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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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

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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.

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

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!)


Around the World - Euro and Kuna and Rand, oh my

We are around week four and this is my collection of leftover change from the different places so far and is growing of course.

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So, what is a practical way to manage all of this? It is actually kind of like how we had to manage it when I lived in Belgium, still in the times of Francs and Guilders and Marks.

For me, since shopping is for all intents and purposes off the to-do list, this leftover currency is oftentimes my souvenirs from the various places. We are not planning for loads of excess currency, which would be kind of silly. But, we are not trading in our leftovers. There are several countries using the Euro, but not nearly as many as you think. So Czech, Norway and more still each have their own currency.

I carry in my wallet any currency for my current location, some US dollars, and likely my last location. Periodically I grab out the old currencies and put them away in a safe place. Looking at the wallet photo below, dollars on the left, South African Rand on the right and in the coin area is current currency, Rand.

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Keeping the exchange rates handy is a bit of a challenge during fast-moving days. Right now, settled in South Africa for a few weeks, I’ve got the Rand conversion set. But when you need 3 currencies in a single day, it gets to be a bit much. I do have a great currency converter app, but it doesn’t store anything locally, each time it does a call for the current exchange rates. Good for accuracy, not so good with no internet. So, I have a “currency” contact in my Outlook. It has the exchange rates as of just before we left, which in a pinch is enough to make sure we don’t spend a house payment on a dinner somewhere.

I expect to have 5 or 6 more currencies before all is said and done.


Around the World- Cape Town South Africa

As we wrapped up Cape Town we flew out to the African bush for safari-ing. More on that as we do it, or after we do it, it’s the most vacation-like time we have while we’re out.

Cape Town, we arrived after a long night and day of flying. We had already arranged from our hotel to have a driver pick us up. I’m going to talk about safety in South Africa. Let me preface this with, this is my experience, not someone else. There are likely many people that have felt unsafe here, but I have not. We take common sense precautions (and continue to take, as I am writing this now from rural Africa). These are good ideas most anytime you travel to a place you don’t know.

1. Know where you’re going, even if you have to hire a driver in advance

2. Lock your doors- hotel, car, cabin, hut, wherever

3. Don’t be flashy, try to blend (leave sparkly diamonds at home)

4. Avoid carrying a purse, find clothes that have decent (fastening) pockets

5. It’s not a bad idea to keep enough cash in your bra for a taxi ride to your hotel

6. Guys, put your wallet in your front pocket or one that closes with a zipper, snap, button, etc

7. Always know how you’re getting “home”. We taught our kids this too as new drivers. You may not know how to get where you’re going, but always know your way home.

8. Don’t make the news. Seal Team Six doesn’t care if you’re stupid, don’t plan on seeing them.

As our time in Cape Town was pretty short, we didn’t make a big list of things to do. I cannot praise enough those big red double-decker tour busses that take you around town, point out the sights and give you the history (in the language of your choice). These are a great option if you’re time is limited. In Cape Town the bus also takes you partway up Table Mountain so you can (try to) get on the cable car and go to the top. The weather was blue skies, sunny and fairly warm. And windy. Very windy. Chicago’s got nothing on Cape Town.

clip_image002Table Mountain- I live in Colorado. I love living there and I love the mountains. So, seeing Table Mountain outside my window felt like home for a minute. We never were able to go all the way to the top, it got too windy, sustained winds at or above 50mph and a gentle cable car becomes an amusement park thrill ride.

Boulders Beach- We hired a driver for half a day and headed out early, with the intent of beating the tour busses to the touristy places worth seeing. The cost was pretty reasonable, around $50/hour for nice, safe car, tour guide driver, going wherever we wanted to go. And that was to see penguins. And penguins we saw.

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Cape of Good Hope. A very pretty area that made the winds of Cape Town seem like a soft summer breeze. And despite our common understanding, this is NOT where the Atlantic Ocean meets with the Indian Ocean. It’s close, but still another jaunt to the east.

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The Waterfront in town was a very nice place. It was a mixture of outdoor mall, indoor mall and a social hub. AND they had a Lush store. A nice little slice of heaven. When we packed for this trip we had to be careful of what we packed, everything needed to have a reason, and likely more than one. So to sneak into one of my favorite stores and get my hands on a sample size of my favorite lime and seat salt exfoliator, was ahhh. Lots of restaurants and shops and an outdoor television that usually played sports, had a bit f stadium seating where a few hundred people could (and did) watch rugby matches, cheering for the home team. The picture below is of a sidewalk frame for posing. On the side are instructions, something like: Stand in the frame with the mountain to your back, and hand your camera to a stranger that stands on the big yellow X and takes your photo. Very cleaver indeed! We need one in Colorado Springs that perfectly frames Garden of the Gods and another that frames Pikes Peak.

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A typical (?) day in the life of an around the world traveler

Get up around 6 or 7 am. Spend 90 minutes doing triage on email, checking off as many small to-do items I can at the same time, write blog posts, etc. Put on enough, non-smelly clothes to meet the local standards of decency and go eat hotel breakfast.

After breakfast, get dressed for real. Spend a couple hours on client work.

Strategize time around lunch. Where should we eat and what else is around that we can do? Spend afternoon doing something touristy.

Back to hotel for a couple more hours of client work.

Plan for dinner around where we want to see the sunset. Eat dinner and watch pretty romantic sunset in a pretty and new place.

After dinner back to hotel to work for a few more hours.

This moves around a bit by day and if there’s any specific sites we’d like to see that take longer. We work a few hours on weekends still so we can take a morning and drive up the coast. And so on. If the day before was killer and we’re beat, we may sleep in, shift the schedule around on the fly.

This is still pretty much a whole, if not more, work day. The differences we have are an ever-changing location and our free time is spent wandering around with penguins or taking photos of fjords and waterfalls instead of vegging out in front of RHWofSomewhere. Dave is an actual photographer with actual work in an actual gallery, and I expect loads of our memories will wind up on the walls of that gallery and in competitions.

We had planned events and meetings along the way and some of those are working out, some notsomuch. Our trip does include an actual vacation, our safari is our vacation. And to small business owners this means, we are not taking on additional obligations, but will continue to wrap up the current obligations we have. I also expect to have some time “off” when we get to a beach in Thailand, but that’s more of a long weekend, than a vacation.