for booking such a short trip.  As much as I tried to plan a quick solo trip between Thanksgiving and Christmas while Dawn was in the States it just didn’t happen.  Working six days a week makes it difficult to take weekend trips.  I rejoined Dawn back in the States for 10 days over Christmas.  Doing nothing but relaxing at my parents house for the majority of the trip was just what I needed.

It was an incredible year in travel for both of us, and I’m hoping 2014 brings more of the same.  We’ve already got a couple of big trips lined up for January and February, and I hope to share those with you soon.

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Amboseli National Park – A Photo Essay

African safaris are all about the animals. We certainly saw our fair share of them at Amboseli National Park.  There’s only so much one can say about the beautiful animals we were able to witness in their natural habitat, so I figured I’d just share a few of my pictures with you.  If you’d like to see a larger view of the picture, just click on it, and it’ll take you to the Flickr link.  Enjoy.

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Amboseli National Park and Tortilis Camp

I may have saved the best continent for last, but I think I may have experienced my favorite park first up on our Kenyan tour.  I don’t know if it was the quantity and variety of animals we saw in the park, the beautiful camp where we stayed, or simply the fact that it was our very first safari experience.  In truth, it was probably a combination of all of those things.

After our 5 hour drive from Nairobi our first view of Amboseli was quite impressive, yet very unexpected.  In order to get to the camp where we were staying we drove over a huge dried up lake bed that floods every rainy season.  The flatness of the lake bed combined with the massiveness of Mt. Kilimanjaro in the background was like nowhere I had ever been before.  I imagined that’s similar to how the salt flats of Bolivia or Utah would look (minus the reflections of course).   It was beautiful in its own way, but certainly not what I expected to see on an African safari.

Flat and dusty, kinda like Qatar (plus clouds and mountains)

Flat and dusty, kinda like Qatar (plus clouds and mountains)

Soon enough we were past the dried lake bed and were greeted by giraffes, an ostrich, and zebras.  I think I was surprised by how soon and how many animals we saw just getting to the camp.

Zebras in Amboseli

Zebras grazing

Giraffe in Amboseli

A giraffe surveying his territory

Ostrich in Amboseli

An ostrich on the run

Upon arriving at the camp, we were greeted by the staff with cool, wet towels and a refreshing drink.  This wasn’t going to be a standard camping trip (and I was very OK with that).  The camp was beautiful and had incredible views of Mt. Kilimanjaro (which is just across the border in Tanzania).  The second day we were there the camp manager told us that we were quite lucky with the clear views we had of Kilimanjaro.  He said it’s often quite cloudy and the mountain isn’t visible.  The last day we were there we experienced what he was talking about, and I was quite glad to have taken so many pictures of the mountain while I had the chance.

Our ‘tent’ was an actual canvas tent setting atop a wooden platform.  While the walls to the bedroom were made up of canvas, the bathroom at the back of the tent had four permanent walls.  The bathroom had a semi open shower, double sinks, and all the typical amenities a 5 star hotel room would have.  In front of the tent there was a porch that probably had about the same square footage as the bedroom.  It had 2 chairs on one side and a chaise lounge on the other that was perfect for napping.  To top it all off, the view couldn’t have been more picturesque.  Our tent was directly facing Mt. Kilimanjaro.

Our 'tent'

Our ‘tent’

Tent Porch

We put the chaise lounge to good use

View from the porch

It was nice waking up to this every morning

Tent Bedroom

Beds in tents. That’s how I expect to camp from here on out.

Tent Bathroom

Who needs shower curtains?

Tent Bathroom

Double sinks. Nicer than our bathroom in Doha.

Amenities

All the amenities of home. Including laundry detergent.

My parents and aunt stayed in the private house which had two bedrooms and a common living space open to the elements in between.  It really was like having your very own vacation home in the middle of Africa.  I think they were quite spoiled after leaving Amboseli because their lodge at Tortilis was by far the best lodging any of us had on the entire trip.  Being able to relax on the couch in your living room while watching the dik diks graze in your backyard just a few feet from you is pretty amazing.  My dad is an early riser, so in the mornings while my mom and aunt were still sleeping he got to enjoy tea while watching and listening to the birds from the comfort of his living room table.  The one odd thing about the rooms in the private house were the bathrooms were wide open to the bedroom.  No such thing as privacy when you’re ‘camping’ I guess.

Private House Living Room

The backyard is the living room and the living room is the backyard.

