Good, Bad and Ugly- Sleep

Adventure travel often leads to some rather interesting places to sleep.  In 21 months of travel, we slept on more modes of transportation than I care to admit- more inexpensive small hotels than you can imagine and inside more mosquito nets than I ever dreamed, even when I wanted to be a fairy princess.  To travel you have to be a good sleeper – you have to be willing to make an adventure out of sleeping under an open sky, to see the silver lining of a noisy hostel dorm and be willing to give up a few creature comforts for a few amazing sunrises.  If you aren’t a good sleeper, give it a few days on the road and you’ll be snoozing like the best of them!

Here are our favorite “nights” of sleep from our journey around the world:

The Good Sleep
Comfortable Bed, a world traveler's dream!
It’s hard to narrow it down to just one night.  The best night of sleep I had on the whole trip was probably in Buenos Aires, in an apartment Danny’s parents rented – I was horribly sick and needed the creature comforts of home.  But the most memorable night of sleep?  I’d have to say it was camping in South Africa’s Kalahari National Park listening to the lions roar throughout the night. Earlier in the day they had wandered within a few meters of the camp’s electric fence while Danny was cooking dinner – a crazy experience to say the least.  Drifting off to sleep in the middle of nowhere under an African sky  listening to lions, it was like a surreal dream.  I won’t say I wasn’t a bit anxious about the whole thing, but I slept surprisingly well and it’s a night of sleep I’ll never forget.


The Bad Sleep Camping in Africa

Have you ever been in a flooded tent?  When we pulled into the Malealea Lodge in Lesotho we set up our tent in an area that looked safe from water.  The caretaker told us we’d be find in water – perhaps it was a question lost in translation or perhaps the downpour was just unusual- but at some point in the night it began to rain.  A few drops turned into buckets, and we awoke soaked from the ground up.  We’ve probably camped hundreds of nights out in the woods, never have I ever woken up to inches of rain inside the tent.  Scrambling to a) get out of the tent and b) to save our worldly possessions we looked like a 1930s comedy act.  The two stooges.  Chalk it up to being half asleep, but we managed to get out of the tent, get into a small unlocked rondavel and crawl into two warm, dry beds.  In the morning we dried everything out on the grass- you can bet we didn’t stake up there the next night.


The Ugly Sleep

If you thing something small can’t have a big impact, think about the mosquito.  Our night in Harar, Ethiopia will forever be the worst night of sleep in my life.  Earlier in the evening Danny had suffered from some digestion issues that left him feverish, shaking and slightly delirious.  With the water out at the hotel, I spent the evening running buckets of water back and forth from our room to the cistern in order to force flush the toilet.  Without our mosquito net and first aid kit, we had broken the two rules of backcountry camping – we had left our survival gear behind.  Needless to say, Danny spent the night feverishly running to the bathroom to kill all assortment of bugs when the lights turned on, only to return to bed to be bothered by mosquitoes.  Zipping around the room all night it felt like we were at war and Danny was the walking wounded.  Getting up for a 3am is generally not easy, but that morning we were all too happy to evacuate and get out of Harar.


Ever had a truly memorably night of sleep on the road? What about a bad?  Ever suffered an ugly night of sleep?  Make us feel better about our GBU, share yours!


Good, Bad, Ugly: Authentic Experiences

Many travelers are in search of the most authentic experiences possible.  Some will boast about roughing it or being invited into a stranger’s home, others will stay put in a small rural village for days and weeks, board out of their minds, only to prove their determination to get under the skin of a particular place.  All of us crave finding those experiences that are both real and different from what we’re accustomed at home, that’s why we travel.

