A Travellerspoint blog

Some Dutch Comfort Food Before I Go

Connecting With My Roots

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Saturday, April 27

My stop in Amsterdam is a way of making something good out of a bad situation (lemonade out of lemons?). I lost my direct flight to London but am now getting to see a bit of Amsterdam.

Po & I were invited to our friends Dorothy and Gerald’s house for a quick supper on the night before my departure. Dorothy asked what I would like to eat. It seemed appropriate to ask for Dutch food. I had no idea what that meant.

Dorothy and Gerald are both children of Dutch Immigrants. They have always maintained that with my last name being Brink, that I must be of Dutch ancestry. My boss back in Botswana in 1976 was the first Dutch person to tell me that. A couple of years ago my nephew said that he had tracked an ancestor back to Holland, to a place called Winterswijk. Dorothy told me that her family came from the same place. Only mine left a few hundred years before. I decided that Dorothy must be my cousin and that we should all do a trip there one day.

Dorothy made me Dutch comfort food for my “last supper”, some stamppot. It is mashed potatoes with kale. We had stroopwafels (waffle cookies) for desert, although she admitted that they were bought at Sobey’s.

During dinner I declared my trip officially started and took a photo of everyone and then one of my stamppot.


Posted by Bob Brink 00:42 Archived in Canada Comments (2)

Thank God We’re Surrounded by Water

Falling Planes and New Plans

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Once I booked my tour, I needed buy plane tickets to Astana (now Nur-Sultan), Kazakhstan for the start of the tour and from Ashgabat, Turkmenistan on Day 22. I live on the beautiful island of Newfoundland, so first thing is to get to the other side of the Atlantic Ocean.

On our first trip to Newfoundland in 2006 we were entertained by the musical Every Joan, Dick & Harry. The show told the stories of three prolific Newfoundland singers and songwriters Joan Morrissey, Dick Nolan & Harry Hibbs. It was our first time to hear the song, “Thank God We’re Surrounded by Water”. We bought a CD and played the song over and over. We had fallen in love with Newfoundland. A month later we bought our house.

Pouch Cove, Newfoundland and Labrador

Yes, we are surrounded by water. And we are far away from the mainland. Those facts make leaving Newfoundland sometimes difficult. Finding flights to Europe is especially hard. There is one direct flight to Europe from Newfoundland and Labrador, Air Canada’s 5-hour flight from St. John’s to London. Otherwise the options involve a backtrack to Toronto on a 3.5 hours flight, a layover, and then a longer flight of over 7 hours to Europe. A 5-hour trip becomes 12. I always take the direct flight.

Yes, we are surrounded by water. It happens to be the North Atlantic. That makes our Newfoundland spring weather unpredictable. (Actually, our weather is unpredictable all the time, just more so during the spring.) At that time of year, we might get a snow storm, or a big rain storm with lots of wind, or maybe just lots of wind. A more typical day is RDF (rain, drizzle and fog). The fog can be the issue. Any of these weather events can disrupt air travel in and out of Newfoundland, which can lead to missed connections.

I took this photo on May 22, 2017 which shows some sea ice and fog.

Since I must travel on one ticket to get across the Atlantic, and another for the rest of the trip, it is essential that I not miss my connection on the other side. The second airline will not care why I missed my flight. On my last two trips I built in a buffer by scheduling an overnight stop in London. That also gave me a chance to catch up on the sleep that I missed on the night flight across the Atlantic.

To get that buffer for this trip I discovered that I would need to leave even earlier, all the way back to April 28, since the direct Air Canada flight would only become daily on May 1. That gave me three extra nights. I did not really want to spend four nights in London. I finally decided that since I was already changing planes in Istanbul, I should just spend those nights there.

At that point in my planning I was quite pleased with my flights. They were all five hours or less, and with one exception, leaving and arriving at decent hours. I had added a nice little visit in Istanbul. I even arranged a meet up with my Travellerspoint friend, Sarah, in London. She was going to bring some other folks along. It was a great schedule. All was good.

With everything decided, I bought the Air Canada flights on March 10. Two days later Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 crashed, the second Boeing 737 Max 8 to go down in six months. My London flights were on the Max 8. Now things were complicated.

