Safari, freedom, and bungee in Africa

As a teenager, I would watch a show called Big Cat Diary. Safari master Jonathan Scott would scoot around in his 4×4 safari vehicle and document the lives of lions, leopards, and cheetahs in the Masai Mara Game Reserve in Kenya.

I told myself before I died, I needed to get to Africa on safari. I had no idea I would check it off my bucket list at just 26 years old.

Okavango Delta

Blood

My safari experience started in northwestern Botswana. The Okavango Delta is one of the natural-occurring wonders in the whole world. Every year, rains from Angola flood previously-dry channels and the flow makes its way south. Due to tectonic plate shifts over time, the rainwater pools in present-day Okavango Delta. I went in March, so the Delta was not flooded. This gave me a unique chance to go on many walking, driving, and helicopter safaris.

Xigera Camp

The first camp I went to was Xigera (Key-Juhr-Uh) in the Moremi Game Reserve. The first thing I noticed upon arrival was the friendliness of the staff. From the manager, Quest, to my safari master, Wise, a sense of community and family could be felt every day. I immediately felt a part of this family and spent time with both Quest and Wise to learn more about their way of life and their past. It was rewarding, indeed.

From Maun – the main airport nearest the Okavango – we took a chartered flight to Xigera and upon landing found a nice little surprise:

Lion.jpg

A sleepy lioness was waiting for us once as we touched down, and this photo was the first one I snapped on safari. After I got situated in the tent-style accommodations I’d be staying in for the next two nights, we loaded up the Toyota 4×4 and went on our first game drive in the Delta. Today’s star of the show: leopard cub.

Leopard1.jpg

This was the second cat I saw and my second favorite of the trip. My favorite was this lovely lady’s brother, who can be seen as the premier photo on this post. Wise told us that the cubs’ mother was spotted nearby two nights back with both cubs. We arrived at the spot to find only the female cub. Wise guessed the mother was out hunting and that the brother was close by. He was right.

An elephant trumpeted a warning call behind us as I was taking the above picture, and I yelled out “Holy shit” pretty loud. I had never seen an elephant in the wild before and it had crept up behind us. The bull wasn’t too pumped that we were there so we gave him space and went to look for other animals.

Elephant

The Moremi Game Reserve is known for its impalas, kudus, and other species of antelope. Wildebeest readily grazed the planes with zebra, and hundreds of species of birds could be heard every moment. I fell asleep to the sounds of lions and the thoughts of the next day’s impending adventure.

Impala.jpg

Eagle Island Camp

Helicopters, mokoros, and rovers, oh my!

Eagle Island is an upscale lodge in the heart of the Okavango. At one point, a fully grown elephant came within five feet of me while chomping down some brush. I had my own apartment, plunge pool, and bathtub.

But that’s not what made this place special.

Upon disembarking our charter flight from Xigera to Eagle Island, we settled into our accommodations for the night and hopped in the Land Rover in the morning. Our first sighting? A pack of wild dogs.

Our new safari guide, Mo, said he hadn’t seen the pack in over a month. The endangered species was quite an awesome sight to see.

Dogs

Traveling to the other side of the world transcends you into different cultures, foods, and ideas while dealing with local people and their histories. You throw yourself into a different place and traveling like this forces you to be in the present.

“Worrying about the past is pointless, and worrying about tomorrow takes away from the beauty of today!”

There is just something about seeing the tallest mammal in the world walking past you 20 feet away to make you get goosebumps. I found the giraffe to be the most majestic of all the animals I saw. These friendly creatures could be seen dotted along the plains nibbling on greens at the tops of trees.

Giraffe

A magnificent part of my trip to Africa was the opportunity to go on a helicopter safari. Seeing the delta from up above gave me such a unique perspective of the landscape and geography.

Heli.jpg

After getting back down to Earth, we hopped back into the rover and backtracked to inspect a single hippo in a single small pond. Mo said it was likely that the hippo was forced out of the pod, and definitely wasn’t too pumped to see us.

Hippo

We had a wonderful opportunity to visit a local village in the Okavango – one of two left in existence. The people make their houses out of clay and aluminum cans. As the cans were spread about the village grounds, I asked Mo why. He said the children play with the cans in the streets and that they are also used in the construction of walls. The huts were all one room, with no electricity or drinkable water.

All the money the village received was from tourists such as myself coming into the village and buying souvenirs. Of course, I got one.

To see how these people live further opened my eyes to well off I have it in America.

Hey.jpg

Victoria Falls

For those of you that aren’t aware, Victoria Falls straddles the border of Zambia and Zimbabwe just northeast of Botswana. The Falls are the largest in the world based on cubic flow. The amount of water that falls from the Zambezi River per second into the Batoka Gorge 364 feet down equals the amount of water New York City uses in one day. Re-read that if you need to.

