Tanzania: The Tarangire Edition.

It was a long drive in. As we got closer to our turn off point, we realized we needed to stop for petrol because we wouldn’t be able to get any for a couple days. The problem… There was not a petrol station anywhere in sight. We had to turn back. At this point, we were ready to kill each other. It was just one of those days… I felt Brad didn’t listen to me or think things through, so here we were rerouting, wasting time, etc. It was nothing short of classic marital nonsense.

So with our journey slightly rerouted, we searched for a petrol. We found a spot, but they didn’t accept credit cards, so we decided to check one more station… …and, naturally, they didn’t accept credit cards either.. We were at a loss and just decided to bite the bullet and fork over more of our cash. We didn’t have a choice. We were burning through our cash faster than we knew was possible. This was a major unexpected problem we were having in Tanzania.

Back on track, we followed the long dirt road back to the Wildlife Management Area which was further back than the GPS made it seem. We wondered if we were on the wrong road, but decided to press on because we had no idea where else it could be. Our perseverance paid off, and we got there around 3PM, but we were not ready for the headache that we were about to experience. Brad got out to speak to the guard who insisted that we were supposed to get our permit back in Arusha. He refused to take payment there, and told us the only way for us to get through was for us to go back to Arusha for the permit. We were flabbergasted, given our experience at Lake Moshi, where the man took our cash without hesitation. NOTE: I wonder if the man at Lake Moshi, just pocketed it…  We wondered, could this day get anymore frustrating?

Young WarriorWe waited patiently as possible, and Brad insisted the man call our hotel to work out the details. After constant back and forth phone calls, the manager of our next hotel worked out a deal wit the guard that the hotel would pay for the permit, and it would be delivered the following day by a colleague in Arusha, but the guard had to let us through. He agreed. NOTE: Thankfully, this time wasn’t totally in vain; the silver lining to this mess of a situation was the pictures I was able to get of the Young Maasai boy dressed in his warrior costume. I was able to trade these photos for a bottle of water 1000 Tanzanian Shillings.

Finally past the gate, feeling agitated and simultaneously relieved, we pressed on. We thought we made it through all the obstacles for the day, and were finally ready to dropped our bags, relax, and unwind so that we could enjoy tomorrow. Unfortunately, an even bigger obstacle lay in our way. A river. IMG_1871-2I wish it were a joke, but it’s not. At this point, swear words were flying from my mouth, and we were feelng defeated and disheartened. We could literally see our hotel on top of the cliff across the river. We were envisioning the worst, such as a night without dinner and breakfast and sleeping in our car. Quickly, I tried to pull it together and plan. We got out of the car to try to examine the depth, thinking it might not be as bad as it looked. I was throwing in rocks the size of my head and sure enough it was a hard plop and they were gone… Brad volunteered to wade in and see how deep it was, but I was strongly advising against it because if I lost him to the river, there was absolutely nothing I could do. I had seen a sign for a hotel a little ways back and decided we should head there to try to call our hotel. We did just that, however, we hit another snag. IMG_1874When we pulled into the parking lot, we were dumbfounded. The place had burned down (I am cracking up while I write this, by the way). Was this situation real, we were wondering. It was straight out of bad dream. Brad took the lead, and headed to speak to the workers who were working on rebuilding the place. They sent for the manager, while Brad and I waited restlessly for about 15 minutes. We still hadn’t heard from anyone so Brad wandered off in search of someone who could help us. Finally, two people came over, and we were able to explain our dilemma. They tried to call our hotel, and while this was going on some of the construction workers ran off to the river to check the depth. We followed along in our 4×4 with the hotel management in the back seat.

IMG_1875-2

When we pulled back up to the river side, one of the workers was wading his way across the river. He was able to navigate all the way across on foot, and it never went past his hips, so we knew we would probably be fine. Our path was determined.

Once that man was back on our side, a car came charging down the hill to the water, and pushed its way through to us. A British chap hopped out of the vehicle and gave us the run down. He was the manager of our hotel, and came to our aid. He informed us that they had been yelling to us from the hotel, but we were never able to hear them.  Brad and I thanked the locals & hopped back in the vehicle, and followed our new guide across the river, to be led to our next restful location.  As we wandered up the hill and into the tall grass we were delighted to see elephants right by our hotel… NOTE: This meant there were rules… like, don’t walk anywhere alone at night. Stick with your Maasai guide. 

When we got there, the Tarangire River Camp, we followed our rescuer to the lobby area. We had a good chat about the river (it had appeared just a couple of days earlier because of all the rain), Tanzanian politics and tourism, and how difficult it is to do your own self-drive tour in that country,  then filled out our forms…and, next, we were ushered to our tent. The Maasai carried our bags for us, and led us down the dirt path to our little piece of heaven. We unpacked a bit and got ourselves organized before we went to wander the grounds.

IMG_1884We found our way to the viewing deck which overlooked the river we had to cross. We couldn’t believe the day we had. We were so grateful to be at camp and be able to let loose. We wanted drinks with dinner to help take the edge off, but with our cash situation being slightly dyer we kept it light. We enjoyed the incredible meal, and turned in early.

It was a great night’s sleep followed by an early morning. We were eager to get a jump-start on our day. We got our bags back to the car, and enjoyed a simple breakfast. We had to pay cash (cards weren’t accepted) for the remainder of tab which included our fee for the WMA gate and our beverages with dinner.

With everything loaded and ready to go, we were ready to cross the river again, and take on the challenges of the day. Thankfully the water level of the river had lowered over night, so navigating the water wasn’t quite as challenging.

