(Ed. note – Hey I said it was a big wait. What’s 1 year, 7 months, 2 weeks and 4 days among friends)
Alas after a couple of months of waiting the flash drive was declared dead so no photos. (Insert collective groan here)
However, 2021 looks positive in terms of travel, don’t you think. We have plans for Africa (twice, if you can believe it or once if we figure out a way to combine the two. Laugh at your peril.), The Maritimes, the coast (we’re needing a grandparent fix) and long walks with our newest family member.
Anyway, my plan is to re-energize the Jiaxing Express as the travel world opens up later this year. In the last couple of years I have started to play around with photography. While I’m not sure if I am any better now than I was when I started, I have decided that 2021 will be a year of growth. I have begun a year long project to post 10 photos per month with the hope that I show that growth. My reason for putting them out there is to hold me accountable – if for no other reason than to avoid the embarrassment of the dreaded out of date blog. If you are interested, follow me along at 2021 Photo Journal.
So now we are at the last half of our big adventure. Well, sort of. I was just finishing up processing the pictures and getting ready to write, when I accidentally knocked my computer off the low coffee table and damaged the usb flash drive that holds all the pictures. They think they can recover the data – ie the photos but it had to be sent away for a couple of weeks. Until then, please keep your fingers crossed and say many prayers that the data can be saved.
Here’s the problem with going on safari to places where access to the internet is sketchy. First of all there is so much going on, it is tough to find time to write about everything. Second, even when you do you can’t post for the thousands and thousands of people who follow a blog to be kept up to date. And third, most importantly, when you get home there isn’t the sense of urgency to get your experiences out there.
So, following in the vein of number three, this will be a brief, but colourful explanation of the first part of the last half of our trip.
It starts with being picked up in the capital of Namibia, Windhoek, a city which, if it isn’t described as the dirtiest city in the world, it certainly makes the top ten list. We leave Windhoek heading for Sossusvlei, apparently a 5 hour drive and for the first hour or so are on a nicely paved road. Then we turn right and for the next 5 hours – (yes 5+1= 5) we are unpaved, gravel, washboard “African massage” roads. In fact for the next 7 days we are almost exclusively on said roads. People with bad backs are not going to be happy on Namibian safari. A final caveat about Namibian safaris. The distances between points of interest are far. A common travel day will be 5-6 hours of driving, with some points of interest on the way, but generally it is where you are going that is fantastic.
Having said that, let’s get to where we are going. After about 2 1/2 hours of gravel roads, we are getting to the point of what have we done when we pull over a rise and get our first look at the Namib Desert.
An 800 metre drop from where we are to the floor.
I know we are in the Namib Desert, but even a desert gets rain. Penticton, which is the 4th driest city in Canada averages about 350mm per year. Vancouver somewhere above 1450mm. We stop for lunch at a place called Solitaire, where they are recording the annual rainfall. Namibia has a drought going back 8 years.
Not a lot of rain
From there it is on to the Sossusvlei National Park to visit the dunes. All I have for you are photos. First, the dunes as we head toward Deadvlei.
Remember, these are dunes, as in sand dunes. Those are trees at the age of them. The dark is the shadows. I have lots more, but I think you are getting the idea. We finally get to Deadvlei. Deadvlei means dead pan. It is a salt pan surrounded by the dunes. There are somewhere between 50 and 100 dead trees in the pan. They are all somewhere in the area of 900 years old and still there because there is no moisture in the air (or not enough) to cause them to rot.
The next few photos were taken by Terry – Geoff couldn’t walk anymore along the ridge. The ridge is about 18″ wide and hard going. You can’t really get off and let people go past as it is just too difficult.
A few days later we had the opportunity to fly over it.
You can just see the two people on the ridge.
This is the ridge we walk along. It is several hundred feet high. We walked from the “top” of the E. Geoff got to the middle of the first curve before bailing. Terry went much much further.
Meanwhile, down on the pan itself.
Dead trees in the middle of the pan (Listen for Loudan Wainwright…)
This is a fog beetle. When there is mist in the air, he sits on the top of the dune, which his backside up and his head down. The fog settles on his shell and the water then runs down his back and he drinks it in. Nature is amazing.The Shoe Blog Returns
As we are leaving a tour comes in. You guess the nationality.
Just come from a safari which included in seeing the Big Five,
Just come from a safari where you enjoyed a spectacular birthday brunch
Just been told that many wineries will be closed on the second day of your tour because it is Good Friday
Just come from the Okanagan Valley, home to some pretty fantastic wines
it is hard to get excited about three days of wine tasting. Now I didn’t say impossible, I just said hard. We landed in Capetown feeling a little tuckered so after getting settled in the hotel we just went for a quiet walk and dinner. Our guide picked us up around 9am the next day and off we went to the first winery. If we were at home I know that we would not be sampling at 10 in the morning, but when is South Africa. I’m not going to itemize all the wineries we visited – I think we did about 10 over the three days. We got to the point where when we went in we just told them to bring out their best two – not to waste their time or ours on starting at the bottom and working up. Does that sound snobbish? I don’t mean to be, but you can only drink so much in a day without passing out. I will say for most of the wineries in South Africa – they pour a healthy taste.
