September 02, 2020

Mozambique Island: Crossroads of Colonialism

Africa ›   Mozambique ›  

By David Z. From Toronto, Canada

Travel Stimulus Check Entry # 3 of 5

Our wooden dhow crosses into the channel as local entrepreneur Harry Potter sails us away from the island to enjoy a day of magical snorkeling in crystal clear waters. A seafood dinner cooked fresh on a deserted beach awaits us following an afternoon exploring the island's hidden treasures. Another day passes in this most tranquil of places - historic, charming, Mozambique Island located just off the coast of Africa in the Indian Ocean.

A UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1991, Mozambique Island is a crossroads of people from Africa, Europe and India (Goa), and headquarters of Portuguese colonialism for almost 400 years. Inhabited for centuries before the arrival of Vasco da Gama who claimed it for Portugal in 1498, the island’s mix of Swahili, Arab, and European history blend for the ages in architecture, food, and tradition.

While the whole island and town are truly precious, there are treasures from the past like the huge decaying Portuguese San Sebastian Fort started 1509 and the largest in Africa at the north end. In its shadow is the Capelade Nossa Senhora (Chapel of Our Lady) Baluarte - considered the oldest European building in the southern hemisphere.

As you explore the island further, you find The Governor’s Palace Museum that started out as a Jesuit college in the early 1600s and now displays the island's colonial history. The island has still more churches,and mosques to explore, with its great pier extending out into the channel, the ideal place to catch the daily, glorious African sunset with a cold beer and local seafood snack.

Connected to the mainland by a very interesting two-mile, one-lane bridge, the two-mile-long island is far from the capital Maputo. Once you make the effort to get here, you discover a great hideaway from the hustle of the mainland. Half of the island’s old colonial city has been beautifully reconstructed, though still rustic, while the rest remains in ruins, still waiting to emerge from the destruction of a civil war that saw the Portuguese withdraw in 1992.

With the red and orange sunlight still lingering in the clouds, it’s back to enjoy one of the various restaurants and hotels, each with their own local flair unique to the island. En route, I loved walking by the statue of Luís de Camöes, a Portuguese poet who lived and wrote here many centuries ago, inspiring my creativity. If only I, too, could spend two years here as he did, I would write and paint my stories.

Exploring further, you reach the local Macuti town in the southern half of the island. Formerly the source of labor and stone to construct the grand city of European power further north, today it is a bustling hub of local merchants and tradesman. The locals live an island life, finding sustenance from the sea, and the youth take to the streets in the evening.

Ultimately, we make our way back to a tranquil beach absorbing calming warm ocean breeze and colors, past the ancient cemetery, down quiet streets, savor a local Portuguese dinner of giant lobster prawn and experience a feeling of peace so rarely felt on the road. I pledge to return.

August 09, 2020

Ethiopia: The Land of the Ark of the Covenant

Africa ›   Ethiopia ›  

By Dr. Mark S.

Travel Stimulus Check Entry #2 of 5

(See Also Stopped Pick-Pocket #180: The Pick-Pocket Technique of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia)

Was it hidden? Was it captured? Or, as history tells us, it was moved for safety. King Solomon built a fantastic temple in Jerusalem over 3000 years ago. Then the Ark of the Covenant disappeared. Many stories have been written about the Ark and seeking to find it. This one is mine.

Legend tells us that the Ark was floated down the Nile river, and each night it was hidden on the hillside by the river, covered by the holy animal skins and cloth made for the transport of the Ark. The stories of history now place the Ark in one of the thousands of ancient churches of Ethiopia. Legend also retells the story that many duplicates of the original Ark were made and scattered in churches all over Ethiopia and into Eritrea to keep the location of the real Ark a complete secret. Priests have dedicated their entire lives to live at the church and protect the Ark. They are never permitted to look at it or allow others to view it, and to this very day, no one knows for sure if their church has a facsimile of the real Ark (if the real Ark is really inside any one of these churches or if it was lost to history.) Where is the real Ark? In which church is the real one or do hundreds of priests dedicate their lives to protecting a false Ark?

For 20+ years, I have traveled to this land and visited many churches and priests. They all have a magnificent story to tell. Did the real Ark ever leave Jerusalem on a journey down the river? Has it survived over two millennia of being hidden? Stories abound around Ethiopia on where the true Ark of Covenant might be. Every priest is sworn to secrecy, and they dedicate every day to live and protect their Ark... never knowing if they are protecting a false Ark or possibly the real Ark. These men do not know which Ark is hidden behind the veil of their church. Biblical accounts, the tales of history, legends, stories from childhood, and rumors of hope abound.

