What We Learned

Lessons from the Nile

1.  The colors on many Ancient Egyptian temples are still preserved 2000+ years later because they’re made from natural substances like iron and turquoise.  Plus Egypt’s dry climate causes minimal corrosion.   

2.  Egypt has a tough time managing the precious temples in their care.  The guards allow or even encourage rule breaking for a tip.  They even try to take you into off-limit places.  Once you're in the forbidden place, they'll demand a tip.  It's best practice to ignore anyone approaching you. 

Also, the influx of tourists is incredibly hard on the ancient tombs.  With the help of foreign aid, Egypt is building exact replicas of many tombs so visitors can enjoy the sights without damaging the original. 

3.  Hieroglyphics is a language based on symbols.  Each symbol equals a letter, a sound, or an action.  Hieroglyphics can be written right to the left, left to the right, upward, or downward.  You can tell what direction you should read by the direction that the objects face (bird’s beaks being our favorite tell-tale sign).

4.  Gods and pharaohs of ancient Egypt are sometimes difficult to differentiate because they both have temples, are worshipped, and were considered immortal.   Des was an ancient Egyptian dwarf god in charge of fun.  The original joker. 

5.  The Nubian tribes living on the Nile love crocodiles.  We speak from experience.

Ryan, what is that over the door???

Please, please, PLEASE take this thing away from me!

6.  When shopping for alabaster, you can see if the piece is authentic and handmade by holding it to the light-- you should be able to see the light through it.

7.  In a mosque, it isn't always necessary for a woman to cover her head.  A definite must is to cover your shoulders and knees.

8.  Egyptian temples have graffiti that's older than most European monuments.  

9.  The temples of Abu Simbel are two ginormous rock temples that were relocated stone by stone in 1968 when the building of the new dam threatened to destroy them.  Stone.  By.  Stone.

10.  Young people here love taking pictures with foreigners.  Including us.  I even had a family ask me to take a picture of THEM with my camera.  So, here they are.

Dear Family: If you're reading this, As-salamu alaykom!

Cairo and Pharaohs

An ancient civilization on the front lines of the war on terror, Egypt is an extraordinary country to experience.  We began in Cairo to study pyramids, pharaohs, and life in the volatile land of the Nile.  Here are some things we learned:  

1.  Pyramid conspiracy theories suggest that the pyramids were built by aliens or angels.  Experts are able to prove the pyramids were built by nothing more or less than manpower, because we’ve found evidence of the “rough draft” pyramids all over Egypt.

This pyramid still has it's original Limestone cap!

2.  Also, the pyramids weren’t built by slaves.  Construction occurred during the annual Nile flood season when farming wasn’t possible and the river provided an easy way to transport the huge stones.  So the pyramids could be seen as a sort of civil employment system to farmers that otherwise would’ve spent half the year out of work.

The stone blocks are MASSIVE!

3.  Uniforms matter.  In order to protect tourists and citizens in Egypt, there are heavily armed soldiers and frequent security stops.  However, some of the soldiers don’t have on uniforms.  It’s incredibly unnerving to see a man with an assault rifle in street clothes.

4.  The Nile truly is the lifeblood of Egypt.  It cuts through the desert and Egyptian life, even today, couldn’t exist without it.

5.  In Ancient Egypt, yearly taxes depended on the level of the Nile Flood, because the flood was indicative of the productiveness of the harvest.  Most temples have a “Nile-o-meter” which indicated the flood level and thus taxes for the neighborhood.

Nileometer at the ancient temple of Komombo.

6.  Despite living and depending on the Nile, Egyptians are historically terrible sailors.  The wind blows one way and the current flows the other so there isn't much need for expertise.

7.  Because of the heavy pollution, one day spent in Cairo is the same as smoking one pack of cigarettes.

8.  King Tut, arguably the most well-known Pharaoh, was not exceptionally great or rich.  He's special because his tomb was the only one we’ve found that was not raided by tomb robbers.  The magnificent treasures were uncovered almost completely intact.  

