Category Archives: Travel Guidance

How to Find the Secret Hidden Crystal Pools in South Africa


A backpacker I met in Cape Town filled me in on a neat secret…

Apparently, just outside of the city there is an area in Gordon’s Bay called the Steenbras River Gorge — a remarkably private reserve where only a limited number of people are allowed entry into every day. There, those people have access to a hike leading to five refreshingly natural pools alongside a mountainous, yet precarious trail also inhabited by naughty baboons.

Each pool you come across gets bigger and more extravagant than the last. They are called the Crystal Pools and it’s hidden somewhere in the Steenbras River Gorge. The pools are so crisp and clean, that they are perfect for taking a dip on a hot South African day.


Of all my years visiting South Africa, I never knew such a place existed!

Jesse, the backpacker who told me about this, his travel buddy Trevor, and I made it our mission to track down these pools. It definitely wasn’t the easiest thing. A pain in the ass actually. Much of the information we found online was inaccurate and outdated.

As a convenience, I’m here to help any of you to avoid the hassle if you find yourself interested in the Crystal Pools.

The Important Stuff

First, know this. The trek to the pools is a bit lengthy, not so straight-forward, and home to thieving wild baboons. Lots of them. But the rewards are worth the task.

So if you are up for the challenge, then this is how you should proceed:

Access to the Crystal Pools Hiking Trail is only possible from the months of November to April. The rest of the months are cold and rainy.

The only way to enter the reserve is to receive a permit via email reservation. There is absolutely no other way to get around this. Trust me, I’ve tried.

What you have to do is send an email to this address:

In that email, you must state your name, your group size, contact number, and the date you wish to visit.

Depending on holidays and weekends, you should receive a reply from the Steenbras Nature Reserve office within a few days either granting you permission or stating that you need to reschedule another day because it’s already booked.

Try to book as far in advance as possible to ensure your reservation.

If your desired date is available, they will send you an email with rather complex instructions on how to pay for the minimal entrance fee of R65 (price as of Dec 2017).

Basically, to process an electronic payment:

Include the City of Cape Town Municipality as a beneficiary on your transfer and
include this number as the special reference number: 19210834.

The annoying thing about this is that the only way to pay is through a bank transfer or wire. As of this post, there is absolutely no other way. (I’ve tried that too.) You can do this from home at your bank or from an ABSA bank while in South Africa.

After wiring the money to their office, you must prove you did so by emailing them a copy of the proof of purchase or receipt. Once you do that, you should receive a confirmation PDF in a couple of days that you must print out, which is your permit to access the reserve.

You must wire the payment no longer than 48 hours before your visit, as it needs time to process.

(When I did this process, the office didn’t respond to me for over a week! Once they did, they claimed it was because of a power outage along with the bad news that the date I wanted was fully booked.  Later, however, when Jesse tried to reserve for that same date, they granted him permission. I have no idea why they said “no” to me and “yes” to him. Possibly other reservations were canceled or they are just as unorganized as the whole process to access the reserve.)

Whew! All this work just to get into a reserve! Now to the fun stuff!

The location of the Steenbras Nature Reserve appears on Google Maps. You may drive yourself there (there is parking available along the highway further along the R44, just past the bridge and on the right-hand side).

Or just take a taxi or a cheap Uber, like we did. Just remember, if you plan on leaving, make sure you have data service to hire another Uber or it’s quite a walk to find any sort of taxi.

crystal pools steenbras south africa

The red star indicates where the entrance to the reserve is.

The entrance to the reserve is on the end of this bridge.


And it looks like this.


Present your permit and then you’re free to go!

Now, remember those naughty, thieving baboons I mentioned earlier?

They are lunatics.

You’ll see warnings about them, reminding you to mind your belongings, and if they try to take anything from you, specifically food, just let them have it. They can become temperamental if engaged. They aren’t everywhere, but you are bound to see some prodding in the distance.

Speaking of food, be sure to pack a lunch and bring plenty of water (no alcohol is allowed in the premises). Any rubbish or trash you have must be brought back with you. There aren’t any trash containers along the trail. One of the reasons a limited number of people are allowed each day is to help preserve the natural area. So please be mindful and respectful.

Onward to the trail!

crystal pools south africa steenbras nature reserve

crystal pools steenbras south africa

The trek begins fairly straightforward–just follow the yellow shoe prints you will see along the way. Eventually, after about 45 minutes to an hour, you’ll reach the first pool.



The reflection from the pool’s surface.

