Category Archives: Africa

Running to Slow Down

What instigated our around the world journey? Were we running from something or towards something? Our Facebook Families on the Move Group is running a series of posts to answer this question. Last week in Flashpacker Family, Bethany wrote about how an emotional and a physical earthquake prompted her and her husband to pack up their seventh month old baby and start living nomadic lives. Here is our family’s response to the “running from or to” question.

We weren’t running away. We were happy with our lives. We weren’t necessarily running towards anything either. When a window opened for us to travel full time, we jumped through it. Our only goal for the trip was to get “the diversion we need to appreciate each other, our world and ourselves.”

We took this trip to slow down. At home, Sandeep and I had packed work schedules. The kids had their own lives between schools, play dates and birthday parties. The four of us were happy and busy, but we really had to make an effort to connect with each other, our world and ourselves. Has the trip given us the diversion we needed to meet our goal?

Yes, we have been able to appreciate each other in the most magical and mundane ways. Last week we spent an hour making sand shadows in Namibia’s massive dunes, posing in all sorts of funny shadows and laughing hysterically. Each of us directed poses, something we had time to do because we were had no other agenda.

Yes, we have been able to appreciate our world. Traveling to all corners of the world has shown us that our planet is fragile and we are responsible for its upkeep. The snow lines in the Himalayas are receding, the Mediterranean is running out of fish and the flamingoes in Namibia aren’t migrating anymore. Our climate is changing more rapidly than we can fix it. We have been fortunate to experience nature that may not be around when our kids grow up. Our hope is that, by traveling to such diverse and fragile places, our kids have learnt to love our planet enough to take care of it.

Yes, we have been able to appreciate ourselves. Each of us has fostered interests that we didn’t have time for at home. I discovered a love for writing. Sandeep surprised us all by discovering a love for nature and has led us on some great adventures because of it. Ava has become an artist extraordinaire and Kayan has become quite the singer. The best part is that we all have time to actively participate and encourage each other’s talents – even when it means listening to The Lion Sleeps Tonight 50 times a day while searching for lions.

Sure we could have appreciated all these things had we stayed at home. But it would have taken a lot more effort and it wouldn’t have been nearly as fun.

To continue our group’s “running from or to” stories, I invite Clark from Family Trek to tell us why he, his wife Monica and their two little ones decided on a life of travel.


Filed under Africa, Travel With Kids, Traveling Family Writing Projects

The Hard Life of a Lion in Etosha National Park Namibia

Our days in Etosha National Park just kept getting better. On our third day, while driving along the southern coast of the Etosha Pan, we saw a large sandy body swaggering through the grass.

He may be the king of the jungle, but life hasn’t always been easy for this handsome guy. Mainly due to power struggles with other males, only one in five lion cubs live to see their second birthdays. If they are lucky to survive, when they turn three they must leave their pride or risk being perceived as a threat by the older lions. Between the ages of three and five, a single lion will roam the grasslands, often alone but sometimes with one or two other males. These nomadic lions remain bachelors until they are five. They then battle weaker lions to take over existing prides and the cycle continues.

Once a lion has a pride, life is pretty sweet. The lionesses do the hunting and child rearing. The lion’s main jobs are to defend his pride’s territory and procreate. Kayan tried his best lion roar (once we rolled up the windows and gave him permission), but thankfully the lion didn’t seem bothered with our male cub. Watching this lion saunter in front of our car, mark his territory and then disappear back into the bush was exciting. This time, we were careful not to stall our car.

Throughout the day, we experienced several animal crossings throughout the park. We will never look at Zebra crossings the same way again.

Elephants, giraffe and springbucks all decided to make their way in front of our wheels. The animals are weary of cars, which is good, but don’t let us disturb their activities.

Apart from the quiet gravel roads, the land in Etosha is undisturbed by humans. This carcass is a reminder that we were very much in the wild.

The scenery and animals are something that I could not capture on film no matter how hard I tried. Perhaps if I had this guy’s camera I would have done a better job.

In March, when I wrote Anyone Can Travel, Just Let Go, I said, ” By the end of our trip Kayan will know a zebra, lion and rhinoceros because he saw them in the wild, not because he was shown them in a book.” We are so fortunate that we were able to follow through on this prophecy. The kids saw all these creatures and more during our three day Namibian safari. Even though he saw hundreds of zebra and a few dozen giraffe, Kayan still consistently called a giraffe a zebra and a zebra a giraffe. However, he knows his lions.