9.  Despite surviving ancient robbers, a few of King Tut's priceless treasures were stollen from the Egyptian Museum in the 2011 uprising.  Good grief.  

10.  No one knows why The Great Sphinx is missing his nose.  Many blame Napoleon's soldiers though this is highly unlikely.  Napoleon was obsessed with Ancient Egypt and is responsible for cataloging and preserving many of the relics we enjoy today.  Our favorite "Missing Nose" theory is that, for thousands of years, the Sphinx was buried up to his neck in sand.  As people walked by, they would rub his nose for good luck.

Bonus Fact:  The 2011 Egyptian Revolution and increased terrorism in the Middle East has taken a gigantic toll on Egypt’s tourism and economy. The revenue from ancient monuments has fallen a whopping 95% since 2011.  One of the incomes saving tourism was resorts on the Red Sea.  The recent plane crash in Sharm el Sheikh (a resort town that was considered one of the safest places in Egypt), will further devastate the Egyptian people and economy.  We flew out of Sharm el Sehikh a few weeks before the crash and our thoughts and prayers are with the families of the passengers.  Our thoughts are also with the millions of innocent Egyptians who will face the repercussions of these extremists.

That's What We Learned in Cairo.  Click Here to read What We Did.

Lessons from the Maasai Mara and Ngorogoro Crater

More Lessons from the Wild

1.  Ngorongoro Crater in Tanzania was formed when a volcano collapsed on itself.  It is 2,000 feet deep and covers 100 square miles.

2.  Horns grow directly from the skull.  Not sure what we thought they did (maybe a joint?), but there ya have it.

3.  During the great migration, 1.7 million wildebeests migrate from Tanzania to Kenya.  In our inexpert opinion, wildebeest are possibly the ugliest creatures on the planet and our guide told us they’re also fairly dumb.  But they certainly reproduce in large quantities!

4.  Giraffes have their babies standing up.  Ouch.

5.  Hyenas have the strongest teeth and jaws of the African predators.

6.  When Lions mate, they do so up to 100 times per day for up to 7 days around the clock.  They usually don’t even stop to eat.  We learned about this process first hand.  Email us for a pic—we felt weird posting it!

7.  The Maasai are the best know tribe in East Africa (thanks, in part, to the book Out of Africa).  The Maasai Mara Game Reserve is even named after them!  Today, their indigenous lifestyle remains fairly consistent with their ancestors and they act as guides to kooks like us. 

8.  The Massai are generally Christians as well as polygamists. 

9.  Out of Africa explains the Massai’s obsession with cattle and this is still true today.  In fact, a girl is considered a blessing because a male must pay in many cattle to marry her.  In their dowry system, the male pays to marry a female instead of her father paying for the husband to take her.

10.  Elephants mourn.  For years after they lose a loved one, they’ll often return to the place of the death on the exact day of the loss.  Other scientists record them crying and showing signs of depression over loss.

That's What We Learned in the Maasai Mara, Click Here to read details on What We Did.

Spicy Learning in Zanzibar

1. We already knew some Swahili, a language spoken in Eastern Africa!  “Hakuna Matata” truly means “No Worries” in Swahili.  The Lion King uses other Swahili words: Simba means lion, Rafiki means friend, and Pumba means foolish one.

2. “Thank you very much” in Swahili is “asante sana.”  Sound familiar?  It’s the beginning lyrics to Rafiki’s song “Asante sana, squash banana.”  Yes, this is how we remember it.

3. Lion King’s plotline has many possible sources (some say Hamlet), but simply analyzed it is based on facts of nature.  Male lions fight for dominance and will kick younger males out.  The banished younger males fend for themselves and then come back to the pride when they’re old enough to fight for dominance.

Ok, enough about the Lion King.  But it’s hard not to think about it in Eastern Africa!

4. When your husband says the three-day train ride through Africa is going to be a little rough, he means the 3-day train ride will be a nightmare.  Get a jug of Purell and beef up your prescriptions.  You’re in for a ride.

