Around the World- we begin our journey home

Has it really been over two months? Have we really travelled all the way around the globe? We’ve crossed the equator three times and will a fourth on the flight I am about to board. In one trip we visited 10% of the world’s countries. Not too shabby.

Lessons learned and other miscellaneous observations:

· Doing this with hubby was the perfect choice, no one I’d rather share these memories with AND I still really like him

· I am a much more social creature than I realized, I missed my kids and friends a ton (yes, the dogs too)

· I would make sure we met up with more friends along the way than we did (see item above)

· There were some places along our road trip portions where we stayed a single night, I would change the minimum stay to two nights; time to enjoy the journey AND the destination

· Packing was just about perfect, I packed one pair of pants that I hardly wore and I packed more plug adapters than I needed

· It was harder than I thought to not shop

· I love food, but somehow almost always felt hungry

· We found great wine everywhere, but in Asia they didn’t have locals wines available, they liked the exotic feel of wines from far away

· Every airline has a different definition of business class

· I felt like I worked a lot but didn’t get nearly the amount of writing done that I predicted or needed to do

· If I had to leave the US and move anywhere else in the world, it would be New Zealand, Queenstown to be exact

· You can never take too many pictures, that’s why we’re digital no?

· I spent more on some things than I expected and less on others

· I would return to anyplace we visited except for Bangkok, it’s hot, smelly, dirty and gross (and the only place I felt discriminated against as a westerner)

· There are yummy sweets everywhere but nothing beats a good Oreo (and they are everywhere too)

I’m sure there’s many many more that will come to mind later, but I do have a plane to catch, heading to the MVP Summit, via Honolulu and San Francisco.

Around the World- a cheetah, a leopard and an impala walk into a bar…

Ok, no not really.

This is the story of how three cheetah hunted and killed an impala. They ate until their bellies were almost full.


Only to lose the kill to a leopard.


The hyena arrived, stole a bit of the impala, testing the leopard.


Then the leopard lost it to a pair of hyena. Notice the leopard hauling ass up the tree.


Poor poor leopard.


Around the World- Southern New Zealand

(Disclaimer: I am not a Lord of the Rings person, so I did not look for nor did I find any hobbits)

Wow, this really is one of the most beautiful places on earth. Seriously. The scenery is stunning. The people are nice. I would totally move here if not for leaving behind my kids. And friends. And dogs. And my whole life. But maybe I could come back again and again, for a few weeks at a time.

The biggest fault I can find is the cost of things is on the high side. Your food costs are easily 30% higher than in the US. That goes to loading up on groceries and cooking your own and eating a meal at a restaurant. Not sure I understand why the wool is so expensive, sheep are everywhere (seriously, you cannot exaggerate this).

We started in Queenstown for a few days, went down south toward Invercargill and Nugget Point, up the east coast to Dunedin, then back over to Queenstown, up through Christchurch via Akaroa, and finally a night in Kaikoura before driving to Picton and hopping on a ferry to the North.

If you’re here, you know I travel a lot. So when I say that of all the places I’ve been Queenstown feels like home to me, you know I’ve seen a lot and don’t say that. The town has stunning views everywhere you turn, enough shops to find what you need and again, nice nice people. Things are so pretty in Queenstown that I even got up (mostly voluntarily) before sunrise to see things like this (sunrise in Glenorchy):


There are mountains and lakes all around, and the water is so blue. I’ve never seen anything like it. It looks manufactured sometimes. I can only imagine this is mostly because of the care of the environment you see around here. It doesn’t feel off or inconvenient, it’s just the way it is. Lack of pollution and a little bit of paying attention to the world around you offers things like this (I assure you this is exactly how my camera gave me the image, I do not have the software or the skills to mess with it).


Some highlights from our stops and drives for you, there is not enough time nor blog space to give a full rundown of the last several days. We tried where possible to stay in apartments with kitchens as much as possible. We were driving all around, so keeping some groceries was easy, and we had a cooler to transport cold items too. One thing we would change if/when we do this again, stay longer at each place. I know I preach that already, never be in a rush or you don’t see anything. And we thought we planned that way. But, in New Zealand, the roads are long and windy and full of distractions. Take whatever time the GPS says you will arrive, add at least 25-50% to that and you’ll be close to the actual time of arrival.

