Monday, March 30, 2009

Zimbabwe & Botswana

Where do I even begin???? We had the most amazing week ever!! I'll break it down in a "quick" day-by-day synopsis for ya'll. And side note: we had 500 AMAZING pictures from this trip. I kept narrowing it down, 400, then 300, then 200, then 100, I think I finally got it down to 60ish so bare with me. You're missing out on a lot of amazing photos!

To preface, we booked our 8-day safari with a tour group called Africa Travel Co. They do 2-3 month camping tours across southern Africa and we were just jumping in on the Chobe and Okavango Delta week. Our tour didn't officially start till Sunday, but we wanted a couple of days in Vic Falls before we took off so that's why we went up Friday. It's a camping safari so we had to bring our own sleeping bags and mats, and they provided the tents. They also provided all the meals and transportation.

Ok and I've always had allergies. My sisters and I have been afflicted with this horrible disease all our lives. Major hayfever (thanks Grandma Gooney!) :) But my allergies in Africa are like nothing I've ever had. It's gotta be all the grass and weeds! My nose is so sore and red from blowing it all week. (And yes, I took a variety of pills. Nothing worked). I finally just stuck a bunch of tissue up there and left it in so I wouldn't have to keep sneezing and wiping my nose. It really helped!

Friday: Ben got off early at around 11am and we flew to Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe. Wow. Zimbabwe was definitely NOT what we expected. Victoria Falls itself was FANTASTIC. But Zimbabwe is really struggling. It's sad. Their current leader Mugabe, has completely destroyed the country. The inflation is insane. Right now, the Zim Dollar is about 40 million to ONE US DOLLAR. And that rate can change by millions the very next day. In just January this year, it was 4 million to 1 USD. That's a huge change in just a couple months. And because of this, everything is incredibly expensive. They work off the US Dollar only because there currency is just worthless. Ben and I bought a HUGE wad of Zim dollars for $1. We thought it'd be cool to have a few TRILLION dollar bills. Let us know if you want one, we'll save it for you:)

People on the streets do not leave you alone. They follow you everywhere asking $15 for a little elephant hair bracelet that we can get for 25 cents here in South Africa. They carry around their statues and want to trade them for our shoes. Everywhere we went, they'd say to me, "Mama, I like your shoes. They are very nice. I will trade you this bird statue for them." What? No thanks. They wanted anything, old t-shirts, socks, anything! So if you ever travel to Vic Falls, take a bunch of DI stuff and you can trade for anything you want!

(That's Ben in the white shirt behind the rainbow). The falls are brilliant. But no one told us how wet we'd get!!! We were soaked to the bone by the time we were done. The mist is so intense. You could only even see the falls when a breeze would swing in and clear the mist long enough to snap a picture. It was like it was raining. You could see the mist from the airport, way far away. It just looked like a big fire. So cool.

We actually got a great deal on our hotel, like a few HUNDRED dollars off for proving that we are South African residents. We stayed at a pimp hotel right next to the falls called The Kingdom Hotel. It was really fun.

Oh. We did run into quite a dilemma though. Long story too. But crucial advice if you ever come here: BRING A WHOLE LOT OF CASH. There are NO ATMs. they're everywhere, but not a single one works because of their crappy money situation. We didn't know this and no one takes credit cards either. Luckily, we had enough cash to pay for our hotel, the entrance fee to the Vic Falls, an activity for Saturday, and bread and peanut butter for lunch and dinner for 3 days (breakfast was included so we ate a TON in the mornings). We had to split a meal on Saturday because the burger was $9!!! So expensive.

Saturday: We relaxed, laid by the pool, read our books, and dealt with all the frustrating things of Zim: trying to get money, going over to Zambia to try to get money etc. Our tour group had a pre-departure meeting at 5pm because we were meeting up with them the next day to start the tour.