The highlight was spending time with Albert Ahrens of the Ahrens Family Winery. This is a great story.
Albert has a great personality and wit.
When we were staying in Kruger at Nyeliti – the hosts did Terry and Cindy’s brunch – Lee-Anne said that if we had time while in Capetown, we had to go and see this wine maker. He has a very different approach to wine making. The other three weren’t sure but I said that Shaun hadn’t given us any bad info yet and it was he who recommended Nyeliti so we agreed to go. Now, it was also at the end of the day – we didn’t find his winery until 3:30 or so and after 3 other wineries. We didn’t leave until 6:30. It was an amazing experience. He and his assistant wine maker sat with us and we talked about his vision for wine and wine-making and tasted an awful lot of fabulous wine. How fabulous? We all want to figure a way to import some of his wine into Canada. He talked about how he wants South Africa to develop appellations similar to France, so that you know the wine, not by the grape, but by the region. He talked about how he views himself as a grape scout – not a winemaker. He talked about a lot of stuff that was way over my head. Luckily Gary and Cindy know a ton and were able to engage with him. A couple of important things – Terry doesn’t like Chenin Blanc and it isn’t a favourite of Gary and Cindy either. However, they all raved about Albert’s.
And now for the most important story. We were into the afternoon by about 30 minutes when it came up that we live in Penticton, in the Okanagan Valley. He said he was familiar with Summerland and Peachland. I asked how that was and he said he had studied Google Maps of the town towns extensively. Why I asked. He said that a number of years ago a winery with an unusual name – “Dirty Laundry” I interrupt. “Yes!” he says. Apparently he had been hired to come to Summerland to be their winemaker. He and his family had gone through all the usual angst of making the decision – uprooting their small children, leaving their parents etc. etc. They had finally made the decision to come when they got a call from the owner – the government had said no – there were too many winemakers already in Canada. Small world – plus the only hat I took on the trip, but wasn’t wearing that day – was from Summerland Golf Course. 6 degrees of separation.
At the end of the wine stories, we went outside to test his sparkling wine – why not. Gary was incredibly successful in using the sabre to pop the top off. One time only and nothing broken. Cindy has the video to prove it too!
Step one: Albert gives instruction.
Step two: Albert gets the hell out of the way and with one stroke the top is off. No mess, no fizzy overflow
Proud teacher and student
That night we are off to dinner at Karibu Restaurant. There was nothing special about the restaurant or the meal. The story is about Tiana the quasi-manager. This could be a very long story but for your sake and mine, I’m giving you the Coles Notes version. For some reason I can’t recall, Tiana decided to sit down at our table – and she wouldn’t leave. Talk, talk, talk, talk, and talk some more. She decided that Terry was cold (true) and got her a blanket.
Orange may not be Terry’s best colour
That wasn’t enough though. She decided that Terry just HAD to have her scarf. And after all, we had seen a leopard.
Just a little gift from Tiana to Terry
Now, I said the food wasn’t anything special, and we certainly have had better, but still it was quite good – all except Terry’s of course. Tiana felt that we needed to tell the chef how fabulous the food was so off she went and the two of them come back. Three of us tell him the meals were lovely and then Terry says that she was disappointed in hers. I’m not sure which was quicker – he excuse making about how different people have different tastes or his rapid exit from the table – accompanied by Tiana. We followed not a lot later.
Here’s the thing about travel. It catches up to you when you get home. We have been back in Penticton for 4 days now. I thought I had worked through the jetlag thing, but, as usual I was wrong. I have been getting up earlier and earlier – today I’m writing this at 4:15 after being awake since three. Everyone all together now, Aaahhh, so sad. Okay, the whining is over for now.
On the evening of our last evening game drive, we are scouting locations for the traditional sundowners. On the way we spot Cape Buffalo, elephants, steenbok, dead trees and dead roots of dead trees.
Cape Buffalo are another curious – if more dangerous, animal
A pair of ambling elephants
Steenboks stand very still before leaping off into space
Did I mention how much Gary loves dead trees?