It is not uncommon to sit with a group of Ethiopians, to listen to the stories they have passed on for multitudes of generations and share a meal of genuine Ethiopian food as the stories come alive, the legends of miracles happening in each church that “just might” have the real Ark hidden behind the veil. Yet, no priest, no leader, no bishop will ever be bold enough to look under the veil and see if they have and protect the true Ark of antiquity. Moses built the Ark with his brother Aaron, King David danced in the front of the Ark, the Philistines stole the Ark, Solomon built the most glorious temple to hold the Ark. So is it in Ethiopia as the stories abound and are passed from generation to generation? Perhaps we will never know...

Behind the security built into Clothing Arts is also a traveler's peace. When you want to spend decades looking at church after church; knowing you will never be permitted to look behind the veil, there is a wonderful knowledge that security and peace of mind create a journey into another country, another culture, and into the world of antiquity... As I seek to find the history at each church, to sit and talk with the priests, some have worked together to try and pick my pocket. While generations have passed and Ethiopia has grown, some still have a way of finding the talent to lift a traveler's wallet. One youngster grabs your arm so hard you wince with pain, and they hope who will lose concentration over your wallet or papers or passport. Yet, never has a single pick-pocket been able to get inside a pocket and get my phone or wallet or passport. Thankfully the triple protection of your travel pants offers security and mind of peace on my quest for the Lost Ark!

April 26, 2020

Egypt: Life On The Nile

Africa ›   Egypt ›  

By Angel ​"The Travel Ambassador" Castellanos (

Every day on the Nile is a day frozen in time. The Ancient Temples of Karnak, Luxor, Edfu, Philae, and Abu Simbel make​ your childhood memories of hieroglyphics and the Ancient Egyptians come to life. The highlight for me was the ​​Edfu Temple, still mostly intact and physically imposing as it was in the days of the Pharaohs. Running around the Ancient Thebes Necropolis where the Valley of the Kings & Queens is located made my inner Indiana Jones come to life. Face to face with the tiny mummified body of the boy King Tutankhamun deep within his ornately painted tomb was like looking back 3000 years into the history of humanity.

As the Nile flows through Egypt, you close your eyes and wonder if you are living in the present or​ 2500 BC​. The majesty and stillness of the ancient river is seductive. Feluccas, the traditional boat of the Nile, drift by on the calm waters while farmers tend to their grazing livestock.

Each night the call to prayer creates a melodious cacophony of sound that echoes from village to village. Then the sun becomes a massive emblazoned orange fireball along the horizon, an iconic sunset shared between generations along the Nile.

We began our trip in Cairo. Egypt is a massive country and we spent 3 days in the capital. Staying on the island of Zamalek, or in any of the major hotels along the edge of the Nile, will offer views that will be branded into your memory. Plan on the first full morning exploring the oldest of the Seven Wonders of the World, the Pyramids of Giza. Our guide was sorted well ahead of time which made things a whole lot easier. We got an early start from the hotel to beat the heat and the crowds. Don’t forget your sunblock, plenty of water, and small bills for tipping. Our guide was invaluable in helping to navigate the large Giza plateau and brought ancient history to life.

​​Don't rush the experience. Kicking up sand by either horse or camel under the blazing morning sun is one of my favorite ways to explore this area. Take the time to touch, feel, and sit on one of the massive stone blocks that make up each structure. Let your mind try to grasp the expansive 4000-year history of the Pyramids.

The massive construction site near the Pyramids is the unmissable Grand Egyptian Museum (GEM). The brand new museum was set to open this year but it will likely not be ready until 2021. It is the largest cultural project in the Middle East. The new GEM will not only house all of the important treasures from the Egyptian Museum in central Cairo, but it will also display ancient treasures from all over Egypt. Some will be together for the first time.

Getting around Cairo is easy. The organized chaos that is intrinsic in the Middle East might be unnerving for those who are not prepared, but I relish in the unfamiliar and unknown. Uber is inexpensive in Cairo, limits how much cash you need to carry, and drivers tend to be reliable. As you zip across the city, do not miss the opportunity to stop in Tahrir Square, close to the big pink Egyptian Museum. It was the epicenter of the Egyptian Revolution of 2011 that became part of the Arab Spring. Today, the square is just a busy roundabout, and peaceful, just like any other busy square in the Arab world.

