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Saturday, December 28, 2013

9 Things to Explore Before Exiting for an Exotic Excursion

To celebrate the end of the year, I present an updated version of my #2 blog post of the year. As #1 was about summer travel accessories, I am opting to reprise that once the weather gets warmer.

Despite the fact that I have traveled to more than 50 countries on six continents (I am missing Antarctica), preparing for a trip to an unknown and faraway destination is still perplexing. As I prepared for my trip to Namibia this fall, I pondered, among other things, logistics, medications, documentation, and fashion. Here's a list of 9 things I had to figure out before going to Africa...and things you should think about as well before taking off to distant lands.

1 Do I need a visa? Official media are supposed to have visas to enter Namibia, but your garden variety American tourist does not. Although I went to Namibia to write about The Jewel of the Desert train, I opted to go visa-less (please, Namibia's version of Mr. E. Snowden, don't tell on me). After all, as a travel writer, my mission is to have the same experience as regular travelers do. So, no visa for me, although I brought a VISA card...and an ATM card to boot.

2. Do I need more pages in my passport? Apparently, the answer is yes. For some reason, Namibia requires everyone to have 4 to 6 blank passport pages. As I am on Year 9 of a ten-year passport, I only have one blank page left. Should I wing it? According to a colleague at Solimar International, a firm that does tourism consulting work in Namibia, the answer is a definite no. Said colleague spent the better part of the day in Windhoek Airport, while one of his co-workers had to zoom over to the local American Embassy for pages. Thankfully, I live in Washington, DC (how often do you hear someone say that these days?), very close to the National Passport Center. So I ran downtown and spent $142 to add passport pages (versus $170 for a new passport).

3. Do I need shots or malaria pills? Shots--no. Malaria pills? It wasn't clear. I opted out and I was fine. Many of my fellow travelers who took the pills got very sick on the train. The train's doctor ascribed their flu-like symptoms to the malaria medication. So, pick your poison.

4. What about money, honey? The Namibian dollar is on par with the South African rand, and the latter is accepted everywhere in Namibia. As the Namibian dollar is not easily convertible on the world market, best to stock up on rand. That way, leftover money can be exchanged back into US dollars.

5. What do I wear? I am oft vexed regarding visitor vestments, particularly when I travel to the Middle East or Africa. When I went to Morocco in 2001 (geographically in Africa; culturally, it could be argued, the westernmost part of the Middle East), I had a two-fer on my hands. I was verklempt, as everything I owned was too tight, too short, or too colorful. I ended up purchasing a bunch of long, oversized schmatas.  The Moroccan men, unstereotypically, paid me no mind, but the women there didn't seem to appreciate my valiant efforts to mask my feminine wiles. Methinks hunting for safari clothing will be easier, but I still must find items that will cover me up (mainly to ward off  bugs and to protect against the scorching sun).

6. How do I allay the heat? As frequent readers will recall, during my most recent adventure, I swooned in the Forbidden City and had to spend the night in a Beijing ER. As a result, I am stocking up on electrolytes, bringing a huge sombrero, and slathering on suntan lotion.

7. What unusual items do I need? This type of journey requires gear not usually included on my packing list. Bug spray; a flashlight; a water purifier; a beanbag (to serve as a camera stabilizer in jittery jalopies); and the aforementioned electrolyte tablets are some of the extras I will stow.

8. How am I going to survive the 18-hour flight? Try to get an aisle seat in Economy Plus or an emergency row seat. I got both on my outbound flight on South African Airways from Washington, DC to Johannesburg--an 18-hour jaunt. I was able to stretch my legs and do yoga in my seat space. However, on the way home, I was left with a non-emergency aisle, which, for an 18-hour stretch, is uncomfortable any way you slice it. One thing that helped immensely on my 14-hour flight to Beijing in the spring--using my BackJoy Posture +. Sadly, I didn't bring it on my Africa trip, and my lower back paid the price.

9. How many days will it take me to get over jet lag? Fortunately, the time difference is, surprisingly, only 6 hours. Therefore, spending my first night in Africa at the Intercontinental Hotel at the Johannesburg Airport (smart move) and my second night at the Okapuka Ranch near Windhoek left me well-rested when my official exploration began.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Speaking in Tongues

Is learning a new language among your resolutions for 2014? If you live in the nation's capital, there are several spots to learn foreign tongues from native speakers. 