The dead roots still adhere to the rocks
A last incredible sunset
On the way back to camp we had a couple of interesting experiences. They both centre around our pals the elephants. I think I have mentioned that nocturnal hunters – lions, cheetahs, leopards aren’t bothered by lights – something to do with the cones and rods in their eyes. Elephants, on the other hand are bothered. We are driving along the track and Patrick is running a big spotlight back and forth to see what we can see. Suddenly there is an elephant in the light and he starts to charge – turns out it’s just a mock charge, but Shaun has thrown the vehicle into reverse and is backing up really, really fast. We sit about 500 metres away and wait for 10-15 minutes and then try it again. No elephant on the track. We are approaching a relatively large bush on our right and Patrick is carefully pointing any kind of light straight down. Just as we pass the bush an elephant realizes we are there and lets loose with a huge trumpet blast. He is close! How close? I am sitting in the back seat and I feel the blast of air on my neck and shoulder. I remark (okay scream) “Jesus Christ!”, Shaun hits the gas and we are going REALLY, REALLY, REALLY fast. Gary is in the front and turns around just in time to see the white of a tusk. Terry starts laughing so hard she almost wets herself and Patrick, poor Patrick is holding on for dear life. The photo below is just to show you Patrick’s seat – there was no way I was about to get a photo at that moment.
That’s Patrick seating on the no seat belt seat
I now know that my damaged heart can stand a huge scare! I can guarantee that it was beating a mile a minute!
Once we are out of the area, we spot
A Dik Dik – the smallest member of the antelope family – maybe 18″ high
and an African hare of some sort.
Rare? Who knows.
The last morning of the South African safari started early – I was out taking photos of the starry sky at 5:15. The others had decided they needed their rest more than a last opportunity to see a lion up close and personal, but not your intrepid blogger. So at precisely 6am Shaun, Patrick and myself were off for one last shot.
What an incredible sight at 5:30 in the morning. That bright splotch in the middle is the Milky Way. We will get some more shots in Namibia, but this is one of my favourites.
The first sighting of the morning was of the Marshall Eagle, the largest eagle in South Africa. I have lightened it up significantly, since it was still quite dark.
And then some more of those curious zebra.
Over the radio Shaun hears that two lions have been spotted somewhere near the reserve. A little explanation. Around the edge of the Klasserie Reserve, which is a private area within the national park, are “farms”. Now these aren’t farms as we know them. There are no fields, no crops etc., they are simply large tracts of land which are privately owned. Some have automatic reciprocal rights with the reserve – they can come on the reserve or you can go on their land without seeking permission and vice versa. There are no fences separating them. Others however don’t have this automatic relationship and you have to contact the owner/manager and ask permission. The one where the lions are heading is one of the latter, so Shaun gets on the radio to Donovan, who manages the part of the reserve we are staying on and he contacts the owner of the farm who says no problem. With that we are off like a dirty shirt.
We first come across a hyena, who is looking very much like he is heading where we are going.
A hyena on the prowl
We cross a river and Shaun spots the lion making his way through the bush. We leave the track and up into the scrub – and there he is.
How incredible to be no more than about 25 – 30 feet away.
He just totally ignores us.
Shaun took this 42 second video as he walked by. Note how quiet we were. Shaun’s “Yeah, sure” was in response to my asking if I could take pictures, knowing the click the camera would make.
Wow, just wow. After he passed we turned around and headed back to the track to get ahead of him but we came across the owner of the land – the fellow who had said we could come over. He was not a happy camper, and chastised Shaun for going off the road. Shaun was very apologetic and said he thought we had permission etc. etc. The guy waved it off and said we could follow the lion but to stay on the road. We decided just to go the other way. Afterwards Shaun said that the fellow had been upset because we got there first – he had not expected us to be as close as we were when he gave permission and he was choked we saw it and he didn’t. He also later apologized too Shaun. Nice, but I missed more opportunities to see the lion up close. It was interesting though, that someone who lives right there still gets excited at the chance to see these magnificent animals.
After that there was nothing to do but to head back to camp to get ready to leave. Those of you who think that when I got back to camp I would gloat over the fact I had seen a full mane lion and the others hadn’t, would be wrong. At least, you’re wrong until about three days later when I would start to occasionally mention it. (Terry: yeah, like na na na na na, frequently!)
The entire safari was a fantastic experience and what an incredible way to end it.
We had a couple of hours to kill until the flight from Hoedspruit to Capetown where our four day wine tour would commence. Naturally we spent it waiting in a wine/gin bar. Terry and Cindy enjoyed gin and tonics – particularly due to the quality of the gin and the quality of these tonics
Add fresh blueberries for a delicious taste treat.
At the chaotic airport, we get through security – a bizarre experience in and of itself, and sit down in the waiting area. All of a sudden people get up and start moving – no announcement or sign of what is happening. We ask what is going on and someone says that the plane is loading. In South Africa they have dispensed with announcements over loudspeakers – you just have to pay attention. This is not just in small airports either. I noticed when we landed in Johannesburg large signs around the airport proclaiming that “We have gone silent”. This wouldn’t work in China where there are frequently 5-10 final boarding calls or even calls to “Mr. Sun Yat Sen, report to Get 12 for boarding”, also 5-10 times.
We arrive in Capetown, where we are met by Duncan and taken to our hotel. Tomorrow our wine tour of South African wineries begins with two burning questions –
Are they as good as what we have in the Okanagan and
How many wine tastings can we ingest before we scream “Enough! Stop pouring!”
