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Kathy & Dave

Kathy & Dave consider western New York to be our home. We love to hike and travel, exploring the world around us. Dave retired from the National Park Service after 30 years and had the opportunity to live in National Parks like Redwood, Shendandoah,Death Valley, Biscayne, American Memorial Park (in Saipan/Guam), and others. His last park before retiring was the Blue Ridge Parkway where he was actively involved with establishing the Mountains-to-Sea Trail. Kathy has extensive experience in the medical field, from pushing papers to working with patients.

After working for the same hospital (Dave as the Emergency Preparedness Coordinator and Kathy in the Revenue Cycle Division as the Director of PFS), they sold their home and began a 10-month trip around the world, visiting 20 countries.  Then, COVID hit. 😒  After 78 days and only 3 countries, they had to return to the US.  But where in the US, since they had sold their home??

First, it was back to the wide open spaces of the Adirondack Mountains.  There is no place better to ride out a global pandemic than Saranac Lake! Then, they finally bought a log cabin on 2.3 acres in western NY.  It is good to be back near family again!  Kathy went back to work working part time for her old hospital in North Carolina (remotely) and Dave is doing a smattering of per diem jobs, from being an EMT for the County Health Department to teaching CPR at the community college.  Dave also started a new career as a Travel Agent!  Check out Daves Travel Agency if you are interested in booking a trip.

Vida en la isla

12/04-07/2023

Monday started out as any other day of the week, Kathy sat down, drank her coffee, and got to work. Not at all what Dave expected for living the island life.  Chilling on the couch, he waited for mom to wake up and Kathy to finish work, both which happened at approximately the same time.   We spent the rest of the afternoon just relaxing with mom until she retreated to her bedroom for some quiet time and a nap.  Late afternoon saw Kathy and Dave heading to San Juan to experience a bioluminescence kayak tour that takes place in Bio Bay, Fajardo. The approximately two hour tour saw us kayak down a narrow river canal that ended up in what is considered bio bay, which is home to single cell organisms that glow in the dark. We sheltered from the ambient light under a tarp and played with the water that glowed when we moved and touched the water.  It was a fun, wet time and we enjoyed the trip immensely, especially after Kathy bought a dry sarong for the trip home.

Enroute to Fajardo, they passed El Conquistador Resort.  Dave recalled staying there overnight back around 1995 while he was working for the National Park Service.  Hurricane Marilyn had recently hit the Caribbean and devastated the US Virgin Islands.  He was sent on a detail as the Security Manager for the hurricane relief effort.  He flew from Washington DC to San Juan where he met up with other members of the NPS team.  They could not get a flight to the Virgin Islands that day, so they had to overnight in Puerto Rico.  The next morning, the NPS managed to fly the team over to St. Croix on a US Air Force C-130 cargo plane.  Ahh, memories!

Tuesday dawned bright and early as we headed back to San Juan to meet a couple from the area, Maria and Raul. We met them on a trip to Egypt a few years ago and hit it off with them. A fun and engaging couple who enjoy their family, travel, and life, which is a connection we share with them.  Finally getting to the rendezvous point, we texted to let them know we were here and Kathy scampered over to the local Burger King to use the bathroom! Going in the door, Kathy met Maria going out the same door – great minds think alike. We soon headed off the El Yunque National Forest to discover the only rain forest in the US National Forest System.  El Yunque National Forest – Home (usda.gov)  The area is beautiful with stunning waterfalls, graceful ferns hugging the edges of the road, and flowers blooming in every corner. We climbed an area tower where we had beautiful view that gave us the overview of the rich green tropical forest, then the city, and then the ocean all the way to where a cruise ship was “parked” in the water. (Of which Kathy thought was a building and Raul attempted to give her a geography lesson—little does he know she is geographically challenged)  Next stop was a traditional lunch nestled alongside the beach where we enjoyed a local meal and ice cream.  Soon it was time to head off and we were sorry to say adios. We hope to see them again soon as they are such a joy to be around.  Arriving home early, Kathy worked a bit and Dave chilled enjoying some quiet time.

Last day here saw us spend some more time as we would at home, kind of like home away from home – except with no snow. We did get an opportunity to spend some more time with family in the afternoon on a trip to the Parque Nacional de las Cavernas del Río Camuy with Kathy’s sister, nephew, and some friends of her sister Frieda. The cavern is considered the third largest underground cave system in the world. The main part of the cavern is seventeen stories high and is awe inspiring when standing in the middle of the massive cavern. At one point you can see an opening on each side of the cavern which enhances the overall delight of the cave system.

Last thing the agenda was a relaxed local meal with Kathy’s mom and then some time saying goodbye to the family. We were soon headed off to the airport for our 0100 am flight out of Aguadilla where we hoped to catch a few zzzzz’s before our seven hour layover in Newark’s airport.

Dave remarked that he knew this wasn’t a vacation as he was not called upon to do any EMS (as has happened the last few vacations!) and Kathy drank coffee and was glued to her laptop. Kathy, on the other hand, felt that “vida en la isla” was a nice respite as she got to wear shorts in December, and chill with her family during her downtime. It was nice to see her sister, brother-in-law, nephews, and mom – something that she has missed the last couple of years.   And, for the first time in the last 3 trips, Dave was not robbed by any monkeys!

La Vida Loca en Puerto Rico!

11/30/2023

Start, stop!  Start, stop!  Start, stop!

