Posts Tagged With: adventure

Building Goat Sheds In Arusha

Six things I learned about Tanzania:

  1. Swahili sounds amazing. It’s one of the happiest sounding languages I’ve ever heard. Here’s a sneak peek:
    Karibu – Welcome
    Habari gani – How are you?
    Jambo – Hello
    Kwaheri – Goodbye
    Sarafi njema – Have a good trip!
    Asante sana – Thank you very much
  2. Speaking of Swahili, the Lion King names are actually Swahili words! Remember Pumba, the warthog? Pumba means slow-witted/thoughtless in Swahili! Simba means lion. Rafiki means friend. Cool, huh?
  3. Beads are everywhere. Everything is beaded. Bracelets, earrings, bags, shoes, everything.
  4. Tsetse flies actually exist, and they’re the devil incarnate. They’re worse than horseflies, leaving giant welts that itch for days. They even carry a terrifying disease called Sleeping Sickness; if you’re bitten by an infected fly you slowly become more and more drowsy, drifting off into sleep, and then remain in a coma for the rest of your life. Thankfully it’s very rare and a nonissue for anyone considering a trip.
  5. The name “Tanzania” exists because it’s the land between Lake Tanganyika and Zanzibar island. (Put it together, Tan + Zan = Tanzania!)
  6. They take the phrase “rice and beans” to a whole new level.

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One of the great things about going with a school group was that I was able to learn about Tanzania from a more educational perspective. Normally my vacations consist of pure adventure seeking, a bit of relaxation, and a cultural day thrown in here and there. With a school group you’re always assessing the educational merit of your activities. Enter the most impacting activity we participated in: The goat shed.

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Service projects comprised much of what we did in Tanzania. The students fundraised beforehand in order to pay for the materials to build a goat shed for a local villager. The activity was facilitated by the non-profit Seeway Tanzania.

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The students had a blast and learned how to manually build a wooden structure using only a set of directions and a hammer and nails. Another important fact: The fundraising didn’t just pay for the shed itself, but for the goat that would live there. It’s a great long-term service project because the goat continues to provide for the villager’s livelihood.

It took two grueling days to build the goat shed, but I can’t wait to return again this February and see how big Hillda has grown!

Check back soon for the final installment on Tanzania, the safari!

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Categories: Tanzania | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Laos: Part One!

So, we bought a car.

It took us a long time. That could have been an entire blog series in itself: “Buying A Car In Cambodia”. However, I like to focus on the frivolous, the fun, and the fantastical. Car-buying in Cambodia is none of those things.

Regardless, we are now the proud owners of 1999, 4-wheel drive, Honda CRV. We are mobile!

As the time wound down to the last final days before the week-long Cambodian holiday of Pchum Ben, we were frantically preparing our drivers’ licenses, ownership titles, and insurance. We wanted our car to be solid, unquestionable, and safe. Why?

We were driving to Laos.

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Charting our route on Google Maps makes it look a bit intimidating. In hindsight, it isn’t. Beforehand, it totally was.

Laos is pretty easy to cross into, so long as you have a Passport, patience, and money. We have heard horror stories of border crossings—people paying $10 to some guy who has to “sanitize their tires”, paying $3 to get their temperature taken or face quarantine, people stuck at borders for hours… we didn’t really know what to expect.

When we got there, it was fairly painless. There was a visa fee, a few “overtime” charges, and some random fees for the car. I had to gulp down my frustration, but after about an hour or two, we were flying through Laos with the wind in our hair.
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As we drove up to Laos, we stopped at a little place called the “Mekong Bird Lodge” in Stung Treng, Cambodia. You can’t see it on the map above, but we followed the Mekong River all the way from Phnom Penh up to the farthest point of our journey in Laos. It is a huge—and long—river!

I really liked the Mekong Bird Lodge. It was the perfect stopping point. Sean and I soaked up a few views on the balcony of our $15 lodging.
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There are two things you can be sure of in rural Cambodia: potholes and roosters. Sean much enjoys taking photos of the latter.
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At the end of our first driving day, we had a relaxing evening overlooking the Mekong.

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A pretty unbelievable dinner table. I had heard the sunsets in Cambodia were divine, but I had no idea.

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In the morning at the Mekong Bird Resort. I loved how leafy everything was!

IMG_7383After we passed into Laos, our first stop was at Khone Phapheng Waterfall. It is the highest volume waterfall in Southeast Asia.