DSC_0214.jpgWithin 20 minutes we were back at the WMA gate. Brad got out to see if we were okay to exit, but sure enough the guard would not let us through. We were beyoooond frustrated. Brad had the guard call the hotel and speak to the manager, who assured the guard that his guy was on the way with the permit. …but that still wasn’t enough. We were required to wait until the man with the permit arrived, despite showing him the proof that we paid the hotel for the permit. We discussed just going around the barrier and taking off, but we didn’t. We waited about 30 minutes, Brad kept going in and out of the office hoping the man would cave, but he was resistant. Brad contacted the man with the permit who assured him he was on his way and would be there soon… but “soon” seemed to be a loosely used term in this country. Finally, Brad called the hotel manager himself to see what his take was. His advice was exactly what we wanted to hear… just go… haha. So, we did. Brad told the guard we were leaving, quickly got back in the car, and we took off around the barrier. We were not going to keep playing the games. We had shown proof of payment and he had assurance, from multiple people, that it had been taken care of. It was out of our hands; we had to get on with our day.

Luckily, it was a short drive to Tarangire National Park. We got out of the car, had one last bathroom break, filed our paperwork, and paid the fees (they took card). We took the map and high spirits, got back in the car and went through the gate.

DSC_0543Tarangire took us completely by surprise. We were in the park for several hours. We took turns driving, and went down many differentroads in search of lions and leopards and cheetahs. That portion was all standard, but what got us was the insane amount of elephants. We saw hundreds!!! That is pretty much the only thing I even remember seeing in Tarangire: elephants. Old elephants, baby elephants, bulls, females, families, pachyderms… it was absurd. Several hours of our life were spent invading herds of elephants. I would stand out the sunroof filling, photographing, and of course, speaking to these beautiful, powerful, majestic animals.  There was one time we were even threatened by an elephant to back off. Don’t worry, we did.

Young Warrior.jpg

Thanks to you pictures, I can tell you that in addition to the elephants, we saw zebra, antelope, springbok, a variety of birds, giraffe, vervet monkeys and more. But, elephants were the only animal in the Big 5 group that we saw. Aside from the quantity of elephants we encounter, Tarangire wasn’t quite what we were hoping for, but we were, also only there for maybe 6 hours. I think with the right amount of time, we could of tracked more.  Here are additional images from the park:

We eventually decided that it was crucial for us to make our way out of the park, and get back on the road. We had to make our way to our next overnight location Gibb’s Farm, which sat on the exterior mountainside of Ngorongoro Crater.  It was about a 3 hour drive, and we wanted to make it in time to relax before the sun went down.

…to be continued.

Advertisements

Thailand: The Chiang Mai Edition.

It was a long journey from Phoenix to Chiang Mai. Iiphone update 160.JPG had stops in both Los Angeles & Hong Kong. By the end, I felt I was in desperate need of a shower, and some personal space.  I arrived in Chiang Mai around 14:30, and was settled into my hotel,  around 16:00. (I had a driver pick me up and drop me off.) I figured the best thing I could do was freshen up, and get some fresh air. So, I changed my shoes, washed my face, put makeup back on, grabbed my purse, and put some of my things in the safe. I was going to be on my own.

iphone-update-175Not 100% sure of where to go, but just remembering a little bit from studying google maps, I headed toward the night bazaar. From their a couple of left turns led me on a journey through souvenir shops, and Buddhist temples. I pushed on knowing that I had to wear myself down and go as long as possible before I could go to sleep. I probably lasted about two hours on the streets. Not feeling bold enough to sample Thai food yet, partially because I didn’t feel like making the effort to figure out what to order, I ended up ordering Pizza Hut because it was literally right outside our hotel.  I did my best to eat all I could despite the fact that I felt like I could pass out at any second. With a full belly, I took a quick hot shower, then waited to hear from Brad when he was in Phuket. I didn’t last much longer. I was trying to stay awake until he got there, but it wasn’t possible. I could feel myself dosing off, and immediately grabbed my phone to let him know that I wouldn’t be awake upon his arrival. Seconds after sending the text, I was gone. I remember, a little while later hearing the hotel room door open, and the sound of my husbands voice. We were finally back together.

The next morning we had to get our own breakfast, so we found a Starbucks. It was a nice choice because it gave us a little bit of our normal cuisine while we got “wild” with the Thai food. …and it was just a nice relaxing routine way to start our mornings together.

Our first day, we just stayed in the city. We wandered all over looking for fun treasures, and popping in and out of the small temples. As we wandered along the city walls, and near the river, we ended up finding John’s Place, this restaurant had the best Pad Thai in all of Thailand…. Here are some of our beautiful photos from that day, click to see where:

Tip: Make sure you have the appropriate attire for entering temple grounds… Some places may supply you with it, but not all… Shoulders should be covered, and often knees…

After a day of wandering through the city, we were tired, sweaty, and couldn’t wait to relax. We ended up wandering through the Night Bazaar, enjoying food & checking out the local vendors. Eventually though, it was time for bed, I had hung in there as long as possible.

iphone-update-247The next morning we woke with only one one activity in mind. Elephants. Our first task was to wander upstairs to the concierge to try to book an event. We ended up booking with Elephant Jungle Sanctuary, mainly because it was within our time frame, and they don’t offer elephant rides.  They were picking us up late that morning to take us to the Sanctuary, so with the time in between we went to Starbucks to get our breakfast, and then did some light wandering through the city, a different area than usual. We ended up finding a fun temple with mother of pearl inlaid pillars, and mirrored mosaic detailing. We also, had fun taking pictures mimicking the Buddhas.36.JPG

We got back to the hotel, packed the back pack, and waited downstairs for our driver. It was an extensive drive in an open back vehicle with a group of about 10 other people. It was easily about 1.5 hours of driving, with a stop at a gas station for snacks. The drive was very scenic, but towards the end I was starting to experience some motion sickness from not being able to see out completely.

