Archive for the ‘Trip Planning’ Category

While we were in Moshi we made up a plan of what we wanted to do on our safari.  Here’s the itenerary we came up with. (Its probably not that original, but I have this idea that when you go to spend money you should have some expectation of what you want going to get in return.  How very un-Buddhist of me setting myself up for disappointment.)

Prerequisite: 4-wheel drive vehicle with a roof that opens.

Day 1 – Start out from Moshi/Arusha and go to the Tarangire National Park.

  • Walking safari
  • Lunch
  • Evening game drive
  • Stay the night

Day 2 – Tarangire to Lake Manyari.

  • Morning game drive in Tarangire
  • Game drive through Lake Manyari – climbing lions
  • Stay the night in Karatu

Day 3 – Lake Manyari to Ngorongoro Crater

  • Bike/Walk/Canoe safari at Lake Manyari (choose one)
  • Stay the night at the Ngorongoro Crater

Day 4 – Ngorongoro Crater

  • Game drive in the crater
  • Walking tour to visit Masai
  • Stay the night near the Ngorongor Crater

Day 5 – To Olduvai Gorge and the Serengeti

  • Visit Olduvai Gorge
  • Go to the Serengeti in the area of Lobo or Klien’s Gate
  • Stay near Klien’s gate or Lobo.

Day 6 – Serengeti.

  • Hot air balloon
  • Visit a Masai Village

Day at the beginning or at the end – Hiking at Kilimanjaro.

  • Spend a day hiking at the base of the Mountain

That was our idea and we sent it by email to a few Safari companies.  Thinking about it now it still sounds good.  But, we kept in mind that if we really wanted to see animals we would need to trust that our guide would know where to take us.  After all the Serengeti is an enormous area.


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Its been eleven years since I called my Mom on Mother’s Day and asked her to buy me a one way plane ticket to Florida.  In those eleven years, Florida has changed and so have I.  We went through a period of building new roads, new condos, new houses, new strip malls, new everything.  People were moving here from all over.  People were buying houses they never intended to live in and automobiles bigger than my kitchen.  I never intended to stay here for the rest of my life.  I never liked the way South Florida was growing.

Car culture is inescapable here.  I know driving so much makes me feels less comfortable around strangers in public places and I don’t want to live that way; always in my car, my own little cocoon, going somewhere.

I have grown a lot during my time here.  I have built a comfortable life.  I spend my time on hobbies and with people who make my life here great.  I’ve learned to seek and attract the good and to minimize the bad.

Our cat, and now our dog, both sort of chose to come and live with us.  I consider that attracting the good.  Yesterday, we sent our cat down to Brazil on a plane.  For me this was the most emotional step we’ve taken towards the trip so far.  She gives us so much love and I miss her.  It makes me marvel at parenthood, my parents, my wife’s parents.  If I feel this way about a furry little animal, what must it be like to let your own child go away?

I’d already said “Happy Mother’s Day,” but I called Mom back to talk about it when I got home from the airport.  I’d been telling myself that I’ve never taken for granted living so near my parents these last eleven years.  I’ve made an effort to build a strong relationship with them and to spend time with them.  I’ve thought that this makes my going away OK.  Sending BB away showed me that it isn’t so simple.  Of course, a cat or dog is different from a son or daughter.  But I respect my parents (all four of them) even more now.  I know that every important decision my parents made that would affect my life, they must have done because they thought it was best for me or for us as a family or in the long run.  And sometimes those decisions may have made them sad, but they did it anyway.  All this my little BB taught me.

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We have been talking about compiling a list of questions for the trip.  One possible category of questions would be those we try to answer about each place we go.  Another set of questions we may ask of ourselves and would hopefully give us an idea of how the trip has changed us as time goes by.

The first type of question was suggested to us by my father-in-law.  It is a good idea and of course, me being the way I am, it made me think of a second type of (introspective) question.  As I started letting the idea take shape in my mind, it reminded me of something I experienced when I first moved here to Florida.  I met a guy who invited me over to have Sunday dinner with his family.  I would give a guitar lesson to one of the daughters and hang out with the family for the afternoon.  At dinner each of us had a turn to answer a couple of standard questions.  One question was, what was the best thing that happened today?  Another: what was the worst? I thought is it was a good thing so I could put the day in perspective. It was also good to let you know how everyone else was doing.

My wife, my father-in-law and I will brainstorm questions before he leaves for Brazil.  Please, give us suggestions of questions you think would be interesting to ask and answer as we go along on our journey.

More to come on this in a few days.

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Our little girls, BB and Foxy, have been getting to know each other better and better.  BB, the cat, is preparing for her first international flight, to Brazil.  Her grandfather is here with us this week and he has made a big effort to make friends.  She will be traveling with him on the plane.  (Pipa, we really appreciate all of your support.  I can tell from how happy my wife is when you are around that we are doing the right thing in moving to Brazil.  I am lucky for the chance to go to Salvador and learn a whole new forma de vida.)  It’s a long flight to Sao Paulo and then there’s another to reach Salvador.  We were in Miami today getting some paper work completed; Consulates and USDA Veterinary Services.  It was a long day.  Getting to the USDA Veterinary Services building was a comedy of errors.

