Friday, 14 July 2017


It was the Dalai Lama (was it?) that once said that once a while you must go some place new. I subscribe to that. I never pass an opportunity to go to paths I've never been to, within limits of course. The Lama's statement didn't include getting out of one's comfort zone but I see no reason why not.

I was one morning convinced by a colleague that going to Ethiopia would be a good idea. I didn't protest. I had a few other trips lined before this one and I therefore gave him carte blanche to plan all activities. My type A personality wasn't able to let him have all the power so I bought a Brandt Guide book and gave it to him for reference. He came back with an interesting itinerary, including climbing Erta Ale, and I didn't object. He managed to convince me that it's not very physically challenging. 

Before we continue I must paint this picture for you. Im not the most physically active person I know. Once a month I go for a mandatory 5km run in my neighborhood. Some month are luckier than others that we go to a longer run and perhaps take steps to my 5th floor office if the lift isn't working or is crowded. That's pretty much it. 

Erta Ale is Amharic for burning mountain because of the live volcano atop the mountain. One of the majestic landmarks in Ethiopia's Afar region (and really I wanted to tell people that just came from afar when they ask me where I was on gaycation) 

We flew from Johannesburg to Addis Ababa via Nairobi because of my plans to miss my return flight between Nairobi and Johannesburg to spend more time in Kenya. We arrived quite late in Addis and planned a night at an airport hotel nearby Bole International Airport. The main idea was for us to catch the earliest flight out of Addis to Mekele, a city in the Tigray region north of Ethiopia. Here one finds various tour operators that have tours going to Erta Ale and Dallol, one of the hottest places on earth (will write about this one day). 

The day of the tour arrived and we drove to the Afar region. What a beautiful drive. The Afar region is dominated by pastoralists who raise goats, cattle and sheep in the desert. They are mostly Muslim and since we traveled during Ramadan there was very little activity in the day time in the small towns we passed. You could feel it getting hotter the further into the region we drove. 

Some Buna for the road. 

A small town in the Afar region with little activity at daytime. 

We arrived at the base of Erta Ale just before sunset and it was 44 degrees centigrade outside. We were to have dinner then head up the mountain to see the volcano. We would also sleep a few meters away from the mouth of the volcano. I'm not going to lie to you, never in my life have I doubted by choices like I did that afternoon before climbing Erta Ale. We were told that the last eruption was in January. And honey!!! That got me sweating like Gypsy with a mortgage. I imagined another eruption while asleep. Panicked that I'd die in foreign lands because I like things. And to make matters worse there was no cellphone reception and the last bit of life we saw was around an hour away from base camp. 

At base camp with camels ready to carry water, sleeping bags and mattresses for us. 

After dinner we waited for darkness and for it to cool down to a manageable 36 degrees before we trekked up the mountain. We could see the volcano from where we were. It didn't look very far and that was comforting. The guide said it will take around 2.5 hours to get up there. Seemed doable. At the start i was just annoyed by the soft 'sand' from the crushed lava. Made it hard to walk: reason 22 346 why I never take long walks on the beach with shoes on. 

After about two hours of climbing and no end in sight my patience ran dry and so did my water bottles. I was so close to screaming profanities when the guide said we are only half way the 10km climb. I was ready to be left there and collected in the morning. The poor guide was so sweet he offered to take my load (and by that I mean my bag) for me. It helped a lot because I managed to get to the top of the mountain. I don't even think I had time to high five myself for a job well done. As I was catching my breath he started giving us instructions on what to do when we eventually got to the mouth of the volcano. 

Living on the edge: the mouth of the volcano. 

All I wanted to do was sleep. I didn't care much for the volcano. I was happy seeing the glow from a few meters away and those occasional sparks that came. Everyone was so excited that the whole excursion to the mouth of the volcano took an entire hour. I wanted to sleep! Eventually grabbed a mattress and sleeping bag and slept under the stars. Apparently it's romantic and magical. That night I wanted nothing to do with stars or the volcano, I needed sleep. 

I must have gone out like a light when I put my head down. Only to be woken up by the guide to go see the volcano in morning light. This time I put my foot down and told him I'm not going anywhere near that thing again. I wanted to sleep. Only then did I notice the beautiful sky just before daybreak and appreciated the glow from the volcano too. 

