Heading to Capetown to Visit Emily!

Note: For this trip we decided to keep separate journals (form which these posts originate). So each will be identified as coming from Wendy or Wayne.

Sunday, June 8 - Tuesday, June 10

Wendy: We flew first on Northwest and then on KLM, in business each flight.  The food was very good, way better than on United, though on the first flight we were served (and expected to eat) a 4-course meal in 30 minutes!  Both also served Godiva chocolates for dessert!

Wayne: We leave in rainy skies. The first leg is to Memphis (a Northwest hub). We got in a little late and had to hustle to make our connection on KLM.  Left around 10 pm.  One hour into the flight they said there was a problem with the lavs in coach and we couldn't do an 8-hour flight with no lavs, we  were going to have to stop in Boston! (Tufts!)  They got it fixed in a half hour and we were off again.  Excellent food and service; we only slept a little.  Our little detour meant that instead of an 8-hour layover in Amsterdam, we only had 5.  And subtracting 1 hour to/from Schipohl and the 2-hour check-in window, it did not leave a lot of time. On top of that, our pre-arranged ride was nowhere to be seen.  So we taxied to the hotel (we had a day room), freshened up, and went out to see the town (quickly!).  It was a beautiful day!  We were in a good spot - a block from the van Gogh Museum and the Rijksmuseum and the canal.  Lovely and great people watching.  We had to stop for Belgian frites and we also got a turkey BLT which was huge! (and delicious)  Then back to the airport for the next leg.

Wendy: Amsterdam was not at all familiar to me. I had been to the Rijksmuseum in the summer of '74, but couldn't remember anything.  Actually, for the short amount of time we had here, we used it well.  Caught the canals, saw the museums (from the outside!), ate at an outside café.  Very jet lagged; it was pretty surreal.

Wayne: Got the 9 pm flight from Amsterdam to Cape Town, except it has a stop in Joburg!  We were in row 1 on the 747; very nice.  KLM service was great.  I was so tired and couldn't wait to sleep, but when they turned the lights out the guy behind us started snoring and kept it up for 8 hours!!!!  So I listened to piano concertos and Art Garfunkel.  Even with the headphones on I could still hear Mr. Snorer.  Then a delicious breakfast of apple-raisin crepes and we were in Africa! An hour on the ground and then 2 more to Cape Town and finally, after 44 hours of travel, we were there!!!  And Em was waiting!  She looked great.

Wendy (aboard the flight to Cape Town).  Wayne already gave the snoring report. But he didn't mention the hot snack between Joburg and Cape Town!  When we got there, Em looked great.  Just effervescent and happy to see us.  Beautiful as always, chirping about everything.  We had her climb aboard our pre-arranged ride and we were on our way.
Travel Note:  While our package was purchased through Brendan (a US-based company), all of the tours, arrangements, and transfers were made by Thomson (a S.A. based operator).  We had a personal consultant who guided us along the way.

Wayne:  We went directly to the Cape Grace (often listed as one of the top 10 hotels on the world!).  It was very nice; the staff are all so friendly and helpful. While we were waiting to check in we saw the Cubs playing the Yankees at Wrigley on the TV!  Our room was great.  They then arranged a car/driver for us who took us over to UCT, where Em is studying this semester.  It was a glorious day - blue skies, temp around 25C (most unusual for winter people said).  Em walked us around the campus; very picturesque, with mountains as a backdrop (by the way: we were going to take the cable car to the top of Table Mountain, but it is closed for maintenance all this month!).  We ate "toasties" (a toasted sandwich - like a Panini - I had chicken salad, Em had Thai chicken with tomato!).  Then we went to Em's house (23 Church Street, Mobwray).  She had baked a chocolate cake (yum!).  Then back to the hotel for dinner. The meal was awesome!  Our appetizers came garnished with porcupine quills!  We had steak, chocolate salmon (!), and wildebeest.  And super desserts.

Wendy: The Cape Grace is charming and the service is superlative! Since the cable car is closed, our driver took us to Signal Hill where we were able to get a great view of the mountain and the city and some nice photographs. 

UCT was great!  m was so proud to show us around and introduce us to her friends.  Her room was especially neatened up for us. Everything in its place. We should visit more often!   Then, our first dinner; we ate at the Cape Grace. Very elegant - Africa nouvelle.  We noticed right away that Em's taste buds have broadened considerably.  After chowing down her butternut squash soup, she demonstrated excellent tomato eating capacity!

Wednesday, June 11
Wendy: Robben Island (where Mandela was imprisoned)  is a good place to start our tour of the city. While I have been reading Michener's "The Covenant (1,238 pages of South African chronicles) throughout the trip, I think it will end before it gets to Mandela, so needless to say, I am not at all grounded in that aspect of S.A. history.  Robben Island is about 35 minutes off the coast of the city.  it was a nice boat ride, but very cold and because I'd gotten ready so fast I was not properly dressed.  The tour of the island is actually conducted by es-prisoners!  The prison held only black men (political prisoners) and was in use until the early 90's.  The guides are extraordinarily forgiving but didn't hold back any of the gory details. We started with a tour of the island including the leper colony graveyard and the limestone quarry, which was also a "university". Given how poorly the prisoners were treated (some were whopped), I had a hard time understanding how they were able to pull of an actual university, but they did.  Men actually got degrees there!  Then we passed the lighthouse and the military area (it was a British base). Then onto the prison itself.  Until the last few years of its existence, the cells did not even have beds.  Compared to our tour of Alcatraz, this was much more moving and emotional.  The tour guides made it so.

