After spending 3 days getting into Mozambique and then making our way past the border guards, we headed to Gorongosa National Park at the southern end of the Great African Rift Valley - in central Mozambique. So we had to Mo-zam-boogie if we were to make it by sun down. It was an incredibly long day on the road, and we didn't make it by sun down. We traveled many dirt roads and then ended on a road that looked like it was going through puberty - more pot holes than I have ever seen in my life. I might have walked faster. Six weeks on the road was closing in, and it was apparent with most of our crew - and we had a LONG way to go. The campsite at Gorongosa is very well maintained but we didn't have time to explore so we stayed overnight and were off in the morning to the coast.
Four hundred kilometers and ten sore asses later we were ready to stop driving. I saw a sign for the beach town of Inhassaro and after a meeting on the side of the road the group agreed to check it out. It would be another hour to Vilankulos and we needed a break. The first place we stopped was the beer store to get our sundown supplies. Then off to what seemed to be the 'touristy' part of town - which was absolutely quiet. We pulled into the first lodge and immediately felt out of place, and out of budget. The proprietor politely confirmed our suspicions and told us about a place farther down the road which might suit our rag-tag, dusty group a bit better. And that it did! The campsite was just by the ocean and there was even a pool. We were in.
The coast of Mozambique was absolutely stunning and the water a crystal clear blue. We were on day three and decided to spend our last 2 days in the country in Tofo Beach. We were lucky with a campsite and I spent almost an entire day by myself in the sea relaxing and stretching from many days on the road. At 5am on the morning of departure from Tofo, a Land Rover got stuck in the sand. We pushed, we pulled... to no avail. Finally a few stronger guys from the lodge helped us get the car out and we were on our way to the South Africa border. We didn't get far when we hit our first of 2 flat tires. We had 660 kilometers in front of us and 12 hours to get there - the border closed at 6pm. We ran out of gas, had two flat tires, and made it to southern Mozambique around 9pm, clocking 16 hours on the road. One more night of camping was in our future before we made it home. It was a rough one, and I awoke in the middle of the night in a leaky tent on a deflated air mattress in a huge puddle of water. Much meditation and a dip in the sea was needed that morning, so I took my time. Thankfully, South Africa let us back in and after approximately 2,300 km we were happily in Sibaya.
Every trip poses its challenges, from closed borders, to flat tires and food, gas, or water shortages. But if you are on an expedition, you also must rely on luck. It is a chance to see the world and reflect on your life ~ drill down to what matters to you. Unfortunately, I witness few people exhibiting gratitude for the opportunity and too many displays of entitlement and insensitivity. Phrases like "Oh my goodness, this is so cheap!" exclaimed right in the face of a shopowner after purchasing a coke - someone who lives in a country with a GPD of approx $250 per capita. Even when people are trying to help, they can often make matters worse - aid gone wrong. Malaria nets provided to people around Lake Malawi sounds like a great idea, until they are used to provide income to the family through fishing and the lake is over-fished and people are still getting malaria. Is a bag of toys for kids in a small village a nice thing to do, or does it create a stereotype about white foreigners all having money, providing gifts, and paying more for produce? What is the place of aid in this world? What is given and what is being taken away? It seems more questions than answers were found on this particular expedition, but Mozambique, I shall return!
After the heat of low-lying Malawi, we headed for the hills of Zomba. The views are incredible from the plateau, the stream running near the campsite is cool and fresh, and there is a wonderful market in the town as well. A trip to Zomba is always worth it if you are in Malawi. We arrived in the late afternoon and got busy setting up camp. It was surprisingly chilly at night, but that came as a relief after a few weeks in the heat. The group loved the spot, so we ended up staying two nights - the plus side of a flexible itinerary. We hiked, had 'boat races' and enjoyed our first hot showers in a while. The owners were there and I got to enjoy a cold beer and great conversation as well, and hear about the campsite that was situated on what used to be a fish farm. It was a relaxing two days as we prepared ourselves for the long journey back to South Africa.