Private House Living Room

I don’t think it gets better than this

Private House Living Room

Not a bad place to enjoy morning tea

View from the Private House Living Room

Every view pointed toward Kilimanjaro

Private House Bedroom

Bedroom with twin beds

Private House Bathroom

Half of the bedroom was the bathroom

Private House Bathroom

Again, no shower curtain required

The public spaces in the camp were all equally as enjoyable as the lodgings.  All views pointed to Kilimanjaro, and there were plenty of outdoor spaces to take advantage of the views.  There was a small watering hole just outside of the camp’s fence that was lit up at night and within view of both the lounge/bar and the dining room.  An outdoor fireplace surrounded by seating also faced the watering hole and Kilimanjaro, but we didn’t take advantage of it.  We also didn’t use the small pool there, but it looked quite nice.  Instead of swimming during our afternoons off we usually took naps to relax in between our early morning and late afternoon game drives.  

View from the lounge

View from the outdoor lounge area near the bar

The food at the camp was good, but it certainly wasn’t the best out of the three lodges we visited.  Lunches were buffet style, and they always included both a salad and a dessert of some kind.  Each night for dinner there was a set menu, and there were no choices.  It was served family style as the waiters brought the food around to place on your plate.  I’m by no means a picky eater, but I could see how if someone was picky not having a choice may be a bit of an issue.  Certainly, though there was enough food served at each meal that you wouldn’t go hungry even if you didn’t like the main dish.  After dinner each night a server would come around and take our order for tea or coffee in the morning, and ask us what time we wanted to be woken up.  Waking up to a server bringing you tea and biscuits to your tent was something that occured at each lodge where we stayed.  It made me almost look forward to getting up at 5:30 or 6 am while on vacation.  Almost.

I knew we wouldn’t be roughing it on this trip, but I don’t think any of my family or I knew how good we’d have it.  Every little thing was taken care of for us, and many things that we never would have thought of really added a lot to the experience.  Little by little I’m becoming more used to luxury travel (mostly thanks to my miles and points hobby), and I’m hoping I don’t become too addicted to it where I don’t want to stay in hostels or fly coach.  I don’t think there’s too much danger in that, though, as I think I’m too cheap for that (plus I really enjoy staying in hostels, it’s my wife I’ve got to convince they’re a good time and not just a way to save money).  Amboseli is a beautiful park, and Tortilis Camp certainly exceeded our expectations.

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Saving the Best for Last – Africa, My 7th Continent

I saved the best for last.  I’ve been quite blessed to see and experience many different places in a relatively short time.  Except for a 2 week trip to Europe in high school and two cruises, my international travel has occurred over the past seven years.  Every place I’ve been and every trip I’ve taken has something unique and special about it that I’ll always remember.  For now, though, Africa tops them all.

Mt. Kilimanjaro

Mt. Kilimanjaro from Amboseli National Park

The variety and sheer quantity of wildlife that we were able to see was beyond my expectations.  I knew I’d see lions, elephants, giraffes, and hopefully cheetahs and rhinos, but I didn’t expect to see mongooses, tortoises, bats, or anywhere close to the variety of birds we saw.  I didn’t expect to see men herding camels on our first day of the trip.  Granted, that’s not exactly wildlife, but it was a larger group of camels than I’ve seen anywhere here in Qatar.  While I have yet to see an Oryx in Qatar even though it’s the country’s national animal (the Arabian Oryx to be exact), we saw one (an East African Oryx) on the second day of our game drives.  We even saw giraffes within minutes of pulling out of the Nairobi airport parking lot.  Africa truly is a special place.

Herd of elephants in Amboseli National Park

Herd of elephants in Amboseli National Park

Giraffes Eating in Amboseli National Park

Giraffes eating in Amboseli National Park

The last of the Great Migration

The last of the great migration in the Masai Mara National Reserve

Zebras drinking in Masai Mara

Zebras drinking in the Masai Mara National Reserve

It’s not just the animals that are unique here, though.  The people are quite special as well.  Although we didn’t interact with too many of the locals, we did have the chance to see how the traditional Maasai people live.  Their lifestyle is so different from the lifestyle of any other people I’ve visited.  From living in huts made of cow dung to men having multiple wives it’s so different from the culture and way of life I come from.  As globalization occurs and people in even the most remote parts of the world become more influenced from the Western world, it’s great to see at least some form of these ancient lifestyles still in practice today.  As Dawn and I hope to explore parts of Southeast Asia and more of Africa, I’m quite excited about being more exposed to people’s ways of life that are so different from our own.

Masai Men

Masai men welcoming us to their village

Set aside how beautiful and different Africa is, and the trip is still very special because my dad and I were able to hit that seventh continent together.  Visiting all seven continents was his goal long before it was mine (it was probably even a goal of his long before I was born), but it’s pretty cool that we were able to make the trip to our final two continents together.  There was never really a plan to visit Africa as our seventh continent, but I’m quite glad it turned out that way.  I’m sure we both figured that Antarctica would be our capstone to that goal, but I’m really glad we were able to complete that list in Africa with most of our family with us.

One more accomplishment knocked off the Bucket List, but many more to go.  

Dad and I stepping foot on continent number seven

Dad and I stepping foot on continent number 7

The family at Lake Nakuru National Park

The family at Lake Nakuru National Park

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