The walk down was much better because i left with the group that left just before sunrise to avoid the heat of the sun. We walked fairly alright and made it down in just over two hours. I was so happy to get back to base camp and welcomed by our driver with a bottle of mango juice. 

We didn't see what we were stepping on the night before. This is the lava we were walking on in the dark the night before. 

I'm not in a hurry to go back to Erta Ale after my crazy night but I'm glad I did it. It was a brand new experience for me that I'd never have taken had it not been of a resilient spirit to try new things. I came down from that mountain a changed person (because the sun burnt me so much) with a torn pair of shoes that's looking forward the the next adventure. 

Sunday, 7 May 2017



On March 27th while I was reading about Salvador de Bahia (I was heading there on March 31st) I had a great idea to go to Accra on April 26th. At that point the last thing on my mind was that I needed a visa, I was just so happy with the price I bought the tickets for on Kenyan Airways. 

Getting a visa at the embassy was never going to be an option. The month of April was a busy month for me and I was going to be out of the country for most of the most of the month. I remember a big announcement made in July 2016 that Residents of African Union member countries can now get a visa upon arrival at Kotoko Airport. The internet provided very little detail on what the requirements were. I called the consulate in Pretoria and the response was "I don't know anything about it, ask them about it when you arrive. Take USD150." 

On April 26th, $150 dollars in hand, I took the first leg of my flight to Nairobi. At check-in they asked me if I had a visa. I panicked of course. Told them that I would apply for one upon arrival. She agreed and let me check in. I had a long stop in Nairobi and also panicked that I'd be asked the same question when I depart for Accra. Luckily I wasn't. 

The purpose of this post is to help anyone going to Accra soon on how to be ready for the visa application process. I wished I knew this when I left. So here goes. 

I don't need to remind you that you need to have a black pen with you and that when you get off the plane/bus you need to try and go to the front as quick as possible. You also need a valid passport (I doubt you'd even board the first plane without this) and a yellow fever vaccination card. 

There's an office before passport control called "visa upon arrival". That's the office that you need to go to for the application. 

  1. Take USD150. 
They don't take credit cards nor do they take any other foreign currency. They do take GHS but there are no ATMs before passport control. Don't try this. 

  1. Bring confirmation of your return ticket and accommodation while in Ghana. 

  1. You need two forms for your application and entry : 

  • The first form is an A4 sheet printed in green. Make sure that you fill in both sides.
  • The second form is an entry/departure card that's the size of a postcard. 
  • You need to go to the first window to request the A4. The other one is available in the office. 
  • Once you've filled in the form , accuracy is important, go to any window with people that are holding the A4 forms. **At this point I need to mention that this office is chaotic and no one (applicants) knows what they are doing so don't just stand and hope for the best. ** 
  • Have your documents and $150 ready. You will get nothing after this. Don't panic. Take a seat and enjoy your music and refreshments *pack refreshments* 
  • Each time they call people up you need to jump up to see if your name is called. 
  • Try remain calm throughout the process. 

Friday, 27 May 2016

A summer filled with sun, sand and rum

The strangest thing about traveling is that with every destination you tick off your bucketlist you probably add another five destinations. No? Just me?

I've recently turned thirty and I took an island holiday where I reflected on my life and future plans. Obviously I found myself daydreaming about my future travels. Needless to say, i have a whole host of destinations added. With the Rand's volatility I've had to be creative about the destinations that I give preference right now. I am breaking one rule because this destination has been high up on my list  since I was a little boy. It's been near impossible (due to financial constraints) to get there and it still is. It's becoming increasingly popular and my worry is that it's going to change and become more expensive with time.

I'm going to Cuba y'all!!

Getting there 
This is the longest route I've ever taken to get to one place. But I've had to be creative about getting there. Two weeks ago I decided that I'm going to take this trip and I had to find a way to get there. But I also needed to be in NYC for Pride on 26June. All flights to NYC were ridiculously expensive. I remember reading somewhere that Qatar is going to start flying to Atlanta and I wondered if they had enough bums on seats and that's how I found fairly cheap flights to ATL via DOH. It was the cheapest by ZAR2000 for other ATL flights and ZAR5000 for JFK/NWR. And last week my heart broke when I found cheaper flights to NYC. Agh no need crying over spilled wine.

