I haven’t quite finished dismantling the mess of mittens and Sorels from our Thanksgiving trip to the Canadian Rockies and now it’s time to pack again for much warmer weather in Kigali, Rwanda. This will be my second time to Africa.
My first time was just last year – to South Africa – which I’m sure many people would not consider to be an accurate representation of the continent (if any one country could ever be). South Africa was (erroneously) never on the top of my list but the opportunity was too perfect to pass up. For months, I had been planning a trip across 15+ countries with two people I had never met for dozens of people who I had also never met. It sounds strange, I know. The point is, there was finally an opportunity to meet one of my fellow tour planners because he was the local guide for the South Africa leg of the tour.
We packed a lot into eight days but this post is about the middle three days, which was spent on safari in Kruger National Park. At over 7500 square miles, it’s about half the size of Switzerland, making Kruger one of the largest game reserves in Africa.
It was June, the beginning of winter in South Africa and the perfect time to spot wildlife, since much of the vegetation that animals normally use for camouflage had died. It didn’t take long for us to spot the big five (lion, buffalo, elephant, rhinoceros, leopard).
We caught an early morning flight from New York to Panama City, landing around 3:00pm. It was an easy Uber to reach our accommodations – by the way, Uber Panama has an option to select an English-speaking driver for a marginally higher price but don’t bother – you’ll be waiting for Godot.
We resisted the shiny new city center and opted to stay in Casco Viejo, the historic district. A two-bedroom suite at La Isabela housed the three of us comfortably with room to spare. I would happily stay there again.
Glitzy hotels with brands you’d recognize are plentiful in the city center and surprisingly, much more cost-efficient than options in Casco Viejo. However, after visiting the city center, I stand by our choice to stay in the historic district. Alongside the Waldorf and Hilton, the city center hosts grey office buildings and American clichés like the Hard Rock Café and Hooters. The area lacked Casco Viejo’s charm and elegance. Plus, all the nightlife is in the old part of town.
After checking in, we had dinner at Caliope, which was only a few minutes walk from La Isabela – that’s the other great thing about Casco Viejo, everything is concentrated in one corner so we never walked more than five minutes to get to our next destination. The food was exquisite and the atmosphere even better. Would highly recommend making a reservation.
We were there on a Tuesday so the nightlife wasn’t exactly at its peak. But we checked out a few spots if only to familiarize ourselves with the area. First, we stopped at Casa Casco, a rooftop bar so chic that you’ll feel like the glass elevator is actually teleporting you to Miami. Next, we went to Gatto Blanco, which turned out to be a bit much if you’re pushing 30 and it’s a weeknight. Right next door to Gatto Blanco is Tantalo, the perfect medium between hip and handsome.
What counts as travelling when you were born outside of the country you grew up in?
I think the first time I really experienced travel was just 4 years ago. I had left the country before that, of course, but to places that didn’t register as new exposures – cosmopolises in the developed world and quaint but familiar towns no more than a 2-hour flight from Toronto.
In the summer of 2013, after a couple weeks bumming around continental Europe, a friend and I went to Iceland. It was the most beautiful place I had ever seen. As an unequivocal “big city person”, I had never been much for nature and the outdoors before this but afterwards, I was hooked.
I dreamt about Iceland.
Tried to get married there.
Doubled down on Sigur Rós and Bjork.
Looked for Skyr at the supermarket.
You get the point.
When it came time to pick an Instagram handle for my travel photos, I wanted “itinerary” but that was taken. So I paid homage to my first bonafide travel experience and looked it up in Icelandic – “ferðaáætlun”. That was a bit much for someone who couldn’t speak a word of Icelandic and had, in fact, only spent 5 full days in the country. “Ferða” means travel, and someone cleverer than I had already registered it. “Áætlun” means plan – this seemed fitting for my ENTJ personality, so here we are a year and a half later with its bastardized English keyboard-friendly version.