If you want an easy day, then feel free to stop and take a dip here. If you want an adventure, then skip this one and press on. The pools get better the further you go.

crystal pools south africa steenbras nature reserve

crystal pools south africa steenbras nature reserve

After trekking for an hour or two later among boulders and puzzling pathways, we finally made it to the fifth pool, saving the other pools for the way back. We actually discovered a sixth pool, but it was way beyond our reach and didn’t look as inviting.

crystal pools south africa steenbras nature reserve

crystal pools south africa steenbras nature reserve

We did get to play there for a while, until a troop of baboons kinda kicked us out. One of them chased us back onto the path! Thankfully we already ate our lunch.
No worries. We still had the other pools to swim in.
On our way back, we got a little lost and took an alternate, slightly more dangerous route to get back on the path we took before. Suddenly, we heard a harrowing scream. It turned out to be a group of trekkers who were raided by a group of baboons while they took a swim in pool #4. Possibly the same troop who chased us out of pool #5? Maybe, but the boys and I got the heck outta there and decided to go to pool #3.
No baboons. The coast was clear.



crystal pools south africa steenbras nature reserve

crystal pools south africa steenbras nature reserve

The water? Cold, but revitalizing under the sun. It was dark and almost a copper color that created a mystifying effect under the water.

crystal pools south africa steenbras nature reserve

crystal pools south africa steenbras nature reserve

crystal pools south africa steenbras nature reserve

At the end of this particular pool was a series of small cascading waterfalls that you could climb all over and bask in. This place was so unreal!


You’ll notice that there are many places to cliff jump, some as high as 22 meters! It seems perfectly fine to jump from them, all in differentiating heights. So pick your poison! Just know that though these pools are clear, they are a deep black so there’s no telling what’s at the bottom. Feel around for boulders and protruding objects before you make the heroic leap!

crystal pools south africa steenbras nature reserve

crystal pools south africa steenbras nature reserve

The hiking trail to Crystal Pools was an all day thing for us. We arrived there around 9am and left around 6pm. It was terribly easy to get lost, so we made sure to have plenty of time to leave before the sunset.

crystal pools south africa steenbras nature reserve

The Crystal Pools did not disappoint!

If you have the time in Cape Town, I highly recommend you check out these pristine pools. It’s been rated as one of the best treks to do near Cape Town and for good reason! There weren’t many people around and it’s the perfect way to spend a sunny day in the Western Cape with you and your friends.

If you have any questions about the Crystal Pools, please feel free to ask me! I’ll probably be able to respond quicker than those sloths in the Steenbras offices.

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9 Really Dumb Things I Used To Do During My Travels That I Don’t Do Anymore

I’ve been traveling on a large-scale around the world for the last decade or so. With that, I’ve made plenty of dimwitted mistakes and committed piles of ignorant acts back in my earlier days of exploration. Looking back now—things that make me cringe!

Don’t do what I did.

1. Touch The Boobs

I was persuaded to go to Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum in Bangkok with a couple other backpackers. I didn’t want to because I thought it would be boring, but they kept on insisting. So to make it entertaining for myself, I thought it would be hilarious to fondle many of the wax celebrities and peek underneath their clothes, much to the horror of all the other museum patrons. I was so annoying.


2.   Climbing Sacred Religious Monuments

I had (and still do have) an urge to climb things that aren’t meant to be climbed on. So when we went to a religious Buddhist park in Laos, I couldn’t resist the itch to climb on all the statues. Even worse, there were monks around praying while I acted like a damn monkey climbing all over the park. The photos I got were amazing, but looking back on it…I was such a dick.


3.  Run From The Law

Speaking of Laos, it was there where I also ran from the cops to escape a ticket. While riding a motorbike for the first time in my life, I accidentally drove past a red traffic light. An officer on the side of the road (who was on foot) whistled for me to pull over, and so I complied. He asked me a bunch of questions in broken English, in which I pretended I couldn’t understand him. He then asked me to wait a moment. When he went into his office several meters away to get some information, I took off at the speed of light to avoid the ticket. I could have gotten in some SERIOUS trouble if I were caught.


4.  Hike a Mountain With A Flu

Kilimanjaro was (and is still) the most formidable hike I’ve ever endured in my life! I began the trek with a godawful flu. The hike cost around $1,200, so flu or no flu, I hiked it to get my nonrefundable money’s worth. I was challenging death during summit day. I fainted, passed out, nearly froze to death, and had to be given oxygen from an emergency tank…but I made it! However, it’s a risk I won’t tempt ever again.