34Once we were out of the truck, we were instructed to put on one of the festive “ponchos”. Then we were shuffled over to the picnic tables for our orientation. Our guide/instructor walked us through the timeline for the afternoon & shared information about Thai elephants and the organization. Eventually, it was time to play. I was so excited to interact with Asian Elephants. Fact: Asian Elephants are significantly smaller than African Elephants. Take a look here: iphone 2 121.jpg

iphone 2 109.JPG

We started off our interaction with handfuls of small bananas. Elephants love bananas! After probably 30 minutes of loving the beauties, we headed up the hill to meet the mama & her 5 day old baby. It was such a treat! We watched the little baby slowly wander around near its mom & practice using its trunk and ears. It was so cute! We all watched in awe wanting to love on the baby, but eventually it was time for everyone to have a mud bath. Our group scurried back to our belongings & readied themselves in their swimwear.  Here is some of our fun, click for a larger view:

The Thai employees had already begun working the elephants toward the mud, and were not far behind. Within moments there were 5 elephants and approximately 20 people in a giant pool of muddy water. The elephants began jubilantly rolling around, and the people gathered round throwing mud on the elephants and giving them mud massages.  It was so fun… At one point it became a bit of a mud fight as patrons began lobbing large wads of mud back and forth towards each other. No one was safe.

About 15 minutes after, we all made our way towards the river for our baths. We all grabbed old bowls and buckets & began rinsing each other and the elephants, splashing one another like children. It was one of the best times that I have ever had in a river.  Once play time was over, and everyone was “cleaned off”, we headed back up the hill to the outdoor showers, where we were able to rinse off river debris and remaining bits of mud.  Then it was snack time.  Elephant Jungle Sanctuary provided us with some amazing Thai dishes & some watermelon. It was all delicious, and great to get something before our long drive back.

Eventually, we arrived back at our hotel, which meant it was time for real showers before we headed back out.  We wandered a little bit, not fully sure of what to do. We explored the area a bit more, and ended up deciding to eat at one of the local restaurants, Pizza Hut. We couldn’t shake the “lame” away, and for some reason we were both craving it. So we went with it. It was surprisingly expensive compared to the Thai food, but really hit the spot.

We headed back to the hotel in an attempt to get some cool, dry air. We also wanted to scout out a potential zip-lining company. We found one. Jungle Flight Chiang Mai. I booked us for the JF3 package, with arrangements to be picked up in the morning.  We were so pumped.

I wasn’t ready for bed just yet, I wanted a little more time on my feet, so we headed back out for about an hour until Brad was worn down. The extensive rows of street vendors and tourists were quite overwhelming, and seemed like they went on for miles and miles, probably because they did. Finally though, the weather overtook us and we were back in our room with a movie before getting some rest for a very fun day ahead.

It was zip-lining day! We headed out to grab a quick McDonald’s breakfast before our big adventure. Next thing you knew, we were in an air-conditioned van headed for the bumpy Mountains outside of Chiang Mai.  Upon arrival, we were issued a locker and basically asked to leave anything that couldn’t be firmly secured to our person. We filled out our paperwork and then were geared up and broken into our groups.

They took us down to the starting point, and from there we were off! It was incredible! Especially the 1000M line…. The view of the canopy was so amazing that I wish I could do it every day. We didn’t see any wildlife, and the only loud noises you hear are those of other thrill seekers near by. It was a really fun afternoon… except maybe the “roller coaster” you are latched in & hold onto two handles over head and basically get voluntarily whiplash… It was truly thrilling, but also a bit painful at times. It is possible to get flung, but you are still attached and still make it to the end. We eventually ran out of lines to zip, and were led down the road to a local restaurant that had some cuisine prepared for us. Honestly, it was good, but it sketched me out a little bit so I didn’t go hog wild for it like I did at the Elephant Sanctuary.

When we got back to the hotel, we quickly rinsed off the jungle sweat and then headed out to wander and to grab an early dinner. We were thinking about going to Doi Suthep the next day, and I needed something to cover my shoulders so that I wouldn’t have to wear my lightweight pullover again because that was brutal. I had found something at one of the souvenir shops, but it was a little pricier than what I wanted, but I didn’t want a traditional Thai silk sarong… I wanted something that I could wear at the beach or wherever. …anyways long story short, I thought about it, looked at other places, but went with the one I like best.. Tip: Ladies – pack something lightweight to cover your shoulders with if need be, and that can just be tossed in your bag while you explore. It’s a game changer.  For dinner we went to a restaurant that sat along the river, The Riverside Bar & Restaurant (it doesn’t get more straightforward than that!). We had a great view, and great service. I went with Chicken Fried Rice, and Brad got something a little more exciting. It was a calm & a fast meal, but it was all I needed at the moment.

iphone 2 123.JPGWe headed back to the hotel after so that I could change into something more comfortable given the weather…. A dress and humidity just don’t go hand in hand when your thighs stick together. I’m not one of those stick leg model types…  Anyways, we then headed back out to explore more of the markets. We wandered for several hours, wanting to try several things and just experience Chiang Mai. We tried some of the hummus from the middle eastern couple, we tried Pad Thai from one of the local ladies (it was exquisite)…. We ended up at another market where we wandered for a little while, and then Brad ditched me to find Thai beer… While we were separated, I considered it a perfect time to buy a few pieces of fun jewelry.  With my purchase complete, and my first “negotiating” sale done, I went back to find Brad. He had  pitcher of Chang, and I couldn’t help but assist him with it. We enjoyed sipping our beer and watching the tourists and locals mingle and mix.