Wayne: Wendy wanted to do Robben island, but Em and I opted out. Em is staying in the room with us. The boat leaves at 9; we did not do a wake-up call and woke suddenly at 7:30!  Hustle!!!!
We walked to the waterfront with Wendy (she made the boat), and we had a wonderful breakfast buffet.  Then we walked over to the waterfront mall...just like old times - waiting for mom and Andrew while they were on some death-defying adventure! The boat was supposed to get back around 1:30, so around 1 we went into the on-shore Robben Island Museum.  Very impressive - it told of the struggle that took place over many years to end apartheid. The boat finally docked at 2:20!!!!!  We went to have a "light lunch" at a restaurant called Emily's!
Once again, it was soooo delicious, but certainly not light!  I had line fish, which is not a fish, but just the catch of the day.  I forget what kind it actually was, but it was so beautiful with millefuille potatoes and julliened veggies. By the time we finished it was 3:45 and we had to be at Em's baptism at 5:00!  Yes...she was getting baptized in the ocean! So we rushed and got dressed and just made it.  On the beach at Camp's Bay. A beautiful setting - a dozen friends were there, it was calm and warm and the moon rose over Table Mountain. So we had the ceremony and then all of us went to a restaurant to eat (again!). More fish, this time butterfish; very tasty. And that was the end of a very quick day.

Wendy: People say that Cape Town feels more European and Mediterranean than African, and we can see why.  Em's baptism was surreal. She gave a beautiful talk on the beach (an excellent writer!). Then she went out into the ocean with the officiant, both wearing full wet suits. She got dunked and then came walking out.


Thursday, June 12

Wayne:  Peninsula Tour Day!

Our van picked us up at 8:00 (the bed or something is sooo comfy here it is very tough to get up).  it is us and 15 folks at the end of their tour. So we headed out (just Wendy and I).

Capetown looks like Honolulu or Como....houses built up on the side of the hills.  First, to Hoyt Bay.  Wendy took a short boat ride out to see the seals; I checked out the street vendors.

Wendy: The seals at Hoyt Bay were adorable!  Lots of cute babies.  We'll be seeing a lot of animals on this trip! Then on to the Cape of Good Hope.  They tell us that the Atlantic and Indian oceans merge in this area (actually a little farther south), but the impact was awesome. Loved the baboons that were walking along the highway, and the lighthouse.

Wayne:  Cape of Good Hope - the southwesterly-est point in Africa (the southern-most point is Cape Agulhas about 100 miles from here). We saw many baboons along the way.  Then on to Boulders Bay and its famous penguin colony!

These are Cape penguins - only about 2' tall, but so cute. They were digging and waddling and swimming in the surf.  We had a quick lunch and then it was on to Kirstenbosch Gardens (on Rhodes Drive!  There are a lot of "Rhodes" references here).  A very large botanical garden which is actually "just" on the other side of Table Mountain!

Wendy:  Kirstenbosch Gardens was very impressive.  And there is an entire "Garden Route" tour that goes along the southern coast.  We'll have to take that on our next trip!  Then we went back to the hotel (goos-bye tour people) and met up with Em and some of her friends for dinner. We went to the Africa Café. Besides the food, the staff did line dancing!  They were all in authentic African garb (from all over the continent) and even had their faces painted.

Wayne: Africa Café!  What a place!  A bunch of separate rooms on different floors and each room is dedicated to a different part of the continent.  They really try to give you a taste of Africa.  Each table has communal eating.  First they wash your hands. They have a "menu", but it is just for information since they bring you all of the items listed!  They just bring little bowlsful and you pass and take (family style).  We had chick peas and fried dough and lamb and rice and spicy chicken wings, etc.  Em ate so much her dress was about to burst!  it is so wonderful that she has tried (and likes!) so many new foods while she's been here.  Another fabulous meal!

The Wine Country

Friday, June 13

Wayne:  Today starts our winelands tour!  Pick up at 8:30 and (!!) we were with the same group as yesterday, except Em is now with us.  This time we drove inland to the wine country - it looks a lot like Napa except the valley is much wider and the mountains are much higher. 

First we went to the brandy 9 am!  Just taking the tour of the place was enough to make us drunk. The best part was seeing how they still make the barrels by hand.

Wendy:  We had a tasting at the brandy company.  The brandy cream was good and warmed my throat.  Em took a sip, but I was on my own for the rest of the tastings.  The face I made when I tasted the 5 year old brandy made everyone laugh.  The scenery on the way there was absolutely lovely; prettier than Napa.  But it still doesn't look like "Africa" (except for all the Africans walking around!).  Relating to that: in Cape Town there are lots of "coloureds" (mixed race - not at all meant to be derogatory here), and whites and blacks.  It seemed that the farther north the fewer couloureds there were.

Wayne:  On to Stellenbosch and a general store that's been open for 100 years!
"Oom Samie Se Winkel" means "Uncle Sam's Store"!  This place was amazing!  They sold everything, and it smelled like most of it had been sitting there since 1904.  Heaps of dried fish, a room full of spice containers, old clothes, candy, fly name it.  We also went through Stellenbosch University which teaches most classes in Afrikaans. Then on to Franschoek ("French Corner"). We saw the big Huegenot Monument and Museum.
This is a cute little town (kind of Chatham-y, but Dutch). We had a really good lunch.
Note: When you tell people something they say "lovely" or "brilliant".  Like: "I'll have the fish" "Lovely". So British (?).