I will stay in Atlanta for two nights and meet up with old friends. A bit of clubbing at Bulldogs like its the olden days again. From Atlanta I will fly to JFK on Delta using my miles. All I paid was $5.60!! Score!

The fun begins when I leave NYC for Havana. I'm flying with Aeromexico via Mexico City to Havana. The flight is costing me almost as much as the Qatar one. I've never been to Mexico City and this is a perfect opportunity to use a long stop to explore the city. So yeah I'm going to walk around the city during my stop 😍😍😍

There are many ways to get to Havana. Here are the few I found:
* from New York via Nassau in the Bahamas. I'd add a day or two in the Bahamas and enjoy the picture-perfect beaches.
* From New York via Panama City using Copa Airlines. Note that you need a transit visa for Panama City.
* From Johannesburg via Paris on AirFrance
* Via Toronto
* From Johannesburg to São Paulo on SAA then use Copa Airlines to get to Havana via Panama City
* Aeromexico via Cancun

I plan to go to Havana, Santa Clara and Trinidad. I will use the bus to get around. It's about $8 for the shortest trip. Santa Clara is a small city but it is known as Cuba's trans community haven. I really want to be there for a weekend and experience it myself.


I don't need a transit visa for Qatar, luckily. I may need to get a visa for my return given my very long stop so I can maybe explore Doha and rest before my flight home. I haven't done much research on this but it's similar to the UAE visa process, possibly pricier.

I have a ten-year USA Visa tha still has a few years left in it.

The nice thing is that I don't need a visa for Mexico if I have an American visa.

I need to get a travel card for Cuba. Word on the Internet is that I can get it at the airport before my Havana leg. I've decided to go to the Cuban consular office here in South Africa (Pretoria) next week and get the travel card from here. It appears like a simple and quick process. Will blog about it once in done.

There's tons of homestays/ hostals on Airbnb. I haven't booked any yet but I've identified a number in Havana, Santa Clara and Trinidad.

Friday, 19 February 2016

Hello from this side

Hi guys

I hope you are well. I'm sorry that I have not been blogging for a while now so I thought I should 'check' in and let you know that I am well.

You were probably wondering if I've traveled anywhere else since India. Yeah, I did. I went to the USA over new years and I (obviously) didn't blog about it. I just feel  like there's nothing new to blog about about the United States. But here we are today, weeks later, with a quick review of my trip.

I left the country on the 28th of December for New York. From there I went to Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington DC. The main idea was to spend New Year's Eve in the Big Apple. It was a childhood dream of mine. I have always wanted a winter New Year. The Xmas lights all over the city fascinated me.

You guys would know by now that I'm a culture junkie. I love all things culture and the holiday destinations that I've chosen before reflect that. But once a while I want to take a trip to a place where I don't need to do research about various things such as underground gay bars etc. And this trip was just that.

Getting there

This trip wasn't preplanned, as always. So I had to be creative about how i was going to get to the US. There was no way that I'd have taken the nonstop SAA or Delta services at such a last minute. My trusted friends, Kayak and Skyscanner, recommended that I take Emirates to New York  (JFK) via Dubai. I'm even embarrassed to tell you how little I paid for the tickets. It was so affordable that I bought a fully flexible ticket for my return, in the event that I felt I needed to stay longer.

So how was the service? It was alright. No, really, it was alright. Nothing worth a song and dance. The cabin crew was quite disorganised during the service. The food options ran out too soon (not their fault). It just didn't appear orderly to me. All four flights. The food was standard plane food.

But of course I had to make it exciting. If you fly cattle class the airline is kind enough to sell you baby bottles of Moët so that you also feel important. They were $15 a pop and they gave you a proper glass too and sometimes they would bring it with a fruit platter. I was happy. On one flight I got complementary champagne, on tap, from the business class bar on the A380.

The aircrafts were really good. They fly the B777 from JNB and the A380 from DXB to JFK. The aircrafts have free wifi for 100MB. You can buy more for  $1. This, for me, was impressive.

Had it not been of the bubbly, aircraft and wifi I really would not rate Emirates anywhere among my top 5 airlines. But I'd fly them again.