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The region on the border of Cambodia and Laos is called the area of “4,000 Islands”. As you can see, there really are a lot of islands—and these are just big enough to warrant a drawing on Google Maps! In reality, there ARE thousands, especially in the dry season. Khone Phapheng Waterfall is right on the border of Cambodia and Laos, where the Mekong loses elevation as it tumbles into Cambodia.
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There was a really cute garden area set up around the falls. I loved how everything was constructed out of wood. It was so natural and organic. I hate it when property is sold around a beautiful area and the natural flora gets completely razed to build some hideous all-inclusive resort.

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Plumeria is everywhere.

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Here I am in front of one part of Khone Phapheng. It’s very deceiving to get a good picture of it—it’s the highest volume falls, but by no means the tallest. It stretches very wide, but not tall. And I never said the Mekong was blue…

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As you can see, the waterfall just riddled the land with islands, rocks, cervices. It is all-encompassing.

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Me catching up to Anna and Chino at Khone Phapheng.

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You can get a good feel for the swollen, flooded explosion of the falls here.

After we left Khone Phapheng, it was a short drive north to Ban Nakaseng. There we would park our car and catch a boat onto one of the 4,000 Islands, Don Det.


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As we neared the shore of Don Det, we realized it was the perfect choice. There are a few bungalows on many of the islands, but Don Det was beautiful, and so, so laid back.

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So laid back in fact, that Anna, Kampot and I floated around the Mekong for hours, struck by the siren calls of Don Det. I never wanted to leave! (Maybe it was the Beer Lao talking.)
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The bungalows we found on Don Det were perfect. They were called “Mr Tho’s Bungalows”, and had everything we needed—and we didn’t need much! Just a hammock, a place to rinse the sand off our feet, and a fan by the bedside.

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We had so much fun strolling the island of Don Det. This is a Laotian family’s yard. How many animals can you spy?

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We decided to have a drink and play cards on the sunset side of the island in the evening. It was beautiful!

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Ah, yes, the wandering buffalo. From a gift shop in Wall, South Dakota, to Laos.

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As the night rolled on, we learned a few new card games, ate some delicious spring rolls and curry, and spent the whole evening laughing and enjoying each others’ company.

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In the morning we rented bicycles and cycled the island of Don Det.

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We found some men watching (or staging, more likely) a cockfight.

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There was a bridge, linking Don Det to Don Khone, which made for the perfect resting place.

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Anna and I found a lone piglet!

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Cycling through the rice fields of Don Det.

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Sean made a friend…

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And then he made more friends…

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The bicycle path was really just through paddy fields… it was something out of a day dream.

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Next time you eat your stir fry with a side of rice, think of me.

Categories: Laos | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Ingredients For A Mind-Blowing Hike

There are two kinds of people in the world. Camping people and non-camping people. I swear. Think about it. Are you a “camping person”? Is your best friend a “camping person”? I have met people who would rather get a speeding ticket than spend an evening in a tent. And non-camping people, well, they talk about camping like it is sent straight from the realm of satan to punish humankind. You never hear a non-camping person say, “It’s not that bad, but I prefer hotels. But I could go either way, really.”

What do hear is, “Last time I went camping, man, I was swept away in a monsoon, broke my iPhone, and sprained a muscle in my back. Never again.”

Or, “Oh, God! Camping? You all are crazy. Camping is the worst. Like, really. I feel bad for you that you subject yourself to bug bites, sunburn, and no respite from the elements. Have fun.”

Or, “Have you seen Deliverance? No thanks.”

They view “camping people” as mentally-unstable fools, searching for a Shangri-La they will never find.

Or, whacky NPR-listeners, hammock-swingers, plaid-wearers, pack-out-your-own-poo-in-a-bio-degradable-bag campers.

But maybe I’m wrong. But I like to think of the division this way—it’s mildly amusing to me. For a more complete list of the “types of campers”, click here.

You’re probably wondering, “Kim, what does this have to do with Cambodia?” If you remember the end of my last post, I promised you the secret to a mind-blowing hike. You see, as I am of the “I sincerely enjoy camping” type, I connect camping and hiking with the similar traits.

So, if you love camping, and equally love hiking, you are in for a vicarious treat.

If you hate camping and hiking, prepare yourself to enter the world of Alfred Hitchcock and his many horrors.

I’m not going to lie, this hike was brutal. Brutal in a way I have never experienced before. Normally, people classify a difficult hike by the following:

– elevation gained/lost

– rain/snow

– difficulty of terrain

– trail condition

– length

–  your personal physical fitness

Well, when Sean and I chose to hike in Koh Kong, I had to throw all that criteria out the window.

What classifies a difficult hike in Cambodia?