Sunday: Awesome day. We did the BUNGEE SWING!!!!!!!!! We also got a major discount on this activity because Ben can work magic. He just makes them love him, has them on the floor laughing, and then used our "we really don't have enough money with us" card, which is true and they bumped it down $30 bucks. You might not have heard of the bungee swing, but it's way better than the bungee jump. All the guys that worked there said it was more scary and fun. Half of them hadn't even done it themselves cause they were so scared. We asked a couple of tourists too who had done both and they all said the swing was better. SO WE DID IT! It was an 80 meter free fall. Which is 262 FEET of FREE FALLING!

Before the jump:

I was so scared I was honestly trying not to wet myself. I'm actually getting shaky thinking about it again. It was SO much fun. And it was the scariest thing I've ever done and will ever do.

We asked the girlfriend of a guy who was jumping as well to video us as we jumped. We told her that our camera only does 20 seconds at a time so she'd have to watch it as she did it and just start it again when it stopped......AH!! SO FRUSTRATING!! She got 3 great videos of us preparing to jump, but when we get to the edge, it stopped and she missed it!!!! We were pretty annoyed. Oh well. We'll just have to stick to our memories for this one.

I promise...we really jumped off.

We found a couple videos on YouTube of people that did the bridge swing in Victoria Falls. This gives you an idea of exactly what it was like!

I had to just stare at the sky when we got to that edge, I was shaking so bad. And Ben and I weren't connected and had to hold on to each other REALLY tight and not let go. Taking that step off was the hardest thing ever. And that feeling off stepping off this bridge and just FALLING was the coolest most scariest feeling you could imagine. It lasted so long, until the finally became tot and we swung across the river straight at the cliff on the other side. Once the rope was tot and then it was amazing and relaxing and we just spread our arms and flew like birds until they pulled us back up. But that

We went to the campsite that night and met our group. There were 16 of us and the rest of them had been traveling together since they started 5 weeks earlier in Tanzania. They were way cool people, we had a ton of fun with them. They came from England, Belgium, the Netherlands, Canada, Australia, and Germany.

Monday: We left Vic Falls and drove to Botswana. We set up camp by the Chobe River, which is currently SUPER flooded. Our whole campsite was flooded and we were right next to the water. The water was rising fast actually, Ben and I marked it the first day and when we left, it was a couple feet from our tent.

We saw tons of super weird and cool bugs. Look! It's Slim on Bug's Life!

Since our campsite's pool was underwater, we walked to another hotel and asked if we could swim there. They said we could if we all bought a drink. So we did. We sat at the bar (Ben and I drinking our sprites) and watched the Sunset over the Chobe River. How beautiful.

Tuesday: We got up super early for a game drive. It was pretty sketchy because our safari vehicle got a flat tire when we were just starting out. After a bit of help from some fellow safariers, we were safely on our way. We saw tons of baboons, impala, 2 lions (which was super cool since they are so hard to spot this time of year), 2 crocodiles, elephants, lots of hippo, water buffalo (which was our first time), birds, jackal, and wart hogs.

These baboons were SO funny to watch.

It was so cool to see a lion! They were 2 females:

We had a boat cruise on the river that evening which was stellar. We saw birds, COOL hippos, a hippo out of the water with her baby, elephants bathing 10 feet away, a crocodile tanning, wart hogs, and monkeys.

Wednesday: Today was a driving day. We headed to the Okavango Delta which took from 6am to 5pm. We had fun on our safari bus though, reading, teaching our friends Rook, etc. It was a driving day, but it was like a game drive at the same time! We were going on a main road in Botswana and saw 20 elephants, giraffes, baboons, zebra, and 3 CHEETAHS!! So rare and so cool.

Thursday: We left our campsite in Maun to take Mokoros (native-built boats) out to a remote campsite in the middle of the Okavango Delta for 3 days, 2 nights. No shower, no toilets, no electricity. This was so much fun. They were tiny tiny wooden boats that a native steers through the reeds with a pole. Our guy was named Sisco and he was awesome.

The sun was so intense and it was so hot. We went swimming (in a safe area away from the hippos, because they were close. We heard them every night). And Ben learned how to Mokoro really well!

