Sep 292011
 

So, having survived bungee, I was up for whitewater rafting. What they don’t tell you in advance is that the Zambezi is the most technical/difficult commercially-raftable river in the world. Oh well, go big or go home! No point in doing things halfway.

There were three rafts on our trip, and they sorted us out…and I’m pretty sure they did a quick “look and pick” thing, because we ended up in the raft of the most adventurous people on the trip by far. It’s all good – in retrospect we had an amazing adventure, and got…um…up close and personal with the river. The videographer even named our raft the “Zambezi Swim Team” Hah!

There were eight people to a raft (plus one guide) and we definitely had a great group in our raft. So what if every time we were given a choice we went for the more difficult side of the rapid, and more often than not ended up upside down and halfway down the river ūüėČ

There were about 18 rapids in total, and the total trip was nearly four hours with a great BBQ at the end. Unfortunately, about 8-10 rapids in we went down hard and I was under for a good 20-30 seconds and ended up losing my shoes. This was fine, until the end of the trip when we had to walk up the side of the canyon to get out. A 25-30 minute walk straight uphill on rocks which had been baked by the sun. I think my poor foot is still a little burnt and sore!

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Sep 292011
 

Yes, I know I’ve gotten a little more than a bit behind…but the trip was just too much fun, and I was too tired at the end of each day to keep posting. I promise to catch up!

For now, a little teaser! My jump of the Victoria Falls Bridge between Zambia and Zimbabwe…I was absolutely terrified! Be sure to watch past the 2 minute mark to really get a perspective of the canyon.

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Sep 132011
 

Taxi to the Le Meridien hotel was pretty uneventful, except for a driver who definitely had several screws loose.  He had the radio in his car maxed out on volume, and was driving like he was determined to get somewhere quickly Рwhere I have absolutely no idea, but we made it to the hotel by 4pm with little drama.

We got to the room, and Matt had arranged for them to have a cake delivered.¬†¬† He mentioned the reason for the trip, and for some strange reason they decided to wish me a happy early birthday.¬† Odd, but it’s the thought that counts!

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Sep 132011
 

After checking in, we grabbed a quick coffee in the Sheraton lounge before meeting the driver we had arranged to take us on a day-long trip around the highlights of Bogotá.  He showed up on time, wearing a suit, and the car was clean despite not having functional seatbelts.  His English was excellent, however, which added to how much we got out of the tour.  The first stop was the nearly one hour drive north of Bogotá to see the town of Zipaquira and the salt cathedral that was built there.

Zipaquira is a functioning salt mine, and the miners had built this cathedral underground as a place to pray for their safety and such.¬† There were some quite obtuse “stations of the cross” at the beginning, and the actual cathedral further in.¬† We had paid for the mine entrance plus the “Miners Route” tour.¬† One word of advice – skip the miners route.¬† All it is is fumbling around in the dark and pretending you’re a miner – pretty lame and a waste of 30 minutes.¬† The cathedral was awesome to see, however.

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Sep 082011
 

The next morning it was up early for our daytrip to Maracas Bay. ¬†Maracas Bay is located about 45 minutes drive north of Port of Spain, over some low mountains on some pretty windy roads. ¬†Fortunately, our driver showed up on time (no small feat considering the difficulty we’d had getting everything sorted) and with a relatively good car. ¬†He was a cheerful and talkative guy, so everything was going well. The drive was pretty uneventful, and we stopped a few times along the way in the mountains where there were some good scenic outlooks both over the countryside below as well as over the Caribbean in some places.

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Sep 032011
 

We ended up sleeping in a little bit, and sitting around the pool taking it easy before heading to the airport for our early afternoon flight to Port-of-Spain, Trinidad and Tobago. ¬†Initially, when we were looking at this ticket on LIAT‘s website, it was around $100 one way plus another $150 or so in taxes and fees. ¬†When I came back a week later to buy it, however, it only charged me the $100 with no taxes! ¬†So, I was definitely expecting some drama at the airport.

Got to the airport plenty early, and being another prop plane they made us check our rolling bags. ¬†No big deal, was nice not to have to roll them through security and around the airport anyways. ¬†Through check-in, no issues at all, and was thinking maybe we’d get lucky! ¬†However, right before security was the “airport improvement fee” desk. ¬†They hit us for around $28 each in fees which was still much better than we were expecting to pay, so all in all a pretty big win!

We stopped for a bit in the Plesman Lounge (courtesy of Priority Pass) which wasn’t good for much more than spotty internet, a diet coke, and some potato chips. ¬†Oh well, better than waiting it out at the gate!