New York! New York!

After a two hour stop over and a 14 hour flight I arrived in New York. Oh the flight was delayed due to a baby that was very sick whose family had to be offloaded for precautionary reasons. And of course this being a US-bound flight they brought a team of security experts to sweep through the family's sitting area before we were cleared to leave. 

I was staying at my friend's place in Hells Kitchen for a few nights before NYE. I must admit that nothing else is blog-worthy from here on. This was not my first trip to New York so I didn't do much tourist activities. I just drank and ate myself fat.

We went to brunch at Sylvias in Harlem and later to Harlem tavern to drink and look at the gorgeous Harlem boys *looks for Chinese fan*.

We walked the Brooklyn Bridge on NYE. That was a nice experience. Then went to look at street art in Williamsburg.

And then there were the drag shows in the evenings and bar crawling. Oh yeah and the restaurants were also amazing.

PS: The Dollar was at R16 - something  so I didn't have money to shop.

Internal Travel

So from New York I went to Philadelphia, the city of brotherly love, Baltimore and DC. I used a combination of the bus and Amtrak train service. I'd recommend the train for the longer distances and a bus for the shorter ones like NYC-PHL.

I will see if I can blog about Philadelphia soon. It really is worthy of a post.

Till next time...


Saturday, 11 July 2015

Road to Sikkim : Look Mama I made it

It's just after19:00 (Standard Indian Time) on Saturday 11 July 2015 and I'm in Gangtok. I left Johannesburg ten days ago with a backpack and a vague plan to get to Gangtok. I stopped in four cities /towns before I got here. It hasn't been  an easy journey but here I am ♡


I had stopped at Darjeeling to get a permit to be able to get to Sikkim province where Gangtok is. Sikkim is close to the indo-china border and strict controls exist for foreigners. One gets a 15-day permit that can be renewed three times, effectively giving one a maximum of two months in the area.

Getting the permit

I met two American young men who were also on their way to Gangtok and needing a permit in the hotel. The hotel arranged that we travel together to get the permit. The permit office was a 7 minute walk from the hotel. We got to the office just after 10:00.

The office opens at 10:00; however it was a different story when we got there. We were told to wait for a few minutes for the government official that's responsible for the permit. He arrived just after 10:30 (see, it's the same even in india) and he issued us with a form that he stamped after registering our passport and visa details in a logbook. The form required  that we sign that we will not go to Tibet, Nepal and Bhutan once we are in Sikkim. After signing this form I was even afraid to think #FreeTibet. But I sure want to go to the Kingdom of Bhutan. Bhutanese people are ranked the happiest people on earth.

Armed with a stamped form, we were sent to the Darjeeling district municipality office on the other side of town. It took about  15 minutes to get there. I wondered why the permit application didn't take place in one place. Perhaps it's some segregation of duties control to mitigate the risk if collusion? Our passports were stamped and a permit issued and we were  ready to leave.

Rain! Rain! Go Away!

We decided that we would have lunch before leaving for Gangtok. We went to a beautiful vegetarian restaurant (I haven't had meat since last Thursday by the way) where we had a rice thali with dahl and chickpeas. It was very tasty.

We went to a tea shop to get some tea. One can't be in Darjeeling and not taste their tea and possibly buy some. I, unfortunately, didn't buy any. I still had plans to carry my bag as hand luggage and deplane in Nairobi upon my return. While having tea it started raining. We decided that it was time to head to Gangtok.

We tried looking for a shared jeep to Gangtok and we were told to come back the following day. The last car leaves Darjeeling at around 13:00 and because of the rain it was best not to even get a private jeep. And just like that we had  an extra night  in Darjeeling. It was good for me to just sit there and enjoy the rain.


The rain bucketed nonstop for the day and still went on in the morning. We checked out of the hotel at 09:00 and went straight to the jeep stand where we bought 5 seats (3 for us and two for the bags and legroom). And off we went!

Darjeeling is about 6 700ft above sea level and Gangtok about 5 200ft. Gangtok is on the Eastern Himalayas as well.  I was happy that we weren't going higher since I got  sick when I got to Darjeeling. We unfortunately had to zigzag downhill then wind around the hill to the top again. The trip felt much better than the one I had taken two days earlier. I was more  relaxed.