Filed under Africa, Animals

The Lions Were Not Sleeping in Etosha National Park Namibia

We woke up at sunrise on our second day in Etosha in hopes of seeing more lions. June is dry season in northern Namibia, which means that animals congregate around a few sources of water, usually early in the morning and in the evenings. This makes animal sightings easier than in the summer. The camp told us that mornings were the best time to see a pride. We plucked the kids out of bed and put them in the car, still wearing their PJs. We didn’t see any lions at two different watering holes. Just as we headed back for breakfast, we noticed six sandy heads bobbing towards us.

Yesterday, we were so excited to see the back of one lion’s head. The thrill of seeing a pride trotting towards us was a little too much. We stopped the car and watched. They got a little too close for comfort, so Sandeep tried to start the engine, except it didn’t start. The windows were down and four lions were coming straight towards us. I was about to hurl myself over the kids when Sandeep realized that in his excitement he had shut off the car in Drive. Once we sorted that out, we inched away carefully.

Etosha is a very easy park to self-drive and it seems that animals are pouring out of every bush and corner. This is the scene at a watering hole around noon, were we saw an elephant, a white rhino, zebra, springbuck and countless birds congregated together for a drinks.

Another watering hole boasted as much diversity – zebra, gemsbuck, wildebeest, springbuck, ostrich and birds – in an even larger quantity.

When we pointed out our first ostrich, Ava said, “Wow. That is a big bird. I don’t think I can eat it like that so you’ll have to cut it up in small pieces for me.” The kids have been great on safari. They are willing to wait patiently and watch the animals. To keep things educational, we taught them how baby animals drink from their mothers.

Just to make sure our day couldn’t get any more perfect, we came back to the camp and found this family of elephants quenching their thirst at the watering hole about 100 yards from our chalet.

The more animals we see the more we want to go looking for more. The hunt is addictive.



Filed under Africa, Animals, Namibia

Our First Hour in Etosha National Park Namibia

Sandeep and I chatted the night before we headed to Etosha National Park in Namibia and I told him one of my childhood memories. I was six. My parents had returned from safari in Kenya with pictures that I still remember in vivid detail – a lion with a magnificent mane, a leopard draped over a tree branch, and a herd of zebras. After seeing those pictures, going on safari has topped my list of travel dreams. The thought of being hours away from realizing the dream made me nervous. What if we couldn’t see any animals? We had no idea what to expect. To manage expectations, we prepared ourselves for a few days of seeing nothing but birds.

On our four hour drive from Windhoek to Etosha, the kids sang about a dozen renditions of “The Lion Sleeps Tonight.” Ava kept asking if we were in the jungle yet. We pointed out a few warthogs by the side of the road but she didn’t seem too impressed. Kayan practiced his lion roars with increasing intensity. We entered Etosha’s gate an hour before sunset.

We thought it would be too bold to pursue wildlife without getting the lay of the land first. So our plan was to head straight to our new home, Okaukuejo Camp. However, within a few minutes, I spotted several giraffe heads bobbing in the distance. Giraffe and zebra topped my list of desired sightings and I was too excited to pass up on the opportunity. Plus, giraffe seemed tame enough that we figured we would just take a quick look. We turned onto a dirt road to find this group drinking water.

A car heading our way told us that there were lions ahead. We had no idea what to do. Were we supposed to stop the car or gun the engine? After hours of hearing, “Hush my darling, don’t cry my darling, the lion sleeps tonight” and Kayan’s lion roars, it seemed like a sign that we should forge ahead. We went ahead very slowly, windows up and doors locked. They took a while to spot but we finally saw three female lions lolling away the evening. (All pictures on this blog are untouched, so I have not zoomed in on the lioness. If you are having trouble spotting her, she is sitting in the middle of the picture looking right.)

Sandeep and Kayan have been very excited about seeing lions, so this was their moment. Just as Sandeep said, “What I really want to see is a lion hunt,” a herd of zebra meandered by the other side of our car. We braced ourselves to be caught in between the predictors and their prey. These must have been very satiated or very lazy lions, because they didn’t budge. The lions and we just watched the zebras sway into the grass, creating a geometric pattern in the savannah. Sandeep said something about it being too bad the lion didn’t eat the zebra and Ava wanted to know why anyone would want to eat a zebra when it was so beautiful.