Queenstown- We stayed at Peppers Beacon, great location, great facilities. Regardless of where you stay, make sure you have a view of the lake. Dave went on the stargazing tour on the top of the gondola and enjoyed it. He got some great images too. You are close to wine country, so certainly make time for a tour. We went to Gibbston Valley and had yummy wine and yummy food. Take a day or two and drive out to Milford Sound. If you’ve never driven around fjords, you’ll thank me. If you have, then you know it’s beautiful and will thank me for the reminder. Last time we went to Milford we had typical overcast skies. This time was blue, vibrant, very very pretty and good contract for pictures.


Invercargill- this was a small stop, but really we wanted to go to the bottom of New Zealand, and this was our gateway.


Nugget Point- There is a lighthouse and a penguin reserve and that’s about it. We had the top floor of a little outbuilding on the coast. We technically saw two penguins on the beach, but they were so far away it feels like cheating to claim the sighting (remember, the African safari was only a few weeks back and I was less than two feet from a lion). The image below was somewhere along the drive. Can you find the Dave?


Dunedin- Apparently we missed the memo that this was a college party town, and we didn’t see any of that either. For us, it was a great few days. We took a train out though a gorge. Drove over to a penguin reserve and saw a handful of yellow eye penguins. We were there on November 5th, so plenty of fireworks going on too. We also took a drive up to Moeraki Rock beach area, pretty cool (and weird) round boulders on the beach.


Akaroa- Stunning. Stunning. Stunning. You drive down into this valley, water all around. Sheep on the hillsides. We stayed in a little (really little) cottage, but it was perfectly adequate for what we needed. Not everything has to be 5-star (ok, as long as you know good pillows are on you next stop!).


Christchurch- we actually didn’t stay here, we ate here and drove through downtown. Food was good (with good company). Downtown was still rather sad. There is some rebuilding happening, but it was still rather much a ghost town.

Kaikoura- Again a beautiful drive to get here. Very small town. Nice enough, but too small town for me. The goal here was a whale watching tour for Dave and because of our first day with bad weather, that was cancelled. The apartment was nice (the pillows were awful Sad smile).

Around the World- My stint as co-pilot. Or was I the flight attendant?

Ok, so I didn’t really co-pilot, but one of our flights was on a tiny airplane and I was in the seat by the pilot, so if something happened, I either learned how to fly or we all died. Read on.

We arrived in South Africa via large commercial jet. We started in Istanbul, then changed planes in Dar Es Salaam and again in Johannesburg before we arrived in Cape Town. We stayed Cape Town for a few days, then flew (commercial) to HDS, Hoedspruit. From there we drove to Thornybush Lodge (ok, we hired a driver). Then after Thornybush, another car ride to Mala Mala. And finally from Mala Mala we flew via a semi-private charter to Johannesburg.

Flying out of Cape Town to Hoedspruit was on a commercial jet via South Africa Airlines regional carrier. It was a smallish jet, but a jet nonetheless. The flight was unremarkable, but after landing, while taxiing in, the pilot did name off the small antelope that blocked our path as we waited for it to clear the taxiway. Hoedspruit was the smallest airport I had ever traveled through or even seen in person. To call it an airport would be generous. We grabbed our carry-ons, walked off the built-in steps of the airplane, and walked over to the “gate”. We went into the arrivals lounge, which resembled someone’s jungle theme living room. The luggage tractor gathered our bags from the cargo hold, and delivered them to us on the sidewalk in the parking lot.


Flight status board at Hoedspruit. Note the fee for overnight parking, converts to about $2.50.


Our drive to Thornybush only covered a few miles as the crow flies, but it was almost all dirt roads and never a direct path and took an hour or so. We did see random people wandering out in the (literal) middle of nowhere. I always find that odd. You could be miles away from anything and you will still see people out walking in South Africa. Thornybush Lodge has an airstrip, the only time I saw it was when two amorous lions decided to get it on there. (Doesn’t feel right posting a picture of lion sex, but I have a few, it didn’t last long)

When we left Thornybush to go to Mala Mala it covered more miles as the other drive but there were also few roads that led from one to the other, lots of dirt roads, lots of random small towns. Road closures with little if any warning and guesses on how to get where we needed to go. Cows. Goats. Donkeys. All wandering around on the sides of the road, on the roads too. We passed many shopping areas. But we’re not talking what many of us would think of, we’re talking open front sheds (many with electricity) lined up as stalls on the side of the road.