Then it was time for something new. Brad wanted to try another dish, so we went across the way to one of the restaurants and got a small table where we both proceeded to order soup. I’m pretty sure that may be part of why the Thai people are so skinny — soup and hot humidity just make you sweat even more…  I enjoyed mine as it was basically a chicken noodle, and Brad hated his… I think it was like a seafood soup that he said had a very strong ginger taste.  It was pretty funny to watch him try to suffer through it, but eventually he just couldn’t do it, so we got the check and left. We wandered on a bit more…. and found another market for Brad where he was able to find another snack…. Finally, we were both full. We were both exhausted, and we headed back to the hotel. We were leaving the next day, so we packed the bags the best we could, and headed to bed.

iphone-2-139The next morning we finished packing our bags, and got ready to head to Starbucks for breakfast. While we were eating we decided to go to Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, a temple on the mountain. Once we were finished eating we needed to find a driver. The trick was finding one for a reasonable rate. Once we had our guy, we headed up and up and up. He stopped at a picturesque spot where you can overlook the city. This is also a spot with several street vendors offering food and souvenirs. We were able to snap a pretty great selfie, and then were quickly back in the car. We finally arrived at the top, and our driver agreed to wait for us until we were finished. We bought our tickets, and took the tram up. It was packed with people, and honestly… the stairs wouldn’t have been a problem. Anyways, when we got to iphone-2-133the top, we found the spot where we had to remove our shoes & we headed into the temple. It filled with tourists and locals paying their respects to Buddha, and many dressed in black to honor their late king. It was decadent and beautiful. Although I personally am not a follower of Buddha, nor do I understand Buddhism, I find it to be a very beautiful and peaceful religion. We spent probably about and hour to and hour and half wandering the grounds before we found our way out and back down the stairs.We wandered across the street and headed down hill past the street vendors. We grabbed some meat skewers, and perused.  Without souvenirs we crossed the street once again to find our driver. He found us first, went and got his “tuk-tuk”, and drove us back down the mountain, and dropped us off at our hotel.

We immediately regretted having this as our drop off point because we wanted to go to John’s Place again for lunch, and neither of were dressed for that journey. I was in jeans… It was a miserable, hot and humid walk. We drank through our water quickly, and scarfed down our Chicken Pad Thai once again, and then headed back to our hotel to grab our bags, get checked out, and just sit. We had a driver scheduled to pick us up early that afternoon to take us to the airport.

LESSONS LEARNED: 

1) For countries where religion enforces a dress code, make sure you have something comfortable for covering your shoulders

2) The best Pad Thai is in Chiang Mai – it isn’t overly saucy

3) Mud is way better when it involves elephants

South Africa: The Kruger Area Edition.

With all of our things loaded in the back of Neil’s truck, we were off on a new adventure and our itinerary had begun.  (Neil & his father own and operate Jewel of Africa Safaris & I found them on Safari Bookings. I picked them because our trip was customizable, Neil was very prompt in responding to my all my emails, and the price was reasonable. Not to mention, they booked us at a sweet hotel just outside of Kruger National Park!) You can view our 5 day itinerary here (it will open in a separate tab): Kruger-itinerary.

africa-2016-058With the road trip underway, Neil started us out by sharing about the history of Johannesburg, Pretoria, and on towards Kruger. It was very informative, and I’m sure that Brad loved it far more than I did. The drive lasted close to five and half hours, but had some beautiful sights along the way. Halfway between Joburg and the Kruger area, we stopped at a rest stop that had a few different fast food restaurants, and a great view of a small man-made watering hole and a small gathering of animals which included rhinos.

africa-extras-100Eventually, our drive did continue, and we made our way to our hotel, Pezulu Treehouse Lodge. Sadly, we did find out that we would have to stay in 2 separate “rooms” while we were there due to a booking issue, but we didn’t care because we were stoked about the hotel in general! FACT: The Pezulu Treehouses were awesome. They were literally tree houses, off the ground with room for animals to walk underneath! …and the food…. the food was some of the best that I had on the entire trip.  Our first adventure was a bush walk around our hotel. It was so cool. We were able to get in close proximity to the giraffes, we saw ostrich, zebra, buffalo… ….and lions… Well, when I say that we saw lions… It was one of the local residents who offers walks africa-extras-062with his “pet” lion sisters… Funny enough, they caught glimpse of the giraffes, and due to their natural instincts took off on a chase after the long-legged & long-necked mammals.  Neil instructed us on what to do should we get charged by the lion (stick your arm out in front of you & wave your hand back and forth to disorient it), and we laughed because we weren’t sure how serious he could be. Once the lions were back on track and we round out our bush walk, we headed back to camp. We relaxed for a little bit, and then headed to the outdoor dining area, which was complete with a campfire surrounded by the amazing cuisine.

We were off to bed early, because we had to be up before the sun for our Kruger NP safari. We were picked up by the entrance of the hotel, and thankfully the staff had packed us a light breakfast. africa-extras-063It was a long & cold drive into the park, but we got to experience a beautiful sunrise, and even had the exciting experience of seeing a dead honey badger on the side of the road… When I say “exciting” I am being sarcastic… It was both sad & unfortunate… Once we were to the park gates we had to fill out an informational form for the park records, we were able to grab a quick snack and coffee, and then we were back in our safari vehicle for our big adventure. Right off the bat, we were seeing Impala, Kudu, zebra, giraffes…. A while later we saw many elephants, we saw a couple rhino… and from a far distance, we were able to see lions through binoculars. To be honest, our day in Kruger wasn’t what we hoped for. We did not see any lions on the move, we saw no cheetahs or leopards either… basically, no cats… but tons of everything else!  FACT: Animals live by their own rules and will do their own thing… There are no guarantees in nature. During the middle of the day, we stopped at the “food court” in the park for lunch. The options are all fairly basic. Several quick order and go places with decent food, but nothing to brag about. Either way, it was nice to be out of the car for a while! We chose  Debonairs Pizza, which was marginal to say the least.

