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.

Around the World- Save the Rhino

While in Africa, we watched a pack of wild dogs chase and kill two scared antelope. We watched hyenas bully leopards (more than once) over the impala they each wanted to eat. We even saw a giraffe being eaten by a pride of lions nine strong. But that’s nature. That’s ok. That’s the way the world is supposed to work.

Then we saw this.


This is what remains of a poached Rhino. It was killed just a couple of weeks prior to our visit. THIS hurts my heart. THIS makes me sad.

Do you have any idea how they cut off a rhino horn? A chainsaw. Think about that for a minute. Get that visual in your head. This magnificent creature brutally attacked with a chainsaw and left to bleed to death. Hopefully it will bleed out and die before the predators come. Hopefully.

This is not what is supposed to happen. This is money hungry man catering to the small egos of other man. How can anyone think that something made of keratin can improve your sexual performance? Seriously? If that’s how you feel, if that’s what you need to soothe that tiny ego of yours, then why not just gnaw on your own toenails? They’re made of the same thing as that rhino horn.

There is a war on poachers. The government of South Africa declared war. The instructions, the law, tell people to shoot to kill on sight of a poacher (but even with several poachers killed this year alone, they are still going strong). There are anti-poaching units that go around the national parks. They simply can’t keep up with the poachers. As long as there is a market for the horn, where the price for rhino horn is far greater than gold, there will be someone willing to risk their life for it.

At the rate of poaching we have now, your children will likely never see a rhino in the wild. Their children won’t even see one in captivity.

Be outraged.

Go learn more, go give some time and some money. There are some disturbing images on the site. There are some disturbing statistics there too. This whole thing is disturbing.

Around the World, Here kitty kitty

Not a lot of time to write these days, we’re moving around pretty quickly. So here’s some cute kitty pictures from Africa to tide you over.

This young leopard was fun to watch for a few. He was restless but never did much more than hang out in the tree.


Big fella here was cleaning his teeth to prepare for a pending booty call.


Post coital bliss? Or is THAT IT? The guys in the vehicle all said the former, the ladies all said the latter.


These cheetahs were hanging around the landing strip at Mala Mala. We flew out from there just a couple of hours after I took this photo.


See leopard in tree? See hyenas eating leopard’s impala?


Around the World- Animals of Africa- The Sleepers

(these animals here in this post are all on watch lists and/or full on endangered)

We stumbled upon this leopard, he doesn’t have a care in the world. He almost looks cuddly, no? Aren’t they supposed to be nocturnal?


This male lion is part of a group of four male lions that claim much of Mala Mala as their territory. He was rolling and stretching in his sleep on the side of the Sand River.


These two lions are part of a pride of nine lions, the group had just finished eating a giraffe together. That is tiring, I suppose.


This white rhino almost looks like it is posing for us. It was early (like maybe 6am?) and he was just waking up. He was sleeping near the airstrip at Mala Mala.


Around the World- Mala Mala South Africa

This is another private safari place in rural Africa. It is our second stop with Mala Mala, but last time we only had a single night, this time we stayed several nights. Like before I will try my best to separate the accommodations from the game drives and not make comparisons to other outfits.

I cannot stress enough the importance of hiring someone to take care of you. At minimum you need (NEED) a ranger/guide that is educated and licensed. They not only drive around for you while you look in amazement at all that surrounds you, the good guides have encyclopedic knowledge on all you see and share that with you. If you are going to spend the money to go THIS far, spend enough to make it worth your time.

Going back to the return to Mala Mala. We were here a couple of years ago for a very short time. But, our ranger took great notes about our stay and they were passed on to our new ranger. He knew all about our animal sightings (we saw two cheetahs, a sleeping male lion, etc) he knew our drink order (Dave ordered one rum and coke and that was the drink he was offered as his before dinner drink). We had welcome back letter and gift. It was nice.

Mala Mala has a few camps here and we stayed at Main Camp. All meals were included in our cost as well as daily laundry. Yes, they do your laundry for no additional cost! Once you get past the part where someone else is handling your undies, it’s a great thing. Our room was one-half of a small hut, but by small I think our space was close to 1000SF. We had his and her bathrooms. There was a secluded corner that would have been for a third person (a kid?) and I set-up there for my laptop and camera stuff, I would review the day’s photos and triage emails. There was another little corner with a mini-bar area and a desk where Dave set-up to do his email triage/work and review photos. Large king size bed with comfy pillows and blankets and a great view on a small deck. Daily we saw many types of antelope (kudu, nyala, etc.), elephants, monkeys, and so on. We had housekeeping service at least twice a day while we were out on drives or at meals. You never really saw them, it was like magic. The room was just clean. Most drinks are NOT included in your cost, but were pretty reasonable.