Wendy: Lunch in Franschoek: Napa-like with a French flair.  Broccoli soup and smoked trout (specialty of the area) for me.  Special chicken sandwich for Wayne, pasta Bolognese and a brownie for Em.   Then on to Paarl (Pearl), where we saw an Afrikaans Monument and then to a wine and cheese tasting at Fairview Winery. Again, I was the one tasting for our group (not that I minded).  But this time I tasted with a mission. I tasted 6 kinds, then narrowed it down to 3, then noticed one of those was named "Andrew's Hope"!  Was there any doubt? We bought several bottles.

Wayne:  Back into the van (where we all slept) for the ride back to Cape Town.  Tonight's dinner was at a restaurant called "5 Flies"! Why such a strange name for a restaurant? It was originally in Holland and that was the owner's name!  Something like "Fifenderfliken" which means '5 flies"!  (But how did his family get the name????).  Another wonderful meal.  As we were getting ready for bed (Em stayed over), Em was singing and dancing to "How Lovely To Be A Woman" from Bye Bye Birdie. It was really priceless!

Saturday, June 14

Wayne: Time to leave the Cape grace (boooo!). Wendy went to climb Table Mountain at 7 am!  So Em and I slept until 8:30 and then we went down to breakfast.  We ordered the waffle (yes, singular) and it was so cute; a 3" square covered with raspberries and gooseberries and cinnamon sugar (they served it with ice cream but we passed on that). Delishhhh!!! Then we went to the mall at the waterfront - checked out all of the strange brands at the Pick and Pay (like Kellogg's Corn Flakes made from maize). Then we went into a "model home" place where they were selling condos on the waterfront. Minimum price: 1.5 million Rand (about $200,000). Beautiful! One came with a built-in cappuccino maker. was time to say good-bye to Em and continue with the rest of our journey.  We had had a great time; it was hard to go.  Sniff sniff.

Wendy: Oh My!  The Table Mountain climb was so awesome!  Chris was my hiking guide; we drove up to where the cable car starts. It was chilly and foggy!  The hike was basically straight up!  But no scrambles or scary crevices like on the climb in St. George, Utah.  Pretty soon we had to take our fleeces off as it was so strenuous we were getting hot.  The cardio workout was intense. There were several moments early on when I was close to calling it quits; afterwards when I told Chris he said he had no idea.  We got to the top in less than 2 hours (he said that was a record pace!). He said that at first he was intimidated by my enthusiasm and energy (I've heard that before!). Anyway, we're up at the top and the mist hasn't lifted and it's brrrr. Chris gave me some herbal tea and a chocolate energy bar. We took some pix and then started the descent.  I thought going down was much scarier; no cardio, just skill and luck. my shoes weren't the right ones and I landed on my tush several times. Luckily, no harm don, and we made it down slowly but surely. What a sense of accomplishment!   Up and down in 4 hours!  Hopefully, next time it will be clear and the cable car will be running.

Wayne:  We took the Thompson's van back to Franschoek and the La Courronne Hotel. Wow!  A really cool villa up in the mountains above the town.  Spectacular views and a beautiful room.  We walked around town and shopped and even saw a wedding in the 1847 church. Then we had a snack (sorbet and a chocolate croissant) in the same restaurant as yesterday - and the waiter remembered us!  Then back to the villa for a rest before dinner and to watch the colors change on the mountains as the sun set.

Wendy:  The La Courronne is truly splendid. heated floors! An extraordinary bathroom with a huge shower. Beautiful views and wonderful food.  I had the degustation dinner both nights.  They didn't mind one bit that we both didn't order it.  The menu was: duck salad, crayfish bisque (demitasse size), zucchini (they call it marron) soup, fish, beef medallions, and pastries for dessert.  There was a pianist right in the room and he was great; played a lot of 60's and 70's hits. In fact, the whole country seems fixated on Andrew Lloyd Weber. But the music was absolutely toe-tapping, and we were humming and sometimes singing. These sparkling wines really helped!

Sunday, June 15

Wayne: We slept very well and were not at all hungry for breakfast, but went anyway (ha ha!).  A really great buffet - not as big as at the Cape Grace - but certainly sufficient.  We got up to fill our plates and when we came back to the table there were little cups of steaming hot chocolate! Oooohhh...paradise!  Looking at the mountains through the big picture window we saw, between two peaks, a cloud river/waterfall....
...a cloud just flowing over the edge of mountain halfway down to the valley where it disappeared. The manager said this occurrence was very rare. Truly an amazing sight.   After breakie we walked into town (downhill!). Passed by a church where people were singing and clapping.  Saw some pretty poor areas where the farm workers live.  Went into town and bought lovely trinkets for our work friends.  At 12;30 our driver picked us up and we headed to Monkey Town! (Not to be confused with Monkey Land).  It's a really neat place with hundreds of chimps, marmosets (as big as your hand), baboons, spider monkeys, lemurs, etc.

Wendy:  Sunday was action-packed!  We bought stone animal figurines for Wayne's work people and stone bowls for mine.  We bought beautiful wooden bowls for Andrew and some jewelry for me.  I got a very unusual brown pearl necklace and a delicate diamond eternity ring (one must buy diamonds in S.A., right?).  Then we went to Monkey Town.  It was kind of silly, but fun.  Then back to the hotel where we decided to take a horse back ride through the vineyard.  it was awesome..really slow and smooth, led by the stable men. 

Time for dinner!  Another degustation menu. This time:  Seafood salad, pumpkin soup, smoked trout, springbok (but I traded with Wayne for his turbot), a merengue-type dessert.

Previously I talked about the diversity here.  Well, the British presence is ubiquitous. The R.S.A. was a British colony for a long time and the influence is still obvious in the breakfasts, the humor, and in the number of British tourists (the largest group, and the tourism industry really caters to them).  There is also the quality of the service and the afternoon teas.