For example, Casa Italiana is like a little piece of the old country set smack dab in the center of the city.  Adjacent to the Holy Rosary Catholic Church, established in 1913 to serve the spiritual needs of Italian immigrants, Casa Italiana serves as a cultural mecca for Italians and wannabes alike. Aside from the full slate of language courses, you can also study various aspects of Italian culture, from literature to cooking to history.

Like the country it represents, the Russian Cultural Centre (RCC) looks imposing from the outside. But once inside this official home of Russian culture in the USA, things seem to thaw. Language courses are available throughout the year, mostly at the beginner and intermediate levels. Classes generally meet twice a week for four weeks and are taught by Russians residing in DC. As a special feature, you might be recruited as a spy.

Alliance Francaise has two locations, one near Dupont Circle and the other in Penn Quarter. Both host specialized classes, with sessions concentrating on writing or phonetics or corrective grammar. Also in Penn Quarter is the Goethe-Institut. The German cultural center has nine-week German courses and three-week intensive sessions.

Need more options? How about taking Urdu or Farsi at the U.S. Graduate School? That's right, the USDA Grad School, located near the National Mall, is a well-regarded foreign language instruction farm. Its fields of language study include  Arabic, French, Hindi, German, Korean, Spanish, Russian, Portuguese, Farsi, Turkish and Urdu. Introductory courses cover listening, speaking, reading and writing with equal emphasis, while conversational tracks focus on speaking and listening skills.  

Of course, if you don't feel like leaving your house, there are always on-line options and Rosetta Stone. But when possible, let those options be complementary to your language study. After all, taking real life classes provides the human touch to the art of speaking in tongues.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Great Train Trips: Namibia

To watch my report on Namibia, click here, and go to 12/12 show. My segment runs from 35 minutes in until the end of the show.

Loyal listeners and readers know this has been quite a year of long-distance train travel for me. In the spring, I had a great adventure on the Trans-Siberian Railroad.  In October, I headed off to Africa to journey on The Desert Express, a little-known upscale train that travels around Namibia.

First, a little geography lesson. Namibia is located in the southwest of Africa. If there is such a thing as a typical sub-Saharan African country (and there's not), this is not it. Yes, there is wildlife, including elephants and giraffe and lions, but what distinguishes the country is the Great Namib Desert, dating back 55 million years. The oldest desert in the world also contains some of the world's highest sand dunes.

There are no non-stops flights from the United States to Namibia. The "easiest" ways to get there:

1.You can travel direct from New York or Washington, DC into Johannesburg on South African Airways and then hop the short flight to Windhoek or
2. Fly to Frankfurt and transfer to Air Namibia.
Either way, you are talking more than 20 hours in flight (from the East Coast), but that's the price you pay for a unique travel experience.

For 11 days, I wandered the country on the
Desert Express. The Namibian-German-engineered train, circa 1998, is a marvel of clever design. The train contains four sleeping cars, a lounge car, and a dining car. Each of the sleeping wagons is nature-themed--there's Springbok, Oryx, Kokerboom (Quiver Tree) and Meerkat. Unlike the Trans-Siberian, which contained separate classes of compartments, the Desert Express offers all guests the same experience, including the pleasure of a bathroom en suite.

Desert Express Bar Car
Speaking of which, you have never seen a more efficient use of space, although I suppose anyone taller than 6 feet 2 or heavier than 160 pounds might disagree. The wee space (so to speak) has a toilet, a shower with a door that prevents water from spraying, and a magnificent rotating sink.

Other features of the interior design include rock sand paneling; extensive use of red golden woods; handmade amber-colored furnishings in the bar car; and comfortable seating areas in the compartments that convert into up to three beds at night.