We had a few bush walks while we were here but didn't see much besides birds, zebra and a couple giraffe. It was just so huge, we walked for 7 hours total!! My allergies were so bad here. I was a total puff sneeze ball the whole time. It was awful. (That's me ahead of Ben):

Oh...we also saw these disgusting creatures. Like 5 of them. They were as big as my hand!

Friday: Another bush walk early in the morning, 5:30am. We relaxed today and went swimming, and took naps. Man we were tired, we were going to bed at like 8:30pm and waking up at 5am. Well, not sleeping well all night though because we didn't have mats here.

We did a sunset Mokoro ride to the hippo pools and watched the hippos from 20 feet away! So cool!

This night, the 10 natives did a show for us around the campfire. They sang and danced their traditional songs. It was so neat!! In return, they wanted us to do something too. We weren't prepared, and so we did the hokey pokey and any other common song we all knew. It was really fun.

Saturday: We mokoroed back and drove to our campsite in Maun. Shower! So nice. We had a scenic flight at 4pm which was seriously, the highlight of our trip. It was so amazing. We were in a 8-seater plane and our pilot was so cool. He took us over the Okavango, and we saw more animals then I've EVER SEEN! It was like National Geographic stuff. We saw a group of a HUNDRED elephants. It was so cool, we were all freaking out. Our pilot swung us down and made a big loop down and around them. We saw everything! (Except leopard and lions and cheetahs of course). We saw like 30 hippos OUT of water! Zebra, water buffalo, giraffes, impala, red lechwe, and more.

Here was where we left in the Mokoro's to our campsite:

Water buffalo:

4 hippos out of water!

A body of water shaped exactly like Africa:

Here is a shot of 50 elephants and this is a zoomed-in view! There were SO many! Look at all the babies!

Sunday morning we left! It was sad to say goodbye, we became great friends after just a week with these people! They were all so different, fun, and friendly. We had a fun time talking about our church and learning about all the different countries and languages.

We had a private flight back to Vic Falls and then a commercial flight back to Joburg.

The flight back was so cool! It was an 11-seater all to ourselves most of the way! Ben got to be copilot! He loved it.

We flew over the Chobe River and were able to really see the effects of the flooding. There were abandoned, flooded houses and villages everywhere! The flooding at some points was so huge, it stretched as far as we could see and felt like we were flying over the ocean!

We had to throw this in. These free condom stations were at all the borders and airports.

Ben grabbed a few and put them in his pocket to be funny and forgot about them. When we went through security at the airport, they set the alarm off and when he was frisked, the worker had him pull everything out of his pocket. He absent-mindedly pulled this line of condoms out of his pocket in front of everyone. I immediately cracked up and Ben's face went bright red! It was so funny. We were all laughing so hard.

We had a great time. Camping was really the way to go, and the only way you could do Botswana like we did. Our pilot (who has been working there for 2 years) said that the cheapest hotels in peak season are $500 a night and that most people he flies, spend up to $5,000 a NIGHT. He said there's no middle ground, it's LUXURY...or camping. We obviously chose the camping. And camping is fun! It's a lot more work, taking the tents up and down, and not being totally comfortable, but it was totally worth it. I'm not going to lie though, we were exhausted and happy to be in a real bed and have a long shower. We were so dirty. It's so fun to be together and have these experiences!!! Africa is so amazing. You could really spend a lifetime traveling it all and experiencing new things. I love Africa. I love these animals and I love the people. I love how happy they are and seeing the way they live. It's humbling, eye-opening, and life-changing.

We're so excited for April! We have 3 trips planned (Monitor gets a lot of time off because of holidays and elections here). We're going to Nelspruit here in South Africa for Easter, Mozambique the weekend after, and TANZANIA/KENYA on April 23rd!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Thursday, March 19, 2009


Ben's beloved Grandma Garrison, or "Sitty" as we call her (the word for 'Grandma' in Lebanese), passed away yesterday morning, March 18th, after a 2 year battle with cancer. Her loving, happy, sweet spirit will be missed. As this is the first grandparent to pass for either of us, it is a tough one. We are so thankful that we were able to fly to Arizona after Christmas to see her before we came to South Africa.