The inside of the Boeing 737 Max 8 - My 2018 London flight

At first, I thought that I was still ready to go on the flight. But then airlines and countries started grounding the plane. When the UK said no flights, that was the end of it. I knew that Air Canada would not replace the plane. They simply cancelled all the St. John’s to London flights for the next three months and told passengers to fly via Toronto. I felt mixed emotions, some relief as I learned more about the plane and its tendency to fly into the ground, but also disappointment since I lost my direct flight.

In the mean time I had been following the Brexit discussions. It seemed like Theresa May (little slip on original post had Elizabeth May, one of our politicians) and her friends were about to take the country over a cliff. I had no idea how bad it might be to arrive right after a “no deal” Brexit but did not really want to find out. Immigration at Heathrow has always been a pain, with a wait of almost two hours. Could it become four or five?

The Air Canada cancellation announcement said that booked passengers would be given other flights or a refund. I decided that there was no reason that I needed to go to London. It had only been the destination for my direct flight. But there were other ways to connect with Turkish Airlines.

A nephew believes he has traced our family back to Holland. Over the years I have heard many times that my name is Dutch. I had sometimes considered a visit. I changed my flights to Amsterdam and will stay a night each way. It will be a short introduction, but I think it will lead to future visits.

I am especially excited about three nights in Istanbul. The history, architecture and culture in Istanbul might make it the most interesting stop of my trip. It will certainly be a great warm up for the Stans.

As for my plans to make the trip a bit shorter, maybe next time.

Posted by Bob Brink 17:23 Archived in Canada Tagged netherlands uzbekistan kazakhstan kyrgyzstan turkmenistan kalpak_travel Comments (2)

Ready for My Big Adventure in Central Asia

Off to the Five Stans

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I am heading off for my next great adventure on April 28. My fun starts with a night in Amsterdam and three nights in Istanbul before embarking on a 22-day tour of Central Asia. I will be going to the “Five Stans” of Central Asia - Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan. Try to say that quickly. I still have trouble spelling them even after spending some time practicing.

This will be a tour that mixes the cultural highlights of the old silk road with mountain vistas and alpine lakes, along with some nomadic herders, horses and yurts, all mixed in with more recent vestiges of incorporation into the Soviet Union and their early days of independence since 1991.

Here are a few of the highlights, the photos are from Kalpak Travel:

We start in Nur-Sultan (formerly Astana), the capital of Kazakhstan, Central Asia’s youngest capital with its spectacular (and a bit strange) architecture built since independence.


In Kyrgyzstan we will visit Lake Issyk Kul, the second-largest mountain lake in the world and do some hiking in the “Skazka” or Fairy Tale” Canyon and in Charyn Canyon, which is described as a small version of the Grand Canyon. We will spend one night in a yurt.


In Tajikistan we will stop at Iskanderkul Lake, named after Alexander the Great, an exquisite lake nestled in the Fan Mountains at 2,200m altitude and hike in the Seven Lakes area.

Uzbekistan will a trip back in time, learning of the history that encompassed Alexander the Great to Genghis Khan to Tamerlane, while photographing the exotic skylines of minarets and madrassas in the ancient cities.


We finish the tour in Turkmenistan, quite new to welcoming foreign tourists. There we will camp at the surreal “Gate of Hell” (the Darwaza gas crater) before visiting the marble capital, Ashgabat, and the Old Nisa fortress (a UNESCO World Heritage site).

When I told people that I was going to Madagascar, everyone seemed to want to know why. Now when I tell them I am going to Central Asia they just nod. I guess everyone is used to my travel tastes (or just think that I am crazy). But I will go ahead an answer the question of why I decided to go to Central Asia.

After Namibia and Botswana, I decided to do some things differently on my next trip.

As per my final thoughts:

“The part I love about travel is that feeling when I arrive at someplace new, someplace that is particularly different than anyplace I have ever been.”

So, no more Southern Africa. But why Central Asia? It started with a dinner in Namibia. On my second night in Windhoek I shared a table with an English couple at Joe’s Beerhouse. As I was leaving, with no prompting or discussion of other travel, the man said to me, “Your next trip should be to Uzbekistan.” That put the area on my travel radar. Until then I had never heard of it.

