We woke up bright and early this morning. No. I lie. It was not bright. Early but dark at six o'clock. And quickly we rushed to catch the train for a day-trip to Figueres, famed for being the birth place of Salvador Dali, whose museum that we dashed to see. 

The train ride from Barcelona took about two hours. I dozed mostly. Except for the half-an-hour or so when I laughed hysterically at B as he flicked his booger and it got stuck on the seat in front of us. Some people leave graffiti as tokens or etchings of their being at a place. Not B. He leaves boogers.

The Figueres Museum of Dali was founded by Dali himself and contained his works from each decade as well as his own private collection of other artists. As good as it was, it lacked the clear commentary of an audioguide, which we have found very useful elsewhere. I think B was disappointed that it didn't contain much of his more famous works, but I thought it was a good collection to see where his thoughts and roadmaps developed from and onto his major works. 

Inside the Dali Museum

We were back in Barcelona by late afternoon. And given the disappointing lunch of pizza and paella in Figueres (microwave job, but the pizza did come with a cool hammer-like tool to cut up), B decided to search for somewhere decent for dinner. He stumbled upon an article in the New York Times that declared the close-by Cafe Viena to have the best sandwich ever. As my hero Liz Lemon once said, "all anyone really wants in life is to sit in peace and eat a sandwich." And that we did. The best sandwich ever was of course filled with the best jamon ever. An unassuming looking thing, cleverly disguising its tastiness in the shape of a simple baguette and ham.
Poor pizza, cool gadget
The best sandwich ever

I woke up this morning to B shouting, "Fuck! It's already ten!" Shortly after, I realised it was actually eleven, given the time difference between here and England.

Hurriedly, we got ready and set off for Parc Güell, an expansive bit of green space on a hill with gorgeous panoramic views of Barcelona. And of course, it is another one of Gaudi's works. A very Gaudi-esque entrance greeted us - mosaic'd animal sculptures, water features and buildings without straight lines. Up the steps, 86 tree-trunk-like columns led onto the plaza where on stone seats designed by Gaudi, one could watch the afternoon go by, or if like me, sat and took a 15-minute siesta.

We walked eventually to the highest view point, a cross on a hill where panoramic views of Barcelona could be enjoyed. With shaking knees, I managed to walk up and hugged the cross for dear life. Despite the dizzying fears of falling to death, the view was magnificent. Amidst the many buildings, the Sagarda Familia and las Ramblas stood out.
Parc Güell entrance

Gaudi's influence permeates throughout Barcelona. Almost every corner is a bench that does not conform to a straight line, or a building elaborately coloured and mosaic'd. We attempted to see the inside of a few, but bulked at the hefty entrance fees. Mostly, the view from the street more than satisfied the eyes. 
Gaudi wuz ere - Casa Batlló
No trip of ours is ever complete without a trip to the local market. Today, we bought jamon. Jamon iberico bellota to be exact. And close to €40 worth. They are ludicrously expensive in Australia. So really more than €40 worth of savings, we kept telling ourselves. 

A quiet night back at the hostel; dinner of jamon, cheese on baguettes, accompanied by wine in plastic cups. The jamon was delicious. The texture was two-fold: a fatty thinner side and a chewier  slightly thicker side. B went all nerdy and waxed lyrics about the process that transformed these acorn-eating pigs to the tasty, salty, fatty morsels that slid down my throat. The Spaniards are not unlike the Chinese - they appreciate their pigs. Could this be one of the strategies used to drive out the Jews and Muslims during the Inquisition?
Jamon and wine for dinner.
Travelling can be tiring. We arrived in Barcelona this morning with just over an hour of sleep under our belt. It wasn't long before I started to crave for a siesta.

First impression of Barcelona is that it is unlike that Woody Allen movie. It is also unlike Paris, where the streets are quaint and dotted with little patisseries for us to hop in and satisfy small cravings. We are staying just off Las Ramblas, where it is loud; full of tourists during the day and pickpockets at night. Basically just full of people, shops, buskers and pigeons. Stupid pigeons everywhere.

We were starving by the time we took to the streets of Barcelona. Given it was Sunday, most cafes off the main streets were closed. We had to make do with this place called QuQu (for some reason, €15 for all you can eat tapas elsewhere sounded too good to be true). This was definitely NOT the best place fo tapas - for €16, we got four tapas that were deep fried to oblivion, one pintxo and a very cranky waitress. B's satisfaction came when he cleared the tray of change that the cranky waitress had waited for as tips. 

Next we headed to the famed and most visited site in all of Spain - the Sagarda Familia, a basilica that Antoni Gaudi had started building in 1883 and still yet to be completed. There are cranes sitting alongside the basilica's lofty spires. Here and there, bits of coloured mosaic (which seems to be THE Gaudi thing) adorn the spires - 18 in all; 12 for the apostles, four for the Evangelists, the other two for the Virgin Mary and Jesus. We joked that if the basilica had been built in China, it would have not taken over 100 years. One year at most. Or six months in Dubai. 
Fail: incomplete after more than 100 years.