Egypt just gets better the further south you go. Luxor is the traditional jumping-off point to explore the South. Formerly Ancient Thebes, it is full of stories of Pharos, Queens, and Mummies surrounded by glistening gold treasure. Nothing really compares to the grandeur of the temples, monuments, and tombs that travelers can explore in southern Egypt, especially between Luxor and Aswan.

Getting to Luxor from Cairo is easy. Egypt Air has daily flights. I opted for the slow overnight train that typically departs at 7 pm and arrives in Luxor at 7 am. There are many 3-4 day cruises that sail between Luxor & Aswan. Various cruise ship companies, both local and international, sail this route. It’s one of the best price value propositions in Egypt to maximize budget and time. Most cruises offer the same packages that include: cabins with River views, full meals, fully guided excursions,​ and​ entrances to all of the main sites​.​

​​After dinner on the ship, I would go to the top deck and look up at the stars that light up the sky. I was not certain about what I would find in Egypt, but I had come face to face with a civilization that I had only read about in history books. The deep sense of the vast span of humanity was not lost on me as I made my through this ancient land. I went to bed each night ready for the sun to knock on my door and start another day where everything will be ​legendary.

May 15, 2019

Climbing Kilimanjaro: Travels in Africa & Kissing a Giraffe

Africa ›   Kilimanjaro ›   Tanzania ›  

By David ʻThornyʼ Hafner "All who wander are not lost... well, maybe sometimes."

From Stella Point, it was a fairly easy walk of 30 minutes to Uhuru Peak. If there is such a thing as an easy walk at 19,000 feet, to the very top of Kilimanjaro! Rising to 19,341 feet, a new altitude record for me, I put on my tuxedo jacket and took some photos.
​Itʼs always good to have a plan, that way, you know when things go​ ​amiss. ​The plan was to fly into Nairobi, Kenya, and spen​d​ a few days exploring the area​ ​before going on a photo safari to the Great Migration of the wildebeest herds in the​ ​Maasai Mara. After that, an independent climb up Mount Kenya in order to help​ ​acclimate for a climb to the roof of Africa, Mount Kilimanjaro​. ​
It started out well enough.

I arrived in Nairobi, took a cab to a nice hostel on the outskirts of the city, and then spent a few days exploring the sites. First was the Farm of Karen Blixen, the author of Out of Africa, one of my favorite books. Then the Railroad Museum, the highlight of which was the actual sleeping car where the man-eating lions of Tsavo​ crept into and​ ate the professional hunter that was using it to ambush the lions. You may remember this from the movie​, The Ghost in the Darkness. Next stop, safari.

The photo safari was absolutely amazing! The great wildebeest herds gathered at the river's edge and then suddenly plunged down the steep bank to the river below, and sw​am​ across the crocodile-infested water​, to the opposite side.

At times, I was merely a few feet away from the animals here and we got to see the Big 5​ - ​lion, leopard, rhinoceros, elephant, and buffalo.

I was fortunate enough to see several lions on a kill and extremely lucky to witness a mother cheetah and her cubs, stalk, chase, then devour an antelope.​This was just the beginning and it ​already was​ the trip of a lifetime​.​

Next up, I went back to Nairobi for a few days to prepare for my climb up Mount Kenya. Several of us who were staying at the hostel decided to visit the David Selkirk Elephant orphanage. The orphanage cares for young elephants and rhinos that have been orphaned by poachers. Each elephant is assigned several keepers, one of which is with the elephant 24 hours a day including sleeping in a stable with them. The goal of the orphanage is to rehabilitate the animals then find a wild herd that will accept them. This process sometimes takes 15 years!

After this, we travelers went our separate ways to explore on our own, agreeing to meet that evening for a sundowner, the term given to the watching of the sunset with a friend in Africa. My choice was to go see a facility that bred the rare and endangered Rothschild Giraffes. When we left the elephant orphanage there were many taxis waiting so I simply got into one and told the driver where I wanted to go. It was a good ways out of town on a road that looked to be almost deserted. After viewing the giraffes, and kissing one, I needed to get back to Nairobi.

Easier said than done with no traffic on the road in front of the facility. The thought of a 15-mile walk not really appealing to me, I was getting a little worried, but after 20 minutes a motorcycle taxi came by. I flagged him down, and off we went. Now almost back to our destination, I could actually see it, when I felt something hard, bone-crushing hard, hit my left foot. It was a taxicab colliding with us. Then, just like in the movies, time slowed down! I watched the driver slowly fall off the bike. Then I watched the motorcycle slowly fall over with me still on it. After this, time caught up and I fell off the bike and slid on the asphalt across several lanes of traffic (can you say ʻroad-rashʼ). When I looked up I saw a delivery van headed straight for me so I got up as quickly as possible and hobbled to the side of the road. My foot hurt like hell! Quickly diagnosing my foot, I decided that nothing was broken... hopefully only a bad sprain. Time would tell.