We were up early to get to the border 270km away before both sides closed. The drive south from Zomba is incredibly beautiful but sad, as we realized the valley used to be teeming with elephants and wildlife and now it was full of settlements as far as the eye could see. We arrived to the Malawi side of the border just in time to deal with a flat tire. The crew settled in to wait, and I challenged the border guard to a game of Bao, a mancala board game. I had gotten the board in Monkey Bay and was eager to try my luck. A crowd gathered, and soon the guard was called out for cheating - and I got much of the crowd on my side. Fun to bring everyone together and enjoy a bit of competition. It was an inspiring exchange after witnessing many selfish acts from the members of our group in the past weeks, and it filled my heart with joy. The tire was fixed before the end of the game, so we made a deal to have a rematch on the next trip. We exchanged emails, got our passports stamped, said our goodbyes, and it was off to the Mozambique side of the line.
A much different scene as we pulled in, with armed guards and trash strewn, empty dust parking lots. Piet went in first to try his luck, 9 of our passports in hand. The guard wanted to see all of us, so we filed into his tiny office. As he looked at our passports, we began to get a bit nervous. No stamp had been pulled out and there was quite a lot of scrutiny. Finally, he said we couldn't get the Visas at the border and asked us to drive all the way back to Blantyre to go to the Mozambique Embassy and get the correct paperwork. WHAT?! That was a half day drive in the Land Rover, and with 10 people that was quite an expense of both time and budget that we didn't have. Left with no choice, we drove back to the Malawi border to explain our situation. We were welcomed with open arms, and made promises to try and be back the following day. The sun was setting, however, and there was the issue of sleeping and eating to take care of ... and we hadn't seen anything but dust on the back roads here. We headed north, and I checked out the map for somewhere we might camp. About 40 km NW there was a place called Mwabvi Wildlife Reserve that seemed like our best bet, so we gambled and headed that way. Upon arrival we found a gate and people that seemed very surprised to see us. Despite that, we were welcome to camp for the night and given access to a water pipe to fill up some jugs for drinking water. It was a beautiful reserve, although we did not see many animals on our way to the campsite. There were beautiful rock outcrops though, and it was a wonderful surprise along our journey after such a disappointment at the border. We made a fire, cooked our dinners, and prepared for the next day's journey to Blantyre. We would leave at dawn in time to make the Embassy as soon as the door opened.
The 9 of us piled into Sparky and started 3-4 hour journey back up the hills to Blantyre. Nine people in a car at dawn and not a peep. We made it before they opened and hung out in the parking lot. A well-dressed woman arrived told us we couldn't come in without long sleeves, long pants and shoes. I got a bad vibe, and decided to volunteer to represent the group instead of having this dusty bunch roll into that embassy, as diplomacy seemed to have missed this place. I borrowed pants and long sleeves, collected 8 visas (South Africa is exempt) and went inside to negotiate. At first I was told that tomorrow is a public holiday so we would have to come back on Friday. The guy we left with the other Land Rover would die of thirst by then, and the French students on our tour would miss their flights. Not an option. So I tried my hand at diplomacy, and faced questions about how everyone in the group knew each other, why we were traveling, etc... then it got personal and they asked how I expected to EVER meet a man and have a family if I was on the road like this. I got berated for about an hour about my personal choices as the others sat outside on the lawn and awaited our fate. After a few hours the staff conceded to provide us with 5-day travel visas to make it through the country and back to South Africa in time for the return flights if we each got 2 passport photos and paid quite a bit of extra Kwacha directly into their bank account in town. We had to be back before lunch, so the group headed off to find a photographer.
After 6 hours and much verbal diarrhea we had our Mozambique visas in hand, lucky to not wait those few extra days. The group cheered and promised me a cold beer, and we piled back into the Landie to head to our camp at Mwabvi. We returned late to a very dehydrated South African and planned to hit the border as early as possible the following morning. Greetings from our Malawian friend were cheerful, and Mozambique begrudgingly allowed us to pass. It took us three days to get into this country, and now we only had 5 to make it through. Would we make it?
In September 2015 two Land Rovers and 7 nationalities set out on a Winterdodger Expedition that would travel more than 5,000 km from South Africa through Mozambique to Malawi and back again over 6 weeks. The trip took the group through Kruger National Park in South Africa, over the border into Mozambique's Limpopo National Park, and along the back roads of Mozambique into Malawi. The intention was to spend some time exploring Malawi, in addition to some field work in Liwonde National Park.
