The Best City in the World

I am often asked what is the best city I’ve visited. It’s really an impossible question but here it goes. Honorable mentions: Istanbul, London, Munich, Rio, New York, Rome, Amsterdam, Jerusalem, Sydney…


South Africa is a country that boasts a rich history, awe inspiring wild animals, breathtaking landscapes, modern cities and generous people. A traveler could spend months exploring places like Kruger National Park, the Wild Coast, the Garden Route and cities like Johannesburg, Pretoria, Durban and Port Elizabeth. However, no visit would be complete without a stop at South Africa’s crown jewel: Cape Town. It has a cornucopia of options, sure to pique the interest of everyone.


Move over France and Italy, South Africa produces great wine and Cape Town is ground zero. The world renowned Constantia wine is produced nearby, so good that literary giants Charles Dickens and Jane Austen mentioned it in their works. To party all night there is Long Street. Filled with every conceivable drink, it is the best night you might not remember.


There are many great hikes and in close proximity to the city. Two that can’t be missed are Lion’s Head and Table Mountain. Neither are easy hikes so prepare accordingly but the views are more than worth it. Lion’s Head is an ideal spot to see both the city and country sides of Cape Town. Sunset is the best time to do it. There is a cable car option to the top of Table Mountain but you probably need to work off that wine anyway.


The city has no shortage of beaches, parks, golf courses, sporting events and top flight restaurants. Also, you can live the history of the area with attractions such as Robben Island, the place where future president Nelson Mandela was imprisoned. Not far away is Gansbaai, known for its dense population of Great White Sharks. It is the ideal place to get up close with one of the world’s premier predators. It might make you think twice about surfing in the area though.


A word of caution, Cape Town can be very dangerous. It has the 9th highest murder rate in the world (65.53 murders per 100,000 people). However, the vast majority of this crime is committed in certain areas. As a tourist, you won’t be in these areas but keep in mind that getting lost here could cost you more than just time and inconvenience.


Quest for World Suds-premacy

Some people’s motivation to travel is to try the different foods from around the world. I too have enjoyed the various dishes from different corners of the globe. However, I have never been a “foodie.” I like beer. I set out to try as many different beers as I could on this trip.

Variety is the spice of life they say so I only count each beer once. I have friends that drink 10 Heinekens on the weekend all year long. For this exercise, that counts as one beer. So before before people start saying I have a drinking problem understand I’m only having one or two beers a day. Actually, I do have a drinking problem, it is when I’m in a country and I can’t find any new beers.

With the help of the Untappd app I have been able to keep a very good record of my quest. To date I have had 752 unique beers in 461 days or an average of 1.63 different beers per day.


I have had at least one beer from 59 countries. I’ve only been to 40 countries so far so obviously I’ve been able to snag a few imports from neighboring nations. Here are the major contributors:

Germany- 121

USA- 65

Belgium- 57

Poland- 51

South Africa- 36

Turkey- 34

Netherlands- 29

England- 28

Brazil- 26

Czech Republic- 25

Romania- 25

Israel- 16

Slovakia- 14

Ukraine- 13



Bosnia- 12

France- 11

Italy- 11

Bulgaria- 10

Croatia- 10


Germany’s 121 seems like a big number but I didn’t even scratch the surface, I could easily get triple that number with minimal effort. Turkey on the other hand, 34 is about the best I could do. I looked high and low over a period of months and that was the best I could come up with. I also left a lot on the table, or bar in this case, in the USA, Czech Republic, and Belgium. I am pretty proud of my totals in Poland, South Africa, Romania, and Brazil. Italy is an interesting one as I had 11 but didn’t even enter the country.


I also like to try different styles, I’ve had 64 different type of beer. Here are some of the big ones:

Lager- 250+ (the app only tracks to 250)

Pilsner- 108

Hefeweizen- 39

Blond Ale- 32

Cider- 29

IPA- 28

Pale Ale- 25

Non-Alcoholic- 24

Radler- 21

Dunkelweizen- 17

Fruit Beer- 17

Dubbel/Tripel/Quad- 16

Amber/Red Ale- 16

Porter/Stout- 13

Bock- 13

Strong Ale- 12

Witbier- 11


Most people I meet on this trip know about my quest and often are very helpful in finding new beers, or least drinking with me. Some people will even come to me with questions as a “beer expert.” However, the most common question is, “What is your favorite?” I just can’t answer that, it is like picking your favorite family member.