The morning after the leopard sighting we are out for our morning game drive. Did I mention that morning game drives start at 6am so you are up at 5:30 or so. This means, of course, that there aren’t any late nights, which at our age isn’t necessarily a bad thing. One of the cool things you get are fantastic sunrises.
Wow. Just wow
Plus you get to see cool spiders.
This is a close up – we didn’t get too close.
We couldn’t get out of the vehicle too much, but Shaun said Terry could get out to check a footprint we saw. This is an elephant’s rear footprint – and Terry doesn’t have what one could call a petite foot.
An elephant footprint and Terry’s foot
We saw lots of animals including a herd of about 25-30 wildebeests. These two were very curious about what they were seeing.
Totally placid – much like myself.
Now I have a photo of something else we saw just before these two characters. Shaun is driving along and hits the brakes. He says that there is a new zebra nearby. We ask how he knows this. “That is VERY fresh zebra afterbirth there. ” Terry won’t let me post the photo, but for those who want to see zebra afterbirth send me an email and I’ll fire it off to you.
Next we stop and Shaun says he has a surprise for Terry and Cindy.
Our fantastic hosts at Nyeliti – Donovan and his lovely wife – Lee-Ann.
I mentioned to Shaun in the first couple of days that the whole purpose of this was to celebrate Terry’s 65th birthday in May and that Cindy was also celebrating her birthday. He then arranged to have a special brunch set up in the middle of the reserve for us. It was fantastic.
Champagne and OJ to start
Exquisite food – the cinnamon buns were incredible. Thanks Lindsay!
Fabulous company – please ignore the goof 2nd from the left
What a tremendous surprise.
After brunch is was off to see a few more critters.This is the Lavendar Crested Roller. He is perhaps the most beautiful bird we saw on the safari. Later on I’ll post a photo of one in flight.
Impalas are so cute – but they are also on the menu for almost every animal around. Thus there are and awful lot of them.
Cool Weaver nests
Then it was back to our bush camp – locally known as Nyeliti.
Our Home away from Home
Our humble abode for three days and nights
It’s a tough life but…
In the evening we were out again looking for more game. We saw another giraffe with another bird
Apparently this rhino had been released into the reserve from a neighbouring area. In order to protect him from poachers, his tusk had been cut off so that any poachers wouldn’t kill him.
Some things just can’t wait, so this post is a little out of order. However, I think (hope) you will enjoy it.
Our flights home consist of: (all times local times)
Johannesburg to Addis Abada leaving 11:00pm arriving 5:05am – 5hr flight time
Addis Abada to Seoul leaving 11:35pm arriving 4:55pm – 10:40hr flight
Seoul to Seattle leaving 6:30pm arriving 12:40 pm – 10:10 hr flight
Seattle to Vancouver leaving 3:05pm arriving 3:59pm – 54 minute flight.
What could possibly go wrong?
We arrive at the Johannesburg Airport with lots of time. It isn’t like Vancouver though. The check in gates are behind a divider and there is no indication of which airline is where. We ask the information desk where to go and he says “Go back and turn right at third opening.” Very helpful. We ask a military looking fellow and he says “Through here and go to desk 91” We’re at desk 27.
We get to desk 91 and he says – “Desk 99” so we line up behind 3 other business class passengers. (Did I mention we are doing this whole round the world flight on points in business class? Well, we are.) We wait, we wait and we wait some more. I have no idea, other than incompetence on the agent’s part why it took so long to process 3 people. When it is finally our turn (15 minutes later) I understand that the reason was, in fact, either a total lack of interest in doing the job or the aforementioned incompetence or perhaps a peasant mixture of both.
He asks our final destination and we say Vancouver. (Ed. Note: Should have totally messed with his head and said Penticton. Sigh, lost opportunity.) I ask if the bags will be checked all the way through to Vancouver, since we have an 18 hour layover in Addis Abada where we will be leaving the airport for the day. “Yes, yes of course.” He then prints off the luggage tags and affixes them to the bags. We notice they will only get as far as Seoul, so we ask if we have to pick them up since we only have 1:30 in Seoul. A little light goes on and he rips them off and prints out new ones with all the flights on them and getting them all the way to Vancouver. Let’s just say that Terry is highly suspect of that actually happening.
(Ed. Note: As we are checking in I look over to see a 60” TV box and a 58” TV box in line to be checked. The agent is on the phone asking what the size limit is now – it changes everyday it seems.)
Ethiopia Air has a great deal. If you are on two “connecting” flights but your layover is anywhere from 8 to 23 hours, they will put you up in a hotel, provide you with breakfast lunch and dinner (with a glass of wine included) for free. We ask the fellow about that and he says yes, but that we have to approach the transfer desk in Addis Ababa (A.A. from here on). And off we go to the lounge to kill an hour or so.