The first morning I woke up in Zambia, we went to nearby Mosi-o-Tunya National Park in search of the elusive white rhino. What a trek.

Rhinos

After three hours of walking with our guide “Skinny” and Mike the government official with the gun, we still had not seen a rhino. We had seen plenty of bugs and scenery that made me feel like I was in the Vietnam War, but no rhinos. Finally, a guide on the other side of the park radioed Skinny and told us there had been a sighting. We blazed down the road and found this mom/daughter combo:

Rhino.jpg

With this sighting, I was able to accomplish the rare feat of seeing the “Big 5” on my first safari. The Big 5 includes Lion, Leopard, Elephant, Cape Buffalo and Rhino.

Bungee

When I was approached with the opportunity of bungee jumping Victoria Falls, it intrigued me. It also terrified me. Fear is one of the greatest deterrents to personal growth. If I am to complete my goal of traveling around the world, I need to get over the fear of the unknown. I decided that if it was my time to go, I’d rather hang out in the Zambezi River than in a bed when I’m 80 anyway. I took the leap.

And I’m so glad I did.

The feeling of freefall wasn’t as scary as I thought it would be. It was the initial anticipation of putting my feet over the ledge 364 feet above crocodile-infested waters in the middle of Africa. After a nice 5-4-3-2-1- BUNGEE countdown, I flung myself off the bridge into the Batoka Gorge. What a rush.

I knew that I would regret not jumping the whole way 44 hours back to the USA, so I took a deep breath and just went for it. I recommend bungee jumping for anyone that feels hindered by mental restrictions. Calculated risk can be a great growth tool.

I was on a natural high for days afterward, and the view of the Batoka Gorge on the way back up was something I will not soon forget.

Traveling makes the soul full

At the end of the day, we are all humans. Politics, agendas, wars, and society like to strip us of that basic fact. When I travel, I love to meet and learn from other people. This trip was to the other side of the world, and I fully immersed myself into it.

Skin.jpg

You are forced to live in the present when you travel. If you don’t why bother? Turn off your email, Facebook messenger, and just let go a little bit. There’s more to this life than your cubicle. Go find it.

Next stop, Iceland.

 

Advertisements

10 destinations to pique your wanderlust

The following destinations are places that will give you an experience you will never forget and will get you in the right mindset to see more of this world.

As an aspiring digital nomad, going online to find cheap flights around the world has been somewhat of a hobby of mine for the last four or five years. There’s something exciting about picking your route around the globe and knowing that yes, you could actually see all of the places of your dreams if you just took the leap.

“It’s not about how many breaths we take, but about the moments that take our breath away.”

Learn how to become location independent like me and be able to travel the world!

Marrakesh, Morocco

Medina
Jemaa el-Fnna at nighttime. Photo by USA Today.

Located at the foot of the Atlas Mountains in the western African nation of Morocco lies the historic and mysterious Marrakesh – the county’s fourth-largest city.

Marrakesh’s medina – the historic and traditional Arab quarter of town – is littered with authentic and near-ancient gardens, courtyards, and millennia-old architecture. Colors splash from all sides and visitors won’t need to look far for local cuisine or gifts.
Head to Jemaa el-Fnaa, the country’s most popular marketplace, for an Arab experience you won’t soon forget.

Wind your way through the cobbled streets of this preserved area, and you’ll find yourself wondering if you got stuck in a time machine.

  • Europeans or people currently in Europe countries have it the easiest when traveling to Marrakesh. Many nonstop flights are available from major cities across the continent.
  • If you’re coming from North America, find a connecting flight into Boston, Newark, or Miami and take off from across the pond from there. Flying out of JFK or Laguardia in New York City can be a hassle, but can save you money, too.
  • Getting to Marrakesh from Asia on the cheap can be tough. Try the Bangkok, Hong Kong or Singapore airport hubs for the best rates.
  • For my friends down in South America, flying into Marrakesh is going to be the cheapest from Brazil. Take an intercontinental flight into Rio de Janiero or Sao Paulo first before traveling to Africa!

I like authentic and cultural immersion experiences when I travel. AirBNB is a great way to do this (I am not affiliated with AirBNB in any way, shape, or form.)

Check out this sweet suite!

Best time to go: March-April; September-November. Best for cultural immersion

El Chalten, Argentina

El Chalten is the gateway to some of the most breathtaking glacial mountain views on Planet Earth. Just 10 miles east of the Chilean border, El Chalten makes for a great base to explore Torres Del Paine National Park to the south and the lesser-known Bernardo O’Higgins National Park to the west.