Wayne:  back at la Courrone we took a horse back ride. yes! Wendy too (she usually does not do this).  We rode Arabian show horses through the vineyards, with mountains on all sides. Breathtaking!  My horse was Quadra; not very cooperative. Wendy's was Bactiva (sounds like a brand of yogurt).  The stable boys helped us along. When we got back we took pictures and they were totally fascinated with the digital camera!  Then back to the room freshen up for dinner (yes, that is right: no lunch today!).  Another great dinner while listening to the piano player.

The Blue Train

Tuesday, June 17

Aboard the Blue Train.

Wendy: ooohh la la!  We were dropped off at the train station and ushered into a special waiting area for Blue Train passengers only (complete with a spread of tasty treats).  Then we boarded for the 24-hour trip to Pretoria.

We had never experienced service like this..we felt pampered the whole time.  We made it easy for Dalton (our personal butler) because we really didn't have any special requests.  The food was fantastic; the dining car was on par with the Wine Train we took in Napa.  We had a multi-course lunch and dinner.  The lunch main course was a sautéed fillet of sole.  The other courses were a salad, tomato soup (for me), wonderful bread, and orange / lemon cheesecake.   Dinner started with ostrich carpaccio, then mushroom soup, then kingklip (an S.A. fish like halibut), then dessert.

About the bathroom: Elegant but challenging. There is a safety bar in the shower, but I didn't use it. You just have to get used to the rocking and rolling!  Also, we had to pack just what we needed...the rest was stowed in the baggage car. Sleeping for the most part was good; easier than on an airplane, but not the same as a stationary bed. We had twin beds (which were pulled down from the wall); comfortable but compact.  We had afternoon tea...sweet and savory.  Little tarts plus a chocolate cake, and cucumber and smoked salmon sandwiches. Quite dainty.  But how can you get such an appetite from just sitting around?  

Several times on the ride we saw wild ostriches grazing.  And this was the first time we saw "Africa" as we had envisioned it: grassy plains, dirt roads, little towns with many tin shacks.

Most of our fellow passengers were Brits; there was one family from Seattle. The mom said that this was a dream trip for her.  We'd never really thought of it that way.  Initially, we decided to come because of Em, and to add a few more days.  But it has become much much more...yes...a dream trip from Cape Town onward.

Wayne: Our driver dropped us off at the private waiting area for the Blue Train. Whoa!  Oh so fancy.  The men working there were all wearing zebra-striped jackets.  They offered us drinks and snacks - a sign of things to come.  They told us there would only be 16 passengers on the train (it has a max of 72) plus a staff of 30!  We were the only ones n our car.  Our suite was so neat.  A tiny closet, a tiny bathroom (with shower), a table, a chair, and two cushioned chairs. Plus our own personal butler - just dial 257 and he'll be there. He told us everything was free (as in "free") except if we wanted French champagne!  Then the train manager came in and gave the same speech.  Then Laurence, the dining car manager did the same.  So we pulled out at 11:30 am. There was also a TV built into the wall. it had 6 channels  Channel 1 was a camera located on the front of the engine so you could see where we were going. (more on that in a minute.)  Ch2 was a travelogue of the history of the Blue Train and of each area/town it went through on all of its routes.  CH3 - 6 were movie channels. 

Lunch was at 1:30, so we watched CH2 until it was time to eat. WoW!  A beautiful 4-course meal as we watched the mountains roll by. Our waiter's name tag said "Heinie". Then we went to the observation car (which was the last car, #18, right next to our car, #17). Big viewing windows; they offered us drinks.  Dinner was at 8 so we had a few hours to kill. Went back to our "suite" and read and looked out the window.  Even though I was sitting facing "forward" I was still getting a little queasy.  But, this was amazing!  In order to watch the TV, I had to sit backwards, but when I did so and watched CH1 (the engine-cam), my brain was fooled into thinking I was facing forward!  Even more so, as the engine went around a curve, I (my brain) registered it as such even though car #17 didn't actually get to that curve until a minute or more later!!! (Long train)  Truly amazing! 

At around 4:30 we stopped at a little town, Matjiesfontein. It used to have 10,000 people (so they said) but now only 200.  Anyway, we get off the train to stretch and this guy says "Everyone on the bus!".  It was this big red double-decker bus that looked like it had been in service for 100 years. So the driver gets on and he tells us he's going to give us the 10-minute tour (it did take 10 minutes, but we only went about 1/2 mile!). He drove us down the (one) main street and pinted out the museum, the bar, and the cemetery.  Every minute or so he'd say "Slowly but surely we'll go past the museum." "Slowly but surely we'll turn this corner." "This was the first building in Africa to have a telephone. They called the people in the second building."  Really funny!  Then, back on the train.

Eventually it was time for dinner.  We had to be in fancy clothes.  Another sumptuous 5-course meal.  We had the same waiter, but he too was dressed formally, and now his name tag said "Heinrich"!  I tried to skip a few courses (who could be hungry?), but our waiter wouldn't let me ("It's all included you know").  It was fun but we were stuffed. When we went back to our room, the table was folded down and the chair pushed aside and two twin beds )one on each side) had been pulled down from the wall. Not much room to move around now!  The only bad thing about the ride was that it got dark and we couldn't see all of the scenery in the Great Karoo, which we were passing through. But our butler said "Once you've seen a little of it you've seen it all". So we went to sleep. Don't believe that stuff about the gentle motion and the rhythmic clacking of the rails. The bed was comfy, but the train would stop and start and bump and rock. So we kind of slept off and on until around 4:30. Then we didn't wake up until 8:30! 