Unfortunately the same can't be said for the Indian family of four that we were travelling with. They were heading to Nepal to see a doctor for their youngest daughter. The entire family had motion sickness! I felt so sorry for the dad when he got it. He looked like he was in pain. Luckily they had brought sick bags for the road. They were quite sweet. We exchanged a few words during the stops. They couldn't speak much English but my international sign language helped a lot here. They took a picture with us when we got to Gangtok.

On our way we were met by a landslide - this is expected, given the rainfall. Traffic was backed up for a couple of kilometres while we waited for the police and the roads agency to fix the road. We must've waited there for about 40 minutes. I'm glad that there was help nearby and that no one was injured. It finally made sense why we weren't allowed to travel late in the day from Darjeeling in the event that there's such an incident.


The trip took a total of six hours for 112 km... I was happy to finally arrive in Gangtok. I was happy that I set myself a goal to reach this place and I did. There were many times when I wanted to go back home instead of enduring the pain that came with the travel plan.

So why Gangtok?

Honestly, I don't know. True story! I woke up on 24 April 2015 and decided that I will not be going to  San Francisco anymore and I was going to india. I was inspired by the words of the Dalai Lama - once a year go some place you've never been.  I booked a ride to Mumbai with Kenya Airways and left it there. In the middle of June I realised that I had to find some place to go from Mumbai. I thought of heading South to Goa for a few days to rest. That was a solid plan until I read that it was monsoon season. 

Again, one night I woke up and remembered a book I read a long time ago that spoke of Tibet. I knew it wouldn't be easy to get to Tibet so I started reading... Gangtok is known as the Gateway to Tibet. Many Tibetans are said to have passed by here when travelling between India and Tibet. Gangtok is about  54km from the Tibetan border so many people would  rest here overnight before heading to Tibet. This town is as Tibetan that india could get. So I thought to myself... why not! Oh, and my trip to india was inspired by the Dalai Lama! Double Whammy!

Did I mention how proud I am of myself? No? Well I am!

Remember to follow me on instagram @me_l7 for stories behind the pictures and more pictures.

Wednesday, 8 July 2015

Road To Sikkim

We often say 'Thank God for Travelling Mercies' but do we ever think of what that means? I left Delhi and headed to the Sikkim and never has that phrase been so relevant.

I had an Air India flight to Bagdogra at 11 am. I left for the airport by car just after 8. I was worried that Delhi traffic would misbehave. I could have taken the metro but Delhi metro at peak hour isn't a lot of fun. I was not in the mood to upset myself  either. The trip was fast and simple. Made it to the airport in just over an hour.

My plane was delayed by a few minutes. When we walked into the cabin it was so hot and had a foul smell. Cabin crew walked up and down with a cabin freshener that didn't seem to work. A few minutes into it the air conditioning started to work but the announcement that came after it was the biggest shocker. I shook my head and smiled. 

"Any passenger carrying human remains? Please press the call button." No one pressed the button. Next thing cabin crew chit chats with a fellow pax and turns out that the body came from Mumbai but was not remove from the cargo. 

We were finally on our way and the two hour flight had quite a bit of weather turbulence. After the (nasty) meal the cabin crew was instructed to sit for weather. The cockpit crew didn't say anything to us. We just had to fasten our seat belts. 

After landing I posted a few post cards but it turned out that the post office didn't have enough stamps. I'm still so confused by this right now. I thereafter took a walk to outside the airport precinct and got on a tuk tuk to Siliguri junction so I could take a shared jeep to Darjeeling.

Siliguri is about 12 km from Bagdogra airport. It's on the foot of the Himalayas and has quite a number of tea estates.

The initial plan was to head to Gangtok after landing. I remembered that I needed to get a permit from Darjeeling to be able to visit Sikkim, where Gangtok is. One needs a permit because of the close proximity of Sikkim to an important Chinese border. That's where Tibet is. I really hope that I have no issues getting the permit.

Darjeeling means a place of Thunderbolt.

The jeep ride was interesting. It finally made sense why Indian drivers hoot so much. The road is uphill and winds around the mountain. The road is often too small to have two cars pass comfortably. The driver would then honk his horn to signal to whoever may be on the other side that he's on his way and they mustn't drive.