But I was already thinking about Mongolia, which has been on my travel list for many years. After Namibia I began my research for there. I was well underway with those plans, including a possible train trip from Moscow, when I started looking at Uzbekistan. Before I knew it, I had started a new favourite folder for Central Asia and never looked back. From Uzbekistan it evolved into Central Asia. Maybe I will do Mongolia on my next trip. I think the main tipping point was an interest in people and history versus empty landscapes. I also think the food will be better.

I had made other decisions about future trips.

“My next trip will be a few days shorter. I think for me a three-week tour is a good. By the last few days I just wanted to get on the plane for home.”

I kind of missed on that. I started okay with a tour of 22 days, slightly shorter than my last two. But with stops I have managed to fill up the rest of the month. I leave on April 28 and return on May 27. I will explain how that happened when I discuss my flight issues.

Another change is that I am going on a group tour. I have considered them for my past few trips but have ended up choosing either a private custom tour, Madagascar in 2016 and Namibia/Botswana in 2018, or a self-drive safari, Botswana 2011. For Madagascar, the local private guided option was less expensive, and for Namibia it came down to the specific out of the way places that I wanted to visit.

I also have an aversion to big tour groups. I could not visualize myself walking on and off tour buses with 15 or so other tourists, always having a big crowd at every stop. Most “small group” tours have a maximum of 16. I think of small as being under 10.

A main advantage of group tours is company. Guides do their work of getting you from place to place but do their own things in the evening. My last trip was mostly camping and once the evening meal was finished, my guide went straight to his tent, leaving me all alone. I spent the time writing and checking out my photographs, but I did miss having someone to talk to. I also missed out of some things such scenic flights. They require several people to run. I needed other interested parties with room for one more.

I discovered a small tour company called Kalpak Travel. They offer tours with a maximum group size of 12, but often smaller. It is a bit scary sending lots of money to such a small company. But it has worked out okay these last three times when I worked with a local company rather than one of the big international firms.

Everything seems great so far with Kalpak. Luca has been quite responsive and even organized a visa for Tajikistan and invitation letter for Turkmenistan. He prepared personalized notes of the entire trip, including emergency phone numbers and all the hotels with their phone numbers. I needed that to leave with my wife. Most importantly, I think he has put together a great itinerary.

The best news is that there will only be 6 or 7 of us on this trip, a perfect size.

Posted by Bob Brink 07:09 Archived in Canada Tagged uzbekistan kazakhstan kyrgyzstan tajikistan turkmenistan kalpak_travel Comments (2)

The Smaller Decisions

How Did I Do On Those?

View Namibia & Botswana 2018 on Bob Brink's travel map.

Choosing to go to Namibia and Botswana and hiring Karibu were my big decisions. But in planning a trip like this, there are myriad smaller decisions to be made. Here are a few that I had to make and thoughts on how I did.

Trip Cancellation Insurance

This one took up a lot of my time before the trip and gave me more than a little worry. Karibu stated that I had to have both Health Insurance (with evacuation coverage) and Trip Cancellation Insurance.

I totally agreed with the Health Insurance. I was covered through my wife’s Graduate Student policy. I brought a copy of the policy and gave the details to Sam. But I could not understand why Karibu was concerned about the cancellation coverage. That seemed to be my business, my risk. I obtained several quotes. They were all quite expensive. They covered risks that were not relevant to me. I ultimately decided to take my chances. I never discussed this with Karibu.

Checking Luggage Through to Windhoek

Karibu advised me against checking my bag all the way to Windhoek. Instead I was told to check it to Johannesburg, collect it there, and recheck it on to Windhoek. That would have required me to go through immigration, collect my bags, walk around to international departures, stand in line to recheck my bag and then go back through regular security. All this would have required a minimum of three hours between my flights, assuming my flight was on time. I had already booked my flight and had only 2 hours and 15 minutes between my flights, so I did not even consider this option. This was not much of a decision, but just like the insurance, something to be worried about.

My seat mates on the Windhoek plane had done the recheck and were really rushed to make the flight. Meanwhile I waltzed through a simple immigration and security check with plenty of time to enjoy a latte and talk to my wife.