I joined the group in Blantyre after a great week of teaching in Mauritius. I hadn't spoken with them in a few weeks, but I just had to have faith, and a back up plan. I spent one night in Johannesburg on my way through and enjoyed a night at a lodge and a lunar eclipse. The next day I took a comfortable 3 hour flight into Blantyre, complete with a meal and a glass of wine. American airline companies have nothing on the rest of the world it seems. After a long, hot wait outside of the customs building I was through and excited to be back in Malawi. I collected my bags, exchanged some Rand for Kwatcha, and headed outside to await the arrival of the Landie. My last contact was 14 days prior, and I knew they had recently stopped into the Lake of Stars Festival on Lake Malawi. As I watched the remainder of my fellow passengers depart, a shred of doubt began to creep into my mind. But, an hour after my arrival a dusty Land Rover, driven by two tired, even dustier fellows pulled up to the small airport entryway. I was overwhelmingly excited, and equally shocked to see them. They quickly remarked on my polished, very clean appearance and immediately wanted to plunge me into life on the road in southern Africa. I assured them my intention was to be just as dusty by the end of the day, and off we went.
There were 10 of us traveling, and the other 9 seemed to have quite an adventure prior to my arrival. The night was filled with many stories, including a hold up at gunpoint while wild camping in northern Mozambique - something I was not sorry to miss! It was nice to be back, and I was excited for our next destination - Liwonde National Park, where we would be researching the klipspringer antelope that reside in the hills in the southern part of the park.
We set up camp just outside the park the first night and the next day met with the main steward from African Parks who provided us with a guide that had recently seen the klipspringer. He was to assist during our time in the field and revisit places the elusive klipspringer had last been seen. Our team spent time on foot but it was very hot, so we decided to spend three days driving the area to cover more ground and revisit locations of recent klipspringer sightings. I piloted my drone over the hills on two occasions to survey the habitat of the antelope, and managed to only have it drop out of the air one time. Success. The footage didn't reveal any klipspringer, but the hills are beautiful and it is always fun to fly. Camera traps were placed in two locations,both rocky outcrops on the hill, but we didn't have much luck capturing the camera-shy klipspringer. After a week in Liwonde viewing vast amounts of other wildlife, we hadn't had one klipspringer sighting. We had found hair and dung, and heard about sightings from other visitors, but we left for Lake Malawi slightly disappointed. I would highly recommend the campsite at Mvuu Lodge in Liwonde though - the pool is wonderful, the staff are friendly and you can watch the sunset and elephants across the Shire River. An excellent way to end a day of field work, and get in touch with your inner Tolkien!
The next week we enjoyed staying at Mufasa Rustic Lodge right on shore of Lake Malawi. After speaking with the owner I ended up making a trail map as well. The idea of the map is to provide local kids with ways to identify trees; by showing them on the map and placing label markers on the trees. The time of year made it difficult to identify most of the species, but we were able to point out notable trees and mark the hiking trail. We took a side trip to Cape McClear, where we heard there was a klipspringer in captivity - the crew was very excited. So off we went on a day trip to finally see the elusive antelope, and check out a more popular tourist destination. The klipspringer was tame and got plenty of attention from our team. Cape McClear was nice, but we were excited to return to the more peaceful surrounds of Monkey Bay where we spent the rest of the week having some time to ourselves, exploring the local markets, and relaxing before getting back on the road to head south into the Zomba Plateau. From there we would cross into central Mozambique and back to Sodwana Bay via the coastal route. But first, the refreshing, cool breezes of Zomba awaited us.
If you're interested, here is the final report from our work in Liwonde National Park.
In September 2015 I had the honor and privilege of teaching a five day course on open source geospatial tools as a visiting lecturer at the University of Mauritius. I had met the Dean of the Department of Ocean Studies that February and liked her instantly. She was doing great things for the University and the department, and I was excited at the prospect of becoming a part of such a dynamic team. After a short talk at the University in March 2015 about using open source tools for mapping, the Dean and I collaborated on a short course in GIS for professionals.
Through a partnership with the Adaptation Fund and the Ministry of Environment, we had full enrollment with 27 participants from both the public and private sectors. There were a few people already using GIS in their work, and many others learning about mapping for the first time. The basic requirement for the course was knowledge of how to save files and unzip folders in a Windows OS. The course was designed to familiarize participants with the many features in QGIS and other open source tools. Participants learned how to create new GIS data, edit data, find and use open data, manage plugins, convert data from one format to another, and symbolize it on a map. They were introduced to cloud-based mapping resources including CartoDB, editing in OpenStreetMap and collecting data in Field Papers. Since the Adaptation Fund was involved and their focus is climate change, I included an exercise on mapping low-lying areas for analyzing coastal sea level rise. All but one student made it through the entire course and this was due to pressures from her employer. A full course report is available here.