My fear of heights won't let me be great. My heart was on my throat each time the driver took sharp turns or drove on the shoulder of the road. The views were spectacular! At some point you could see the Everest.

I had altitude sickness when I got to Darjeeling. I couldn't go see sights. I will attempt today before I leave for Gangtok. I feel better today. So yes,  thank God for travel mercies.

Monday, 6 July 2015


Delhi oh Delhi! Where do I start, beloved? 

I had a spring on my step as I walked from the aircraft to the terminal building.  Mumbai had been awesome and Delhi promised to be great.

After a slight hiccup with my hotel pickup I was on my way to the city from the airport.  I got to my hotel, freshened up and got ready to hit the town. I must have walked for about 500m away from the hotel when it hit me. I was overwhelmed by noise, the humidity, the crowd and the poverty. I went back to my hotel to try and gain composure and try the city again  a little later.

When I got back to the hotel I changed clothes to more comfortable clothing. In all my travels I've never been intimidated by a city like Delhi did. It was strange. I took a walk to a different direction than I did earlier and it didn't work. The people starred at me without flinching. I was the only black person in the area. In fact I hadn't seen black people since I got off the KQ plane. Delhi 2: Me 0. I went back to my hotel and ordered room service and started thinking about going back home. 

I've never had to cut a trip short over how I felt about the city. I always made cities work. But perhaps I hadn't been to a city as different as Delhi. So after my nap I went online and I looked for a club. At 22:00 I dolled up and went to the club. I stayed till 02:00, met a few nice people but still no connection. Zilch. I wanted to go home. Not even  my next destination but home boo.

I woke up on Sunday morning with renewed energy. I wasn't going to go home. I wasn't going to be defeated by a city. Packed my city bag, walked outside the hotel and hailed a tuk tuk (or an auto rickshaw as they call it) and headed to the Red Fort. Two days later I'm still here and I like Delhi. I think by tonight I will love it.

So what the heck did I do wrong? Delhi is no place for perfectionists and preconceived ideas of how things should run. I chose my hotel based on the fact that it was in a 'safe' area. I expected  everything to be as pretty as a picture. And unfortunately a few metres away from the hotel I was met by the realities of india. I don't know why I expected all of this to be tucked away. I expected a Sandton knowing that Alexandra is across the road and when Alex hit sooner than I expected I freaked out. This has had me question the way things are done in South Africa...

Delhi is a very big city of several millions of people. A city this big needs a transport system that will carry it's people to work and back home easily and efficiently.

These are the guys who ride bicycles to ferry people along short distances. They charge around 20 Rupees (about ZAR 4) for their  effort. As a tourist they will obviously try and milk as much out of you as possible. So play hard.

Auto Rickshaw
These are what we call tuk-tuks. They go longer distances than the rickshaws and obviously more expensive because they are faster. Ask for the driver to put on the metre or agree on a prepaid rate before boarding.

By far the best invention for this city. Easy to use and very cheap too. A metro ticket costs  a minimum of... wait for it... 10 Rupees, yes you read right,  and goes up depending on the distance. The metro covers a big chunk of city, is air conditioned and on time. Announcements are made in English as well. There's a cart reserved especially for ladies and no men are allowed  in there. Even the other carts have seats reserved for ladies. Nice one Delhi! Because the men in this city are so aggressive.

In Uber we trust! Well not in Delhi. I've had two unfortunate events that have put me off Uber here. The first one was when I had to walk a few blocks to find my driver because he didn't know where my hotel was. This was the night I went clubbing. I even asked the hotel staff to direct him in Hindu. After a 7 minute conversation the only thing that made sense was to go find him.

The second incident was the worst for me. We got lost in Chattarpur with another driver. After 5 minutes of getting lost he told me to get off the car because he was late for his next appointment. It was 19:00 in an area I didn't know and he left me. Thank God for kind locals.

Below are a few pictures of the city. I won't bore you with details check it out in instagram.

I will post something on Delhi food culture later. It made me fall in love with the city. I explored restaurants that are over a 100 years old that made the most beautiful meals imaginable. Today I've four more to go. Can't wait.