Over at the crash site, things were getting interesting. Several motorcycles had stopped as well as several taxi cabs. Apparently, no one will call the police in Kenya as they are considered too corrupt. The assembled drivers were going to decide who was at fault right there in the middle of the road. The motorcycle guys were on one side and the taxi cab guys on the other. The group kept getting bigger and as more folks joined in, the people started shouting and pushing. It looked like a fight was about to break out so I decided to get the hell out of there. I made my way back to the hostel and iced my foot.

Remember the beginning: For itʼs good to have a plan, that way you will know when things go amiss...

Things have now gone amiss! My foot swelled up and it was black and blue...all the way through. Obviously, I wouldnʼt be climbing Mount Kenya anytime soon. Luckily I still had almost a month before I was scheduled to climb Kili. I hoped my foot would heal by then. I decided to go on another photo safari. This time to Amboselli Park in S.W. Kenya. That way I could rest my foot and at least see Mount Kilimanjaro. After Amboselli I spent some time near Lake Naivasha, visiting friends. A few weeks later I decided to test my foot with a short backpacking trip thru the Hellsgate National park. This park is the home of a rock ledge that is said to be the inspiration of Pride Rock in the movie The Lion King. The park is also home to all sorts of plains game with the noticeable exception of large predators. This allows one to wander on foot and camp without fear of being eaten. I set my tent up on a ridge overlooking a waterhole and watched as the animals came to drink. The sunset was amazing, and almost as spectacular as the sunrise the next morning.

It was an 8-hour bus ride from Nairobi, Kenya to Moshi, Tanzania. Thankfully both the bus and the roads were new. The next afternoon I met the other climbers in our group, and our guides, George, and Joseph, our chief guide who has been on Kilimanjaro for 16 years and has over 280 summits to his name! I think we are in good hands.

After a briefing, the guides checked our gear to ensure that we hadnʼt forgotten anything, and then we climbers took a cab into town for dinner to get to know one another. The next morning we were up early for breakfast then driven to the outfitterʼs office to meet out porters, load our gear, and help load 8 days worth of food onto an old bus. Then we were treated to several hours of a "Tanzanian Bus Massage," with the roads bad and the busʼs suspension worse. We spent the first night camped in a Montane forest at 9,120 feet.

The next morning I was greeted at 6 am by a hand thrust into my tent with a cup of hot coffee. We reached the next camp at about 2:30 where tea and coffee were waiting. After dinner, we were treated to singing and dancing by our crew to welcome us on the mountain. I was in my sleeping bag by 9 O'clock.

There was a heavy frost on the ground and on the tents. Not unusual at 11,400 feet. Today we hiked up to Sheela Cathedral at 13,500 feet then down to Sheela 2 camp at 12,800 feet. Up to this point, the days have been sunny but the nights have been cold. Today we climbed the Lava Tower at 14,000 feet. Much of this is a scramble on rock. On the way down it started to rain, but enough to make everything wet and slippery. We reached Baronco camp around 3 pm. It was a cold, damp night with no visibility. The next morning I was up at 5:30 and the coffee was waiting. The sky was clear. The stars, simply amazing. Our first obstacle was the Baronco Wall. A very steep scramble on rock. Hand over hand. It took me 1 1/2 hours to reach the top of the wall, then it was a gentle, but steady climb the rest of the morning.
We arrived at Karanga camp at 4:15 pm. It sits at 15,223 feet and is the base from where we will make our summit attempt. After supper, Joseph gave us a summit briefing. We would not be carrying our heavy packs to the summit, only the bare necessities. It is very cold here at 15,000 feet. As soon as the sun goes down the temperature plummets. Now itʼs time for bed.

Up at 3 am. It is cold!!! I am wearing everything I brought in my backpack in order to keep warm. 3 layers on my legs and 6 layers on top. A quick coffee and some popcorn for breakfast then it was time to begin our summit push. The way up was steep, occasionally on rock, scrambling, hand over hand but mostly on loose scree. The easiest slopes were greater than 30 degrees. The last 2,000 feet to Stella Point was an unrelenting 45-60 degree slope on loose ground. Take a small step then slide backward several inches. Take another step. Repeat. Donʼt look up. Just concentrate on your footing and force yourself to take that next step. It seemed like forever.