But then we also squeezed in some shopping for a few more items for the trip: a new pair of sunglasses (not expensive but polarized at least), a small first aid kit.  We looked at some backpacks for the wife.  My father-in-law had a good time at the outdoors store.

Back to the title of the blog post.  So, the wife said that if I wanted to adopt the little fox, then I had to find someone to take care of her while we are away on the trip.  Of course, I wanted to keep her, Foxy, all along.  But her arrival was at quite an awkward time for us.  Last Sunday we took both Foxy and BB over to our friends’ house to see if they would take care of one or the both of them.  The trial run was necessary because our friends already have two sweet dogs and two cats.

Ernie, their new puppy (photo above), is about the same size as Foxy and the two of them had fun playing together.  Snowy, the greyhound did mistake Foxy for the fake bunny rabbit she used to chase around the track when they went out in the yard.  As expected, BB was not at all comfortable and she didn’t look like she would be a good fit.  In the end, our friends said they would help us out by taking care of Foxy.  (Thank you both VERY much, you know who you are.)

We couldn’t really expect Pipa to take both Foxy and BB and two suitcases and a backpack and… all down to Brazil in one trip.  I think our current arrangements are enough.  There’s only so much you can ask of your friends and family.  And of course you have to understand when someone says no.

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Fist stop: Finland for a day.

We finally got our first ticket: Turkey here we come!

Ok, so what is wrong with the title of this post? Well, we are in for a long flight and before we arrive in Istanbul, Turkey, we will make a quick stop at Helsinki for a summer afternoon and evening.

What to do and see there for a day? My first step was to read more about Finland, here is some of what I found:

Nokia is a Fin company, there is more there than ice and rock – such as the great wife-carrying contest (I may register for that 😉 , they like saunas and they have salmon. What else? Santa Claus is Fin, but I am not sure if he will be there for summer and they also host the world-famous Air Guitar Championship, he he.

So, I guess we will find something interesting for the day. My suggestion for the hubby is:

11:30 AM – Take a Bus 615 or City Bus to downtown.

1. Drop our backpack at our hotel.

2. Stop for lunch. Either at the Hotel Katajonokka, which up to 2002 used to be a prison, or at the Market Square while waiting for the ferry to the Suomenlinna Fortress.

3. Spend a couple of hours at the Fortress and among others, visit the Vesikko Submarine.

4. Once back in town, grab a free bike from the CityBikes and ride it to Lutheran Cathedral on Senate Square, the Temppeliaukion Church, and just for the heck to Kahvila Suomi restaurant where the Japanese movie Kamome was partially filmed.  My hubby likes oriental movies (we have not watched this one yet).

5. Then, relax and take it easy, this is not the Amazing Race. So, we will go with the flow. The day should be long, but at 9:00AM we need to be back at the airport.

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Yesterday, I started an important process and one that I like very much. The process of packing for our move. Many websites with travel tips include one tip that goes something like this: when considering bringing an item on the trip, ask yourself, am I going to use this enough to justify carrying it half way around the world? A similar mindset applies, I think, to packing things to take when moving to another country. So we’ve been asking ourselves, do I need this thing anymore? Can I sell it to raise cash for the trip? Should I just donate it? Trash it? Or, for books, bookshelves, suit jackets and other items we want to keep, can it already be packed and made ready for storage?

This is a very good process that I like to do at least every two years. Literally, I go over all of my possessions and papers and make sure that I really want to keep them. I have very little, but I still get surprised how fast paper and little items can accumulate. The process of trashing unnecessary items and donating them always makes me feel better, happier and lighter.  (My husband has the packrat gene – a very hard gene to overcome.)

The sensation that reducing my belongings gives me is exactly the one I want to have during the trip. I hope to learn how to maintain it throughout my life. In the recent years, I somehow taught myself to live with this heavy weight on my shoulders – the things I need to do, the books I need or want to read, the accounts I need to manage, and so on. I feel I’m missing the present. I am constantly remembering the past and planning/working/worrying about future.

Me and my husband recently got a book about long-term traveling, looking for tips for our journey.  We really feel like we need a lot of help.  The book, Vagabonding by Rolf Potts, turns out to be a simple, good book.  It does not give detailed instructions of how to plan a long-term trip.  Instead, it describes the mindset needed to go Vagabonding – no this is not a “real” word; it is not in the dictionary.  There is also practical advice in the book of course.

It is a short book and we are about half way through as of this writing. So far it feels like an ode to simple living. It has helped us let go of the phone concerns we just posted about. After reading tons of articles and reviews about the best smart phone available for travelers, we took a break to read a few pages of the book and it inspired us to decide the issue.  The free, small and simple GSM phone that my mom gave us (she wasn’t using it anymore) is the right phone for this type of trip. We will call our parents but we do not need to chat, tweet, or navigate the Internet with the phone.  We do not need to travel to Namibia to surf the Internet, on our phone.  And after foregoing such a phone for years already, it isn’t in line with our priorities for this trip.