5. Jump Into a Tidal Pool of Ferocious Water

Another dumb thing that nearly killed me. I led a group of clueless volunteers to a destination I dubbed as “The Rock”; a gigantic towering boulder about a mile down the Pacific side of Costa Rica’s western coastline. As we trekked, we came across a giant pool of water, with angry waves pummeling against an enormous rock wall. Stupid, dumb me thought that if we swam against the wall, then the waves can’t possibly slam us into said wall. The others told me not to but I didn’t listen. Confident, I jumped in any way and immediately was sucked out into the water and picked up by an oncoming wave, repeatedly slamming my back against the wall! Stupid, dumb me also had a tendency to overpack, so thank goodness that my backpack I was wearing absorbed most of the impact. Also, thank goodness there was a professional rock climber among the volunteers who were able to miraculously grab me and save my life.


6.  Prebook Random Flights Because It Sounds Like A Good Idea

While at home in Michigan, I had an upcoming three-month long trip all over Africa. I thought that I would break up my Africa trip by booking a flight to Paris for a few days and then return to where I left off. When it came the time in Tanzania to fly to Paris, I couldn’t be bothered with another long plane journey to an expensive city for four days by myself, only to return right back in Tanzania again. So I simply skipped the flight and my hotel in France. That was $1000 I’ll never get back, right down the drain of stupidity.

7. Video Record the Women in the Red Light District

Stupid, naive me thought the Red Light District in Amsterdam was famous because of its cool red lights everywhere, not because of the prostitution and sex-oriented businesses that infamously ran rampant there. So as I strolled through, I had my phone on record, documenting everything I saw, including all of the scantily clad women in the glass windows offering a peep show. So you can understand why I was startled when one of the women suddenly popped out of the window and ordered her security to retrieve my phone. He couldn’t catch me and I still have my video. Won’t try that again though, now that I know what the red lights really mean…


8. Flash My Stuff Around An African Shanty Town

I already knew better than to do this. I was volunteering at a school in a township in South Africa for a while. I left the school early one day and walked back to my homestay. I felt comfortable enough in the township to listen to my iPod on the way. Minutes later, two lanky, scraggly men approached me and tried to take my iPod from me. I was prepared to fight (they had no visible weapons) and I felt I could take them on. And so, they backed off once they saw that I stood my ground. I got off lucky, but I never flashed any fancy object in any poor township ever again after that.

9. Put My Valuables Underneath a Bus In a Developing Country

This is another instance where I felt “invincible” in a foreign country. While traveling all over Vietnam by bus, I normally kept my carry on bag with my valuables on my person. Well, one day I decided “screw it” and placed my carry-on bag in the undertow of the bus. Later, I discovered my iPhone was missing. I thought I just misplaced it, until I discovered photos on my iPad that were newly synced from my missing phone. Selfies of that dirty bus driver, who obviously swiped my phone from my bag. There was no way of getting it back, as I was long gone in another country. No one to blame but myself…

I tried to find a tenth dumb thing to end this list on a nice, even number, but I couldn’t think of anything substantial. I’m sure I’m guilty of plenty more dumb travel related things…just as you probably are too!

What stupid things have you done on your travels? I wanna know!

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How To Pack For A Trip To Every Continent

There is no perfect way to pack for any trip, regardless the scale. But after a few years of travels and lots of packing, I’ve come up with an ideal guide to help decide how one should pack in the most practical way possible. This is how I’m packing for my upcoming trip.

Every trip is different and how you should pack depends on four criteria:

  • Where Are You Going?
  • When Are You Going?
  • What Will You Be Doing?
  • How Long Are You Going For?

I’ll apply my upcoming trip, The Quest To The Seven Continents, to those four criteria to help me decide what to pack:

Where Are You Going? Attempting to reach all seven continents and a multitude of countries, from the pureness of Michigan, to the islands of Fiji, to the heat of Africa, to the icy Antarctic, and beyond!

When Are You Going? Now until whenever. I know it will be winter in New Zealand when I get there. As for when I arrive everywhere else…your guess is as good as mine at this point.

What Will You Be Doing? A little bit of everything! Adventuring, exploring, teaching, and challenging myself in all sorts of countries spread across the world.

How Long Are You Going For? Not sure. Two years is what I’ve been telling everyone. Could be more, could be less. It all depends.

I know, vague answers. It would be easier to know what to pack if I knew the exact answers to the questions above, which presents another problem…

I want to pack light but how can I do so with such a sizeable, yet mysterious trip that could take me literally anywhere on Earth?