We find the second hottest (the first was in Cairo – so hot we left and went out into the general terminal) lounge we have come across. Terry is stripping off clothes and wandering around trying to find a cool(er) spot and finally finds one.
An hour later we board and find that our seats are up against the rear bulkhead and only recline minimally. This may be just a first world problem but its OUR first world problem.dammit. We ask if we can move to any of the other 4 empty business class seats and he very nicely says yes. Now the bulkhead is in front of us and there isn’t a lot of room plus, you know how they say put your seat in an upright position for take-off and landing? Well, when I do that and lean back the seat reclines. I keep waiting for someone to say something, but the flight crew is too busy chatting to notice anything like that. 5 hour flight – Terry gets 3-4 hours sleep, Geoff watches Mary Poppins and Aquaman (highly recommend both. LOL).
We arrive in A.A. and go to the transfer desk where there is one woman working and four or five chatting and having coffee. It is 5:15am. There are two men ahead of us. What appears to be African work ethic is on display. I swear she must have been playing solitaire on that screen because all she seemed to do was to stare at it. At 5:50, it is our turn. Remember when I said that we would get a free hotel? This is the place. One would think you look at the boarding passes, check a name print off the voucher and say have a nice day. No. Stare at the screen for five minute and then say “Where are your hotel vouchers?” We say that we were told in Johannesburg we would get them in A.A. “The system tells me you have them, that they were issued in Johannesburg.” We say no, that didn’t happen. A colleague of hers passes by and says Happy Birthday. I say is it your birthday? Happy Birthday. She smiles and says she can print them off for us. Catch more bees with honey…
We go outside and wander aimlessly for a few minutes before spotting where the hotel shuttle will pick us up. It is now 6:30. At 6:55 the shuttle shows up and takes us to The Skylight Hotel. It is now 7:05 and we are at a beautiful five star hotel, opened on January 27, 2019 so it hasn’t had time to deteriorate.
We attempt to have a nap – futile. At 11:45 we decide to go for lunch. I did a little research and the Merkado, largest open air market in Africa is about 30 minutes away by car. We manage to communicate with the concierge that we want to go and can he arrange it with a guide (strongly, strongly recommended). At 2:00 Ashu shows up. Now everyone has been telling us how big it is and they weren’t wrong. We first drove around the outside. I’m thinking it is likely 8 city blocks square and a total rabbit warren of “streets” lanes and pathways. Within it are vegetable markets, metal markets, tire markets, recycling markets, coffee markets, banana root markets, housewares markets, horse supply markets, spice markets, rent-a-donkey markets and thouands of people. But more on the Merkado later. This post is about transportation.
After the market, a shower and dinner we go to the lobby to catch the shuttle. We were told to be downstairs at 9:25. At 9:05 I see people with suitcases piling out of a van and the bellboy come to get a woman waiting in the lobby with a suitcase. I go over and ask if it is the shuttle. Yes it is and we get in. The woman is flying to Toronto and was told the shuttle would pick her up at 8:55. Go figure.
We haven’t mentioned driving in A.A. but think insanitymultiplied by no driver trainingand them multiply that by “the Chinese should get awards for their driving prowess” and you get a rough ides of what it is like. There are marked lanes but think of four cars abreast in those lanes and the guy on the left right wants to make a left turn so he’s coming across while the guy in the third “lane” wants to make a right turn. It is mayhem. We come to a roundabout. In Africa they drive on the left hand side of the round so when you come to a roundabout, the traffic flow should tell you to go right. Not our driver. He turns left, avoid the roundabout and starts driving down the divided road to the airport. Only problem is he is driving down the wrong side of the divided road straight into oncoming traffic. It was like he had decided to do one of those murder-suicide things and we were the victims. Unbelievable. Terry was more than a little choked, but we arrive at the airport safely.
We get out and start up some stairs from the parking lot to the terminal. Nope, we cant go there – we have to go around and then we see why. There is a line outside the terminal with security just inside where you have your bag x-rayed etc. This is a first. Luckily there are two lines – the VERY lengthy economy line and the lengthy business class line and we are through in just under half an hour (after taking our shoes off which Terry detests, particularly given the state of floor cleanliness) and we head upstairs to the lounge. Before we can get there though we encounter airport mayhem like nothing we have ever seen before I have no idea how many people were in there, but it was more than Trump had at his inauguration! We manage to find the lounge. We might have stayed in the general terminal. Hot, no seats and no internet. Every few minutes an agent comes wandering through to announce what flight is boarding now. “Rome, Milan, New Delhi”, “Nairobi, Washington DC” “Frankfurt, Seoul” Wait that’s us. Our boarding pass says Gate 8, but a woman tells us “No, go to gate 22. We have a special gate” Okay, whatever the hell that can mean. We get there and lo and behold we have to go through a second security check. Poor Terry, she’s exhausted, hot and uncomfortable but trying to maintain a smile and calm demeanor. Nevertheless, she almost loses it when three or four people are hurried through by someone. We get through and are told to sit in an area. Then they start calling for business class passengers for “Nairobi” they go forward, get checked in, placed in an elevator and are never seen again. Then it’s the folks off to Rome and Milan. Finally it’s our turn. We get into the elevator, drop a couple of floors and get in a bus marked “Business Class”. Off we go to the plane. Apparently while we were being entertained, all the economy class had been herded up and loaded.
