Sunday, December 28, 2008

Danger in Johannesburg

Johannesburg is repeatedly rated as being one of the most dangerous cities in the world. When I first visited in 1998, I immediately noticed all of the gated properties with bars on the windows. I was advised not to walk anywhere, and I didn’t. At the very least, I could have been robbed, but I was more concerned with being raped or killed. Peter Greenberg quotes some interesting statistics about the city in his book Don’t Go There: “From April 2006 to March 2007, there were 611 murders.” From 2006 to 2007, there were 2,332 carjackings and “from April to December 2007, there were 1,353 rapes and indecent assaults.” In fact, Johannesburg has earned the reputation as being the rape capital when a report cited that one in five men admitted to having sex with a woman without her consent. Despite the danger, I have always enjoyed myself there, visiting the local malls and restaurants. I just made sure to take a taxi everywhere. It must be horrible though for the people who live there. Two of my friends—one male and one female--said they would move to another country without hesitation if they had the opportunity.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Lonely Planet Hotel Bookings

When planning a trip, there’s nothing more convenient than booking a room online, but Lonely Planet has taken this convenience to a whole new level. Their website offers the visitor the opportunity to book accommodations in 24 African countries such as Algeria, Djibouti, and Ethiopia. Since I have been researching a trip to Mali, I found listing for Timbuktu. While most could not be booked online, if available, contact information (web sites and e-mails) were provided. The reviews certainly reinforced my assumptions that the choices would be limited in the desert town would be limited and basic. I was surprised though to see that Visa and Mastercard were accepted at such a remote location. One review states that the hotel is a hot 20 minute desert walk to town but nestled in the sand. Another equally inviting review describes the hotel as providing “cool relief from the relentless sun and insects.” Despite these less than complimentary descriptions, I still find the destination alluring. It’s just a matter of time before I book online for a stay in Timbuktu.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Christmas in Africa

I have always wanted to visit Africa at Christmas. And who wouldn’t? It was 81 degrees in Johannesburg yesterday. The Drifters trip I was exploring—the 9-day Coastal Explorer--would have been perfect. I would have flown into Cape Town and then travelled along the coast to Durban and then flown out of Johannesburg. The tour would have left plenty of time to hike along the coast and swim in the Indian Ocean. (The current is strong, and there is always a danger of sharks, but it’s a risk I have taken before.) I would have spent Christmas and New Year’s there and would have had a chance to visit my friends in Knysna. When I initially checked, the airfare was $2,400. (The same flight today is $2,900). The most I’ve ever paid to fly to Africa so far was $1,700, and that was painful enough. The tour, on the other hand, was very reasonable—only about $1,000. If the daily news about the economy weren’t so bad and had I not just gotten my hours cut at my part-time job, I might have been willing to pay the price. As it stands now, I check the airfare every day, hoping for a dream deal.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Birding in Africa

I never had an interest in birds until I went to Africa. While canoeing on the Zambezi river, I saw my favorite bird for the first time—the Carmine Bee-eater, a vibrant multicolored bird. I have also enjoyed wonderful sightings of African Fish Eagles, Flamingos, and Pearl-spotted Owls, the smallest in Southern Africa. In order to better prepare myself for my next safari, I have orders a DVD set from These three DVDs feature videos of over 500 birds with their calls. I’m anxious to see how many I already know and learning more about some rare finds. The Southern African Birding site also offers a wiki describing many locations to go birding. A worthwhile blog that features African birds is Charlie Moores has some great shots.