The quest is far from over but I’ve already learned so much. Sit me down an a bar and I can most likely tell you where each beer is from and the style. Not sure this knowledge is useful but I’m having a blast doing it and that is the main goal.


Dancing With “White Death”

The second half of my animal loving South African doubleheader was something I had been fantasizing about since I was a preteen. Dive with a Great White Shark!

Maybe it was too many episodes of Shark Week in the early 1990s but for as almost as long as I can remember I have been obsessed with sharks. I went on to jump in an aquarium of sharks in Australia, went on three cage dives in Hawaii (which included the Tiger Shark), and even went on two free dives with various types of smaller sharks (6 feet and under). When snorkeling and I see a shark, I’m the guy that swims toward it. Despite all this experience with our finned friends I never met the king of the ocean, the White Pointer, White Death, the Great White Shark.

Any armchair ichthyologist knows there are Great Whites in South Africa, and lots of them. This factored big in my decision to go. I also set aside some extra cash in the budget to go find one of these sharks. Turns out I didn’t need most of it, for just $134 I got to live my dream.


I went with the White Shark Diving Company, what they lack in creativity they make up for in performance. The tour included transportation from Cape Town to Gansbaai which is about a two hour drive. The price even included lunch after the dive.

Once we arrived, at the crack of dawn, we were briefed on cage safety and headed out on the water. People think these sharks are way out there, we were in view of land the entire time. Soon the deckhand started the chum slick which is basically a soup of blood and guts from various creatures. The captain claimed it was a secret recipe, different from other boats, that would bring the sharks running. True or not, it didn’t take long before the first White Shark arrived. We were separated into two groups of five, plus a smaller third group. I thought I was gonna die of anticipation as I was assigned to the second group.


The water was a chilly 66 degrees (18.8 C), we were given wet suits although adrenaline was the only heater I needed. While in the cage your head is actually above the waterline, when a shark approached the spotter on the boat yells DOWN and then a direction so you know where to look. Then you hold your breath and and pull yourself down in the cage. The chum gets the sharks in the area but the visibility is extremely poor, no more than a few feet. In order to see anything, the sharks need to get very close to the cage.


Finally, it was my group’s turn. Once in the water it was an eerie feeling, knowing that there were several big sharks in the area but you couldn’t see them. It was just an endless green murk. At last, the spotter yelled DOWN LEFT and I quickly sunk below the surface. I almost swallowed half the ocean for just two feet away was a 12 foot (4 M) Great White Shark, mouth agape with teeth hanging out, staring at me with its midnight black eyes. Over the next while several different sharks made passes. We saw nine Whites in total that day.

After my group the third smaller group went and the deckhand asked if anyone wanted to go a second time as there was still space in the cage. Talk about a no brainer! I quickly volunteered. The staff get the shark near the cage by throwing a big chunk of tuna on a rope on in front of the cage, once the sharks sees it they pull it back towards the boat (and cage) and the shark chases it. Once it is right in front of the cage they pull it out of the water, leaving the shark in prime viewing position. During this second session one shark chased the bait with aggression and when the bait was pulled the shark was going too fast and WHAM, it drilled the cage. The shark was coming so hard that it momentarily got its nose stuck in the cage and violently shook the cage to get free. What a feeling! A hybrid of terror and joy. The shark didn’t want anything to do with us it just wanted the fish.


After the diving we took a ride out to Dyer Island and saw the seals tempt fate in Shark Alley, it was fun to see theses places that are staples of almost every Great White documentary. Some people also enjoyed the random whales and seabirds that we saw but I just kept replaying the moment I met my first White Shark face-to-face. What an epic day, I’d recommend it to anyone and will most certainly do it again.

The Best Week of My Life

A lot of times on this trip I talk about checking things off my bucket list. It is true, I have a lot of items on this list and I am doing incredible things. However, if you held a gun to my head and made me pick a top 10, an African Safari would most certainly make the list.

As a side note, the idea that on a big trip you will cross off all or most of the items on your bucket list is complete nonsense. Here’s why, for every item you accomplish you add two or three more. You will meet people who tell you about a place you hadn’t heard of before. Soon it becomes a must. A bucket list never ends, but I know when I die I can say I gave my dreams a real effort.