Malaria Meds

I packed my left-over meds from my Madagascar trip (where I had stopped taking them because possible side effects and lack of mosquitoes). I did not expect to see many mosquitos on this trip. I saw a few at Sesrium (which was outside of the malaria area). That was it. We went through areas where Sam said that the mosquitos would be terrible. They were not. It was just too cold. I still have the pills.

Things I Should Have Packed

I should have brought my own sleeping bag and worn waterproof shoes, not for the water but to keep the grass seeds and sand out.

Things I Was Glad That I Packed

I love my universal power plug adapter. It makes charging so easy. It works on its own most places, but I also needed my three-pronged plug adaptor with round pins for Southern Africa. I was happy to have a warm coat, gloves and a knit cap (we call them toques). When we arrived at Kubu Island with not much water for washing it was a relief to have my Wets Ones (moist towelettes).

For those nights under the stars I was delighted to have packed my new tripod.

Evening at Baines Baobabs

Most of all I loved my amazing micro-fibre towel. It rolled up to virtually nothing, was great for drying off and then dried quickly once I hung it up.
Then there were the many little things that I packed that made life a bit better such as my own supply of tea, some granola bars, and a string for hanging my wet laundry.

And on a very personal note, I have learned to never leave home without something to help with your daily routine (a stool softener) and something to stop you when your tummy is not right (such as Imodium).


I chose my own hotels based on my own research.

Hotels I Really Liked

Villa Vista, Windhoek, Meerkat Guest House, Swakopmund and Planet Baobab, Nata

I found the two Namibian hotels quite nice, and based on my standards, maybe a bit luxurious. The rooms were large and offered a great breakfast. Both were easy walking distance to good restaurants.

I really enjoyed Planet Baobab. It is placed in a little baobab forest. I enjoyed the traditional rondavel room, even if the walkway to the toilet and shower was uncovered, meaning I had to literally go outside in the night to use it.

Hotels That Were Okay But Had Seen Better Days

Oshandira Lodge, Oshakati and Island Safari, Maun

The rooms are basic but clean at Oshandira Lodge. The downstairs lounge area was pleasant although the resident parrot was quite irritating. I chose the upstairs restaurant for our evening meal. It was decorated in an African Safari lounge motif and was hot and stuffy. I was not feeling well enough that evening to really enjoy the food, but the menu looked okay.

I chose Island Safari over a place in town. It was another bit of nostalgia. But the place is undergoing some necessary updates. My room was spartan but clean and comfortable. I did not try the evening meal, but the breakfast was good.

Ghanzi Trailblazers

This was supposed to be a camping night, but I was so fed up that I booked myself a chalet. It was basic but not expensive and was a whole lot better than camping. The campsites were not very private.

Camp Grounds

Karibu chose the campsites, but since I am reviewing my accommodation, I will include a few comments on them.


Sesrium’s main redeeming feature was its location inside the gate. That gave us a head start to Sossusvlei. It was noisy both nights. I suspect that its southern location makes it popular with the South Africans, who just want a place to party. But the location makes it the place to camp. And remember to do Dead Vlei first, then Big Mama.

Spitzkoppe Community Campsite

Sam got us one of the two sites with a shared toilet and shower. The water was hot. But even without that, this is a special place. We could not see nor hear the other campers.

Madisa Campsite, Damaraland

Sam was unhappy because this camp required us to backtrack after our visit to Twyfelfontein. I really liked the campsite. Each site has their own toilet and shower facilities which are built on platforms next the rocks. It was really quiet when the generator went off just before 10 pm.

Palmwag Campsite, Damaraland

The location is fantastic. Although our site was convenient to the lodge, I think I would have preferred one of the sites at the end, which were right on the river. I was able to take one of the tours offered by the hotel. It was noisy on the first night but quiet the second one.

Omarunga Campsite, Epupa Falls

The campsite was right be the river. It was still warm enough so I left my flaps open so I could fall asleep while I listened to the sound of the falls. The shared toilet facilities were the best of the trip. It was a five minute walk to the edge of the falls.