We drop into our wide, fully reclining, personal entertainment centre seats and are immediately offered champagne and orange juice. Aahh, flying business class, don’t you just love it.
I can’t wait to see if the luggage ever shows up.
What could possibly go wrong? Remember that early on?
Well the flight to Seoul was great – I got about 7 hours sleep with atavin and my happy pills kicking in nicely. Landed in Seoul early and then sat and sat and sat. Now we had a scheduled 90 minutes but with getting in early we added 25 minutes to that, so even with sitting on the tarmac for 35 minutes we still had loads of time, you’d think.
Then we are first off the plane. Aces. Then we run into four officious women who say we have to fill out a health form – we aren’t staying. No matter fill it out! Damn officious people.
Then we get to the gate. The less than capable agent in Johannesburg hadn’t given us boarding passes for the Seoul-Seattle leg –“Our systems don’t match. You will have to get it there.” So we go to the gate. “Oh we can’t give you a boarding pass, you must go to the transfer desk. This is third floor. Go all the way back down concourse and up to fourth floor. Look for Transfer Desk B.” By now it is approaching 5:35 – flight boards at 6:15. Away we go. The woman at the transfer desk very helpful, very friendly, but wants to see our previous boarding passes and the luggage tickets. Oh oh. We get back and here we are on the plane.
The purser is very nice and asks what she can do to help. I say “Single malt scotch.” She says “Really?” I say yes. She then misunderstands and brings one for me and one for Terry. Things are looking up. An atavin, my happy pill, dinner and 4 ounces of whiskey and I’ll be lucky to wake up in 10 hours in Seattle.
Still could be The Case of the Missing Luggage.
Here we are at Sea-Tac, – our 16th visit to an airport on this trip – just one more and we’ll almost be home. Flight was good, got lots of sleep. Feel semi-rested, but tired. We get off the plane and get to the Global Entry kiosk “Have you got all your luggage?” No – its been checked through to Vancouver. “You have to pick it up here and then recheck it over there.” Bizarre, so we go back to the carousel. At least we’ll know if it had made it this far. We wait. All the “Priority Loading” luggage goes past. Then the general luggage goes past and there is LOTS of it. It keeps coming and coming and finally, just when I am about to concede defeat, Terry spies hers! Then mine and then the last one! Hurrah! We take them, go through customs again and recheck them. Now we have to go through security again and- surprise, surprise they are slow. Plus we have to remove shoes and – a new one – ipads. Mine goes through and then the guy asks if my camera bag has a camera. Yes it does. He has to rerun it. Sigh. And now we are at the gate – the furthest gate in the world from where we started. We are waiting with everyone else – we aren’t flying business class for the last flright so no lounge for us! How unfair.
I am reluctant to post this since we could still have more adventures but I think I’ll give it a shot.
But here is a little treat for you and me. When we got on board the A.A. to Seoul flight there was a airline pilot in the seat next to me. We got chatting and he said that he was one of the three pilots on board – they rotate through in order to get some rest. Anyway, part way through the flight I look out and see the Himalayas. I ask the flight attendant if I could give my camera to one of the captains to get some photos and she says she will ask but comes back and says it is too late, we have already past them. Damn. A few minutes later though my new friend – Captain Girma Negash Lemma comes back to show me the photos he took on his ipad. He sent them to me and here they are – the Himalayas from the air on a spectacular day. He said he had never seen them looking so spectacular – and he’s been flying for over 35 years. Enjoy.
So the last blog was written on the road from Etosha National Park and Windhoek where we stayed the night. We are now back in Johannesburg after an eventful time at the Windhoek Airport – more on that in a subsequent blog.
Anyway, after the sighting of the lions and their kill, we were off for a surprise adventure. Shaun is big on surprises! On the way we spied dung beetles. Now I had no idea how excited Terry would get about seeing dung beetles, but it was right up there with my marriage proposal. For those of you unfamiliar with dung beetles, let me explain. These little guys and gals create a ball of dung by rolling a bit around and around a pile of dung. They are very industrious because the ball becomes the home of the larva. Who knew.
Then you start rolling. I seem to recall Shaun saying they are upside down – which makes sense – who wants to stick their head in a pile of dung, anyway? Roll little guys roll.
They are also a little combative as we saw. One guy had worked himself up a pretty good ball when another one came over and tried to take it for his own. There was a little scrap and the interloper lost and moved on. The locals call them “klepto-copters” because of this thievery and their funny way of flying, like a helicopter.
Feisty little guys
Now on to the surprise. Shaun had been promising us we had have a good look at a Hippo – up close and personal.