The sun began to set and we finally checked into our camp. We couldn’t believe that we had seen all these animals within our first hour in Etosha, at a time when we weren’t actively searching for wildlife. Our first impression is that self-driving in Etosha is very easy, even with young kids. We couldn’t have asked for a better welcome to our African safari experience.


Filed under Africa, Animals, Namibia

Our Money Gets Stolen and Other Crimes

You may be familiar with The King of Paranoia and the Queen of Rationalization. Let me tell you a little more about the Queen of Rationalization. I have never been vigilant. I dropped my wallet getting out of my car in college. Luckily, I lived in Minnesota, where everyone’s kindness is above average, and a good neighbor rang my doorbell with wallet in hand. On another Boston trip I left my laptop at airport security and happily boarded my flight home. A month before leaving New York, my wallet was lifted straight out of my wide open bag on the subway. I didn’t even notice until I got home. That’s me. Ultra-responsible with most things in life, but oblivious with others.

Here is another situation for which I can thank my character flaw. On our last day in Athens, while packing, I noticed two things missing. The first was may camera case, which had the equivalent of $50 (no camera). The second was 12 crisp $100 notes taken from my wallet. Whoever swiped the money was kind enough to leave one Benjamin. The scariest part is that my wallet was always in our rental apartments. Sandeep carries around the cash we needed and I kept the stack of U.S. Dollars stored for later conversion. I never bothered to check the contents of my wallet because I figured there were always safe in our apartments. We have had cleaning people and babysitters, so someone we had trusted effectively robbed us. My mistake was that the wallet was loosely tucked under a pile of clothes or thrown into a suitcase rather than locked away or truly hidden. I was obviously upset about the situation (Sandeep was, to put it mildly, livid) but more than the money, we felt violated that it had been stolen from a place we called home.

Until our midnight cycling in Athens, we had never once felt unsafe during our trip. So far we have been to places that are conventionally considered safe. We are now in Africa, first Namibia and then South Africa, followed by Rio de Janeiro. These places have reputations for things more serious than pick pocketing and petty crime. In a way, if I needed a wake up call to swing me over to paranoia, Athens was the perfect time for it to happen.

We drove around Windhoek on our first night here in search of dinner at what was described as “a local African restaurant”. The more we searched for this elusive spot, the deeper we went into deserted streets. The only place we felt comfortable stopping for directions was at a Hilton. There, the valet gave us a long lecture about car jacking, not driving to areas we don’t know, and only visiting restaurants where a valet is on hand to guard the car. The old me would have brushed this off as crazy talk but the new me directed us straight to one of the better spots in town, where a valet gave us the peace we needed to enjoy an amazing Portuguese dinner.

We are not happy about the loss of money. I am also annoyed that I lost a great camera case. But since I never listened to the King of Paranoia when he told me to take better care of my stuff, this was the lesson I needed to prepare me for the rest of our journey.

Now I check my bags every few minutes. I have a constant eye on the kids. I hide everything in places only a mouse would find. My $1,250 lesson in vigilance has made me the Princess of Paranoia, at least for the next few months. Plus, I don’t know that I can ever fully let go of the Queen of Rationalization role.


Filed under Africa, Greece

Our Kids Have No Choice But to Love to Fly

We were boarding our flight from Abu Dhabi to Johannesburg when Ava saw this HSBC add and, with a very troubled look said, “Why does that poor cow have a map on him?” I don’t know what made me more proud – the fact that she was was concerned for the animal’s welfare or that she recognized a world map.

We have been looking at a lot of maps lately and, thanks in part to Dora the Explorer, the kids are eager to know where they are heading in relation to where we have been. Our 22 hour journey from Athens to Windhoek turned out to be a non-event. The kids slept on all three flights. The only glitch was the nosebleed Kayan got on the flight to Johannesburg.

Despite this, when we finally got into our beds in Windhoek, a disappointed Kayan asked, “Why no more planes?” The kids have boarded 19 flights since we left New York in November. Perhaps flying has become so natural that they see it as a non event. Or perhaps, since we give them lollipops to calm ear pressure, they see flying as a treat. Kayan begged for his own backpack so that he could have something to put on the security belt. Ava likes to hand over each passport when we fill out immigration forms and has a funny fetish of checking out airport bathrooms. Whatever the reason, we’re lucky to have happy fliers for all the journeys we have left to take.


Filed under Africa, Travel With Kids

One Million Legged People in Namibia

A major reason we embarked on this journey was to instill in Ava and Kayan the same respect for other cultures and curiosity about our world that Sandeep and I value. We have been so focused on exposing our kids to the world that we haven’t really thought that about how they are processing all of this.