5. Never underestimate the smile-and-wave.

6. Zanzibar is an archipelago off the coast of Tanzania and, while technically part of the country, it operates and considers itself separate (you have to show your passport and vaccinations card to be allowed in). 

7. Zanzibar is 99% Muslim and was one of the ancient trade islands that connected Africa with Arabia, India, and the Far East.  These islands are often called the Spice Islands and rightly so.

A stall at Stone Town's spice market

A stall at Stone Town's spice market

8. Dar es Salaam, the largest city in Tanzania, is half Christian, half Muslim and both sides live very peacefully together.  Dar es Salaam is Arabic and literally translates to “the home of peace.”

9. When stung by a jellyfish, rub sand on it (don’t ask how Blakely learned this).

10. When cutting your own hair, always cut less than you think you should (don’t ask how Blakely learned this either).

That's What We Did in Zanzibar.  Click Here to read What We Did!

Our Favorite Animal Facts from Botswana

1.  Elephants have terrible eyesight (even worse than humans), but they make up for it with an incredible sense of hearing and smell.

2.  Leapards rarely fight back.  These cool cats hunt alone so, if they’re injured, they’ll almost certainly die.  The result?  They go for easy kills and stay above the danger in trees.

3. As soon as her eggs hatch, a crocodile mother puts her babies in her mouth.  There’s a pouch in there and she can carry her babies the short distance from the nest to her “nursery.”

4. When we asked our guides what animal they most fear, both separately said the African Buffalo.  One explained that “you never know what they’re thinking.”  The other simply said “they’re crazy.”

5. A close second in fear factor: the hippo.  The hippo is scary because “they don’t know what they want.”  They’re humongous herbivores who are notoriously aggressive.  They’ll charge at the least provocation and you don’t stand a chance if you stand between them and the water.

6. Girraffe males duel each other by standing side-by-side, swinging their necks wide and whacking each other in the chest.

7. To cross the river, elephants join trunk to tail.

8. Ostrich tastes like steak.  Crocodile tastes like fish.  Yes, we speak from experience.

9. Folks here are serious about poachers.  A military force patrols the park and, when they find a poacher, they shoot to kill.

10. Zebras are the national animal of Botswana!  Our guides informed us why this is a fitting partnership.  One:  In Botswana, blacks and whites live in harmony.  Two, zebras have a diamond shape between their eyes that perfectly illustrates Botswana’s booming diamond industry.

Bonus Fact:  When asked about Cecil the Lion's death, our guides didn't blame the American dentist in the least.  However, they're emphatic in their condemnation of the dentist's Zimbabwean guide.  Their reason?  The American likely didn't know he was outside of the law while the guide absolutely knew.  This debate is of course separate from the moral question of African laws allowing these killings in the first place.

Go to the Blog to see full details on our Botswana adventure.  And Click Here for the full photo gallery!

Lessons from the Wild

Here are 10 things we learned from the Wild Coast:

1. When you stay on a farm, roosters actually do crow at daybreak.  That isn’t a myth they tell city folk to keep us away.

2. Driving here is very pro-passing.  Slower cars move into the emergency lane so the faster drivers can pass them easily.  When you pass, it’s polite to flash your hazards for a moment to say thank you.

3. Animals in the road are a VERY common occurrence.  From cattle to monkeys.

4. Many villages in Africa still operate as a tribe system that are run under the authority of a Chief.  The title is passed from father to child but not necessarily the oldest child and not necessarily the male.  The title is passed to the “wisest” child (which would put Ryan and Blakely solidly out of the running in their family).  The village we were in (Mqanduli) had a female chief which isn't an extraordinary situation.