Elephant selfie

In fact, I flew from Dubai to South Africa and then from South Africa to Paris for two real reasons. First and foremost to go on a safari and chiefly to see a lion in the wild. You may remember that I am fond of big cats after my nine-day trek to find a jaguar in Brazil. The second reason was to dive with a Great White Shark, but that is a whole different post.


The crew

Let me put to bed a popular misconception right away, you don’t have to be filthy rich to do this. Yes, it is more expensive than many activities but it doesn’t have to be $8,000 a person. Of course it can be if you want a luxury experience but are you there to see animals or be pampered?


Up close and personal

I did a six day “camping” safari with a company called Viva Safaris. It included breakfast, dinner a bed, five game drives (two at Kruger National Park), two bush walks, and transfers to and from Johannesburg. All this for only $645. The first two nights were in a lodge and the next three in a tent. Not the tent you are thinking of. One with concrete floors, electricity and a lockable door. Was it completely sealed? No, but there was a mosquito net that worked great.

That is all well and good, but what about the animals?!?!? The goal of most safaris is see the “big 5.” These are the most dangerous animals in Africa to hunt on foot, of course we weren’t hunting and weren’t on foot but this old list remains the gold standard. They are the African lion, Cape Buffalo, African Elephant, Black or White Rhino, and African Leopard. Our group was very lucky that we saw all of them by the second day. Of course there are many other interesting animals such as the hippo, giraffe, crocodile, zebra, several types of antelope, wildebeest, snakes, spiders and everything all the way down to the Dung Beetle.


The first lion!

In the next days, I became a type of safari snob as I had seen so much. I no longer even turned my head for elephants and giraffes, much less antelope. The additional time gave me a chance to look for some of the more rare animals such as the cheetah and wild dogs. Also, I could never get enough of the lions and leopards.


Another big cat for my list (cheetah)

The highlight of the trip was seeing a leopard, in a tree, eating an Impala. At one point it looked up, straight at us, face bloody with an expression like, “why are you watching me eat?” The nature was raw, we arrived on a scene where a lion had just killed a baby buffalo. It was kind of sad but that’s the game out here. It is an unforgiving place. The first morning were there we heard that the night before a poacher killed a rhino, an ultra endangered animal. In turn, he was shot in the back by security forces. At that time he was in critical condition in the hospital, I remember rooting that he die. That probably makes me a bad person, but I’m fine with that.


Rhino, one of the coolest animals I’ve ever seen

I also enjoyed the camaraderie with the other travelers and the guides. There were few, if any, people that I didn’t like. My group consisted of seven college-aged friends and me. It could have turned out horribly if they cliqued up but they accepted me into their group and we ended up hanging out during the nights when there were no structured activities. I couldn’t have asked for a better situation. Most people booked only three or four days while I booked six. After the third day the main guide would always ask me in the morning. “Mr. Curry, you are STILL here?” and then flash a huge smile.


The guides

My travel resume is extensive. I’ve seen a lot and done a lot. That six day period tops all others. No question in my mind. If you’ve been thinking about it just do it. You won’t be disappointed.

The Best Gift is Usually Giving

The Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary in Swaziland is logically away from the city. To the nearest store it is about an hour and a half walk, in the hot African sun. After doing that once I looked for another option to go into the town. Turns out the hostel had a once-per-day shuttle service.

Swaziland isn’t a wealthy country, ranking 105th in the world in GDP per capita ($5,181) but for Africa it is not bad at #13. (As a comparison the USA is at $53,042). One day while at the shopping center there was one guy I noticed who looked in worse shape than everyone else. He had shoes that looked like they had been repaired four or five times and not done professionally. The back of one of the shoes was completely caved in, rendering it now a slip on. After hobbling along so he wouldn’t lose his shoe he had sat on the curb, I sat next to him and tried to talk to him but he spoke no English.


I went about my shopping but I couldn’t stop thinking about that man. He looked beat down by life. His wrinkled face had no smile. He was probably in his late 60s or early 70s. I couldn’t imagine my parents sitting on a curb with busted shoes at that age.