Highlights included a day out mapping the campus for OSM and two drone operating sessions, and one day even demonstrated how drones recover from crashing into faculty buildings, and then how to race across the quad and onto a building to retrieve it... Despite the crash (the drone suffered only minor injuries), it was an inspiring experience and I hope to get the chance to repeat the course at University of Mauritius and other universities around the world.
I returned to Lake Sibaya September 1 to find that the waters had receded since my previous visit in February. The blue gum trees were continuing to spell the demise of the precious resource, and there was much work to be done! Two weeks were spent recording wildlife and working with a fellow conservationist who had just finished his Masters research on the hydrology of the lake.
The team was also preparing for the upcoming expedition to Malawi, where we would spend some time monitoring the klipspringer of Liwonde National Park. There would be 10 of us on a 6-week journey round-trip from Sibaya, through Mozambique, up through Malawi - and back! But first I would be flying back to Mauritius, where I was to teach a 5 day course on open source mapping tools.
If you are in California and you have the chance, get thee to Sequoia! Some of the largest trees on earth, bears, rushing water, and a welcome retreat from the summer heat of LA.
Web-based mapping is an activity of growing importance in many countries around the world, especially in places where base map data is often scarce and out of date. Governments are collecting more and more data, including geospatial data, and are beginning to understand the social and economic benefits of sharing the data. As part of the World Bank-DFID partnership to support Open Data in the Caribbean, I was invited by a fellow GIS consultant to help him conduct one-day open mapping workshops in St. Lucia and Jamaica. How could I say no? Within a week we had made arrangements and managed to organize the TeachOSM sessions - let's do this!
The first session was held in Castries, the capitol of St. Lucia. The group was one of the sharpest and best humored that I have encountered to date. I truly enjoyed the day and was a bit disappointed by my low energy levels - I wanted to give them more. Each workshop began with a one-hour plenary session that introduced the growing ecosystem of open source mapping, including OSM, QGIS, Field Papers, and Mapillary, and was targeted to senior executives and administrators. News outlets were present, and I began the morning be elegantly knocking over the too-tall microphone right in front of the TV camera - excellent.... ! The plenary was followed by an invitation-only six-hour training on using OpenStreetMap and QGIS. The training covered basic editing skills, digitizing, an overview of aerial image interpretation in OSM, tagging protocol, and an overview of ancillary technologies important to the open map data workflow (e.g. Mapillary, FieldPapers, Overpass Turbo, etc.). There was a live demonstration and step-by-step instruction in using OSM and Open Data in QGIS. The end of the day was spent covering meta-level organization of mapping events and community management. It was a success, which made the ice-cold Piton beer at the end of the day taste even better!
We only had a few days in St. Lucia and wanted to see a bit of the island, so opted to leave a bit early for the airport and take the long, winding, route through the Pitons back to the south. I was car sick approximately 10 minutes into the 2 hour drive down the west coast to UVF. Our van was moving at what felt like record speed along roads that belong on Top Gear, but in reality when I peered up at the dash we were going a startling 40 km/hr. The west coast of the island is stunning in the dry season, and I can only imagine what a difference lush, green vegetation might make in the views. We passed through 3 towns, stood atop two breathtaking vistas, and I only just avoided losing my french toast to the Pitons. Our driver, Marvin, seemed immune by the ride, smiling all the way listening to Disney ballads, 80s classics, and rap all the way. I found myself singing along to the likes of Lady in Red and Alladin's Magic Carpet Ride. I also learned that St Lucians are very fond of country music, and that on Friday and Saturday nights young women will be found in droves out at line dances and country music venues. Sad to miss that, along with the Friday Fish Fiesta in Gros Islet! St. Lucia, I think I'll be back!
Our arrival in Kingston coincided with Caribbean Fashion Week, so there were no hotels to be found in our price range. After scrolling through an abundance of places on AirBNB, I booked 2 rooms at Moon Hill Jamaica - home of the author of the Moon Jamaica travel guide. A driver met us at the airport and whisked us away to the mansion on the hill. We arrived on Saturday, so we had time to enjoy the property and prepare for our Monday session. The guard dogs were a bit unnerving and I hope you like reggae on vinyl - it will be piped into the sound system that is audible throughout the house... bonus! The proprietor was welcoming and helpful, and the food was so good we didn't leave until Monday morning for the training! The house is gorgeous, and I highly recommend this place.