There was some real concern about when this flight left.  Our booking said 13:00, boarding passes said 12:40, and the gate display said 13:15.  Nobody seemed to really know!  Regardless, we started boarding just before 12:30 and were off before 1.

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Sep 032011
 

The Hilton is located a few miles out of the main part of Willemstad, the capital of Curaçao, and on a Sunday evening there was no way to get there other than taking a taxi Рso we had the Hilton call one, and managed to make it to the downtown area in 15 minutes or so.  We had the driver drop us on the Otrobanda side of the city so we could walk into the main area across one of the two big bridges.

There are two main bridges crossing the St Anna Bay which divides the two main districts of the historical town centre: ¬†Otrobanda (where we were dropped off) and Punda on the other side. ¬†The pedestrian bridge is known as the Queen Emma Bridge, and is nicknamed “The Swinging Old Lady” because when boats pass the bridge actually swings sideways to open up! ¬† ¬†The other bridge is the Queen Juliana Bridge, which is the highest bridge in the Caribbean and is vehicle traffic only.

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Sep 022011
 

The airport in Bonaire is pretty strange – check-in is under a roof, but there are no walls – it’s an open-air check-in area. ¬†Check-in however was very quick and nothing terribly exciting. ¬†We opted to wait in a cafe that at least had a mild breeze to cut the hot temps outside which was better than nothing. ¬†In retrospect, we should definitely have gone straight through security to the gate, since the one-room gate area was air conditioned and nice and cool!

Boarding was roughly on-time and soon we were on the plane for the short 15 minute or so flight between Bonaire and Curacao.

Insel Air Flight 306
Bonaire (BON) to Curacao (CUR)
Depart 11:40, Arrive 12:15 – arrived 10 minutes early
Fokker F-50 Prop Plane, Registration PJ-KVG, Manufactured 1991
Seats 1A and 1C

This flight featured open seating, so we made sure to be first on board to grab a decent seat. Not that it mattered for such a short flight, but was still nice to be in the bulkhead row. It was a short flight of 15 minutes tops, and I was surprised we actually went up to 6,000 feet for the short hop. Soon we were in Curacao, through immigration and to the hotel.

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Sep 012011
 

After arriving in Bonaire, and a quick trip through immigration and customs and we headed to the taxi rank and grabbed the world’s largest taxi (basically a minivan) to our hotel. ¬†Bonaire uses the US Dollar, so that made things much easier. ¬†$10 and five minutes later, we were checking in at the Divi Flamingo Beach Hotel. ¬†First impressions? ¬†The staff basically seemed bothered to have us there, and every question was met with “I don’t know” or “I don’t think so” – definitely not a very helpful bunch. ¬†The location was great, however, and the property was clean so I can’t really complain for a beach hotel. Perhaps the strangest part is that all of the water in the rooms – from the shower to the tap water – tasted very strongly of sulfur. Strange, but not that annoying.

Room was good, clean, and ice cold (very important to me in tropical climes) and the next mission was to find out about possible snorkeling trips. It took several phone calls and visits to various places on the property, but we eventually learned there was a 2pm scuba and snorkeling trip headed out from the dive shop for a very reasonable price…score!

We wandered the town for a bit looking for lunch but struck out every place we tried. It seems most restaurants are only open for dinner since the divers that come to Bonaire like to stay close to the hotel (and dive sites) during the day. We ended up on the hotel restaurant which turned out to be good because it was on a patio looking right over the water, and we got to watch all sorts of bright tropical fish swim by in the clear blue water as we ate.

After lunch it was off to the boat and time for the adventure. We went maybe 10-15 minutes out from the island over to a reef just off the island of Klein Bonaire just a few kilometers away. It was the two of us and four people doing scuba, and the dive master gave us a one hour limit off the boat. It was actually blast being out there, and I was amazed at just how much (and how far) you can see in the crystal clear water. The highlight came about 10 minutes before we had to finish up when we spotted a giant sea turtle swimming by. Was very cool…and then just a few minutes later we spotted a huge lobster hiding under a group of coral…very awesome!

We chilled in the room for a bit in the afternoon, caught up on e-mails, and enjoyed the complimentary Cava and Chocolates the manager had delivered for my birthday. While the staff we came into contact with were mostly quite indifferent to helping, the manager and the folks in the dive shop were absolutely awesome! I also took a walk near the water to see what other sea creatures I could spot, and ended up watching a group of crabs for a bit.

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