The answer is simple. Pack the absolute essentials (listed below) and know that anything hefty (sleeping bags, winter coats, boots, etc) can be bought, borrowed, or rented later for whenever you may need them down the road. Throughout all of my previous travels, I’ve never had an issue. I’m not packing for major hikes and camping because I know there are rental companies just about everywhere for that. I’m not hauling around snow gear for Antarctica because I know there are rental areas for that too. There was a case where I needed a sleeping bag for a volcanic hike and a friend I met was able to lend me one which saved me money.


  1. Toiletries – a toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant, razor, 2-in-1 hair and body soap. Ya know, the basics.
  2. Basic Clothing – a handful of underwear, dark-colored t-shirts, black ankle socks, some comfortable shorts and pants with pocket space. (Tip: If possible, avoid white clothes when you’re traveling, especially white socks. They’re going to get dirty real fast and are harder to clean than darker colored clothing.)
  3. Shoes – always have your one main pair of shoes that you will wear the most, which will most likely be your runners, trainers, gym shoes, casual, or whatever suits your style.

After writing this list, I just realized how it’s catered more to males than females. Women tend to over pack more than men and I’m not sure what to tell you to bring. Think of what you use the most in your daily routine and go with your gut! Most travelers I meet abroad always say they over packed and brought too much.


  1. MacBook Air (Equipped with a protective case, screen protector, and keyboard cover) – lightweight, reliable, and easier to type on than my iPad which is currently retired.
  2. Seagate 2 TB Portable Hard Drive – one of my most important electronics. Mainly used to back up all the photos and videos I will take. I’m also storing a few movies and games to entertain me on my downtime. It’s extremely small, compact, and lightweight.
  3. Canon EOS 6D (Equipped with rubber body cover and screen protectors) – My newest big boy camera. This will be my companion throughout this upcoming trip around the world.
  4. GoPro Hero 4 Black – This is a must for any thrill seeking traveler. I took awhile to decide between the silver (which has a touch screen) or the black edition (which doesn’t have a touch screen, but records more fps). I ultimately decided to go with the Black. The touch screen will be useless when the waterproof case is attached and I can use my iPhone as a view screen instead if I really wanted to. I’m also bringing spare batteries and a lightweight extendable stick that can transform into a tripod.
  5. iPhone 6s Plus 128GB (Equipped with case and screen protector)– I’m bringing the big one because its great for pictures on the go and mainly because I know at some point I’ll be in South Africa and those kids in Stellenbosch would always play games on my iPad. I’m not bringing my iPad this time so this will have to do. I’ve already downloaded a bunch of old favorites on there including their ultimate favorite game “Subway Surfer.” I got the 128GB version because on my previous trip, I constantly ran out of room on the 16GB and always had to delete content.

These are my most expensive and valuable items I’m bringing with me in order to share my experiences with the world. If I weren’t documenting or blogging, I would leave behind the MacBook, portable hard drive, and probably the GoPro. Every single electronic will be packed in my carry-on back pack with me through every airport. Never put your valuables in your stored luggage, should your bag goes missing. This will save you a world of headaches.

My Personal Must-Brings:

1. Water ShoesDeep See Water ShoesI don’t use them often, but when I do, I’m glad to have them. For those situations when it’s best to be barefoot but not quite barefoot, these are a must for me. I used them while swimming through caves and river treks on recent trips and boy did they come in handy.

2. Travel Towel15db0a0c-88eb-4624-bf06-7e0c3442458e – I’ve never brought a towel with me on trips because they take up too much space and I can usually rent or buy a towel wherever I am. This time, I’m bringing this light weight, quick drying towel to help keep my bag as light as possible.


3. Waterproof Hiking ShoesWater Proof Hiking Shoes – I don’t normally bring hiking shoes either as they are bulky and take up space but since I plan on doing some extensive hiking on this trip, a quality pair of hiking shoes will be essential.


Travel-Pillow-KohbiR-Travel-Bliss-Memory-Foam-Neck-Pillow-Premium-Neck-Support-Pillow-for-Comfort-Rest-Free-Bonus-Travel-Tips-Ebook-Luxurious-Plush-Astral-Blue-Velour-Washable-Cover-Lightweight-Neck-R-04. Neck Pillow – Sleep comes a little easier with this. It came in handy when I was stuck in a bus station for two days and when I needed that extra support for when I stay in a place with just one measly pillow. Perfect to lean on when I’m in a window seat on a plane or bus. And small enough to store and take with me almost anywhere. I usually keep it attached the outside of my carry-on.