– leeches

– leeches

– complete absence of a trail 

– spiders

– crawling on all fours 

– wading through water

– leeches

– suffocating humidity

– leeches

– leeches

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We were clearly underprepared. Our shipment from Kuwait hasn’t arrived yet, so we were tramping through the forest in our beach gear. The guys at the lodge told me to wear socks. I didn’t get it. They said, “Oh, socks and sandals. Perfect. The best prevention for leeches.”

I thought—You’re kidding.

They then proceeded to take this picture of us, saying, “You need a ‘before’ photo.” 

I thought—It’s a small hike, guys. Five hours. Get over it.

I have never been more wrong.

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To begin, we start climbing up a 45 degree angle. Maybe 60. Needless to say, it was hand-over-foot. It was slide-back-down-with-every-step. I felt like Prince Charming, climbing Rapunzel’s tower through a ravine of twisted vines, if you took him out of a fairy-tale and put him into Dante’s Inferno.


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And then began the leeches. Sean took this picture at our first resting place when he removed his socks and shoes. The leeches aren’t like American leeches—these guys are thin, wiry things that jump on you with such tenacity that they are impossible to prevent.The rise up from the forest floor, wave their body around in the air, searching for carbon dioxide, temperature, and movement. When they smell these three things, I kid you not, they crawl at you at a scarily quick speed. Once they’re on your skin, the sucker on, and you have to pull them off. But when you pull them off, they attach to your other hand. Then you convulse into a hand-flinging-and-whining frenzy, trying to get this possessed leech off your body. There were countless times on the hike that Sean just stopped turning around when I would cry out, “Oh! No! Agh! Oh! Ee! Ow! Agh! No! No! No! Stop it!” It became a usual occurrence. Sean would calmly pull them off, calling out, “Sixteen.” “Seventeen.” Whatever tally he was at. Why is he bleeding so profusely in the above photo? You see, when leeches bite you, they inject an anti-coagulant into your bloody that allows your blood to flow freely. Leeches can then suck up to fifteen times their body weight in blood.

The shocker, if it hasn’t come already, is the sheer number of leeches that attached to us on the hike.

By the end, I had 32 leeches.

Sean had 33.

We started counting after we had gotten four bites in the first ten minutes of the hike. It really detracted from our ability to relax. But it made us hike faster…

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However, I’d hate to underscore the beauty of the Cambodian jungle. (This could probably be  better classified as a bamboo forest.) We saw oodles of wild mushrooms.
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More wild mushrooms.

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My favorite of the mushrooms we found.
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At one point we came to a riverbed that we could walk up. Leech city.

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Here I am, lost in the jungle ahead of Sean.  You can’t stop long to take a picture because the leeches will crawl up to you and attach themselves.

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Then this guy showed up. He was monstrous. The size of your whole hand—fingers included. I didn’t want to stop for the picture, in case he had hidden jumping abilities.

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Finally, we got to resting place number one. The bend in the river. It was a sanctuary of peace. There were no leeches! We could lay out, swim, relax, and play around on the rocks.


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This first resting place was a bend in the river with the perfect swimming hole. It was as if God had opened up the heavens.
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It was a beautiful place to play. We were able to breathe deeply again, out of the suffocating heat of the jungle.
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Here is  a leech I found on the bottom of my shoe, as we were gearing up to head back out on our hike. Nasty creatures. Right now, in this photo, he is doing that “smelling for a body” thing I was talking about. Then he would inch-worm himself around, until he found his victim. Ugh.

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Then we came to places where we had to wade through water. My shoes became a wet sponge. I was delirious by this point.

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As we reached our final destination, I was hot, hungry, tired, and out of water. But was it worth it?

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Totally.

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We found a shaded grotto in the waterfall and froze time for about an hour.

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Then, I guess the hike WASN’T as rough as I’m making it out to be, as a boat met us at the waterfall to take us home. Our friends opted out of the hike (they’d been here before) and took the boat up the river to meet us at the falls.

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Saying goodbye to the Tatai Waterfalls…

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Biscuit had quite a relaxing day.

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Along the river on the way back, we marveled at the thick of the jungle.

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We could now fathom the density of the forest. We crawled through it, swam in it, tramped under it, really got to know it inside and out. It was beautiful.

Then it was time to head home. We loaded up into Anna and Chino’s car and began the drive back to Phnom Penh. But like I said, an adventure is not an adventure without….

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Car problems.

Alas, everyone was a great sport, and after a few card games on the side of the road, everybody was mobile again.

It was the trip of a lifetime, and all in a mere three days.

If you ever plan to hike the Cambodian jungle, send me an email. I’ll give you some pointers.

Categories: Cambodia | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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