The Desert Express belongs to Namibian TransNamib Holding Ltd. and is chartered by Lernidee.de for the long-distance trips. For those looking for a shorter ride, weekend trips are available between Windhoek and Swakopmund on the Atlantic coast. The one-way weekender, which includes stops at game lodges and the dunes, starts at $350 per person/double occupancy.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Of Doughnuts, Bananas, Prozac and Typefaces

Every January, I ponder cataloging all the books I read that calendar year. But somehow, about 10 books into the equation, I drop the ball. Nonetheless, given the amount of time spent on planes and trains this past year, I've managed to polish off at least 40 books, chapter and verse. Most have been non-fiction, although I managed to add a couple of classics into the mix. Here are brief reviews of some of my faves, along with recaps of a few of the duds.

Despite the fact that I cannot ingest gluten, in past years, many of the books I've gotten a rise over have been about bread and other wheat products. Go figure. I savored White Bread: A Social History of the Store-Bought Loaf; 52 Loaves; and Glazed America, which is a treatise on doughnuts. This year, though, I decided my food-related reads should be gluten-free. So, I tackled ginseng and bananas.

One of the first books I read this year was Banana: The Fate of the Fruit That Changed the World by Dan Koeppel. Koeppel traces the fruit's history from the Garden of Eden (that apple, according to the author's research, was actually a banana) through the creation of banana republics in Central America to the current state of the fruit today. I found the read most appeeling . It was informative and witty at the same time.

On the other hand, Ginseng: The Divine Root by David A.Taylor ...frankly, not so divine. Yes, Taylor's tome explores the history of ginseng by visiting places like China, Canada and Wisconsin. He discusses health benefits attributed to ginseng and he uncovers some interesting facts. However, the root of the matter is that Taylor's dry and slow writing style makes what could have been a diverting dose into something a bit more medicinal.

Speaking of medicine, Manufacturing Depression: A Secret History of a Modern Disease by Gary Greenberg perked me right up.  Greenberg, a science journalist, a psychotherapist, and a depressive himself, takes the reader on an entertaining tour of mental health history, from the discovery of seratonin to the development of Prozac and its ilk.  In no way prozaic. Greenberg presents provocative insights into the development of the "depression industry". 

The book I most recently read was Don't Consider the Fork by Bee Wilson. Don't bother considering it. It should be stirring, as it covers the evolution of the fork, the chopstick, measuring cup and other cooking implements. Yes, the facts are intriguing, but the writing just doesn't measure up

On the other hand, do consider Just My Type: A Book About Fonts by Simon Garfield. Even if you are not one to mind your p's and q's, Just My Type is a helvetica of a read. The book considers the ampersand; ponders the idiosyncrasies of serif and sans serif; and explains the artistry behind the font design of the the London Underground (which has inspired its own typeface--appropriately dubbed Underground). If you can only read one of the books listed here, this is the pica of the letter.

More recommended reads coming next week in a piece entitled On Trains and Brains.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Lots of Giraffe, Lots of Zebra, and One Lion

Etosha National Park in Namibia is not a typical game park. You aren't likely to see hoards of hippos nor rows of rhinos. But especially for a first-time safari-goer, the park has plenty of wildlife to ooh and aah over.

 For more on the park, and Namibia's conservation efforts, I highly recommend this article by USA Today Travel Editor Veronica Stoddart.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Holiday Gifts for Travelers: Treats for the Feet

Cold, sweaty and tired feet can leave many a traveler feeling defeeted.  Here are a few new products that claim to prime your paws for all travel conditions. I have not tested these products, and so will not rate them. If you've tried them, let me know what you think.

First off, we have Get Grounded Footwear Groundals for $49.99 (straps come in black, gold or silver).
The claim: Wearing these sandals will ground you to Mother Nature's magnetic field. The press materials call Groundals "the first footwear featuring a fully-grounded foot bed, made with a proprietary trade-secret material called TerraMater." Apparently, this material conducts negatively-charged free electrons "allowing for the absorption of  positive energy from the earth's natural surfaces." The process, called grounding, allows one's body to be in direct electrical contact with the earth, leading to an increase in energy. Amazing....just from wearing a pair of sandals. Now look, I am not a total skeptic. I lived across from the ocean in Santa Barbara for four years and found barefoot beach walks quite energizing (something to do with the negative ions, they say). But as the sample pair of Groundals sent to me were too big to wade in, I cannot replicate my Pacific experience here on the East Coast. For the New Age-types on your gift list, though, this might give them a charge.