OHMYGOSH!  We almost missed breakfast! (Now it is Tuesday, June 17.)  The sun was up and now (finally!) the scenery was more Africa-like - wide open grassy plains (sort of like Texas) - including grazing herds of cows and sheep (the wild African kind.  Ha Ha!).  Well got ready quickly and made it to breakfast by 9:15.  A huge English breakfast (Just a croissant for me thanks). Then back to the room to tidy up.  The train was due into Pretoria at about 12:30, but it was running 30 minutes late.
At noon there was a knock on our door. Our butler wants to know if we want a snack! We just had breakfast at 10!!! I'm thinking "Are you crazy?"; Wendy says "Sure!".  The butler says "We have chicken salad and roast beef sandwiches."  She says "OK"!  So he came back in a minute with 2 plates and each has 2 sandwiches!  I nearly barfed.  How could you look at more food????  But I forced myself to taste it - and it was the best chicken salad I ever had!

Then, we got into Pretoria.  Our driver was waiting to take us back to Joburg (the train had passed though but did not stop), to catch our flight for the next leg: safari!!!!!


Tuesday, June 17

Wayne: The Joburg airport is really beautiful and modern and easy to get around in. We took a turboprop to Nelspruit.  From there we were originally supposed to take another small plane to the Leopard Hills airstrip. But because it is winter (close to the solstice) and the sun sets early, it would be too dark to land. So another driver was waiting. I thought it would be like a 45 minute drive, but it was 2 hours!! And the last 35 minutes (only about 10 km) were on a bumpy, pitted gravel road. At last, 7 pm, we got there.  We were greeted with lime and soda drinks (aaahhh!), and told we had 30 minutes to freshen up before dinner. (Here's the daily schedule: knock on door at 5:50 am, tea or coffee until 6ish, morning game ride 6 - 9, breakfast at 9, game walk at 10:30, lunch 1:30, tea 3:30, afternoon drive 4 - 7, dinner at 7:30!  Tough day, huh?).

Our "room" is fantastic! Probably the best in any place we've ever stayed. I say "room" because it is really our own private cottage.  A huge sitting area, king bed with mosquito net...

...beautiful views, huge bathroom with a big tub, twin showers, and also an outside shower!  A big deck with a hammock and heated plunge pool. Truly awesome.  At night it is very dark and you must be led everywhere by the staff to make sure there are no animals around. 

Dinner was served under the stars! It was a little chilly but awesome. The sky was full of stars - we never see so many at home. There were 16 guests, so there were 2 tables of 8 plus your game driver. The ground was sand and there was a huge bonfire in the middle of the area. Dinner was stir-fry - make your own; choose either calamari (??) or venison. Plus you could have pork ribs. So good!  Plus some sort of green vegetable puree soup for first and crème caramel for dessert. Wow!  We were pretty tired so we went in at 9:30 (plus that 5:30 knock was on our minds). We slept pretty well although at 2:30 there was a loud group of baboons which passed through the area.

Wendy: The whole experience at Leopard Hills was surreal. We needed an escort to our room (with a rifle) because we are in the middle of the wild animal preserve.  Our room was jungle elegant. The jaw-dropping showers (2 in 1) were made of stone. The bathtub overlooks an extraordinary panorama view. An outside shower too. A heated plunge pool. The bed was beautiful. An a deck. And they say there are even more elegant lodges elsewhere in Kruger National Park. The dinner was divine. I liked my venison stir-fry (though not sure what kind of venison it was.). Walking back to our room was spooky.  They kept telling us it was safe (even on the safari rides), but they still carried rifles! Now this is Africa!!!!

Wednesday, June 18

Wendy: The next morning was our first game drive, and it too was surreal.

There were 5 guests in the Range Rover, plus Duncan (the lodge manager), the driver/guide, and Norman the tracker sitting out front.  Duncan had...yup...his rifle.  We were told we could talk, but should not stand up and absolutely should not get out of the car. Norman would look for tracks, droppings, etc. as we drove, but we were all also looking in the brush. All of the animals were so unbelievably camouflaged, even the zebras. Mother nature did an amazing job!

Our first sighting was an elephant (and remember, it is still barely daybreak). The car slows down and Duncan says very non-chalantly "There's an elephant", and the big guy casually ambles across the road right in front of us!

Over the course of the next 3 hours we saw lots of other creatures. Impalas by the hundreds, zebras, hippos, rhinos, leopards (cheetahs?), etc. One of our fellow passengers said this ride was not at all typical; you usually don't see so many animals at one time.

I was very impressed with how beautiful all of these creatures are. The cheetahs - so sleek, their fur so beautiful. They move so elegantly and swiftly. The leopards - again - beautiful coats. They're always checking out their environment. The move fast too, but more cautious. All of the deer / antelope creatures were striking; the males especially so.  The honey badger has an especially interesting story. For a little guy, he is quite vicious. If cornered or attacked, they go right for the genitals! (according to Duncan). 

Speaking of Duncan, the guides were absolutely amazing. Not only were their navigational skills extraordinary, but their knowledge of each and every creature blew us away. And the flora too. With no notes!

I particularly enjoyed their competitiveness (or determination). If they know someone wants to see, say, a leopard, the will contact other drivers and go to another area to find one.

A note about the baboons last night: They were making quite a ruckus because a leopard was on the prowl. Apparently that leopard had killed a baboon a few days ago.