TDP
Credit

Set in the Andes Mountain Range, glacial runoff from mountain peaks creates lakes all hues of blue and green. Hire a boat to take you through the Chilean fjords for a unique view of the nature surrounding you, or lace up the hiking boots and do one of the most famous hikes in the southern hemisphere, Mirador Las Torres.

The photos remind me of Glacier National Park, only on the other side of the globe.

AirBNB: Fork over the extra dough for this place at the base of Fitz Roy.

Best time to go: November-March. Best for exploring raw wilderness.

Palawan, Philipines

Close your eyes. Fasten an invisible and imaginary snorkeling mask over your face. Without opening your eyes, envision crystal clear waters with no sediment blocking your view as you eye fish of all colors and sizes. Picture tropical fish all colors of the rainbow from the internet.

Now imagine if this didn’t have to be a dream or a fake scenario. Get to the island of Palawan in the Philipines and this can be yours! This is the type of destination where time goes slow, and the fun exceeds expectations. Shipwrecks, reefs, and incredible flora and fauna seen nowhere else in the world can all be yours.

Palawan
Credit

Dubbed the best island in the world by Travel and Leisure, Palawan’s gorgeous waters can be seen from space and is a great destination for beachgoers if you have already been to or are looking for a different culture than the Caribbean.

Some of the biggest hubs in SE Asia are Bangkok, Hong Kong, Singapore, Manila, Kuala Lumpur, Denpasar, and Taipei. Get yourself to one of those airports from wherever you are and take a cheap flight into Puerto Princesa (nonstop from Manila, Singapore).

As I’ve said above, I am a huge fan of AirBNB to get an authentic, cultural experience. Not only can you live like a local, but you can be in the midst of the local traditions as well. Hit up this one, this one, or this one.

Best time to go: October-June. Best for water activities and beaches.

Kathmandu, Nepal

For many adventurists, extremists, and people interested near the highest peak of them all, getting to Mount Everest is as high on the bucket list as you can go. In order to get to base camp, or even to start the climb all the way to the APEX of the highest place on Planet Earth, you need to get to Nepal in the heart of the Himalayan Mountain Range.

I won’t tell you that attempting to summit Everest without the proper conditioning or training is a good idea, although I know that many of you may someday aspire to reach the peak of the world. In order to do so, you’ll need to make your way to the northern end of the Indian subcontinent in central Asia.

Everest
Credit

Getting to Everest will best be done from the entry point of Kathmandu. Take public transport or a guide to the best viewing point of the massive crag, which actually makes berth in the Chinese province of Tibet.

The cheapest way to get to Kathmandu is through Dubai. It is easy to get a cheap flight into Dubai and through to Kathmandu from Europe, but harder from the Americas. Expect to pay at minimum $800 one way to get to central Asia from the Americas. Same basic principle applies from Asia: Bangkok, Singapore, Taipei, or Hong Kong will be your best departure points for access to the beautiful Himalayas.

Check out some of these crazy awesome AirBNB’s in Nepal for your base camp to base camp.

Best time to go: September-November. Best for cultural immersion, mountain scenery

Lofoten, Norway

When I was sitting in front of the most beautiful mountain I had ever seen in the Swiss Alps in the Summer of 2017, I heard an older gentleman exclaim that the Alps were indeed the second most beautiful mountain range in Europe – and much more expensive to boot. He said to his comrade at the time; “Switzerland is just the southern Norway.”

Lofoten
Credit

Following photographers based in the northern Norweigan archipelago of Lofoten has become somewhat of an addiction since then. The deep fjords filled with dark blue water looks like a painting. The peaks that jut out of the water seem surreal and can be seen as far as the eye can see.

I think Lofoten would be best seen as a larger tour of Norway itself, but I’m not naive enough to assume everyone has two months to go exploring this beautiful place at a slow pace. My recommendation is to rent a car from Tromso near the Arctic circle and drive to Lofoten at your own pace. Make sure to stop in Hennigsvaer to see one of the most unique soccer pitches in the world, and to Reine for one of the best reflection shots you’ll ever hope to see.

Your best bet to get to Tromso on the cheap is to go to Norweigan Airlines‘ website and find a flight through the capital, Oslo. You can even get the rental car on that site, no problem! Although I am indeed a travel agent, I am in no way affiliated with Norweigan Airlines.

This, though. Sleep here.

Best time to go: April-September for daylight; November-February for Northern Lights.

Zion National Park, Utah, United States

Whereas I have not been to the above destinations, and they are instead bucket list places I someday aspire to get to, I have actually been to Zion National Park on two occasions and would go again without a moment’s hesitation if the opportunity presented itself.