Somewhat more down to earth are the superlatives offered by the makers of Heat Holders. The packaging calls Heat Holders the warmest thermal socks around.  The scientific proof, as claimed by the manufacturer, is in the Thermal Overall Grade (TOG). This measure of a textile's warming ability shows Heat Holders get a 2.34 score; ordinary thermal socks rate a .89; and your basic cotton socks score a .33.  At $15.99, it's worth a try. If they don't end up being the perfect stocking stuffer, next year, you can use them as your spare Christmas stocking.

Blue Kauai Mary JanesThe Nufoot sock is a good slip-on for those who prefer not to walk around the plane/hotel room/yoga studio barefoot.  Made with a breathable four-way stretch fabric,the Nufoot footie is water and skid resistant. Priced at $14.99, the footies come in a variety of pleasing patterns.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Holiday Gift Guide for Travelers: Part 1

The holiday shopping season officially kicks off in two weeks. If you are looking for unique items for the travelers on your ho-ho-holiday gift list, here are some DailySuitcase reviews.

Shavetech Rechargeable Travel Shaver: $29.99
Rating: 5 Suitcases
This lightweight, easy-to-use razor is the perfect stocking stuffer for the man on the road. For easy charging, just plug the USB plug into a port on your computer and you are good to go for at least six shaves.

The Traveler Cosmetic and Toiletry Totes: $30-45 
Rating: 2 Suitcases

Inspire Travel Luggage calls this a new concept for traveling with full-size toiletries. It features a removable plastic liner (that looks like a trash bin) designed to prevent leakage. The thing is, that plastic liner is big and unyielding, making the bag rather clunky. I think you are better off yielding to the 3-ounce liquid bottle rule, or going with a Travel Happens Sealed Wet Bag to protect from spills.

Stewart/Stand Stainless Steel Wallets: $69.50 (billfold); $119.50 (clutch wallet)
Rating: 4 Suitcases

We live in a paranoid world, my friends. And the fact is, credit cards, some driver's licenses, ATM cards--anything that has RFID (radio-frequency identification) technology can be skimmed by scammers. Stewart/Stand has designed a line of high-fashion accessories to block RFID skimming. Design materials include lightweight Italian leather, silver ballistic nylon, and woven stainless steel cloth. The stainless steel is made from 85% post consumer recycled material. The wallets look good; they are fairly flat; and they protect the goods. My only quibble is the price.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Counting Countries

My first step in Russia
I've been to nine new countries this year. Well, nine if you count a plane touchdown; eight if you include a plane touchdown and a dash through the airport for a connecting flight; or six, if you include actually stepping foot outside the airport.

The mad-dash-through-the-airport countries were Finland and Latvia, while the plane stop was Senegal.

Thus, it looked like my new country total for 2013 was going to be five. The far-flung five--Estonia, Lithuania, Russia, Mongolia, and Namibia. But that doesn't add up, right? The wrinkle is South Africa.

I initially had to separate South Africa from the pack for the following reason. Upon landing in Johannesburg in the evening, I walked about one-fifth of a mile from the arrivals terminal to the Intercontinental Hotel (highly recommended). The upscale property is on airport, but not attached to the airport. So, I stepped foot outside the airport, but it was questionable whether I was actually off airport property. Then next morning, it was off to Namibia.

Thus, I ask you a two-fold question: Can you add a country to your count

A) if you stayed on airport property (airports being somewhat like embassies, IMHO, in carrying something of an international territory status) and

B) you stayed for less than 24 hours?

True, my passport was stamped with a South Africa seal, but still, to me, counting South Africa seemed a bit of a cheat. That's why I was somewhat bothered by my most recent Monopoly purchase.

Let me backtrack. Loyal readers know that I collect Monopoly games from the countries to which I have traveled. But my rule is strict--I have to have traveled to the country in question to buy a game. There are only three exceptions to this rule in my collection--games from Argentina and Japan that were gifts and a game from Tunisia purchased on my one previous visit to Africa. I picked up the French-ified game at a souk in Marrakesh back in 2001. Naturally, I assumed it was Moroccan Monopoly. Alas, when I got home and checked street names, no dice. The streets were in Tunis.