Namutoni Campsite, Etosha

The campground is in a fenced area with an old German fort. The camping area is on grass which was a nice change of pace. There is a waterhole with a viewing platform. Unfortunately, is known for its lack of game, unlike the other camp sites. I was able to walk around the grounds, visit the fort and use the Wi-Fi at the restaurant (after paying a fee).

The grounds were packed each night but cleared out quickly in the morning. I was surprised at how quiet it was at night, starting quite early.

The Quirky Ones, Roy's Camp, Grootfontein and Ngepi Camp, Kavango

We camped at these back-to-back. Both are fun places, but also provide a good quality with grass campsites and clean facilities.

Senyati Campsite, Kasane

Senyati is several kilometres from Kasane and requires a 4-wheel drive after the turnoff from the highway. It is not on the river. Sam was upset that we were booked there since it required the drives back and forth to get me to my cruise. Each campsite has its own ablution block. The best past of the camp is the waterhole. There is great viewing area at the bar. I watched a herd of elephants from there while I tried to get the Wi-Fi to work. I listened to them during the night as I kept waking due to the cold.

The Botswana "Bush" Camps

Lekhubu Island Community Campsite

The location is fantastic. The campsite is only a spot to put your tent and make a fire. There are no facilities at all. Supposedly there are “long drop” toilets, but they are shared between the sites and apparently not to be used due to lack of maintenance. Sam advised that I should just use the bushes.

Baines Baobabs, Nxai Pan

The facilities were much better here than at Lekhubu. There is a bucket shower (supply your own water) and a toilet. The privacy here is fantastic as the other sites are far away.

Bring your own firewood for both.

Posted by Bob Brink 09:14 Archived in Namibia Tagged namibia botswana planet_baobab meerkat_guest_house villa_vista_hotel Comments (0)

Review of Karibu Namibia

View Namibia & Botswana 2018 on Bob Brink's travel map.

Karibu Namibia

I use other traveller’s blogs for my trip planning and hope that my posts can be of help to others. Given that, as much as I do not like to write negative things, I must give my final thoughts on Karibu Namibia and much of that is negative.

Based on my posts during the trip, it was obvious that I was often unhappy with Karibu. The several months since have not softened my feelings. There were too many things wrong with the trip for me to ever recommend Karibu Namibia for a custom camping safari.

To be clear, the trip was not a disaster. I was met at the airport, taken on a 5,000-kilometer trip, fed well, shown lots of great things, and dropped at the airport at the end. Overall, they fulfilled their contractual obligations. I have nothing to report to the tourist authorities.

But there were several areas where they did not meet my expectations.

Our first vehicle was old and was not in good mechanical condition. The tires were worn (especially a bad thing when travelling on Namibia’s gravel roads). The vehicle needed routine maintenance which Sam had to arrange during the trip. We were lucky that the worst came when we were near a town. The air conditioning did not work which meant that we had to keep our windows open as we drove on the gravel roads, leaving us covered in dust.

Karibu did eventually send a replacement vehicle (in reaction to my complaints to Sam). It would have been good PR for the owner to have talked to me, but instead he just asked Sam, “Is he happy now?”

My comfort, or lack thereof, became a recurring theme on my last nights of camping. The evening temperatures plummeted. I was freezing. My sleeping bag was totally inadequate for the conditions.

I could thank Karibu for trying to get me to Sandwich Harbour, but it was quite foolish to have Sam taking me there in our old Land Cruiser. We could have broken down or gotten stuck far from cell reception, ending in a real disaster. We were lucky to get stuck where we did.


Sam, My Driver and Guide

Sam was a subcontractor to Karibu. He has his own business and took this job to fill any empty spot on his calendar.

I liked Sam and have many fond memories of what he did for me. When he was in his comfort zone, going to places where he had been dozens of times, he was great. He handled the mechanical issues with great confidence. He is an excellent cook and served me a good variety of tasty food. He supplied me with my favourite tea and lots of yoghurt and bananas.

But Sam was Jekyll and Hyde. He became a different person when we were going to unfamiliar places. It did not appear that he had done any advance research about those places and then got quite frustrated when he got lost. Sam did not take advice, so it was difficult for me to help.

You can go back and read my posts from the trip for the details

Posted by Bob Brink 09:13 Archived in Namibia Tagged namibia botswana karibu_namibia Comments (0)

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