The Good: Lesotho. We drove our way into Lesotho to enjoy a few days in the mountains with the intention of finding the authentic Lesotho experience.  We certainly had no idea what that might be but we happened upon the Malealea Lodge in Lesotho (at the direction of EVERY guidebook we found) and wondered how it could be considered an authentic experience when everyone went to the same place.  When we arrived we found a lodge nestled in the mountains, far from the hustle and bustle of the city, co-existing with the local village in a way we didn’t find anywhere else in the world.  This lodge employed local people, offered ways to meet and talk to local villagers, and give back without harming the community.  When four of us decided to go on a hike without a guide eventually got quite lost and were ultimately forced to ask for help in returning home.  The man we got that help from wore full ‘tribal’ clothes, spoke no English, and communicated with us using and signals and gestures.  Still we were able to share jokes and take photos together, perhaps enriching his memories as much as our own. It was a complete The Gods Must be Crazy experience and one that I will never forget.


The Bad: China. Tibet is one of those magical places that captures the soul of everyone who has ever uttered its name.  We wanted to go to Tibet with a burning passion but the realities of Chinese politics make that extremely difficult.  We planned to try our luck anyway when we began to learn of Tibetan villages and cities outside of the Tibet Autonomous Region.  We were able to work a visit to these areas into our trip and once there really felt as though we were in Tibet.  One city, Xi’ahe, holds one of the most important monasteries for Tibetan Buddhism and we were able to tour its riches and see for ourselves every bit of the Tibet shown to us in Brad Pitt’s Seven Years in Tibet. Why is this in the “bad” section of this post, you might be asking?  That’s because we felt the grip of the government and saw repression in action.  A people who received a new road so they could watch the army come to town.  Over a dozen police officers barging into our hostel to harass the owners for paperwork, no doubt related to our presence.  A history of foreigners being run out of town by the officials for fear of seeing what happens on a bad day.


The Ugly: India – Sometimes we have a tendency to dwell this ugly section and put only completely negative experiences here.  In hindsight, this experience is one of courage, determination and outright stupidity.  We rode the trains in Mumbai!  We rode them at rush hour, in the morning and in the night.  Dozens of urban commuters packed like sardines in a space meant for ten.  Pressed human mass that joins together like the water in a wave to spit people out at the appropriate stops.  It took strength to push through that sweaty multitude of flesh and a good bath to cleanse myself and get ready to do it the next day.  I played Rugby nearly the entire time I was in college, I think to prepare for the three days I spent riding the trains of Mumbai.

India-6033 - And the little one said move over.... (Medical Update)


This column of aims to answer those questions that we always get asked.  What was your favorite this, or your worst that.  We aim to highlight a new topic and will do so until we run out of ideas.  If you have an idea for a Good-Bad-Ugly post, feel free to tell us in the comment section below or send us an email.  To read all of them, click here.

Indian Train Photo Courtesy of flickr user archer10 through a creative commons license.

Photo Credit: Train station by Flickr user Biel Calderon

Good, Bad, Ugly: Border Crossings

Border crossings are like legends.  Travelers circulate tips, advice and helpful hints amongst each other in the hopes that they will spare another from the experience they had.  For us, border crossing days were stressful — we felt our most vulnerable with passports in hand, cash in pockets and at our most vigilant against scams, cons and thieves, who always appear at their most intimidating at border crossings.  So here’s our round up, after 50 countries, the good, bad and ugly of our border crossings.

Good: Kazakhstan –  Uzbekistan


I had trepidation about Central Asian border crossings after going through the lengthy and painful visa process.  Needless to say, Kazakhstan- Uzbekistan was our first train border crossing and it was clear we had nothing to worry about when the conductor took us under his wing.  Although the form was in Russian and Kazakh and his wife spoke very, very little English, we somehow filled in the customs and immigration forms.  When the immigration police arrived to our berth, the conductor smoothed over the process, his wife responding to questions for us and shooing the immigration people away as quickly as possible.  I think we made great cover for their contraband tea.  (Read the post!)


Bad: Argentina- Chile


It took us six hours to cross from Argentina to Chile.  I’m not joking, we literally left Mendoza, arrived quickly at the border and waited.  And waited, and waited.  We watched two movies on the bus, we got off, walked around, read, entertained ourselves, went for food, came back, read some more, it was a never ending wait to cross the border.  The scenery was lovely, but had I known we’d spend the whole day waiting in line I would have gone for a hike! We weren’t able to contact our couchsurfing friends who were waiting to pick us up in Santiago, so when we got off the bus at nearly 11pm, we were anxious about finding them and/or finding a place to sleep.  By the time we got a SIM card, loaded it and made the call it was nearly midnight.  Unable to reach them our anxiety level increased until from across the bus station they called out to us!  Serendipity!