Now, in Namibia, there is no Namibian Monopoly. They play the South African game. So, I did buy that version in a grocery store in Windhoek. But I had mixed feelings. Yes, that was the official Namibian version, but it was South African and I had spent less than 24 hours in South Africa. Was this merely a token purchase? All of the pondering was leaving me feeling emotionally bankrupt.

But a missed connection in Johannesburg on the way 
home turned out to be my "Get Out of Jail Free" card. After getting ironed things out at South African Airways customer service, it appeared I would be spending the next 24 hours in Jo'burg. However, as the hotel at which I was booked was actually in the airport, I knew that in order to feel confident about adding South Africa to my list, I had to take a chance and head into the community chest-first the next day.

Indeed, a group of us who missed our connection to DC hired a private van and visited moving sites like Soweto and the Apartheid Museum during our unexpected layover. So, in addition to squeezing lemonade out of lemons, the tour officially permitted meto add South Africa to my country count, which has now surpassed the half-century mark.

What are your rules for including countries in your total? And how many countries have you visited?

Friday, November 8, 2013

The Pink Hippo and the Malakani Nut

As an experienced traveler, I pride myself on avoiding scams. Furthermore, I drive a draconian bargain and, being a Jewish girl, am enamored of a distinguished deal. Thus, in those rare instances when I am ripped off,  the experience just sticks in my craw. In order to protect you, oh unwary consumer, from the scams of Namibia, I present the tale of the pink hippo and the Malakani nut.

After alighting from a tour bus on the outskirts of downtown Swakopmund, I was approached by a friendly local ready to engage in conversation. Not wanting to be a nasty American, I engaged him. He asked my name...very civilized, I thought. But then, he asked how my name was spelled. This should have set off the skepticism trigger. It did not. Before I knew it, the guy was carving my name on a nut. Now, the nut was just not only old nut. It was a Malakani nut, already bearing carvings of local wildlife. I knew that as soon as the Malakani nut was emblazoned with my name, it would be rendered worthless to anyone not named "Laura" (and worthless to anyone whose name is," for that matter). I tried to stop him after the letter "L", but the fix was in. The nut was mine. He asked for 150 Namibian dollars ($15US); I told him, truthfully, that all I had was 50 N$.  Thus, I became the reluctant recipient of a custom-carved Malakani nut, which, unfornutly (sic) I cannot re-gift, as I do not know anyone else named Laura. 

The Malakani nut was bad enough, but the worse was yet to come. Our guide had told us the woeful tale of the poor craft vendors who had been ejected from a prime market spot and were now relegated to an out-of-the-way area. Consider my heartstrings fiddled with. So, over to the market I went, my sympathy evoked and my knowledge of local pricing deficient.

Here's a tip: Before shopping in a street market or a souk, visit local stores to get a sense of what things cost. 

The vendors were very aggressive...annoyingly so. Usually, I try to avoid such sales tactics, but the fact is, the moment I left one vendor, the next would accost me. So, I let them run on with their spiels, without making a purchase. But finally, a guy named Victor showed me his "hand-made" figures and i espied an adorable pink hippo. Victor picked the hippo up, showing me an underbelly carved with the name "Victor" (perhaps the Malakani nut carver had attacked his bloat of hippos).  At any rate, Victor, seeing my interest, starting the bargaining at 950 N$ ($95) for the palm-sized piece. You gotta hand it to these crafty Namibians; when they go for the rip-off, they go big. 

Fortunately, even with my dearth of knowledge, I knew this seemed excessive. It was also fortunate that I had very little money with me, and what I did have was in small bills. This is another fine tip--when going to a market to bargain, bring small bills and do not carry them on one clump.  When I first bargained down, I told him I would have to go to the ATM if he wanted, say 250 N$. Not wanting to let a sale slip away,  he asked me what I had. I pulled out a 100 N$ and a 50 N$. That was all I had, sans change. He did manage to wangle a little more change out of me, and the pink hippo was mine for $17 US. 