Many of the perspectives in Vagabonding are not new to us.  We do not now, and did not in the past, live extravagantly.  And in the last few months we have sacrificed a few (really very few) comforts to realize this trip.  But sometimes we still get caught up in superfluous things.

PS from the husband:  In Vagabonding, the Henry David Thoreau book, Walden, is referenced extensively.  I read Walden when I was a teenager.  Reading Vagabonding reminded me of how much influence Thoreau’s book has had on me.  And, Vagabonding also goes further and encourages you to approach a journey of this sort without being high and mighty about it to others.  This trip we will take means a lot to us and we hope to grow as people.  But, it is not a political statement or a criticism of anyone or any lifestyle.

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I consider the cell phone one of the best and worst examples of modern technology. They are so helpful when your car breaks on a desert road, fun when you can call a far away parent/friend to share how great the day is going and that you thought of them.  They can be extremely annoying when work finds you during that nice snooze at the beach on the weekend.

I can live without a phone and so far I have made without a “smart phone.” I think that was a smart decision from my part. But I am compelled to take a smart phone for this trip. The reasons include simply being able to call home and say our journey fine from one country to the other was fine, being able to call and be reached in case we are visiting a country and some major changes happen while we are there. As one can see in the news, the world is changing quickly and unfortunately not all changes are for the good – at least not in the short-term.

So, I have been scratching my head over the best alternative for the trip. (Mum, this is the perfect opportunity for you to share with me the details of the plans ALL your friend’s daughters use, that allow them to call home and receive calls very cheaply, from all over the world.) I have been looking for a while now and there seem to be no perfect solution.

Here is what I have found so far…

Option 1. Rent a phone:

There are couple of sites (Mobal, National Geographic) where you can rent a phone from $50-$100/month. In addition to the rental fee, you pay for placed calls. Income calls from the US are free of charge and the caller will pay for a local call, in the case of Brazil there is a fee. There is no long-term commitment and the rates are lower than from a hotel room, but to me this option seems like an expensive solution.

Option 2. Get the International Plan from your Service Provider:

In my case, this would not work as I use MetroPCS (in my opinion a great option if you live in the US, they recently released a $5 fee for unlimited international calls which is great and Salvador was just added to the list). But, the call needs to come from the US and as we will be on the go, this will not work for us.

But, we could go with Sprint, AT&T, or T-Mobil. Thing is: you need a local plan (at least $40/month), there is a fee for international calls (app. $6/month), also you need a two-year contract and then, roaming fees. Here is a comparison of rates (USD/min) between providers – these rates are for calls to the US:

Country Sprint AT&T T-Mobile
Australia 1.99 1.29 1.69
China 2.29 1.99 2.99
Egypt 2.49 2.29 2.49
England 1.29 0.99 1.29
Indonesia 3.99 2.49 4.99
South Africa 2.49 1.69 2.49
Switzerland 1.99 0.99 1.29
Tanzania 4.99 4.99 4.99
Turkey 2.29 1.99 2.29

Option 3. Get an unlocked QuadBand phone and get an international SIM Card:

Some people already have QuadBand phone (GSM 850, 900, 1800,1900), I do not have this type of phone because when I got the cheapest option with MetroPCS five years ago. But, a simple QuadBand phone can be found from $20 – you can find them at Amazon, Ebay, Telestial, STA and Mobal. All of them also sell international SIM Cards. For this option, there are no contractual obligations and no monthly fees. It is a pay as you go solution and the rates are far better than the International Plans above. The prices of the cards can change, below is a comparison between the rates in USD of the best known alternatives:





(1, 2)



(1, 2)


(1, 3)

SIM Card 59 9 59 29
Initial Credit 10 10 10
SMS 0.40 0.79 0.60 0.69
Australia 0.50 0.99 0.90 0.29-0.69
China 1.50 2.39 1.95 1.39-1.79
Egypt 0.55 0.99 0.90 0.29-0.69
England 0.59 0.99 0.90 0.29-0.69
Indonesia 0.95 2.39 1.95 1.39-1.79
South Africa 0.60 0.99 0.90 0.39-0.79
Switzerland 0.69 0.99 0.90 0.39-0.79
Tanzania 0.60 0.99 0.90 0.39-0.79
Turkey 0.55 0.99 0.90


1. Additional charge for calling a cell phone ($0.25 for NG – variable for others).

2. Free incoming SMS

3. Connection fee $0.35

Option 4. VOIP – Voice over Internet Protocol: Vonage, Skype, Magic Jack, etc

If you have a phone that supports WiFi, as long as you have internet access (coffee shops, airports) the calls are free. Voice quality is not that great and although in Europe it should not be a problem to find access to WiFi, it might be harder in other areas.  This is more portable than just having a laptop.

So, for the tech savvy over there, am I missing some better solution?

At this point, I am leaning towards the Explorer SIM card. A phone with WiFi and VOIP capability would not hurt either.

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