When I was done shopping I asked the driver if he knew the man, he said he did and that the man couldn’t find work because he suffered from mental problems. Suddenly I blurted out, “I want to buy him new shoes.” My driver was shocked. I asked if he could talk to the man for me and ask him if he would like new shoes. I watched as he walked over, after leaning down and saying something, the old man’s face lit up.

Now with some pep in his step, the three of us went to the shoe store. My driver translated for the man “Which shoes can I pick from?” I told the shop owner and the driver, give him whatever shoes he wants and I will pay the bill. The old man must have tried on five or six pairs, enjoying the process. He finally settled on a pair of black leather low cut boots.

The driver said he is very happy and wants to thank you. I didn’t need a translation because I could see it on his face. The shoes ended up costing me about $60, which put me way over my daily budget, but it was completely worth it. I never saw the man again, and probably never will, but in my mind I can see him strutting his stuff down the streets of Swaziland in his shiny new boots.


Off the Tourist Trail

Places like London, Istanbul, Paris, and Dubai are fantastic places to visit. They are among the most popular tourist destinations in the world for good reason. I have visited each on this trip and enjoyed my time there.

Yet, I desire to be a little dissimilar and have different postcards on my figurative refrigerator. So I try to get a little more off the beaten path and explore underappreciated destinations. My extra effort has always been rewarded with amazing experiences in places I often can’t even pronounce.


Football (soccer) on the beach in Muscat

Muscat, Oman- I will admit that Dubai isn’t among my favorite places on earth. Yes, the buildings are cool to look at and the obvious wealth is quite impressive. However, unless you are a rich shopper there isn’t much substance behind the flash. It reminds me of Las Vegas, just without the gambling and drinking. However, just a few hours away is the capital of Oman. Muscat is also very modern and safe, not what you might think about when talking about Middle East travel. The seaside, the historical part of Muscat and the towering mosques all make a visit worthwhile. The people are also much friendlier than Dubai, there is not such a stuck up attitude.


Hello zebras!

Malkerns and Manzini, Swaziland- South Africa is quite possibly my favorite county I’ve visited of the 31 so far on this trip. Still, I had some preconceived idea of what sub-Saharan Africa should look like and South Africa wasn’t it. The game drives I went on in South Africa were truly breathtaking but after days with a group in a jeep for hours and hours I yearned to explore alone on foot. Swaziland was perfect solutions for these “issues.” Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary only has the hippo of the “Big Five” so I could hike for hours in relative safety. Although the park was home to several species of cobras, mambas, adders and a host of other venous snakes. Not to mention lakes dotted with large crocodiles and hippos. Although there were no big cats or elephants or other well-known safari animals the place was teeming with life. It was quite a rush to hike alone in silence and turn the corner only to be face-to-face with a zebra or wildebeest. The city of Mazini had all the sights and sounds that I pictured Africa to be including great food and kind people.


Mileștii Mici, over 125 miles of wine!

Moldova- Trivia question: Where can you find the biggest wine cellar in world? Moldova! You can probably find better wine in Italy, France or in the USA but for the value Moldova might have the best wine in the world. The quality of wine is quite good, but don’t take it from a beer guy like me. Queen Elizabeth and Jimmy Carter are both known to enjoy wine from Moldova. Toss away the wine in a box and grab bottle with a mid-1980s vintage for under $10! Plus, no one looks at you strange when you have several glasses of wine with breakfast.


Beach in Odessa

Odessa, Ukraine- I recently saw an article that was being passed around Facebook that ranked the “Top 10 Most Dangerous Countries in the World.” I had a hearty chuckle when I saw Ukraine made the list. Yes, there is an armed conflict going on in the northeast part of the country with thousands of dead. You might not have heard much about it, probably because they are not Muslims. Point it, it is very easy to avoid. Ukraine is a huge country. Odessa is an amazing city and 100% safe but many tourists don’t find it on their list. From the cultural gems such as the opera house to the relaxing beaches on the Black Sea to top quality restaurants, Odessa is a place that I won’t soon forget. If you know me, you know I look for value and I’m ready to declare Ukraine the best value in the whole of Europe! European Culture at sub South American prices, simply unbeatable!

As I pen this I sit in Sighisoara, Romania which also belongs on such a list but I’ll let the adventure fully unfurl before I commit it to paper.


Following the Impalas down the trail in Swaziland