The participants in Jamaica were just as enthusiastic as those in St. Lucia. One moment will always make me laugh though - when choosing OSM user names, one participant cried out - "but Rastafarian is taken, what do I do?!" Turns out one of our St. Lucia participants had chosen the name the previous week. The participants also added a new religion to OSM, as Rastafarianism was not yet included in the OSM database. It goes to show there is always something new to map!
In Jamaica we were interviewed by Nationwide News Network and NewsTalk93 FM, and the event was covered by the Daily Observer newspaper. We were excited by the press coverage, and the opportunity to train approximately 70 people in the two countries. There was a diverse industry representation among participants, with many having previous GIS experience. I was motivated and inspired by the enthusiasm in both countries, and the experience helped me realize that the potential for TeachOSM is high.
These workshops represent first steps to realize countries based on open geo data. Technology alone will not provide the organizational structure for newly minted mappers; to sustain an open source project requires a community of active mappers, and I hope to see continued investments in open map data for the citizens of Jamaica and St. Lucia, and throughout the Caribbean. I look forward to growing TeachOSM and spreading the use of OpenStreetMap globally!
A blog post was also written for HOT that can be found here: https://hotosm.org/updates/2015-08-31_open_data_open_mapping_teachosm_in_the_caribbean
The $12, two and a half hour Bolt bus ride from Philadelphia was quiet, warm, and a bit nausea-inducing – but we managed to make it to NYC on a Friday during the summer with ease. I hopped off the bus and made my way through the hustle and bustle of the city streets into the depths of the subway. Having not been in New York for some time, I had forgotten about the absence of escalators throughout much of the subway system. Feeling a bit like a pack mule, my three bags and I made it down the long stairwells and through the throngs of fast-moving, impatient New Yorkers.
The State of the Map US conference was held at the United Nations headquarters – an impressive compound overlooking the East River. SoTM has been held each year since 2007, and is the annual conference of OpenStreetMap. This was my first SOTM in the US, and the sheer number of people was overwhelming. The conference brought together 850+ OpenStreetMappers, which made navigation a bit difficult at times, but there was no shortage of networking opportunities and there was a gorgeous rose garden on the grounds for those times when one might need peace and quiet. It was a great turnout, especially when you think that SOTM had 65 people in attendance in 2010. Much of Saturday was spent networking and meeting new people, and while not chatting in the lobby there were 3 tracks and many sessions to choose from. Saturday night the group took buses to Studio Square in Astoria, a large restaurant with a beer garden, a plethora of taps, and the chance to relax and talk even more about maps.
Sunday brought more sessions showcasing the diverse uses of OSM, including Missing Maps, Peace Corps and OSM, OpenMapKit, and Getting OSM Schools Through Geobadges. Topics were thoughtful and inspiring, and they reinforced my belief that OpenStreetMap will grow and continue to transform lives through education, disaster relief, navigation, community development - really, the applications are endless! Sunday evening a large group headed to the Staten Island Ferry to cruise past the Statue of Liberty – it was quite a feat to get that many people herded onto subways and into the same ferry! Most of the group did a u-turn as soon as we arrived at Staten Island, but 3 of us stayed behind and caught a later ferry, which allowed us to see the lights come on in the city and float past Lady Liberty ensconced in her evening glow. A fitting finale to the official conference.
At the last minute a few colleagues were unable to make the conference, so I stayed Monday to help facilitate a TeachOSM session. We had a decent turnout, and despite having half of a voice the session was a success. The idea for TeachOSM was born at the 2014 SOTM US, and it was inspiring to see this first educational session come to fruition. The TeachOSM mission is to promote and advocate the use of the OpenStreetMap platform to teach the fundamental concepts of geography and mapping - apropos!