Back page of Booklet for Funeral Service:
"Mary Sadie Kerby Garrison was born November 11, 1928 in Columbus, Mississippi and passed away peacefully on March 18th, her 58th wedding anniversary. She had a full, exciting life and was dearly loved by her family and her many friends.

She graduated with honors from Stephen E. Lee High School in Columbus earned a Bachelor of Science degree in 1950 from the Mississippi State College for Women. Later she established a scholarship fund at MSCW.

She married the love of her life, Ulas Edwin Garrison, on March 18, 1951. Together for more than 60 years, they shared a life together filled with adventure, laughter, and an abundance of love.

Mary and Ed’s many close friends and great experiences there made Utah their adopted home state. An avid golfer, she was active in the ladies golf club at the Ogden Golf & Country Club as well as at the Boulders Club in Scottsdale. She was also a member of the Chareya Club in Ogden.

She was a lifelong and devout member of the Episcopal Church and she and Ed donated the Education Hall at her beloved Church of the Good Shepherd in Ogden, Utah. The hall will be dedicated next year in her honor.

Mary had a larger than life presence and her entrance would light up any room. She loved people and always had a kind word and a smile for anyone she met. Dancing was her favorite passion and no matter the time or the place she was always ready for a jitterbug with Ed.

She leaves behind many friends and family who will miss her greatly for her big smile, warm heart, and special Southern hospitality."

We love you Sitty! And we know we will be together again!!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

I can't wait for...



We ordered it this weekend!!! It was quite a dilemma deciding whether to get it now or not with the shipping and import fees for South Africa. Shipping would have been super expensive and then the import fees are like $300-600 dollars! So one of Ben's coworkers, Jude, lives in New York and he travels back and forth to see his wife once a month (he's just here for a couple months). So we shipped it to her. He's leaving this weekend to go home and he's going to bring it back over with him the first of April! Then we skip all the shipping and import hassle! YAY! I can't wait to have it. I love taking pictures of all the animals and with this lens, it's going to be a whole new world. I wish we had it for our trip next week, but oh well. I'll have it for all the rest of our time here! I'm also upgrading my flash and camera bag...very much needed.

This is my month-early birthday present from Benny. He's so great.
And we leave in 2 days for our TRIP!! (To Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe & Zambia and the Okavango Delta in Botswana!)

Friday, March 13, 2009

Back in Business

(This was the title of this post before all that crazy "Photobucket" stuff happened to our blogs. I guess there's a limit on how many photos you can upload on Photobucket, which is what I use, and I went over by .5mb so they shut it down for 2 days. But now we're 'back in business'! Ok onto the post that you can NOW READ!)

Ok. Let's be honest. So far, I have pretty much been a weekday-widow and a weekend-wife. We've had a lot of fun on the weekends, but the weekdays have been pretty tough. Ben has been working a LOT. And with no friends, no family, no cell phone, opposite time zones, new country, new culture,'s been rough.

We've learned that things in Africa take about 4 times as long as the States. And we've also learned that there seems to be a trend of flakiness here. I applied to over 15 jobs...nothing. No responses. I've had a lot of success with marketing my photography business, but besides a couple of portrait shoots, all the weddings aren't for another 10 months. A few weeks ago though, I felt hope when a big photographer here had an add for an assistant. (Richard Simmonds is his name. No, not Richard Simmons, there's a 'd' in there. His site is I was super excited because it would be the perfect job. I'd be able to do what I love, and also learn a lot from him about photography and the area here in South Africa. I applied and he quickly responded telling me he loved my work and wanted to hire me. I told him I was available anytime to meet and then 3 weeks went by and nothing. I even wrote to ask if he was still interested and that I was available blah blah. Nothing.