Next, I ventured into town, where I discovered two things. One, these happy hippos were everywhere. This meant that unless Victor was one busy artist, he had not, in fact, done anything to the hippo except impale it with his Malakani carving utensil. But, I noted, hippos of a similar size cost $15-$18 in stores, so I was happy as a hippo...until  I heard from a fellow traveler that she had bought a hippo in the same market for $7. Later, I noticed hippos in stores around the country costing between $8-$10. Even though my hippo was a female, and thus a cow, I had no doubt my deal was bull. 

I grant you, on the scale of international rip-offs, this ranks pretty low on the list. Plus, one cannot feel too bad about overpaying in such cases, as the vendors are most certainly poor and appreciative of every dollar (and every sucker). But still, one hates encouraging sales tactics that rip off the unwary --and wary--tourist alike. But at least no one was hurt in the transaction and I am now the not-so-proud owner of a pink hippo and a Malakani nut.

Monday, November 4, 2013

9 Holiday Travel Tips

Haven't made your holiday travel plans? Get crackin'. For those looking to avoid travel headaches this holiday season, here's a gift list of tips to use, whether you've been naughty or nice.

Jo'burg's Tambo Airport is
already ready for the holidays
1. Book off-peak. That means avoiding the day before the holiday, the Sunday after the holiday, etc. Christmas is mid-week this year, so that may spread out the traffic. Still, if you fly on the holiday itself, you will find smaller crowds at the airport, lighter loads on the plane, and better rates.

2. Send gifts ahead of time or order them on-line and have them sent directly to your holiday destination. If you tote gifts in your carry-on, don't bother wrapping them. If you do so, TSA will unwrap them for you.

3. Get organized to expedite getting through security. Watch what you wear--avoid clunky belt buckles, heavy-duty jewelry, or other items that might set off alarms. Have your plastic bag filled with liquids stuffed into an outside compartment of your carry-on. Have your laptop or tablet easily accessible.

4. Find an airline-branded credit card that allows you to check a bag for free if you purchase your ticket with self-same card. Some of those credit cards also provide holders the opportunity to jump ahead in the boarding line.

5. To save luggage space, wear your heaviest items on board. Layer that cozy cardigan over a bulky turtleneck and then complete the outfit with a chic winter coat and boots.

6. Check in ahead of time, either on-line or on a mobile device. Paying for your checked bag ahead of time will also save you a little time and a few bucks.

7. Going overseas? Check on advisories for dicey areas at travel.state.gov.
But don't just check out the U.S. government site, as travel warnings can have an American political bent. Visit www.fco.gov.uk, the home of the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office or www.voyage.gc.ca/countries_pays/updates_mise-a-jour-eng.asp, the website of Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada

8. Even if you are staying close to home, you still to prepare. If you are driving to your destination, get your car checked out ahead of time; leave plenty of time to get from Point A to Point B; and, if the kids are along, bring healthy snacks, bring plenty of entertainment, and make frequent stops.

9. And if you are looking for a totally carefree holiday travel experience, stay home and host visitors from far and wide.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Road Testing Travel Products in Flight

Today, I will officially inaugurate my Suitcase rating system for travel accessories. One Suitcase means a product is of little use, while Five Suitcases is 'da bomb.

Let's start with luggage, shall we? For this trip, I brought a plum Biaggi foldable bag and colorful Heys Britto carry-on. Having previously used the former with much success for the tight spaces of the Trans-Siberian, I realized collapsing it too many times on the last trip caused the retracting handle to be a bit finicky for this train jaunt. Give it two and a half suitcases, because while the concept is good, but it doesn't stand the test of time and heavy use. As for the Heys, which is made of lightweight polycarbonate, the exterior design suffered from the wear and tear of an African adventure. I love Heys carry-ons, but the fancy ones are best used in circumstances where baggage handling by others is limited. That said, while the lovely exterior did get beat up, the bag did its job in terms of protecting the contents inside. So, functionally--four suitcases; aethestically, what started out as a five suitcase rating ends up at 2 1/2.

The other bag I brought was an STM Linear Laptop Shoulder Bag ($89.95). It's perfect for carrying an iPad or tablet, plus a cell phone, a small wallet, and a banana. The bag has several separate compartments so it's easy to put a room key in one pouch, a banana in another, and your devices...well, they can be left to their own devices. Me likey. Five suitcases.