That night was the closing session with GeoNYC at Mapzen off of Broadway, complete with pizza, beer, and more chances for noisy networking. Around 8:30 I decided to call it a night and was on my way to the subway, when a few congas, a keyboard and a xylophone in the window of a neighboring sushi restaurant caught my eye - of course I took a closer look! A nice guy out front informed me that it was Toshi's Soul Night, and the “best soul night in the city!” It was free, and his enthusiasm lured me to stick around for a few tunes. Well, despite my impending 9am flight, I couldn't seem to pull myself away. The music was fantastic, the crowd was engaged, and I had also sat down next to a lovely young woman who had performed the first set and was happy to fill me in on all kinds of fun details about the music scene and idiosyncrasies of a life in NYC. By the second set I found myself on the dance floor, and in the end my new friend and I shared an Uber to the Upper West Side, making promises to meet up again soon; a sweet ending to a busy and exciting weekend in the Big Apple! That 7am cab to JFK felt even earlier, but my thoughtful cousin had packed me snacks for the plane, check in was painless and I had no complaints - I was headed to St. Lucia for my first major TeachOSM project – this time for the World Bank!
A big thank you to the OSM Foundation for organizing such a great gathering. I am already looking forward to the next one!
The year was 2008. I fell madly in love with a place called New Orleans, and of course the annual Jazz Fest. It is one of my most cherished experiences during the year and a tradition I hope to continue - as they say, 'NOLA til you die!' As a startup business, however, finances do not always align with dreams. While in Mauritius this past March pursuing work, I thought about doing the “responsible thing” and canceling my trip. A good friend reached out and we were chatting online, so I shared my concerns. His response? “Friends do not let friends miss Jazz Fest!” Thus, my compass remained pointed toward the Crescent City.
I flew out of Baltimore on Southwest for $147 one way and arrived the Wednesday before the first weekend. Friends greeted me at the airport – a first time for me in NOLA and such a warm welcome. I would be staying the week at their home Uptown. Their generosity was a crucial component in pursuing a Jazz Fest experience. Last year was my first time flying solo in the Big Easy, and it allowed me to meet many wonderful people. One group that I met last year that I am particularly fond of is a group of men who have been meeting at Jazz Fest for years. They are a joy to be around, so this year I hoped to share some dances and laughs and catch up on their lives outside of the Fest.
Besides the unparalleled access to incredible bands, Jazz Fest draws a wonderful fan base and the positive vibes fill your soul with joy. It is an annual injection of wonderful energy. This year I was fortunate to catch Wilco, Honey Island Swamp Band, Tedeschi Trucks Band, The Who, Shovels and Rope, Dumpstaphunk, the Mardi Gras Indians, and many more. The Who killed it and my friend got us up front, Shovels and Rope put on such a fun show, and Susan Tedeschi's voice is just incredible! Well, and then there is the food.... crawfish monica, crawfish ettouffe, crawfish bread, shrimp po boys, pralines, crawfish just off the steamer.... you could eat the day away!
The first weekend the festival grounds were saturated after a week of rain, but that couldn't keep us from dancing. Our crew even rode bikes in the rain Saturday, but we were driven into a local watering hole halfway there by torrential downpours. I have been attempting to limit wardrobe additions, but my rain boots were a worthy investment! Sunday I took a break from the fest and spent some time exploring the French Quarter. That night we ended up doing a double header at Blue Nile for Worship My Organ featuring Marco Benevento, Robert Walter, Skerik, Adam Deitch, DJ Logic & DJ Kevvy Kev, and then Eric Krasno, Stanton Moore & Wil Blades late night. If you stay inside, the second show is free!
During the week I was able to spend time on work, but there were also plenty of fun distractions – many free of charge. To avoid cab fares, I had bought a bike upon arrival, so getting around was pretty easy - even in the rain. Monday there was a benefit called Instruments a Coming at Tipitina's, where I saw Rory Danger and the Danger Dangers for the first time – a super fun group with their 2 minute countdown and great sense of humor. Tuesday there was a crawfish boil house party, followed by an oyster date and more time at Blue Nile with the 'Fantastic Four' (Eric Krasno, Oteil Burbridge, Robert Walter, Cochemea Gastelum, Adam Deitch & John Staten) + Polyrhythmics. Wednesday was the 2nd year of the Oak Street Block Party - a free local fest with music on 3 stages. It was a nice bike ride from the house, and we even rode past the giraffe cages at the zoo and the Tree of Life. Oak Street featured Leftover Salmon, The Nth Power, Kung Fu, The Heard, Eddie Roberts West Coast Sounds, Sonic Bloom and Hard Proof. Great vibes and a very relaxed afternoon of music. That night it was time for more crawfish and music at a brewery with some special folks before heading Uptown to pack my bags for the next morning's flight.