In the summer of 2015, my brother Michael and I went on a western United States National Park tour. We visited seven national parks in 17 days and hiked nearly 100 miles of trails. Our first stop was Zion National Park. From my hometown of Wenatchee, Washington, we drove the 18 hours all the way to southern Utah in one day. We finally arrived in a small town called Hurricane and promptly passed out of exhaustion. What awaited us in the morning was my first interaction with the canyon.

Z.jpg

The view seen above is one of the two absolutely must-dos on any trip to the park: Angel’s Landing. A video of the treacherous hike can be seen here and will make you feel one of two ways: jacked, or terrified. I’ve done Angel’s Landing twice and I would do it again. If you are afraid of heights, get out of your comfort zone! So long as you carry out common sense and don’t flail your body around in strange ways, you will absolutely be fine on this hike.

The second must-do is the Zion Narrows. Head over to Springdale, the small community that borders Zion canyon to the west, and stop at one of the Narrows outfitters to pick up your walking stick, water wicking socks, and shoes.

The hike through the Zion Narrows is in water and is one of the most amazing experiences in Utah. Coupled with the beautiful orange cliffs and a rich history, Zion is my favorite National Park in the western United States.

Best time to go: March-September. Best for exploration and wonder.

Zion Narrows
Credit

Nairobi, Kenya

Have you ever thought of going on an African safari? Think it’s impossible. Well, it’s not! Of course, you get what you pay for but hop a flight to Nairobi and there are plenty of low-cost safari outfitters to get you access to some of the best Game Reserves on Planet Earth.

Go in August-November to catch a glimpse of the biggest migration on Earth – the stampeding wildebeest. Think the opening scenes in the Lion King, but without the animation.

Maasai
Credit

Nearly everyone has heard of Serengeti National Park in Tanzania, but perhaps less well known is the Maasai Mara Game Reserve in southwestern Kenya. The Maasai is a triangular stretch of savannah that boasts some of the best wildlife sightings on the planet. Check out Big Cat Diary for any additional motivation.

Maasai Game Camp.

Best time to go: March-June; September-November. Best for wildlife.

Bagan, Myanmar

I first found out about the temples of Bagan from Anthony Bourdain and his show on CNN called Parts Unknown and I haven’t been able to shake it since.

The journey to Bagan is arduous. It is difficult to get a visa for the newly-opened-to-tourists country of Myanmar, and the easiest and most cost-effective entry point to the place formerly known as Burma is through its capital of Yangon, in the southern part of the country. The journey is perhaps best done on an overnight commuter train through the rolling countryside of Myanmar, but the trip is a long and rickety one.

Bagan.jpg
Credit

Once to the land of the thousand temples, rent a bike from one of the local shops, sign up for a morning hot air balloon ride, or find an empty temple and soak in your surroundings. It’s unlikely you’ll find much cell service here, and that’s pretty much the beauty of it.

If you want to be within smelling distance of the temples, stay here for the best experience.

Best time to go: November-February. Best for religious exploration and aesthetic beauty .

Vik, Iceland

Iceland is the place where you go to feel like you have somehow been transported off Earth and into a different realm. The setting for some of JRR Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings films, Iceland has some of the most unique terrain in the world. This place is easily and cheaply accessible from Europe and the United States, and notoriously difficult to get to from SE or Central Asia. If coming from the eastern part of the globe, search Emirates and Icelandair first.

Vik
Credit

Vik is on the eastern side of the island and is best known for its stunningly-unique black beaches. The landscape is dramatic everywhere you look, but Vik is especially strange. Couple a tour to Vik with National Geographic’s top trek in the world, the Laugavegur Trek, and you’ll have an experience to talk with your grandchildren about when you are 80 years old on a rocking chair.

Rent a car through Auto Europe for the best prices and flexibility, and drive until you can’t drive anymore. Get this whole yurt near the water for your stay.

Best time to go: June-October. Best for untamed beauty and backpacking expeditions.

Banff/Jasper National Parks, British Columbia, Canada

Last but certainly not least is the rugged National Parks of Banff and Jasper in the Canadian Rockies. If you like fresh mountain air, stunning vistas, and shopping, this is the place for you. The small town of Banff has upscale shopping for its visitors with stunning mountain peaks as its backdrop.

The two parks are combined by the Icefields Parkway – a highway that winds its way through the Rockies and is flanked by glaciers of all shapes and sizes – and can be done in a day, even with stopping at all the jaw-dropping vistas.

Don’t miss Moraine and Peyto Lakes, you’ll be glad you didn’t. The following photos are from my own camera, and let me tell you, if I can get decent photos of this place, so can you!

Peyto (1)

Moraine2

Rent a car in Calgary and make sure you have at least a week budgeted for this once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Best time to go: June-October. Best for: Mountain, lake, and waterfall landscapes

Think I missed one?

Let me know by commenting below or tagging me in a post on Instagram @davidheiling