By the end of the day we were ready to be done, the lack of exciting sites, and the chatty Canadians that we were sharing a vehicle with pushed us into the “ready to go back” mood. When we got back to the hotel, the staff had taken care of moving our bags to our next tree house, which was a little smaller than our original. (Because of the inconvenience, Neil had arranged a surprise for us early the next morning.)  Dinner was delicious once again, and the pleasantries exchanged with Neil over dinner were enjoyable. It was like having a friend at our table each night… In fact, he does remind me a lot of one of my better friends.

Africa 2016 153.JPGThe next morning we were up early, but thankfully after the sun. We met Neil down on the main patio for  breakfast that consisted of eggs, toast, fruit, and coffee/tea or juice. It was simple, but sufficient! The big surprise was that Neil had arranged for us to walk with the lions, the ones mentioned above. We were so excited! Being the animal lovers we are and because of the limited interaction that can typically be had between men and lions, this was a true thrill for us! We walked through the bush to West’s house ( They also own Lion Treetop Lodge) where he walked us through some information, we signed a waiver… and we headed out.  Africa 2016 167 2.jpgWest is armed with an automatic weapon on his back, in the event of another lion coming into attack, not because he fears his well-fed lions are a threat. FACT: These lions are not drugged. They are loved, well cared for, well fed, and definitely treated with the utmost respect. He also, has 2 game keepers with him to help keep tabs on the lions, and we were also accompanied by his dogs… A Golden, and a Jack Russell named Sam who was clearly the alpha over everyone (We heard a brief story about how he once grabbed onto one of the lions lips out of fury, and the Lion ended up just shaking back and forth in attempted to fling him off) . The walk seemed like it flew by. All I could do was admire the beauty and majesty of these beautiful adolescent white lions. They walked with such intent, and played with a inquisitive ferocity. They were stunning, and I couldn’t take my eyes off of them. We were encouraged to pet them, hold their tails, and walk beside them, but I would be lying to say that it wasn’t in the least bit a little intimidating, and I was definitely cautious about being overly handsy… After all, I want to keep my hands.. The walk was amazing, and Neil acted as our personal photographer, and held onto my Nikon the entire walk while snapping some amazing photos. After we walked them back to the house, we were able to enter their enclosure, and discuss the nature of the lions more, as well as grab some additional photos. You can view a series of our photos here:

After the lion walk, we all went back to get spruced up, and rest for a few minutes, before we headed on to visit Jessica the Hippo. Perhaps, you have heard of her??? She is famous…  There was even a short documentary made about her. Apparently, she has been on Friends, and she is one of the only hippos to constantly interact with people… so much so, that I even got to give her a kiss. Jessica’s owner told us the story, that after a massive storm, the baby hippo was found on the river bed near their home. They did what they had to, which was take her in as one of their own. Jessica & her new human parents fell in love with each other. Jessica was raised in the home, and has adjusted to her “human” life quite well. She allows her humans to swim with her in the river, and has no problem receiving their love. It’s 100% pure trust. FUN FACT: In Africa, Hippos kill more people than any other mammal… but not this tame lady!

Africa 2016 358.JPGAfter feeding and loving the big girl, it was on to the next… We were headed onto the next event… a boat ride on the Blyde River. However, when we got to the main gate, we found out that we had missed the boat. We continued on a little ways anyways just to check out the views… They were stunning… Once we had enough, we headed back to the hotel because Neil had rearranged our schedule, so that our Safari game drive was that night opposed to the following day… However, apparently our driver from that Reserve kind of, sort of forgot to pick us up. Realizing that they should have been their a while ago, Neil reacted. He called the company & pointed the mistake. Within minutes, we were in Neils truck, & we were flying down dirt roads with the intent to meet another driver who would then transport us to the Reserve. OH BOY! What a drive. I don’t know if you have ever ridden in an open safari vehicle flying down the pavement at God knows what speed, but it was the first time I was truly committed to wearing my seat belt. It was like a thrilling amusement park ride, but where you are actually thinking you could die if I Gazelle walks out in front of the car.

africa-2016-361-1When we reached the gates, we hopped out quickly, just to have to wait. We filled the necessary paperwork, and explored the grounds where we got to admire the cheetahs in their habitat on the grounds TIP: The next time you see a cheetah up close, look at its paws. They have paws like dogs, even though they are part of the cat family. Eventually, we were directed to the next safari vehicle which was already filled with a group that was probably waiting on us, the ones who got left behind. Finally, our evening game drive was happening. It was similar to Kruger… Lots of long, four-legged animals just chilling around the park. The skies had become cloudy, and the air had become chilly, but it was still exciting. All we wanted though, was a cat, and finally we got it! With direction, our driver found his way into a lion’s den… Thankfully, it was clear by their bulging bellies that they had recently feasted and had no interest in us. They just laid there, practically comatose and went about their day.

Finally, we backed out, which was an art form of its own. We drove around a while longer, and got to admire a beautiful African sunset over the treeline. It then became a night safari. But first, we stopped… We stopped off in a clearing for drinks and snacks for about 20 minutes. It was nice to stand for a while, but standing in a wildlife reserve in the dark, is a little creepy… I mean, who knows what might jump out from the bushes at you…  I made the mistake of drinking a beer which caused me to become a exhausted. The final leg of the drive (in the dark) is a blur… I just remember wanting to go to bed, and hardly being able to keep my eyes open. It was dinner time when we got back to the hotel. I was cold, exhausted, and very quiet… I ate my dinner, and then we headed back early for bed.