I am slow in getting the tales from Africa up. So far, stories are still stuck in Botswana. 
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Rain is probably worth more than diamonds in Botswana. There are plenty of the diamonds here. But not so much of rain.

It is held in such an esteemed position that the national currency, pula, literally means rain.

So it was with some disbelief that we absorbed all this information while on a game walk in almost torrential downpour. And even more so as I fell asleep to the sound of rain falling on my tent that night.

The pitter-patter was interrupted by distant roars. I could only assume it was a lion.

Other times, it was interrupted by some trumpeting much closer by. It wasn't until morning that we all found the unmistakable footprints carefully stamped around our tents.

"They very rarely would stomp on tents. They just think they're boulders." Mark, our guide, explained.

Somehow, one of these coming within one metre of the "boulder" that I'm in is still a scary thought.

Lodgings for the night was at Elephant Sands, a camp site close to Nata.  On our way here in the afternoon, we got caught speeding at 80km/h in a 60km/h zone. I am not entirely sure how accurate this was as we were not exactly caught by a speed gun. The local Botswana cop shop utilises a simple  a video recorder, one you would record your baby's first steps back in 1988. Perhaps they are very superior in physics equations and can work out the terminal speed, v, very quickly. Nevertheless, Mark talked his way out of a fine.

TIA. This is Africa.
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Here's a little confession. That late night at work months ago certainly pushed me into going to Africa, but one of the other inspirations was the HBO/BBC production of "The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency" starring Jill Scott. From the show, my list of priorities were - visit Botswana, feel the heat of the Kalahari, sip red bush tea and learn how to speak in clicks.

I kept on reading the novels while our trusty truck, Kavango, charged towards the Botswana border. I also imagined that Jill Scott would be at the other side with a cup of red bush tea and a mystery to be solved.

Reality was somewhat different. Border crossing in reality involved no friendly gestures of red bush tea, but a hastily concocted plan to get rid of weed Marc and hide the steaks from customs. And elephants. Lots and lots of elephants.

The Weed
Pineapple Express is probably the best movie I can use to describe Marc. He claimed to get offered weed everywhere. Even on his honeymoon. By the time we were about to leave Kruger, his supply had dwindled down to one last joint and we were supposed to get rid of it via any means before we got to the Botswana border.

At the last rest stop before the border, a sudden revelation dawned. We still have that one last joint. Lindi was already eager to get the us moving. But one last joint! What to do!?

Then, a local man walked past Kavango. He asked for a cigarette. Ross, the only smoker on the truck was otherwise occupied at the drop toilet. What to do?!

"The joint! Let's give him that joint!"

And thus we avoided an unappetising stint in a Botswana jail.

The Steaks
Botswana is known for its beef exports and is quite protective of its industry. Smuggling meat products across the border is illegal. However, Botswana also has a much stronger currency (the Pula) in comparison to the South African Rand. So when budgeting for an overland trip, it is good economics to smuggle some steaks.

The trick is to take the steaks out of the fridge at the border (where the customs fellow checks), and hide it in the lockers (where they don't check).

The Elephants in the Room
Botswana is like Texas. Everything is bigger. Even the elephants. When South Africa was going through Apartheid, Botswana was quite rightly worried. The government spent a lot of money to boost the military. The end of Apartheid allowed the army's focus to shift towards poachers, and thus Botswana came to have one of the best anti-poaching programs in the world. Every ten minutes or so in Botswana, you bump into a herd by the side of the road - all still with their tusks intact.

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On my way to breakfast this morning, I was greeted by Pumba, one of the many warthogs within the Ilkeley Game Ranch. I cannot imagine a better way to start the day in Africa.

Our guide for the day was a local named Alfred. He often introduced himself with, "Hi, I'm Alfred and your guide for your day inside Kruger. As you can see, I am Chinese."

He stopped himself today mid-sentence when his gaze landed on me. Yes, I heckled him with my silent presence.

Kruger National Park is one of the largest game reserves in Africa. Depending on who you speak to, some will insist that it is bigger than England. The recent joint venture between Kruger NP and the surrounding associated private nature reserves brought down the fences that previously defined the borders, creating an even greater space for all the Simbas and Nhalas to roam. And thus, we were treated to sights of buffaloes, hyenas, and giraffes before we even drove through the gate into Kruger.

We seemed to spot quite a number of the outcasts today - we saw them all in duplicates of buffaloes, wildebeests, elephants, and hippos. They moved in slow and  encumbered steps in search of shelter and water in the intense heat, sometimes finding only thin coverings of bare branches or waterholes mere inches deep. It is a harsh world for the tired, the poor, the huddled masses, the homeless...

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