Today’s conversation with Ava made us consider how she and Kayan are digesting this experience. I was walking on the beach in flip-flops and the inevitable happened – they eventually tore at the toe. On our awkward wobble back home, Ava asked, “Mama, I like those shoes. Can you keep the good one and buy just one that works?” I responded that shoes are sold in twos because most people have two feet. She considered this and said, “But why not a million feet?” I asked her if she had ever seen a person with a million feet. Her reply was, “Not yet, but maybe I’ll see one in Namibia.”

Sandeep and I have ongoing discussions on our Africa plans. We continue to oscillate between paranoia and rationalization and the kids have inevitably heard more than we know. I don’t know what images they have conjured in their heads about the wilds, but I’d love to know what it is that we said that made it possible for Ava to conceive of a million legged person.

This seems like a good occasion to share Ava’s most recent self portraits. It’s not a million legs, but there is imagination in there for sure.



Filed under Africa, Greece

Is Traveling to Africa with Kids Too Risky

Extended travel requires planning. There’s a delicate balance between planning enough to have stability and leaving an itinerary open enough for spontaneity. Between Internet research and personal recommendations, this has been an easy balance to strike during our travels in Asia and Europe. Things may not be quite as easy in Africa. We’ve just started planning for a June arrival in southern Africa and preliminary research makes us feel like novice travelers. Things such as car jacking and being eaten by lions (toddlers make good lion bait is one thing we have repetitively read) are risks we just haven’t had to consider elsewhere.

Here is last night’s conversation between The King of Paranoia and The Queen of Rationalization.

Sandeep: We should have planned for Africa months ago. I’m looking at these game reserves and the good ones book out a year in advance. And then a lot of them don’t allow kids.

Diya: Oh yeah? Well, can’t we just camp? Isn’t that what the One Year Off family did?

S: I’m not camping in the bush.

D: Why? We can take a guide with us.

S: There are wild animals in the bush. And a lion can definitely bite through a tent. Plus, how are you going to control the kids in a tent? What if Kayan just runs out? There is a reason that these places don’t allow kids.

D: I think there are better things for a lion to eat than our tent. But I get what you’re saying about Kayan. I’ll look into what our options are with kids.

S: And we should research all the other risks in Africa.

D: Like?

S: Scorpions, snakes, crime.

D: We know Africa has all those things, we just have to be careful. If I see a scorpion I’m not going to and make friends with it.

S: This is not funny. There are specific risks and if we don’t research we won’t know how to prepare. Like what if we need to buy the kids closed shoes to protect them from scorpions?

D: I am sure all the kids in Africa don’t have closed shoes.

S: That’s not the point. Look, we have two kids to worry about and we need to know our risks. You wouldn’t go to war unprepared, would you?

At this point I can see that Sandeep is really annoyed so I search “risks to visitors in Africa” on Google. This is a really stupid thing to do. There are over 50 countries in Africa and the risks include pirates, guerrilla warfare, and of course scorpions and snakes.

D: I don’t know how to do this. It’s telling me things like don’t have s*x with strangers because a third of Botswana’s population has AIDS. What do I do with that?

S: Look D, I need to know that you’re taking this seriously otherwise we just shouldn’t go.

Of course we are going to go. The kids are so excited about seeing Africa’s animals, although even they don’t know what they are in for. Kayan’s closest encounter with a wild cat is his affectionate relationship with Tiger.

I joke with Sandeep that he’s African and our trip should be like a happy homecoming. He was born in Nigeria, which is a very different country now than it was almost four decades ago. Moreover, Africa is a diverse continent and one that neither of us knows much about. The King of Paranoia has a point when he says we need to research the risks. Our Sikkim experience taught us that we are city slickers and not intrepid wilderness types. I can deal with a horse being outside our tent in Sikkim, but knowing that canvas is all that separates the kids from a lion will elicit fear even in The Queen of Rationalization.

Come June, while Sandeep, Kayan, Ava, Tiger and I watch a lion kill a zebra, I hope we all can rest assured knowing that we are prepared for the experience. Our next several days will be spent figuring our our Africa plans. Who knows, we may even go shopping for some closed shoes.

When planning for travel, which camp do you fall in? Paranoia or Rationalization? We’d love to hear your stories of when either worked for or against you.


Filed under Africa, Animals, Travel With Kids