Africa 2016 412 1.jpgThe next morning, we got to sleep in just a little bit later, and enjoy a breakfast without feeling rushed. I was also able to get some  photos of the wildlife that enjoyed feeding on the hotel grounds. The nice thing was it was just going to be a mellow day, but sadly we were going to be in the car for a while. This was the day that we were truly going to get to experience the Blyde River
Canyon & God’s Window. It was a long drive up & along the mountains to visit God’s window, but it was worth it. It was also, quite cold… So armed, in Ugg boots (I brought other shoes too as back up) & a sweatshirt, we jumped out africa-extras-163of the car to admire the view. It was stunning! We were there for about 15 minutes, taking photos & following small short trails. It was like we were in another land… From the mountain top, you could see the vast valley & paper farms. It was foggy when we were there, but even then you could understand why it was called God’s Window. From there we headed back down to Lisbon Falls, the local waterfalls. We spent probably 30 minutes there, and Brad and I were able to climb down the mountain a bit to get some great photos, and realized it was time for some cooler footwear… It was difficult, but worth it. Then from there we headed to Three Rondavels View Point, which overlooks the Blyde River Canyon. The view was truly breathtaking.. Neil being the fabulous guide that he was, encouraged us to climb under the fence that was installed, and climb out onto the rock to get some great photos. Although we joked at the time, about how this is how Neil kills his clients… He was right! The photos were AMAZING, and worth the nerve racking thrill. It was just crucial to not look down.

Eventually, after a quick bathroom break, we made our way back to the small town of Graskop, which is mostly for tourists. The streets are lined with restaurants gift shops, but it was a great spot to stop, grab a bite to eat, and stretch our legs. We popped into the local chocolate shop to see if there were any goodies we needed, and then headed to Harrie’s Pancakes, where Neil had made a lunch reservation for Brad & I. Apparently, pancakes there very different than pancakes here. It is sort of like a crepe, but not… It actually kind of reminded me of a tamale (a Mexican dish), a little bit. It was different, and not my favorite. But it was a good experience!

africa-2016-512After a good meal, we were ready to begin our descent back down the mountain, and around to the other side for our boat ride. Neil winded around the rough South African roads, and got us to the boat dock. We all gathered to the front seats of the boat, and eventually our captain & crew were there to accompany us. The boat was filled with fuel, and we were off. We got to see the small little groups of monkeys play on the nearby rocks, and got to take in the breathtaking views of the canyon. The clouds had partially cleared, and the temperature had warmed up a bit. It was beautiful weather for a stunning environment. They took us to see skull rock, and then back around into the lake where we were able to spot, kudu, hippos, and a beautiful kingfisher. There after, the boat was turned around, and we were docked. Our fun was over, but it was a full day.

africa & extras 238.JPGWhen we got back to the hotel late that afternoon, we had to start getting our things together because we were leaving early the next morning. However, we mostly just laid around, I posted pics on instagram and perused social media, and Brad read CNBC… typical… Neil had made arrangements for us to go over to one of the other hotels for a little while for drinks and to meet his friends that owned the place. A charming German couple who made us feel right at home. We all sat around one of the “picnic” tables and chatted, as we watched the sun set over the horizon line. After spending an hour or so there we headed back to our hotel. Finally, it was time for our last supper & well, that food, that chef, that service, it would all be missed. I still miss it!  After dinner, it was time to get serious about packing. We packed all we could, and were off to bed for another 5 AM wake-up was ahead of us.

africa-2016-525-1With packing final, and groggy eyes, Neil picked us up at the bottom of the stairs below our tree house in the dark. We were off to one more game drive. Conveniently on this early morning, we ended up being the only ones in the car, and Neil came along with us. It was cold and cloudy, so it ended up being another very calm drive… TIP: Always bring a jacket, even in Africa it gets cold, thankfully safari companies do have blankets for the cold rides.  We didn’t get to see much more than we already had, with the exception of the stunning Guinea Fowl. I am sort of obsessed with the Guinea Fowl… You can see his picture above. We were able to get a few beautiful photos of warthogs, giraffes, and guinea fowl, but not much more. After a few hours our drive came to a close, and were back in Neil’s truck headed for Joburg so that we could catch our flight Capetown. It was a really fun final drive with Neil. He was definitely a great guide, that I would love to have him again should we go back… or even just grab drinks with if we are in the area. FACT: BOOKING WITH NEIL’S COMPANY IS A GOOD IDEA IF YOU WANT TO HAVE A FUN EXPERIENCE IN SOUTH AFRICA!

Finally, we were dropped off at the Johannesburg airport, and it was time to move on… Capetown was calling our name, along with all the wonderful adventures that would follow!

africa-2016-526-2LESSONS LEARNED: 

1) pancakes here aren’t the same as pancakes everywhere

2) Big cats are hard to find

3) A full cat is a lazy cat

4) Treehouses make the best hotel rooms hands down… even if the shower situation sucks!

5) I want to move to the Kruger area… I’m in love with it!

 

South Africa: The Johannesburg Edition.

africa-extras-043
yes, that is an ostrich….

After a flight to Atlanta and then a grueling 15 hour flight to Johannesburg, I was there, and I knew that Brad was waiting on the other side of Passport Control. I couldn’t wait.

 

We found our hotel driver, which I had booked ahead of time because I wasn’t sure how safe it would be getting from the train station to our hotel (as we figured out later, it would’ve been fine). We were booked at The Capital Empire in Sandton.  We confirmed with our driver that we were safe to wander at night, so once we were settled into our room we headed back down stairs to go try to find dinner, and get some exercise. After a brutal total of flight times, my appetite was minimal, but I knew if we didn’t get something that I would be up at 4 AM feeling starved.