The twice daily game drives are why we go to safari. It’s hard to plan your clothes when you leave at first light and it’s cold and come back when it’s about 100 degrees. Then reverse it for the afternoon drive, start out hot, work your way to cold. You are in open top safari vehicles, maximum of six guests plus ranger in each car. Everyone had a “window seat.” We started being joined on safari by two fun Canadian couples and after they left we were joined by a fun young newlyweds from NYC on their honeymoon (no, they were not the stereotypical over-affectionate honeymooners, they were happy and fun and perfectly enjoyable). Our ranger Ross really kicked ass. He knew his stuff (has a Masters in Zoology), he was fun, he knew how to stop the vehicle to line up the composition and lighting for a photo and he could drive that Land Rover like a beast when needed, be it driving across the water to get a better view of baby lions or pushing through brush and trees in hot pursuit of a pack of endangered wild dogs on a hunt.

The quality of animal sightings was great. The quantity was good. We’ve been to South Africa in January, late November and now early October. I think all have things to offer. Just different things. You might see more baby animals in late November, but it’s crazy hot. January is even more hot, but you also get rainy days and the greenery is hard to see through. October was a good combo of the weather, less thick greenery to look through for animals, but fewer babies. Mala Mala has a fairly long common border with Kruger National Park, and it is not fenced. This is good and bad. It allows the animals to freely move in a pretty natural state. But, then it allows animals to MOVE to another place, like hippos move to find water far away from Mala Mala at this time of year, so we were lucky to see one hippo, let alone a collection of them (a pod of hippo).

What Mala Mala could do better? Internet. I know. Shh. But how many of us can really totally unplug from everything? Not even talking work items, we have family and loved ones that we like to keep in touch with. With no reliable cell signal and spotty internet coverage, this was tough. I had not planned to do much work these days, but, would have been better if it were more a choice than forced. The poor quality of the internet was a time drain, because we spent too much time trying to troubleshoot and fix/make it better than had it just not been offered at all (not suggesting this as a solution!).

I am trying to sort through the best way to share photos from the safaris, be patient Smile

Around the World- Thorneybush Game Reserve- Waterside Lodge South Africa- the review

There are a couple of parts to any safari, game drives and accommodations. Let’s talk accommodations first, then game drives. For those that may not know, a game drive is the safari part, get in the car/open top vehicles, drive around and look for animals and take pictures. There is no hunting on these drives, that takes place in other reserves and parts of the national parks.

(As I wrote this I realized I was making comparison to other lodges, reserves, safaris. I have removed those and have reviewed only based on Thorneybush itself, not compared to others, but keep in mind that I have been on other safaris before so that has certainly shaped my opinions)

Our room was one half of a little thatch-roof hut. The only time we ever heard our housemates was as we (the whole group) did things at or around the same time, such as up for the first of the morning game drives. It was more than fine, we had a great view. We could have used an instruction guide for the remote for the air conditioner. The lodge area itself was nice and open. We never knew if we’d be met by a warthog or an nyala (sounds like in-yall-a) on our walks to meals. Also, because of this (animals roaming around) we had guards that would walk us to/from our rooms when it was dark. Everything in our room was clean, we had a handful of creepy-crawlies show up, but nothing major. All meals were included in the cost of the lodge and the food was fine. I have been traveling for almost a month now and am a bit tired of restaurant food, but it was good.

Each day started with a wakeup call at 5am wakeup call. From here we had 30 minutes to get dressed and meet up for coffee/tea and biscuits (cookies/biscotti). We loaded the vehicles and left. One of the things I didn’t like so much was how full the vehicles were packed. They held 10 guests and by the end we were full. We started with just three couples, our ranger and our spotter. The next morning we had another pair join us and the next day another couple. We met some great people but were a bit crowded in the vehicle.

The vehicles are modified open-top Toyota Land Cruisers, three rows of bench seats, set-up stadium like so each row was higher than the one in front of it. The front seat had two bucket seats, one for driver and one for a passenger and then there was the tracker’s seat, a foldable jump seat positioned just in front of the hood. And as I said, by the end of our short time here, all seats were taken.

Thorneybush certainly earns its name, there were thorny bushes everywhere; my head even got stuck in one on our last game drive, I was rescued by other guests near me in the vehicle. We stayed on the roads for most everything (roads being predominantly packed dirt, nothing paved). For big five (or something spectacular or out of the ordinary, like a pair of cheetahs), we’d go off road. And by off road, I mean OFF ROAD. Pull out the cutters and remove the branches in your way, drive over small trees if you need to. Drives were great, it was a fairly low number of game sightings (look, there’s a lion!), but the quality was awesome (look there’s TWO lions 15 feet away and they’re getting’ it on!).

We had twice daily game drives and that was just fine, plenty of time out with the animals. We’d have the morning one just as the sun came up and also an afternoon one that stretched past sunset. The plan was to stop partway thru each for drinks and snacks somewhere out in the bush. The ranger and tracker would scout a place for us that was safe to get out of the vehicle and we’d spend maybe up to 30 minutes stretching our legs and chatting. More on the drives in another blog post, plenty to talk about there. Upon or return from each drive, we were greeted by fresh towels (warm or cold, depending on the need) and in the evening we also had a nightcap waiting for us, one night it was sherry, the next amarula (quite tasty, go look it up).

(My apologies for no photos, but still sitting here in rural Africa where internet is sketchy at best, getting words posted will be challenge enough, let alone if I try to add photos, more later I promise!)