5. The government recognizes the local authority of all Chiefs and tries to always yield to their judgment.

6. Foam surfboards are easy.  Hard boards are…well…hard.

7. Many accommodations in small villages make efforts to constructively give back to the communities of which they are a part.  They’re aware of the benefits and hazards of tourism and try to control both.  For example, the Coffee Shack had signs warning us NOT to give candy to children (NO DENTISTS!) and they've set up a scholarship fund so a few of the rural children who show promise can go to secondary school.

8. We talked to a teacher from London who's here teaching at a scholarship school.  We asked if there are any differences in the children in Mqanduli and those in London.  She didn’t hesitate-- the children in Mqanduli are so much more eager (if not desperate) to learn.

9. Learning a few simple words in the local language goes a VERY long way. 

10.  Xhosa (the language spoken in much of the Eastern Cape) is one of the “clicking” languages in Africa.  We can’t describe it, please come visit us for a demonstration of our Xosa skills.  Until then, here’s a fun video of Xhosa tongue twisters.

That's What We Learned on the Wild Coast and Drakensberg and Click Here to read details on What We Did.

Garden Route Learnings

1.  The Garden Route and Whale Coast Route run along the Southern coast of South Africa.  The views are similar to Highway 1...without all the Malibu traffic.

2.  Wildlife, including whales, performs for no man.  You gotta be patient.

3.  When whale watching, you can determine the different whale species by the shape of the spout of water that the whale projects.  The Southern Right Whale (which is common in SA) spouts a V shaped spray.

"I can't look right now I just saw a whale."

4.  Scientists have yet to record how Great White Sharks give birth or mate.  So that's something to think about.  Also, Cage Diving with Great Whites is a lot easier when you're too cold to be scared.

5.  Every price is a negotiation.

6.  Our new scale for accommodation negotiations: Over $40 per night, no way.  $35-$40, it should be on the beach with a beach view.  $30-$35, it better be a block from the beach and include breakfast.  $20-30, is it safe and clean?  Ok fine.

7.  While we think monkeys are adorable, locals here find them a menace.  They break into homes and cars, steal, bite, and wreck.  Ends up this isn't too far off.

8.  African cuisine is hearty and ALL about the meat.  The food has tribal, Dutch, and Indian influences.  When eating at someone’s home, it’s polite to leave a bit of food on your plate after you’re finished to show the host that you’re satisfied.  We're having a bit of trouble with that one.

9.  KFC is huge in South Africa.  It’s everywhere.  The small villages may not have a grocery store, but they have a KFC (no we haven’t given in and eaten there yet.  We are models of self discipline.).

10.  Driving on the left side is easier than expected.  Tip for the driver: Always keep yourself at the center.  This is the opposite of our advice for couples traveling.

Next up, The Wild Coast and the Mountains of Drakensberg!  Until then, Click Here to read details on What We Did on the Garden Route.

Ryan and our noble steed, Betty.

Baboons.  Are.  Everywhere.


The view from our room at our hostel in Wilderness, SA.  

What We Learned in Cape Town

Good news: We made it to Cape Town.  Bad news: We've been having too much fun to post.  But don't worry-- content is coming.  Until then, here are 10 things we learned this week.

  1. Banana and peanut butter tastes delicious anywhere and is a perfectly suitable dinner option.
  2. South Africa has eleven official languages (including English, thank heaven).  
  3. Internet is just as bad as they warned us it would be...and we're still in a major city.
  4. South African penguins on Boulders Beach came from only two breeding pairs in 1982 and the population has grown to about 3,000.  They got busy!
  5. People from Madagascar and their language are called Malagasy.
  6. Don't be scared.  Be careful.
  7. Apartheid: an Afrikaans word meaning "the state of being apart" (literally "apart-hood") was a system of racial segregation in South Africa enforced through legislation by the National Party (NP), the governing party from 1948 to 1994.  This segregation categorizes people as white, black, and colored and there is an unlimited combination of terribleness between and within all three.
  8. South African history shows great dedication to freedom of religion and has a wide diversity of thriving religions as a result.
  9. The currency in SA is the Ran but everyone calls them "bucks."
  10. We're tougher than we thought.