Back to the game drive: It was not too cold (though we did have blankets and hot water bottles!).  They said we might not see any water buffalos (and we didn't) and that we would go to the lion's area in the afternoon ride.

We saw a rhino that was showcasing his masculinity!

And the warthogs look like they're straight out of Disney.

Wayne: We woke at 5:15 and got ready for our first drive. Dressed very warm because we were told it would be quite cold, but it really wasn't all that bad. Duncan looked and sounded a lot like the actor Sam Neil, so there was definitely a Jurassic park air to the whole thing. I know we went out in Range Rovers, but I assumed they would have a top and sides and windows. NOPE! None of that - totally open air.  But each of us was supplied with a blanket and hot water bottle (when was the last time you saw or used one of those?). So we headed out even before the sun was up. Not 5 minutes out we stopped, as there was a large elephant standing by the road. it looked at us for a few minutes and then crossed the road (Why did the elephant cross the road?), and after a few steps was totally invisible in the brush. A little farther and we saw 3 cheetahs sitting on a termite mound!

Rare! Then a herd of impalas and some marabou storks. Then 3 leopard sisters frolicking (also rarely seen according to the guide). At one point, one stuck its nose into a big hole in the mound and got sprayed by a honey badger (part skunk-like) The leopards ran away and after a few minutes the badger scampered out. We drove on to a watering hole which had about a dozen hippos in it. We stopped and had tea and hot chocolate (yum!) for about 15 minutes and they were just there in the water the whole time. Then we drove and saw a herd of elephants, more impalas,

and a dika - a small antelope and the only one that eats meat! Then we went looking for a rhino and actually found one. We parked about 20 feet away. He was large; just lieing there for about 10 minutes and then he started to graze.

By now it was time for us to head back to the lodge. We had a delicious breakfast buffet (I was actually hungry). By 10:30 it was warm enough for t-shirts and shorts. Then we went on our game walk. Single file, with an armed guide up front and one in the rear.  We saw 2 huge (and ugly) warthogs, some dika, more impalas, a family of large baboons, and hippo, rhino, and elephant tracks (so they told us). Also learned about some of the plants out here in the bush.  Back to the room. Wendy had a massage out on the deck; I had lunch.  Then it was time for the afternoon ride. We started "hunting" in earnest for giraffes, but none to be seen. We saw a mama rhino and her baby. More impalas and some stenboks and mongooses.  Our tracker saw leopard tracks and we went round in circles trying to find it.  Night fell quickly.  Just at sunset we stopped for drinks and (cold) pizza! Refreshing.  Then on to the main event: the rangers told us of something very unusual.  it is winter and water is at a premium and apparently a large male rhino wanted some at a watering hole, but a bull elephant had already staked it out and they began to fight and the elephant gored the rhino!  He wandered for a day or so (they were tracking him) and then he died.  So the rule is whoever's land it is on takes the horn (but can't sell it; want to discourage poachers).  Then they used a chain saw to open the carcass (usually it is hyenas who get through the extra-thick skin) so other animals, starting with lions can feed on it. So this was the 3rd day since it died; can you imagine the smell?  We pulled up and the driver turned on the spotlight and a whole pride of lions was spread out right in front of us!!!! (Unfortunately, too dark to get any good pix).  Most were lying around after having fed, but while we were there a big male yawned and woke up and took a turn....put his head right inside the belly and began to eat!  Incredible!!!

Then back to the lodge for another sumptuous feast (this time in the dining room).  Along the way we looked at a skyful of stars and our guide pointed out Antares and Rigel and Scorpio and the Southern Cross.  After dinner, as we were being led back to our room, the guide told us that a leopard had been walking around OUR plunge pool! He said he was gone, but requested that we stay inside for the night. Good advice! (Was this true or was it just "something to write home about"? Who knows).

Wendy: I was pretty scared on the walk, knowing that the warthogs and baboons are very nearby and that "someone" was probably watching us. Ryan (our guide) said we should stand still if an animal started to approach us. Yeah, right!

The evening game drive was awesome - especially the lions at the dead rhino. I felt like we were on an Animal Kingdom set, even though this was real!  But how does reality compare to Disney's Animal Kingdom or the Wild Animal Park in San Diego?  It's a private game reserve and the Land Rovers go into the bush, not just on trails or roads. By doing so, we were able to get very close to many animals. The other thing is that the guide is focused on what the people want to see, and do their best to find it. And once you do, they are very patient to just sit there and let you experience it; no rushing to the next spot.

Thursday, June 19
Wayne: We woke at 5ish to the sound of rain! Very unusual for this time of year.  Hmmm...go out in the cold rain for 3 hours or go back to sleep?  Well, that's an easy choice! It was our last day of safari, so of course we had to go!  Luckily, by the time the car was ready to go, the rain had stopped.  Once again, a hunt for the elusive giraffe!  We had to be back at 9 sharp because our plane was scheduled to leave the air strip at 9:20. 

We saw the 3 leopard sisters again, and this time a hyena was trailing them.  But it was pretty quiet - maybe from the rain. We saw no elephants, or impalas or storks. But we did see several nice kudu herds. We also saw the same mama and baby rhino, but this time there was a large male about 20 feet away (same one as yesterday?). He would huff and chuff saying "Watch it woman, this is my territory" and she would huff and chuff back.

By now it was 8:30and time was running out. Suddenly, over the car's CB, someone reported that giraffes had been seen in a nearby area.  So we zoomed in that direction. All of us were looking every which way and we rounded a corner and I said "There they are!" as if we had all arranged  to meet at the corner of Bush and Wadi!