Enter Jessica. Jessica is a “tame” hippo. She was washed up on the bank of a river after a flash flood. Her “owner” was looking at the damage from his veranda when he saw something move in debris. Much to his surprise, it was a baby hippo with the umbilical cord still wrapped around its neck. He took it in and he and his wife nursed it with a bottle. She now swims freely in the river, venturing out to play with the wild hippos during the day but always coming back in the evenings. She has reached sufficient weight to hold a male during copulation, which occurs in the water, so the keepers are hopeful of another little one soon. He says emphatically that he plans to be in the water to catch it as Jess gives birth. Agreed–this couple are a little out there but very loving of animals.
Cindy, Terry and Gary had no difficulty feeding her.
Geoff, not so much. At some point a male scared her and now the men are not allowed to talk to her or
kiss her – that may not be a bad thing. I am serious about the voice thing. The woman in the background is very strict about that.
On the way back we stopped to see a Baobob tree. They can grow for hundreds of years. They estimate this one is about 500 years old.
Can you spot Cindy and Terry?
After a rest it was off for another game drive. We didn’t spot much – a cheetah and a couple of rhinos
Just a couple more grazing rhinos – white ones.
There is a wonderful concept here called sundowners. It is much like our happy hour, but they always try to find a spot where one can watch the sun go down. Here are a few of our sunsets.
After the sun goes down, the moon comes up.
Terry is always up for a sundowner.
So after sunset, we’re off for a little night tracking. We pull around the corner, off on track and onto another and
An amazingly beautiful animal.
sitting on the road about 25 feet in front of us, there he was. The last of the big 5–a leopard.. He was incredible. He just sat there watching something, not bothered in the least by us, the truck or the light Patrick the tracker was focusing on him. We were wild with excitement, but had to remain very very quiet so that he didn’t wander off because he was disturbed. After about 5 minutes though that was what he did and despite a valiant attempt by Shaun and Patrick, we didn’t see him again. We were very fortunate that he found us because they are the most difficult of the big five to spot.
Here we are in our little safari vehicle, heading back to Windhoek, Namibia to catch the flight back to Johannesburg and then home. Our big adventure is over and what an adventure it has been. As you can surmise, between lack of internet access, long driving days on washboard roads and wine filled evenings, it has been difficult to find the time to keep our blog up to date. So, over the next few days we will attept to give you some flavour of what we have seen and done.
Many of you may think that Terry is a gentle, elegant soul who exhibits proper decorum almost all the time and this is often the case. There is another side to her however.
We visited an elephant sanctuary where injured or dangerous elephants are being looked after. They use them to educate people about elephants and their lives. For example,
through their feet, they know where other elephants are up to 64 kilometres away
their ears flap for air conditioning
they are predominantly either left-tusked or right-tusked
their society is matriarchal
the bulls have glands just behind their ears which give off hormones when they are in heat
lions give way to them at waterholes
after voiding their bladder and bowels and then walking backwards, they very studiously avoid walking through anything – really.
This is Tembo, a bull elephant who was saved from being killed because he was dangerous. He is roughly 35 years old. We had the opportunity to touch his skin which was very tough and filled with crevasses.
Tembo is a LARGE bull elephant.
The big teeth are great for chewing up to 250kgs/day of leaves and grasses. Yes 250kgs/DAY
Their hide is amazing
The three amigos
Terry got to view and touch various parts of Tembo’s hide, tusks, etc.
Warning: This photo may leave some of you disturbed. Tembo doesn’t seem to, uh, retract.
As I said, Terry got to check out much of Tembo!
The next day we met Becky, his sister. When people say someone has a memory like an elephant, they aren’t kidding. Shaun spent time with Becky when she was growing up and hadn’t seen her for over a year. He told us that he has to be very quiet as she would recognize his voice and come up to the vehicle, which can scare some people. He wasn’t wrong about the recognition. She was passing us and suddenly turned toward us as she reached the row in the vehicle Shaun and I were sitting in and raised her trunk to us as she smelled Shaun. When I took the camera away from my eye, I realized how close she was – CLOSE!
Becky is big – but not as big as her big brother.
Close – and I mean close!
These two are her kids. They were tussling for a bit and then started walking down the road, pushing against each other like kids in the back seat. Eventually she had had enough and separated them.
“He’s touching me.”
“That’s it. I’ve had enough!”
In the evening we went on a game drive. It is very cool to be out after dark, which occurs around 6. The animals are very different. Impala, for example, are very skittish during the day and can suddenly take off for no apparent reason. At night, however, they will just stand there mesmerized by the lights of the vehicle and just let the cars drive through the herd. While we were driving, we saw a mother and baby giraffe. The mother was standing stock still looking straight ahead. As we turned a corner, we spied two lions slowly tracking the giraffes. We followed the lions for some time as they stalked them. At one point a small (maybe 20) herd of wildebeest ran in front of us – it was just like you would see on TV. It was amazing, the speed and the jumping they exhibited. Something none of us will soon forget. Anyway, back to the hunt. The lions managed to separate the mother and baby and took after the baby. We lost touch with them however as they went into the bush. Unfortunately I couldn’t get any good photos as they just kept moving in and out of the bush.