We caught the sunrise at about 16,500 feet. It was stunning. We lingered, watching the sunrise from behind Mount Meru (also catching our breath in the thin mountain air). Then we set off again on our slow, painful climb. Slowly, slowly (Poleʼ Poleʼ in Swahili) Around 9 am we reached Stella Point at 18,885 feet and took a much-needed rest. Stella Point is on the rim of the volcanic crater that makes up Mount Kilimanjaro. The crater was to my right, a few hundred feet below. On my left, the snows of Kilimanjaro... Glaciers in Africa!
I stayed in Africa another month and had many more adventures while visiting Zanzibar, Zambia, and Zimbabwe including a swim in the Devilʼs Pool and a sit on the Devilʼs Chair at Victoria Falls.
After leaving Africa I backpacked the Camino de Santiago from Lisbon, Portugal to Santiago, Spain. A distance of over 380 miles. Like most avid backpackers I am extremely conscious about my pack weight. The only pants I had on this entire trip were the Pick Pocket Proof Convertible Travel Pants I purchased from Clothing Arts. I wore them every day. The only time I wasnʼt wearing them was when they were in the wash (they dry very quickly) and when they were being repaired due to the motorcycle accident in Nairobi. I highly recommend these pants.

February 22, 2019

Cubed®️ Travel Journal: Sahara

Africa ›   Morocco ›  

By Stephen Eng (see also 106th Stopped Pick-Pocket: Marrakesh Market Hand Shake!)

Experiencing the sunset while sitting on a sand dune in the Sahara is what drew me to Morocco. Based in Marrakesh, we discovered delicious food, vibrant colors, friendly people, wonderful scents, and a countryside framed by beautiful mountains and picturesque deserts. There is so much to do and see, that in our short stay, we opted for the bustle of Marrakesh and the solitude of the Sahara.

We start our journey from the Riad Abaca Badra in Marrakesh. Our driver, Ali, would take us on this 3 day / 2 night tour into the Sahara. The High Atlas Mountains greeted us as we left the city. You know, I never knew what a casbah was until he brought us to the Kasbah de Talouat. You hear about one in the song “Rock the Casbah” and I never knew what it meant. The drive is about 11-13 hours and to break it up we arrive at Ait Ben Haddou, which has been used as a backdrop for movies, including one of my favorites, Gladiator. After a bit of exploring, we head to our Riad in Zagora for a home-cooked meal.

Day two and our journey continues to the great dunes of Erg Chigaga via Zagora, Draa Valley, and M’gamid El Ghezlane. At noon, we (finally) arrive at the Sahara Desert! Sitting in the car one way for 14 total hours while engaging in great conversation with our driver was well worth the sore back and butt. Upon checking into our tents, we are treated to a wonderful lunch before heading out to take a camel ride as the sun is low on the horizon. It’s like riding a horse but at a slower and more steady pace. After thirty minutes, we get to the base of a huge dune. As we walk up the side, the vast desert comes into view, and we experience the tranquility of the a glorious sunset.

For the next two hours, sitting alongside my buddy, Manny, we are able to take in the full beauty of the desert. The temperature was a perfect 64 F and there was no wind to blow sand in my face. Sitting in the Sahara with no cell service was a blessing. This gave me the time to live in the moment and reflect as I watched the sunset inch by inch. It also allowed me to escape the hustle and bustle of Marrakesh where I have a foiled pick-pocket story to share because of my travel pick-pocket pants! Experiencing this moment made me realize that if I want to do more of this, I would have to sacrifice other things and I am totally OK with that.

When the sun finally sets, we head back to camp by camel for dinner. A great meal by a local family is shared with just the five of us campers present. We exchange conversations and laughs at the campfire with traditional Berber music to the background of stars. When the fire starts to die, we head back to the tents to sleep under seven blankets for warmth in the mild cold-of-night in the desert.

In the morning, we have breakfast before making the journey back to Marrakesh. Driving through Lake Iroquois, Foum Zguid, Tazenakht, and the High Atlas Mountains, eight hours later we make it to Marrakesh.

Bucket lists are great to have. My top five is to walk the ruins of Machu Picchu, snorkel the Great Barrier Reef, experience the Uyuni Salt Flats, hike Patagonia, and camp in the Sahara Desert. The journey of a lifetime is finally over but it will be ingrained in my memory forever. I’m glad to have checked it off with my travel buddy, Manny.