Trek across Africa

African Adventure

I thought it necessary to split my TechEd Africa and all my other African experience because I could see it becoming quite a long blog post with a ton of pictures. In a struggle to keep things short and sweet but also providing some great representations of the time I had there, I needed to be descriptive for sure.

We were met at the airport by the wonderful and kind-hearted Veronique Palmer (@veroniquepalmer). She even held up a sign with our names on it. Unfortunately she listed Joel Oleson before Eric Harlan, but we talked that over and next time we come to Africa she’ll place my name first :).  She took us for a late night tour around Johannesburg, got us some local currency, cooked us a home cooked meal, let us use her 3G modem and even offered to give up her bed!  I refused naturally, representing my American brothers; I couldn’t in good mind take this poor woman’s bed from her.  So after an unconscious night of sleep on a very comfortable couch we were up the next morning and ready to start our epic journey across southern Africa.

This was an adventure to go down in the Eric history book. I pray that I’ll get a chance to do it again, this time I’ve been threatened by my wife that if I don’t take her, a charging elephant is not the worst I need to worry about.   That’s honestly fine with me as I felt really bad that she didn’t get a chance to experience it with me, yet on the other hand I’m glad I had the company I did.  It gave me no real excuse not to go way outside of my box and outside the box I went.

Let’s name some of the exotic foods I ate: Springbok, Ostrich, Kudu, Wildebeest and Smoked Impala.  Now I know that might be out of most people’s boxes, but for me it was a far away planet. This coming from the guy who really doesn’t like mushrooms!  The not so exotic but still farfetched for me was some authentic Ethiopian food (loved all of it except the mushy rice bread stuff) and some prawn curry.

Honestly though, this was just the beginning of the out of body experience that was South Africa for me. My guide for the trip, Joel Oleson (@JoelOleson) did whatever he could to keep my word to myself and do whatever I could to make me feel as uncomfortable as possible.  Later on the way home, he mentioned that he knew I was approaching my limit in some cases and was pretty surprised I powered through the awkwardness and some mild bouts of fear. One of those times was parking our car, with all our clothes and valuables at a South African border hotel. Packing only what we needed to get by for a day and walking across the border into Mozambique. We didn’t have a single solitary plan, we had no transportation, no hotel, no idea what we were getting into when we walked through that final check point.

Piling into a minivan packed full of 14 other people and pointing on a map to the capital and where we wanted to go just blew my mind.  After getting there, finding the only person English speaking person we could find in a Portuguese speaking country we finally found a hotel.  By the way I remembered so much of my Spanish from high school those 36 hours I was really surprised. To an English speaking person, Portuguese and Spanish are pretty similar, especially in the basic words.

I saw my first real burning pile of trash, and was amazed to see a goat munching on the same pile. That was certainly interesting.  I don’t say that to down Mozambique, it was a beautiful country I would certainly go back if I had the chance. Now I just know what to expect in some of the lesser populated townships and rural outskirts.

Prior to the walking trip into Mozambique, Joel and I spent a few days in Kruger National Park. Yes the same Kruger where Battle at Kruger was captured on film. One of the most raw things that could probably happen in a fenced off albeit enormous nature reserve.  Almost immediately we were given the opportunity to stumble across a massive elephant.  We were blown away that an animal this size could even be this close physically to us. It literally could have taken four steps and been on top of us. Simply amazing.

There was some decisions in the beginning whether to drive ourselves or hire a tour guide. I have to say that if you plan to do what we did; renting a car is the only way to go. Don’t let the stigma we hold prevent you from doing this. It was more than safe and was a great experience. I’m so glad we got talked into doing this self tour!

We got to see five of the renamed big six; collectively we can’t understand how the hippo isn’t considered in the”Big 5″. So we decided to come up with our own marketing ploy and call it the big six including the hippo. The only animal of the big 6 we did not see was the leopard. Oddly enough, close to where the Battle at Kruger video was shot was also where the most leopard sightings where. Including one woman who almost rubbing it in described how she saw a leopard kill an Impala, drag it up a tree and feed it to her cubs.  Keep in mind the leopard is one of the hardest animals to spot in the wild. The cheetah and wild dog were the only more rare to spot in that reserve, we didn’t see either one of those either.  I guess it’s just another excuse to go back.

After our trip through Kruger and our time in Maputo, we cruised through the Kingdom of Swaziland. Where the food, drink and condoms flow like water.  Condoms?! Yes that’s right condoms, unfortunately Swaziland holds the title for worlds highest AIDS rate per capital.  Forty percent of adults between 15 and 50 have the virus.  That means in a few years 40% of the 1.1 million people in this entire country will be dead and gone. A sobering reality, hence the box of condoms at the border gate.

That said the country was awesome, with high peaks and low valleys watching the sun set was something to behold. The food was the best in Swazi as in our entire trip up to that point (minus the home cooked meal from @veroniquepalmer).  I really do regret not being able to spend more time in the Kingdom of Swazi.  The people were so nice and the beehive huts were way too cool to not stay in for an additional night. But we had a six hour drive down to Durban and Microsofts TechEd conference.

For more on my experience at TechEd go here:

After our time in Durban, Joel and I flew over to Cape Town to meet up with Zlatan Dzinic (@zlatandzinic). We were coming over to speak at Cape Town’s first SharePoint Saturday. The event was great, the crowd was awesome and it was really well organized for putting it together with such short notice.  Look out for Cape Town to be one of the SharePoint power houses of South Africa. They have good people passionate about the technology. So passionate some of them even have technology tattoos!

In between our flight out of the country and SharePoint Saturday Cape Town, we would have been insane not to take part in the local flare.  That meant, Penguins, Seals and Great white sharks.  How can you go to Cape Town and not go shark diving?  We couldn’t think of one sane reason not to so Zlatan, Joel and myself took the 2 hour drive out to Gans Baai and hooked up with the Crew at Shark Cage Diving for our day on the water. We got up close and personal with seven 5-6 meter Great White Sharks.  The sheer size of these things is physically impossible to describe, you must see it in real life to understand.  One moment that sticks out in my mind while in the diving cage is when a larger of the seven sharks approached the cage head on. At one point you couldn’t see the tail, you couldn’t see any fins, and all you saw was face and teeth.  The head was so wide it physically obstructed my view of the rest of the shark. All I remember thinking was wow; this thing is the pit bull of the sea. Its Jaws were so muscle bound and protruding that this animal looked two dimensional in the water when looking at it directly from the front. Hopefully we get back our underwater pictures and we find we caught that moment on film.

I’m not a huge animal lover, nor did I go to Africa specifically to do this safari and shark diving, but I tell ya what, knowing what I know now I would totally do it all again.  It was a blast both in getting to know a fellow technologist in our drive across southern Africa as well as getting to take in all the beautiful and strange activities. Activities that seemed to become more and more normal as our expectations of Africa were wiped away.

I will say that we had the nicest people on the planet there for us during our journey, in some cases giving us their phone for a week, offering up their couches, and taking time from their lives and families simply to tote us around for a few days.  The trip wouldn’t have been the same without the interactions from these people.

Thanks for all your kindness Africa. Buy a Donkey.. Wait what?

Lekker om jou te ontmoet

Enjoy more of the pictures, I know those moments will be implanted in my brain forever, hopefully you all get some enjoyment out of them as well.


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