We headed out the door of the hotel and through the security gate, down and around the corner toward Sandton City, the mall. We wanted to find Mandela Square. Brad had been there once before, but couldn’t remember how to get there. We wandered down various streets all around the mall trying to figure out how to access it. The struggle was real. It felt like we would never get there. Finally, we found the back way in. What we later realized is that it would have been just as easy to get there had we entered the mall first.  Once we were through looking at the gigantic recreation of Nelson Mandela we began looking for a restaurant where we could get something fairly simple and easy. We settled on a Tasha’s Cafe inside where I got a grilled cheese, and Brad got a salad… The grilled cheese was good, but America’s are better & I make the best..  Either way, with full bellies, and absolute exhaustion, we headed back to the hotel to sleep. Thanks to Brad’s job, he didn’t have to adjust to a different time zone. I was the only one that would suffer!

africa-extras-008The next morning we were preparing for what we thought would be a full day. When I woke up (before Brad) I didn’t feel like laying there until he woke up, so I went to work out for about and hour. When I returned, he was still in bed so it gave me sometime to get showered and start getting ready with the hopes that we would be out the door at the same time. The first thing on the agenda was breakfast. It was not included in our hotel, so we had to find something. When we reached the end of the sidewalk outside the hotel, we went right. We wandered a little ways down the road, and found a very enchanting cafe that I believe was called the Tea Garden. They had indoor and outdoor seating. Naturally, we wanted to enjoy the beautiful outdoor weather and the environment. It reminded me a little bit of Alice and Wonderland or Disneyland. It was whimsical and we thoroughly enjoyed it.We proceeded to have some delicious omelettes and toast before we wandered the grounds a little bit.

A little bit after we continued up the road a bit to see what else was there. We found a couple other small cafes as possibilities for the next morning, but we realized that it would be a good idea to head back in order to get on with the next activity. We gathered our essential belongings and headed back toward the mall to the Thrifty car rental. Getting a car took an extensive amount of time, as it seems is the norm. FACT: Car rental companies and patience are two things that don’t go hand-in-hand.  

With both of us in the car – opposites sides of the car this time, and driving down what felt like the wrong side of the road… We were ready to take on British-influenced streets of South Africa in an attempt to get to the Cradle of Humankind. FACT: It is ranked as one of the best things to do just outside of Johannesburg, and I would say that it was definitely an interesting exhibit. It is great for the science-loving, fact hunting, museum enthusiast. For me however, I got a little bored by the end. There are only so many little information tags under each exhibit that I can read before it all turns into mumbo-jumbo about the same thing. I did enjoy the boat ride,  though… Yes, a boat ride… A boat ride exhibit of how the earth has changed over the millions of years. …and there was a spinning starry tunnel which was kind of trippy. TIP: I will say that I would recommend this to anyone who has a free 4-6 hours, and doesn’t mind driving on the opposite side of the road, unless you are used to Her Majesty’s way. It truly was an interesting experience that  would be fun for kids and adults…. If anything, you get some incredible views of the South African valleys when you are done. But as a whole, it was way more & better than I expected.

We had a fairly long drive back into town, and thankfully, it was easier getting back into the city than leaving it. We returned to the hotel to drop off our car (we needed it the next day), and went to find ourselves a tasty meal. We headed back in the direction of the mall, as that is where the action was. We had a late lunch at Wangthai where we both indulged in a some delicious Thai noodle dishes. We sat on the patio as well which sits on the second floor overlooking the square. It was nice to just be able to sit and relax for a little bit with out any further plans hanging over head for the day. But eventually the check came, and an obligation to move on.

We spent quite a while cruising through the mall, and checking out some of the shops. The mall felt like a giant maze filled with all the usual things, but some unique brands. A few hours later, we found ourselves hungry once again for an evening meal. We wandered all over and eventually discovered what I call “the best Indian food (aka Chicken Korma) I’ve ever had” (granted, I’ve never been to India) at a lovely restaurant called The Royal India.

Once again, un-adjusted from the jet lag, we headed back to the hotel for an early bed time. The next day was a big deal, and we were extremely excited about it!

africa-extras-016
S.A. McDonalds deliver your food on a scooter… and American ones have two drive-thru lanes… lol

 

We were up and at’em. We were in the car for our 2 hour drive, but still needed food. Being the bold adventurers that we are, we stopped at a McDonalds along the way for a very quick and efficient breakfast composed of egg biscuit sandwiches. They were delicious as usual, and definitely cheap.. We were back in the car, quick as a flash, and were headed to Bela-Bela in the Limpopo province. What awaited us was way more than we we bargained for. We were headed to Bambelela to interact with Vervet monkeys, and learn about them and the organization that operates as a Vervet Monkey & Wildlife Sanctuary for the young and injured. FACT: I had a really hard time staying in contact with them when trying to schedule, for some reason they were not receiving my originals, so I ended up having to contact them from another email address.