After you make your toting decisions, it's time to decide what to bring to improve your onboard comfort--particularly for an 18-hour flight like the one I took from Dulles to Johannesburg on South African Airways I'm always game for trying products that claim to improve on-board posture, so the Verti-ZZZ intrigued me. While it looks like a slingshot, it's meant to be a combo back straightener, head cradler, and eye shade. If one manages to sit still the entire flight, the product has potential. But it slips out of place too easily, thus contorting the neck, not supporting it As a slingshot, the Verti-ZZZ gets four suitcases, but as a device to ensure comfort, it gets a one. Maybe others agreed--the company website no longer seems to exist.

Next, I tried the Tri-Pil-Lo, with not one, but three, inflatable compartments for your in-flight pleasure. It was very difficult to blow up; the guy in the adjacent seat had to help me ( after first laughing at my futile attempts. Once inflated,it turned out to be a very nice foot rest. It didn't work as a back pillow, though, because the seat was not deep enough. At the end of the flight, it proved difficult to deflate. Right now, the Tri-Pil-Lo gets only three suitcases, but the company promises it is coming up with an easier-to-inflate model which will sell in the U.S. for $19.95.

Compression socks are not just for old ladies anymore. Zensah makes fashionable Compression Leg Sleeves for men and women (starting at $39.95). Colors range from navy blue to neon pink. Since they are above-the-ankle "sleeves" and not socks, no one will know you are wearing them, unless you choose to don them with shorts. In that case, you, my friend, are a little odd. At any rate, the sleeves didn't squeeze, and they seemed to relax my legs during the 18-hour flight. Of course, sitting in the bulkhead emergency row seat didn't hurt the comfort of my gams. Nevertheless, I'll give Zensah credit and a five suitcase rating.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Cowabunga, Dune!

please follow me on twitter @dailysuitcase
One might not expect Africa to contain much desert south of the Sahara. But Namibia, tucked away in the southwestern corner of the continent, is largely desert--dry, hot, and rugged.

In fact, the Namib is the oldest desert in the world, dating back 55 million years. Although one of the driest areas on earth, it has an amazing amount of biodiversity. This is largely due to its location adjacent to the Atlantic coast. The daily bombardment of ocean fog serves as lifeblood to the desert's critters.

The 19,000-square-mile Namib-Naukluft National Park was created to protect this vast desert.
The Namib Sand Sea area of Namib-Naukluft Park recently achieved UNESCO World Heritage Site status. It is the first natural heritage site named in the past decade to fulfill all four critieria of the designation. To paraphrase and condense said critieria, a World Heritage Site should:

1. Contain superlative natural phenomena or areas of exceptional beauty
2. Be an outstanding example of the Earth's history, including its geological processes
3. Be an outstanding example representing ongoing ecological and biological processes of evolution and
4. Contain important and significant natural habitats for conservation of biological diversity

What makes the area particularly special are the dunes. The oldest dune system in the area is estimated to be 21 million years old. The "younger" dunes have been around for five million years. The dunes are among the tallest in the world, some measuring nearly 1000 feet. Certainly, this is one of the greatest moving sand seas on the planet, representing a vast array of dune types. "Dune types, dude?" you query. Indeed, there are diverse dune types. There's the Barchan, the Seif, the Star, and the Sand Sheet. Inquiring minds can Google the details. But suffice to say that if you are a dune fanatic, Namibia is the place to be.

Friday, October 25, 2013

9 Images of Wildlife in Namibia

Namibia's Etosha National Park is not teeming with wildlife. Still, you can find plenty of giraffe, zebra, springbok and other antelope-types there. It's harder to spy a lion or an elephant, but seek and ye shall find.
However, as the beasts were only "findable" with a telephoto lens (which my iPad lacks), you will have to wait until I am back in the US of A before I upload shots of 2 of the Big Five.

A pregnant giraffe at Etosha

A thirsty giraffe at an Etosha water hole

Blesbok at the.Mokuti Etosha Lodge

Giraffe and zebra share a water hole

Rhino happy hour at Okapuka Ranch near Windhoek 

Kudu  and others at Etosha

Sable Antelope bookends at Okapuka Ranch

Springbok seeking shade in Etosha

Warthogs wallowing at Okapuka Ranch