After a bit of a breakdown, a long shower, and some heartfelt prayers this week, I got a call Wed morning from Mr. Simmonds asking if I was available the next day for a photo shoot! Uh...ya! I was super excited and went to meet him. He's way cool! He resembles Mr. Clean. He "heads all projects as Producer, ensuring productions are planned and executed to the highest standards." He told me the shoot tomorrow was from 7:30am till about 2pm and was an event for the Miss Earth South Africa girls. They were going to go to a school in Tempisa, very poor township and teach the kids about helping the environment and plant trees and stuff. They also got a tour from their sponsor, Console (a glass making company) of their glass factory. I was to kind of be a journalist photographer and photograph everything going on.


It went SO WELL! I loved it and I had a blast. You can see some highlights on my photo blog. This is the perfect job for me! The weather was beautiful and the kids were adorable. And the glass factory was fascinating. I had a photo shoot after in Pretoria:


and I have one tomorrow too here in Joburg. (Go to my blog and read this guy's story, it's amazing. What a great guy). I'm also meeting with a teacher tomorrow to see if I can teach some poorer schools Math on some days. Also, I'm joining an orphanage, Princess Alice as a volunteer to feed the babies 3 hours a day. What could be better!?

Life is good people. I'm back in business. Africa rocks. I'm so happy to be here. We leave for our big 8-day trip next Friday! We're going to the Okavango Delta and Chobe Game Reserve in Botswana and Victoria Falls in Zambia & Zimbabwe! WE CAN'T WAIT!

Monday, March 9, 2009

Let's talk Photography

Starting your photography business up again in another state is one thing, but starting your business up again on another continent is a whole nother ballgame. Wow, I've never written, "a whole nother ballgame" out before, is that how you spell it? 'Nother'? Weird.

Anyway. Prices. Theoretically, say I charge $1,000 to do a wedding in Utah (just wedding day), in California, you could charge up to $5,000. In South Africa.......guess what you can charge? Just guess!?


And that price always includes 2-3 hour drive one way (the typical venues are far away), a wedding album (costing anywhere from $50-$200), a few prints, and an all-day event. That takes me home with...$200??

So I guess I won't be the sugar momma in this industry. This friend at the gym, a fellow (commercial) photographer said, "Ya. If you do photography down here, you just do it for fun. Not to make any money." That's why so few people do it here! I am advertising on Google as well, and in Cali and Utah, I would never come up because it is so saturated with photographers. Here-I'm the first on the list everytime!

I started advertising my business on Facebook just to see what would happen. I almost did it in California, but it's $5 dollars a day to advertise, so I decided to hold off. I tried it for a week here and got over 500 clicks and MANY MANY emails requesting quotes for their weddings. Totally awesome! The weird thing is, the earliest one is in November! I've even had 5 wedding dates in 2010, that's AUGUST 2010. What?! It really is a different world down here. I thought wedding celebrations and traditions were pretty standard. But it's taking some getting used to.

The celebrations are different as well. The ceremony starts around 3pm, lasts a half hour or so, and then the celebration goes until well past midnight. Bride, groom and all! There's a dinner, and lots and lots of drinking and dancing. The client usually puts the photographer up for the night! How different huh?

Portraits however, are pretty comparable to back home. One of my photo shoots got rained out, so we rescheduled to this Wed, one was Saturday and another this weekend. I'm getting out and trying to find some cool areas. It's pretty hard though since parks are scarce, and anywhere with cool buildings is a death trap...but I successfully found a few and used them this weekend with these 3 girls. Different than anything I'm used to. But can I tell you how fun it was? They were natural models, loved the camera, and were beautiful!
It was so funny. We stopped at a fun graffiti wall (you can see them on my photo blog) to do some fun shots and I am not kidding, EVERY car passing by stopped to watch. They, of course, were all men and were blowing kisses, honking, barking & growling. It was a little hectic (the new word here for sketchy or scary). I kept yelling, "Keep moving! Keep moving!" And trying not to create a mess in traffic. I swear, some men almost crashed.

Anyway, I'm really excited about these pictures. I think they'll love them. More photos on my photo blog!