New Orleans is a difficult place to leave, especially just before the 2nd weekend where Widespread Panic, Alison Kraus, Galactic, the Meters, Kermit Ruffins and Dr John would be there, but the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team (HOT) Summit in DC and a wedding in Richmond were calling! A $95 flight on that Thursday was also difficult to pass up! It took a long time to walk down that jetway and was a verrry long day on the road when my plane was grounded in Atlanta for seemingly no reason. I made it to a friend's place in Alexandria in time for a few hours sleep, and Friday morning it was time to replace the top hat with my business pants!
This trip made me even more grateful for the many loving friends and family members who have opened their doors and become my pillars as I move about the world and try to get my business running. Without them, the constant motion of my life would be an even greater challenge. Meeting new people on the road can be fun and satisfying, but being able to spend time with great people year after year in a place like New Orleans is worth working for. Being able to dance with friends to your favorite musicians, and then have four more of them walk in the door? Marching down Frenchman Street to an impromptu brass band performance? I'm not sure when life on the road will turn into life with a lease and a house plant, but moments like these make life worthwhile, and help keep me moving! See you soon New Orleans! :)
After a month with the students at Lake Sibaya, our team had some planning (and resting!) to do. There was also the chance to do a drone flyover video for a new client in South Africa, so I ended up staying a few extra days at the camp to work, relax, and plan. It was out of our budget to take the Land Rover back to the airport, so I agreed to a 4 hour mini bus ride from Hluhluwe to the bus station in Durban. It was my first minibus experience in South Africa, and one of my few times traveling alone in the country.
Here's how it works... You wait in the station until every last space is full, and that's when you take off. This could take minutes or hours, depending on the demand that day. It took about an hour to fill up and we were off, all 18 of us packed in like sardines, but I was happy to be on our way. I have to admit, I was fairly uncomfortable at first in my little jump seat by the door. I speak no Zulu, had a large wheeled bag on my lap, and was the only foreigner on the bus. During the first 2 hours, the young woman behind me was dozing off, and I got a solid head butt each time she nodded forward falling asleep. She later apologized, which was welcome. We dropped people off along the way, a few just on the side of the highway where it seems like nothing could possibly be around. The bus made sufficient rest stops though, and got us safely to downtown Durban where I got off and tried to figure out what to do next. After seeing my confusion and touch of anxiety, the bus driver pointed to a few taxis across the street and off I wheeled! My flight back to Mauritius was early the next day, so I found a parked, empty taxi and he took me to Tekweni Backpackers for the night.
They didn't have much left in the way of rooms, so I took a bunk in a 6 bed dorm and was almost immediately invited out to a celebration of Francophone Africa in a local park. There were 4 of us from the backpackers, and it was nice to be in a place where I could get from point A to B without the use of a Land Rover! There was a main stage, and the area was surrounded by craft vendors, beer trucks, and food stalls. A wonderful way to spend a Saturday evening, and I was careful to walk back fairly early for my 5am shuttle to King Shaka.
It always feels like coming home to arrive to Chez Jacques, and this was no exception. My little room under the stairs was waiting, and it was a welcome respite after the camp full of students and travelers in Sibaya. That week I also had a chance to visit with some friends I had made during my visit in 2014. The photos are of a game we created for some children at a local orphanage - monster mash! Ivan even made one of my favorites that weekend - grilled Dorado & octopus potato salad, with a side of ladyfingers. Heavenly!
I also returned to the great news that someone at the University of Mauritius had heard about my talk at the Science Center and wanted to meet. I agreed, and we met at the public beach for a talk. I immediately liked the Dean, and after just a few minutes we set up a meeting where I was to present open source mapping to a group of academics and government professionals at the University. After the talk, we had a round table conversation about mapping needs in Mauritius that ranged from toxic waste sights to historic places and environmental features. It became very apparent that maps and data were needed, and that capacity building could benefit the entire country. It went well, but I walked away without any concrete plans. I had some business cards, and the Dean was to get back to me regarding the opportunity for future training at the University. Nonetheless, when I boarded the return flight to Newark just a few days later, I was feeling like I had made the right decision to follow my instincts and revisit Mauritius... You don't know unless you go!
Combining a passion for travel, the desire to make a difference and a love of maps, MaggieMaps was born. A place to share stories, resources, and a way to inspire and support others in realizing their individual travel dreams.
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Unless otherwise noted, all prose, poetry, maps and photography posted on this blog are Copyright 2013 Maggie Maps
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