The next morning it was a game drive and walk to see the cheetahs. They are amazing animals. These two are brothers and quite devoted to each other. As we wandered around the area they followed along. Apparently they don’t see us as threats or food. Having said that, Andy the guide, did carry a rifle.
What a beautiful animal
Later we came across Tombi. She was raised in the camp but still hunts in the wild. Terry got quite friendly with her.
After several more sightings of various and sundry animals, we came across the lions.
A lion and the kill
They had not caught the baby giraffe, but at some point during the night they had caught and killed an impala. Now your “Learn Abput Lions” lesson. The hunter is the female. It’s her job to catch and kill their food. It is then her job to turn it over to the male lion, whose job it is to eat the kill. This guy had eaten almost an entire impala and literally had difficulty moving. Nevertheless, as he laid by the remains of the carcass, he wasn’t about to share – even with the cubs. When one of these two cubs got too close he swatted him away – not about to share anything.
Where in the world is Waldo? (Ok, Cindy, Gary, Terry and Geoff)
To be a bit more specific, within the blue square above.
The red square is where we stayed for the first few nights (Hazyview) and the red oval where we spent the day driving around looking for the animals.
With the sightseeing part of our tour over, we embarked upon our first African Safari. It was amazing, truly amazing. We saw over 32 different species of animals and birds in our 5 or so hour game drive. Luckily for you I didn’t get photographs of all of them.
Before I get to those shots though, here are three from the first day we arrived at Kruger Park Lodge. As we were driving into the lodge, Shaun pointed out the hippos in the pond alongside the 2nd hole of the golf course. They were very cool.
Not sure if they were friends playing or not so much friends and arguing. Still, very cute.
And now, finally, we hit Kruger National Park. Our goal was to see as many of the Big Five – lion, leopard, rhinoceros, elephant, and Cape buffalo as possible – and we had already seen the rhino so we were off to a great start.
Within 10 minutes of entering the gate we say our first kudu.
Cute, aren’t I?
Beautiful spiral horns
and then it was the Cape Buffalo – wow! (#2 on the Big Five list!)
And so our day continued. We spent about 4 hours driving around looking and looking, dashing from place to place when someone let Shaun know of a siting of some animal or other.
Here’s some of what we saw.
Three down and only two to go! A very pregnant elephant. (#3 on the big five list!)
This fellow started walking toward the car and Shaun started talking him down and he backed off – it was very interesting.
Giraffe with birds. The birds are very important as they eat the ticks that are on the giraffes.
What majestic animals and incredibly graceful
This little hyena was just lying by the road seemingly without a care in the world.
Warthogs are the funniest little animals. When they start to run – which they do very easily, their tails go straight up to say “Follow me”
On the drive from Johannesburg to Hazyview, Shaun was telling us how he loves crocodiles and Terry was telling us how she hates crocodiles. Shaun said that by the end of the trip she would love crocodiles.
Our first croc – lying in wait or just resting? We didn’t get close enough to find out.
There didn’t seem to be an awful lot of storks around – perhaps because of the croc.
On the other hand, we saw literally thousands of impala, which are considered the food for almost every predator above it on the food chain. They are very skittish and yet will also just stand there looking at you from 20 or so yards away. What is interesting is that when one of the takes off, they all take off in a leaping flight.
Impala – the basic food group
I’m not sure exactly what kind of vulture this is – maybe the great white?
A pregnant zebra who was moving very slowly
They also look good in black and white.
Zebras in black and white
Steenbok will stand watching from a perch until leaping away. I think they are steenbok – they could just as well be springbok – who can tell with the South African accent.
Just a little minkey as Inspector Clouseau said.
Mother and baby
Springbok and wildebeest – why can’t people get along so well?
And finally for today
One short anecdote. For the first two nights we stayed at the beautiful Kruger Park Lodge at Shaun’s family’s summer home. We were scheduled to stay at a lodge in the park for the third night. Before we had arrived at the lodge Shaun had asked us to give him feedback for future safaris on whether or not we would have preferred the one hour drive back to Kruger Park Lodge or to stay at the in park lodge. We checked in, unpacked and then he came around to ask if we needed anything. We told him that in terms of feedback, we would choose the K.P.L. We were packed up and out of there in ten minutes. Then he told us that when he talked to his wife the night before, he had told her that we would be coming back the next night to the Lodge. He was getting to know us very well.
And that brings us to dinner at the Pioneer Grill – a fantastic meal. We enjoyed crocodile, springbok carpaccio, ostrich, the best beef steak Gary has ever had, kudo and a fantastic wine.