Ugly: Kazakhstan- China


As you can tell it was a rough couple of weeks in Central Asia.  We spent only two nights in Almaty when we realized we had to get out of Kazakhstan.  The regulations were unclear as to whether we had to register.  By our understanding we were already registered, having flow in and gotten our visas in the U.S.  Everyone else told us we were wrong, and after pushing and shoving at immigration in Almaty, we determined they were right.  With not enough time to process our registration before we would face a penalty, we booked a ticket to China and basically fled.  Arriving at the Kazakhstan border, we held our breath and quickly passed through customs.  China was another story.  Relieved and excited, we arrived at the Chinese border post amazing at the organization and the English signage.  After charades and lengthy discussions with the immigration agent, we were searched and our laptop and my passport were taken from me.  Immediately I made a big to-do, mostly because I didn’t like my passport out of my sight.  I refused to go through the last security checkpoint without my passport or computer and eventually after complaining to everyone I saw, my passport and laptop were returned.  The whole situation was uncomfortable.  It was the first and only time my passport left my possession, albeit unwillingly, and I was incredibly fearful.

This column of aims to answer those questions that we always get asked. What was your favorite this, or your worst that. Every week we aim to highlight a new topic and will do so until we run out of ideas. If you have an idea for a Good-Bad-Ugly post, feel free to tell us in the comment section below or send us an email. To read all of them, click here.

Good, Bad, Ugly: Visas

Traveling overseas usually requires visas, especially if you’re not traveling within a defined geopolitical area, like the European Union or the Commonwealth.  As we traveled around the world we collected visas and visa stories.  Fees, processes and paperwork differed in every county, some were a breeze, others were so painful they overshadowed nearly the whole visit.  Interestingly enough, our good, bad and ugly are all from Africa.  I’m not going to lie, obtaining visas there sometimes felt like catching Harry Potter’s snitch leading us to write an African Visa Guide.


The Good: Mozambique

Like so many visa processes, we had read differing accounts as to whether visas were available at the South Africa/Mozambique border.  Unsure we were walking down the street in Buenos Aires when we came across the Mozambique consulate.  The next morning we arrived at the consulate during business hours prepared to spend our day filling out papers.  To our surprise we were met by a housekeeper who showed us into what could only be described as a formal diplomatic receiving room.  The two of us, dressed in our travel best we looked completely out of place in the lavishly decorated room.  We heard the clatter of breakfast dishes and shortly the consul came to greet us and inquire about our business.  He was clearly surprised, but incredibly gracious with us. He spent several minutes socializing with us about our travels, our background and our itinerary in Africa.  Eventually he disappeared with our passports leaving us as fish out of water again in the receiving room.  When he returned, we had Mozambique visas and a new friend.

The Bad:  Egypt/Sudan

A tourist visa for Sudan can take months to process and you have to send your passport to Khartoum.  That clearly wasn’t an option for us, so we found a legal work IMGP1787around- a transit visa.  The transit visa allowed us 15 days in the country without a problem so long as we had a visa for our next destination – Egypt.  We assumed we’d have no problem getting Egyptian visas so we went to the Egyptian Embassy with our South African friends to apply.  That’s when we were hit with the catch, processing time for South Africans was less than 4 days.  For Americans it was a 10 day minimum, no matter what.  Frustrated we politely explained the situation to the consulate officer, who empathized and offered to talk to the consul for us.  She was unsuccessful and we ended up having to stay an extra week near Addis Ababa waiting for our Egyptian visas.  Not the worst situation by any means, but 10 days is a lot of extra time when our Ethiopian visas were limited to 30 days in country.