5. Waterproof Phone PouchWaterproof Phone PouchThere were times when I simply just didn’t feel like busting out my GoPro every single time I was in a situation that required me to get wet. That’s when my waterproof pouch came in as a great substitute. My phone fits right inside it and I can wear it around my neck. I can touch the screen through the transparent cover with ease and the photos and videos come out just as they would without the pouch. The pouch also floats in case I did lose hold of it. I actually used this more than my GoPro on a previous trip though Central America.

6. Motion Sick Tablets81sypdAxCTL._SX522SX522_SY661_CR,0,0,522,661_PIbundle-4,TopRight,0,0_SX522_SY661_CR,0,0,522,661_SH20_I can’t travel without them. I will be on many different modes of transportation and will be loading up on non drowsy tablets. Whenever I ran low, I found that many countries sold their own versions. I have been able to find motion sick tablets almost everywhere I went, even some for way cheaper you would find in the US that worked just as well.



wn-logo-withtag-rgbmed_4fd17c4492a617. Travel Insurance – Don’t leave home without it. You never know what may happen. I can usually find good rates through my most frequent provider World Nomads. I keep a copy of my insurance in my document folder and a digital copy in my email.

8. Document Folder – For every major trip, I bring a sturdy folder that I keep in the laptop sleeve of my carry-on. Inside this folder are important documents I may need for emergency situations. Paper copies of my passport, flight itineraries, background information (for teaching purposes), spare passport-sized photos, and other important letters and documents. I rarely have to use them, but always give peace of mind just in case anything were to happen. (Tip: Before every trip, I always scan and email myself all of those documents in case I lose my folder.)

9. Spare Debit Cards – Before every trip, I always ask my bank to send me an extra debit card attached to my account. I keep it separate from my active card (my active card in my wallet and my inactive card hidden somewhere among my bags). I keep the spare card inactivated and bring it with me just in case my activated one becomes lost or stolen. If such were to happen, I can easily activate my spare by inserting it into an ATM or calling the number provided which would in turn deactivate my old one immediately. Fortunately, I’ve never had a problem as of yet.

Things That I Should Bring But Can Do Without:

  1. Jeans – I’ve come to realize, I hate wearing jeans. They’re uncomfortable and relatively heavy compared to my other pants, yet I always brought a pair or two on my travels and barely wore them. Well not anymore! If there is an instance where I’ll need a “nice” pair of pants, I’ll just buy something wherever I am.
  2. Sleeping Bag – Just no. They’re too big and take up too much valuable space. Whenever I needed a sleeping bag, I was able to rent one for cheap or borrow one on the spot. I know I’ll need a sleeping bag eventually, but as for now I am okay. I’d say you should only bring a sleeping bag if your travels depend heavily on camping or sleeping outdoors.
  3. Sunscreen – I’ve never bought sunscreen in my life. Thankfully because of my darker complexion, I’ve never had any issue with sunburns. Now I definitely could get burnt but it hasn’t happened yet. It’s the least of my worries and when it comes a time that I should probably use some, I can buy a small bottle or borrow a dabble from one of my paler travel companions. 🙂
  4. Money Belt – I’ve never actually used a money belt but the idea of it is beneficial and can help for a peace of mind. I personally am always conscious of my passport and wallet and secure them into my front pockets. If I’m walking through crowds, my hands are always in my pockets. I’ve been pretty good about safely securing my important belongings and the thought of constantly going through a money belt, snug tightly under my shirt every time I needed to get money would become annoying real fast. I can see it working for some but not a necessity for me.
  5. Fanny Pack (Bum Bag-UK) – No.

I’m only bring a 75 liter backpack and a smaller carry-on bag for all of my electronics and a couple of articles of clothing to hold me over in case my luggage goes missing. My toothbrush, toothpaste, and deodorant is always with me on my carry-on. After a long flight, I go straight to the public restroom to brush my teeth and freshen up.

With all of this, I don’t think I could ever pack perfectly for this trip. Anything can happen and I probably will end up in places I’ve never heard of or presented with an opportunity I didn’t pack for. Situations like these have happened before and I was always able to manage. In tight times, there was always a local friend or fellow traveler who were able to help me out.

Hope this guide helps with your global trips, whether they be a few days to a few years, around the block or across the oceans. Happy packing!

Feel free to leave your questions or comments below or to my email,