Four magnificent females and each one paraded in front of the car to let us take tons of pix.  Then we quickly zoomed back to the lodge and got there at 8:55!

Two final animal notes: When you picture an elephant you think of grey, dry, wrinkled skin.  Well the elephants we saw all had smooth slate-colored, almost leather-like skin. Why? Don't know; natural habitat perhaps?
And, the amazing thing about seeing all the animals was their total indifference to us. They certainly saw us, but displayed no curiosity, no interest, no threat or display of aggression. We might as well have been invisible. You'd think that if a "predator" came into an area with a group of lions feeding, at least one of them would have made some kind of "keep back" noise or stance. But, no; they 9and all the others) just totally went about their business.

Next stop: Zambia and Victoria falls!

Victoria Falls

Friday, June 20

Wayne: OK, the trip has been great so far, but the next 8 hours were really bad!  Up til now we had seen the modern Africa; now we were taking a step back in time to the 18th century.

First, we took a tiny, 5-seat airplane from Leopard Hills back to Nielsprit. That's 2 seats for us and 3 for our bags, plus one for the pilot who looked like he was 12 years old!  Just as we took off it started to rain.  Things were ok until we got to 10,000 feet (I could see the altimeter from my seat!). We were flying through thunder clouds!  Heavy rain!  Wendy thought we were going to die, and I wanted to! On and on and on.........then we came down out of the clouds and landed. It was only a 20 minute flight but it felt like 2 hours! 

We then got on to a 30-seater for the flight to Joburg.  We landed at 1:00 and it was sunny and warm.  Our next flight was scheduled for 2.  We waited in line for 10 minutes to get our tickets and then we checked in and they said our bags were overweight and that we would have to pay extra, so we had to go back into the same line!  I went to the front and pleaded with the woman to process us so we could catch our flight and she actually did!  Went back to check-in, ran through 2 passport checks, got on board the shuttle bus, and got to the plane at the last minute!!!  Aaaahhhh!  A 737!  As we taxied, the flight attendant said "Welcome to this flight to Zimbabwe".  I said..."You mean Zambia?"  "No, Zimbabwe".  We learned later that our flight to Zambia had been canceled so the tour person put us on one to Zimbabwe. It's not as bad as it sounds ("OK...any old "Z" country"); they share a border right at Victoria Falls.  When we landed we went into the "terminal" (a metal shack) and got in line and were told we needed a visa to enter, even though we could see out next driver waiting for us outside, across the street, IN ZAMBIA!  Because we were at Leopard Hills, and because of all our tight connections, we hadn't been to an ATM and were down to our last 100 Rand. But the Zimbabwe agent would only accept US dollars! We needed $90, but only had $8 between us, so we had to borrow $5 from the woman behind us!  Pay; stamp, stamp.  Customs: "What's in your bags?" "Clothes." "OK.".  Then out the door, and across the street, into Zambia and onto the minibus. Whew!

After 20 minutes we saw rainbows and mist from the falls. Then we stopped and had to get out and show our passports and get them stamped.  We all thought we were officially entering Zambia; no! We were officially leaving Zimbabwe!  Ten more minutes of driving; stop; off the bus (yes! Zambia!), show passports.  Believe it or not, they actually had our names on the list of people expected to come through that day! Stamp, stamp. But two UCT kids were not on the list and it took them 10 minutes (and some cash!) to get approved. By now it was 5:30 and we were supposed to be on a 5:30 cruise up the Zambezi River.  AArrgghh!  Back on the bus. But wait. There seems to be a problem. The driver says it is a new bus and has the wrong markings, so he can not cross the border!  So he calls for another bus to come. It comes in 5 minutes, but has no room for any luggage!  First the driver says he will deliver it later, but we are all a bit uneasy, so we're trying to decide who will go first when 2 more minivans show up and say they will take us and our luggage!  So the group splits up and finally we make it to the Royal Livingstone at 6:10!

What a day!  We are greeted with some kind of weird ice tea, but the resort is beautiful (like a Caribbean or Hawaiian resort), and as we check in we see the sun setting over the Zambezi River. We are about 500 yards from the falls.

(View of the Zambezi River and the falls' mist from the hotel)

There are monkeys running around and in the trees.  Our room is beautiful.   We relax a little and then head for dinner. The current exchange rate of the Kwatcha is 5,000 to one US dollar. So on the menu, starters ran from K25,000 to K40,000 and entrees from K50,000 to K120,000!  The food is fabulous and everyone is so nice and friendly. Our dinner came to K335,000 (ok, $70). Wonderful!

Then, back to the room and sleep. During the night I figured we spent 1/3 of the trip sleeping (that's normal), 1/3 traveling, and 1/3 eating! How did we find the time to do everything else we did???

Wendy:  Our trip has been great, but Thursday caught up with us in full 3rd world logistics.  The small plane from Kruger was a nightmare. The experience in the Zimbabwe airport was nasty. In retrospect, a little humorous, but it didn't really have to happen had we been better informed.  The rides in the buses and trying to get through Zimbabwe and Zambia customs was almost comical. I kept holding my breath that nothing more would happen. We didn't have any money left, we'd lost our sense of humor, and were missing out on the African Queen sunset cruise.   Having said all that, when we finally got to the Royal Livingstone it just about made up for the whole day. I thought it was just breathtaking; just like at Mauna Lani.  They checked us in at a comfortable place and gave us a cool refreshing drink. I loved the property from the get go. It was so beautiful, serene, romantic....