The Ugly:  Ethiopia

And that brings us to the ugly.  It wasn’t that the experience was so long or painful, rather that it was overtly unfair. By the time we arrived in Ethiopia we had been traveling well over a year and were used to special rules or fees for Americans and Europeans.  Usually our fee was within the same range as those for other Western nations, but we were shocked when we stood in the consular office in Nairobi and heard we’d have to pay $70 instead of the $20 for everyone else, including their colonial oppressor – Italy!  The consulate explained, sanctimoniously that Americans can afford to pay $70 and therefore they should.  Never mind that if Americans fly into Ethiopia they only pay $20 like everyone else for a visa on arrival.  We were subjected to a patronizing lecture on how we can pay therefore we should and how unbalanced our own immigration system is.  While I can’t argue that our immigration system isn’t broken, I’d be lying if we didn’t point out to the officer that at least the fees are EQUAL for everyone.  (And we never once complained about a country that charged us a reciprocal visa fee).  We left frustrated, enraged and thought seriously about not going to Ethiopia as a matter of principle.  In the end, we got our visas and left for the border.  You can only imagine our rage when we showed up at the Kenya/Ethiopia border and the first sign we saw in the customs building was stamped USAID: A gift of the American people. Awesome.

If you’re interested in an interesting statistical breakdown of our trip around the world, check out our trip by the numbers!

Good, Bad, Ugly: Camping

Guess what…it’s SUMMER. For us in Florida that means sweltering heat but for most everyone else in the northern hemisphere it means it’s time to head out and enjoy the best that nature has to offer. Everyone has a different style when it comes to the great outdoors but it is hard to find a person who doesn’t love a good camping trip. We did a fair bit of camping in our travels, mostly in Africa where we carried our own camping equipment, and those nights have made for some of our fondest memories.

overlanding in sudanThe Good – We were scared to enter Sudan but once we were about to depart we were sad to see it go. It was here that we made a true “bush camp” for the first time, literally pulling over off the side of the road and pitching our tents wherever we wanted. We sat out each night, sitting in the middle of the Saharan Desert with no one else around, enjoying a nice South African Potjie (Poi-kee) and starring at the most amazing stars we’re likely to ever see in our lives. We were constantly on watch for scorpions (didn’t see a single one) and the four of us went through a full 25 liters of water a day. The first night we slept in the shadow of pyramids and on the final night we readied for our ferry to Egypt. When we we boarded our version of a luxurious Nile Cruise (yup slept out on deck) we hadn’t showered in 4 days…it didn’t matter, we were happy!

The Bad – Just a few weeks before our arrival to Sudan we found ourselves in Ethiopia and unable to find a place to stay. We pulled over at a local hotel and squeezed into the parking lot filled with USAID and UNICEF land rovers and were met by the attendant who told us the hotel was full. Naturally it was the only one for miles. With no other option, he charged us 50% of the standard price and allowed us to ‘camp’ in the conference room. I probably don’t need to point out that the only reason a hotel in the middle of nowhere in Ethiopia needs a conference room is so the aid workers can come together and spend a long day talking about Ethiopians…I digress. We had no option but to camp inside this conference room (a couple of other similar hotels had let us use the parking lot) and made it through a very uncomfortable night on a hard tile floor.

Camping tentThe Ugly – We spent only a few days in Lesotho and they were all wonderful. Upon our arrival at the campsite I asked the attendant if it would rain. In climates such as that the answer is only ever yes or no…and this man told me no. He was wrong. Our final night there the rains started to come. They did not stop. We’d pitched our tent on the high ground but there was so much water that it didn’t matter. Water was coming in from both the ceiling of the tent and the floor and we quickly decided to grab all of our things, ditch the tent, and run for cover. There were rondavels (little round cabins) and we managed to break into one. While we were drying out our things and our bodies and trying to get settled in we saw our tent FLOATING away. That’s how much water there was….so much for no rain!

This column of aims to answer those questions that we always get asked. What was your favorite this, or your worst that. We aim to highlight a new topic and will do so until we run out of ideas. If you have an idea for a Good-Bad-Ugly post, feel free to tell us in the comment section below or send us an email. To read all of them, click here.