Our original plan for leaving Mala Mala was via a road transfer, a 5-6 hour drive in an air-conditioned van. Doesn’t that sound great?! So, we changed once we were there to use the semi-private charter via Federal Air. They go from airstrip to airstrip of these private reserves picking up passengers and going to Johannesburg. We were the last stop at the reserves, so when we took off from Mala Mala, we went straight to Johannesburg.

One of the Mala Mala drivers drove us from camp to the airstrip, took maybe 8 minutes. We saw two planes on the airstrip, a small one and a smaller one. Any guesses which was ours? Yes, the smaller one.


There was a uniformed man that took our luggage from the Mala Mala driver and placed it in the rear of the plane. And by rear, I mean the back door, next to the last seat in the back. We walked over the the front door of the plane and climbed up a half dozen stairs and once on the plane realized it was even smaller than we thought, we couldn’t even stand upright. I was in seat 1, Dave there in the back was seat 8. Next to him was the luggage area.


We load up and the nice man that loaded our luggage follows me onboard and closes the door. He then tells me that there are food and drinks for anyone that wants them, we should help ourselves (I discovered they were actually belted in, so I couldn’t pass them back, looks like I was serving).


Then the nice man gives us the standard flight safety briefing and then hops over the center console of the cockpit and lands in the driver seat. He was luggage, flight attendant and captain.


I realized that if something happened to the baggage handler/flight attendant/ pilot man, I would be flying this plane. So much for my regular napping on airplanes.

The flight was mostly smooth, quick and uneventful. Just like we want them.

Around the World- hotel reviews South Africa

(sorry it’s been a while since a post.  We moved around a lot in Asia, no time to write.I’m trying to catch-up!)

I feel the need to again state that all of these hotels on this review are Starwood and we have Starwood Platinum status. Our treatment and experience comes with that, and I know that it might be very different for others.

We stayed in Cape Town and greater Johannesburg on either end of our safari adventures. Here’s the reviews.

Westin Cape Town South Africa- To get here we started in Istanbul, flew to Dar Es Salaam, waited for hours, flew to Johannesburg, waited, the flew to Cape Town. We were tired and likely a bit cranky. We arrive and check in to the hotel after a long time traveling and get to a nice suite on a high floor. The location at the convention center was pretty good. I wish the shuttle service to and from the waterfront was more often, maybe even on-demand. The suite was on a corner, great views of water and mountains. The floor plan was a bit awkward, but the furnishings and finishings were great. So much so that I am waiting for word on the tiles they used in the bathroom, I might want them in my bathroom back home! We felt welcome, but not special. Not suggesting there was a deficiency of any kind, but when you read about how much rockstar treatment we got in Asia, you’ll understand the difference. The Starwood member lounge setup was a bit confusing. There was the lounge-type stuff, typical snacks, drinks and such. But apparently also a restaurant with a pay menu. I never knew which one I was getting. It was just awkward.

Sheraton Pretoria South Africa- We never left the hotel. Well, just to leave the city and go to the airport. But we never left. Its location is meh, but in all honesty that’s why we selected it. We built in a few days for getting work done, catching up on emails and so on after taking off several days for safaris. The ride to the hotel from the airport was longer than I had anticipated, close to an hour. But that was just my misunderstanding, with all the different hotels and stops sometimes they mix together. We get checked in and go to our room. We were upgraded, but not to a full-on suite. But the room was large and secluded and more than enough for us to work a few days. The food choices were very limited. I honestly did leave the table at the end of every meal still hungry. Food and beverage service was probably the slowest I have ever had anywhere. But with that said, it was also likely the nicest people I have encountered in a long time. They were genuine nice, not fake you’re paying me nice. The staff started conversations, asked about your travels, your home and so on. It was nice. Don’t get me wrong, I love my husband and cannot think of anyone else to take this type of trip with, but I honestly do feel a bit socially isolated. Having a new conversation with a new person was nice.


I would certainly go back to either of these hotels, depending on my need.  I would hesitate on the Sheraton in Pretoria only because of its location and lack of nearby services.