 

Getting there, the dirt road was incredibly rough. I didn’t expect a dirt road, and neither did our compact vehicle. We made the best of it; well, Brad made the best of it. Eventually we reached the gate, where we gave our name and were let through. We followed the signs pointing us in the direction of the sanctuary, and it was quite an intriguing drive. There were several large private homes along the way that seemed like a dream to be in.  Eventually, at the end of the road we

africa-extras-021
a young Baboon

found Bambelela, a big giveaway was the large amount of monkeys running all over the grounds. Not just Vervets, but also Baboons.  We were pleasantly surprised to see that we were the only guests there (…and it stayed that way). Once we were out of the car we were greeted by Sue. She was great to “work” with. She was very pleasant and informative. You could tell that she was truly passionate about her work, as well as the animals. After our informational tour, it was time. Time to get in the cage with the “cheeky, naughty” (as Sue calls them) youngsters. What a thrill. We removed anything loose or valuable and handed them over for the 15 minutes that we were in the cage. The little guys lived up to their reputation. africa-extras-041The amount of spunk that was jumping around was sensational. It was really something to have these tiny primates jumping all over from person to person. From 5 feet away you suddenly feel a gently thud on your body… At one point one crazy Vervet crawled up inside my shirt. and out the top. They were biting my wedding ring, and occasionally my fingers (all in good, somewhat gentle fun). They were completely fascinating by my bun of hair, and also felt the need to open my mouth, inspect the inside, and check my eyes for any issues… One little monster even stole my hair clip, which I had forgotten was there. The volunteer that was in the cage with us (also, our designated photographer), went to get it back by grabbing the monkey by the tail and offering it a disciplinary action (as would be done by an adult Vervet). As they instruct, you never take from a monkey, unless they know you are in charge, or else you’ll be engaging in a battle with an irrational creature.

Eventually, our play time came to a close, the bill had been paid & we were back in the car. Thankfully, I had packed hand wipes… We were filthy, and we even had bits of monkey poo on our clothing which we were desperately trying to remove with a pack of Wet-Ones. It was no-matter.. We had another wildlife encounter ahead, and as we found out it was also, a bit messy. TIP: Always pack hand wipes, they are a game change for the overly adventurous traveler.

From Bambelela we made our way back down the extremely bumpy dirt road to Adventure with Elephants. I had arranged an elephant encounter, where we could learn and of course interact with African elephants (yes, they are definitely different from Asian elephants & I will post more about that later on). When we arrived, we got checked in and had to wait for them to bring the elephants around, which seemed like the perfect time to take advantage of the bathrooms to try and remove the monkey-poo. Once I removed all that I could, we headed back to the patio where we were able to observe some natural wildlife on the grounds below.

Eventually, 4 large beautiful African Elephants & 1 baby made their way to their covered stand. They were put in their places, and we started from the right and began working our way left. With the first elephant, we got to see how intelligent the elephant was. First they introduced us by name. (I don’t remember her name). Then we each gave her a shoe. As she was instructed, and according to her smell, she was able to return each shoe to the correct individual. Next we got to meet the baby… one big baby. It was beautiful, but didn’t have much of an interest in hanging out with us. It wanted to hang out with mom. We got in a couple pets, and then decided to let it do it’s own thing, with mom. The next elephant we gave treats to, and got to learn a little bit of the basic elephant anatomy. We got to inspect it’s tail, touch the pads of its feet, and examine it’s eyes. Such big beautiful eyes.  Finally, we moved down to our last elephant. A very handsome fellow, who I believe was in charge of tricks. He offered us kisses from his trunk, sprayed us with water, and even kicked a ball back and forth. He was wonderful!

Here is my little Elephant Gallery, please enjoy, and disregard my monkey hair…:

africa-extras-053From their our tour came to a close… We watched the elephants wander back off to their side of the land, and within a minute or two we found Trouble, the adopted Meerkat who was taken in by the founders. He was much too busy hunting for bugs to want anything to do with us… It was unfortunate because apparently he is quite the socialite with guests… TIP: If you have the opportunity to interact with African elephants, I would highly recommend it. It is incredibly life changing to be able to see the grandeur, intelligence, and beauty of such a majestic animal.

africa-2016-053-2We stayed on the property for a while because we were waiting for our USB drive of photos that they took for us. While we waited, we were able to get washed up again, and just relax. While we waited we had the delightful experience of seeing a couple giraffes come up near the complex. We just watched them for a while, until we felt it was time to get back.

We hadn’t had a proper lunch, just snacks that I packed for the drive, and we were both feeling starved. When we got back into town, we decided to get cleaned up before we dropped the car off, that way once we were clean & changed out of our filthy clothes, we were able to head back over to the square from Thrifty. We went hunting for dinner, not literally, but couldn’t commit so we ended up back at Tasha’s for an easy meal before we just cruised the mall again. Eventually, we headed back to the hotel because we had to get packed. We were being picked up the next day by our guide for Krueger National Park, and he was going to be there relatively early.

The next morning proved to be a bumpy one. During getting ready, I had a little bit of an accident. My bottle of foundation (aka makeup) got knocked to the floor and smashed. Their was liquid and glass all over the hotel room floor, and thankfully there was no carpet (although, then it wouldn’t have broke). Anywho, I began to panic at the thought of going the next 2 weeks without it because I was not blessed with perfect skin… My survival instincts began to set in, and I quickly messaged Neil (our guide), and asked if we could delay our pick up time by 1/2 an hour. Once again, we headed back to the mall… but not just for makeup, for breakfast too. We found a really yummy cafe, Doppio Zero, near one of the entrances. The breakfast was really exquisite. TIP: Breakfast in Johannesburg is top notch. They know what they are doing. I knew we were on a mission, so as soon as the shops opened, and we were done with our food, we headed toward one of the “department stores” to quickly grab what I needed, and then get back to the hotel.

To our surprise, it actually worked out perfect because we ended up having to wait a little longer for Neil, than we all anticipated.

africa-2016-054-1LESSONS LEARNED: 

1) Sometimes even maps can’t help you find your way.

2) Dirt roads and compact cars don’t go together.

3) Monkeys shouldn’t be pets — much too frisky.

4) Makeup just shouldn’t come in glass bottles

5) I’m way too accident prone, to own small, frequently-used items made of glass.