The service was over the top, all around.  Everyone was so genuine, so nice, so willing to do more. We had a fascinating conversation with our dinner waiter, Joe. He lives in a township but said the native heritage gets passed down through the elders who still live in the villages. His grandmother lives two hours away; has no running water.  He said he would have liked to take us to the village, but we just didn't have enough time.

Friday, June 20
Our last real full day of vacation.

Wayne: We had a 6:45 wake up call but were so excited to see the falls we were up at 5:30.  So we got ready and walked to breakfast (outside, along the river) at 7:00. There were lots of monkeys running around and climbing in the trees. The staff warned us not to feed them, but apparently no one told the monkeys!  There was a basket of croissants on the table and suddenly, out of nowhere, a monkey jumped up on the table, grabbed several, and ran away!  We didn't even have time to react! The staff shooed him away and brought us another basketful (as if we really needed it), and we resumed eating when a few minutes later, another (the same?) monkey jumped up and did it again! Why only our table when there were other people eating, too?????? So this time we told the waiter not to bring any more rolls!!!

Then we headed off to see the falls. We met our guide, Active (yes!), and walked over. It is hard to describe them. The roar is incredible and they go on for miles (we only saw a small part). And we saw many rainbows, including doubles and even a full circle!

And even though we had raincoats, our pants and shoes and socks got soaked! But thanks to Em (who had visited here a few months earlier), we had purchased a waterproof camera.  Fantastic views! Awesome power! Active told us that about 400 million liters per minute go over!

The afternoon activity was an elephant ride! We had to go back into Zimbabwe and went to this place where they take orphaned or abandoned elephants and train them to be ridden. They told us theirs was the first group to train African elephants to do this (usually it is done with Indian elephants which are more docile).  So there were about 10 people and 6 or 7 elephants (which was OK since we wanted to ride together).....

..and they told us their names and asked which one we wanted to ride. So of course, we said the one named "Emily"! Yup!!  There were also two baby elephants who walked alongside (without riders). We were on a nice soft pad holding on to handles behind the driver. Very smooth and soft; much better than a horse, and, of course, no trotting! We walked single file through the countryside looking for big game. Saw impalas, kudus, and wart hogs. Stopped at a big water hole to let the elephants drink. Got back to camp just as the sun was setting over a ridge. A great experience!  Then they let us all feed little sweet kibbles to the elephants. You put your hand out and they suck them up with their trunk. neat!  Then, another great dinner and to bed for the last time. :-(

Africa Finale

Saturday, June 21

Up early for one last game drive before we head home. We left at 6:30; today is the first day of winter!...and it really did feel like it. it was "quite fresh" as the Brits say. We had many layers and gloves and they gave us blankets (but no hot water bottles this time), but the wind blowing into the open car was brutal. We still needed to see a buffalo (to get all of "the big 5"), and wanted to see zebras and giraffes too. (Ooops...actually on the way back to Zambia after the elephant ride, we did see several buffalos by the side of the road, but it was dark so we couldn't get a picture). Anyway, this was a smaller game preserve with no predators so we were hopeful. Of course we saw lots of impalas ("The McDonald's of Africa"), but maybe because it was cold, most of the animals were not out in the open. We saw waterbucks, and more kudus, baboons, and yay!  Finally saw 4 zebras.  It's amazing how they blend into the background. Could not find any hippos.  We almost ran into a giraffe who was standing in the road.

Couldn't find any elephants. We looked and looked and drove and drove, but no water buffalos. Oh well...guess last night's group will have to do.

So now we are sitting in the Joburg airport during our 8 hour wait for leg 1 back to reality.  This was a fantastic trip!  We saw and did so many neat things and the weather was perfect and the people were so nice and the food was wonderful, and seeing Em was really great! All in all it was a D-lightful trip: Darren and Derrick (from Thompson's), Denise and Dorothy (at the Cape Grace), Denver (Franschoek), Dave (Monkeytown), Dalton (the Blue Train), Denzel (horse boy), Duncan (ranger par excellence), Darryl (ugh!  The 5-seater pilot), and Joe (Joe?) our superb waiter at the Livingstone.  Bye Bye Africa!!!!!

Wendy: Random thoughts about sickness and vaccinations in Africa: We were very careful. We drank bottled water whenever we could, even though we were told it was safe in most places. But we ate everything served in the restaurants, including the salads (although those are not really big here). Aside from colds we had when we came, we had no other ill effects. Some Americans we crossed paths with were not so lucky. Of the two couples at Leopard Hills, one of the men got violently ill (food posining?) and had to sit out an entire day of safari. The wife in the other couple did not feel well in the morning and by afternoon had a 104 temperature!  Then, when we were at the Livingstone, one woman took a boat ride with her husband across the river to Botswana to do a safari. When she got off the boat a tree branch fell and broke her foot and injured her leg!!!! Yikes!  What are the odds of that!?!  So maybe our overkill of packing every possible medication (including Ace bandages and hypodermics) plus the malaria pills, paid off after all in preventing medical misfortune.

So here I am on the Amsterdam - Chicago leg; 5 1/2 hours to go. This trip was magical. We went to places we never dreamed we'd visit. We saw things we couldn't believe. We stayed in properties that made us feel like royalty. We spent time with Em - so grown up and happy. And we had precious time with each other.  Was it the best trip ever?  Hard to say because they're all wonderful.  Has it set the bar really high for subsequent trips? Absolutely!!!


Final statistics:
12 airplane flights

One 800 mile train trip

Countless drives in vans, cars, buses, luxury BMW's and bare bones Range Rovers

One boat ride

Three continents

Five countries

23,000 miles!!!!!

Thanks for sharing this wonderful experience.

w & w.................