The start of our trip began pretty uneventfully as we went to our Dave’s brother, George’s, house, picked up him and his wife, Judy, and dropped them off at the airport.  We then went and got something to eat. Next task – we dropped our car off at their house and called an Uber to take us to the airport.  We then hit our first “stop”:  when we tried to pay for our Uber by credit card, we kept on getting the twirl of death. Trying the third credit card, it finally went through.  But then Dave realized that the address Kathy had put in was a few houses down the block. Schlepping down the block with our luggage, we waited in the cold weather, wearing our “warm weather” clothes for PR, as we tracked the Uber driver to see how close he was.  Phew!  Finally we were at the airport where we gratefully waited to start boarding for our first flight.  It was on-time and had no unforeseen glitches.  Once we got to Newark, our next delay occurred when our layover was longer than expected.  The flight before ours was delayed leaving the gate, preventing our plane from parking there.  Of course, that delayed boarding our plane. Kathy was given an opportunity to upgrade to first class, but there was only one seat available and she decided sitting next to Dave for four hours was the better option! Finally, we arrived in Puerto Rico.

Our next stage that we needed to start was getting the rental car.  Of course, there was a delay there, but, while it was a bit painful, it did not stop us from finally getting on our way. We knew it had to be too good to be true!  That old adage came true when, 30 minutes into the journey to our nephew’s Airbnb, the rental car agent called us. “You have to come back to the airport.” he says. What??? Apparently he forgot to give us the key to the car which was running when he presented it to us. (It has a push button starter.) In this case, if we did not turn around and drive back to the airport, when we next stopped the car, we would not have been able to start it again! Trekking back to the rental agency, we tried not to let it get the best of us.  After all, we are living the “island life” right now.  Heading back to Graham’s Airbnb was much quicker as Dave quickly learned that when in Puerto Rico, he should do as the Puerto Ricans do.  Apparently, after midnight, people consider it optional to stop at red lights!  He swiftly got the hang of checking quickly and then darting through the red light.  We did drive up through a maze of a road that was narrow and rutted and twisted and turned – Dave really thought he was on a 5 mile long driveway!  But, at no point did we have to stop and start again and we just kept going till we hit the bed – at 3 AM.

Morning came early… like way early…as we soon figured out when the dogs started barking, the roosters started crowing, oh, and of course, the battery in the smoke alarm angrily chirped that it needed to be replaced. Yep, we had started to sleep at 0300, but that ended rudely early.  We were soon out the door though, and yep! our vacation really started!

 

Friday saw us spend time with family, which was a treat for Kathy to spend time with her sister, mom, brother-in-law, nephew, and great nephew. We enjoyed pizza at the house and just talked and talked. Saturday saw Kathy and Dave head down to San Juan to see the San Juan National Historic Park San Juan National Historic Site (U.S. National Park Service) (nps.gov) which has been part of the Puerto Rican landscape since the 1500’s.  We walked the parapets and gazed through the cannon portholes and even walked down into the cellar of the fortress. The drive was a nice treat and a good trial run as we will again head in that direction both Monday and Tuesday.  The end of the day saw us spend some more time with family as Dave regaled Paul with stories about Africa and went through the pictures from our most recent trip. It was a nice time all around.

Sunday, the day of rest, saw us start the day in a beautiful church that sits in the town square. While Kathy did not understand a word of the Spanish being spoken, she felt familiar enough with the rhythm of the mass that she could follow along, but praying in her native English. The rest of the day was spent chilling with mom at the Airbnb, letting her relax and spend some time with Kathy and Dave.  Dinner at a fancy restaurant where Graham worked capped off a perfect day. As we stop this post, we are fat and happy, just “living” the island life.

Hwange, Vic Falls and Chobe National Parks!

10/31-11/2/2023

Trick or Treat!

Halloween started off with a bang! Not a treat or a trick to be seen, instead we went to The Great Zimbabwe Monument located near Lake Mutirikwe. We stayed the previous night at a hotel overlooking the lake that was surrounded by lush gardens, but due to the “spooky” mist we could not see the lake from the veranda.  The monument commemorates the capital of the great kingdom and was the home to 8 great monarchs. The kingdom was ruled by eight kings over 400 years until the last king fled towards Botswana and abandoned the area.  The visit included walking an ancient trail to the high rock perches that were the “rooms” of the great king.  These rooms were used to meet local dignitaries and also served as the home and burial site of each king. As each king died, their home was razed and a new home was built for the new king atop the foundation of the old home. Upon excavation, they found eight separate levels of homes. The area has large “brick” walls hewn out of granite which were then dry-laid by hand with no mortar and exist today more than 1000 years later. We took the modern path up to the top and bravely descended back down to the valley using the ancient path that meandered through narrow pathways and rugged steps. The women of the day took this harrowing path on a daily basis carrying water and food perched atop their heads!

After the morning exploring the ruins, we loaded onto the bus and began the long journey to our next stop – Matobo National Park. The hotel (called the Farmhouse) is located on the outskirts of the National Park.  Matobo is home to both white and black rhinoceroses.  White rhinos are grass grazers and pretty docile.  They have longer heads to reach the grass below them.  Black rhinos, on the other hand, have shorter heads/necks because they eat trees and so don’t have to bend down much.  They are also rather aggressive and will charge humans. The six-hour drive on an uneven road exhausted us all and after dinner we gratefully climbed into our beds and went to sleep.  The next day dawned bright and early and we soon set off for our first adventure: a bush walk where we got to explore some of the local rock formations that included some old cave art. The art, dating back thousands of years, is still visible and in pristine shape. Like much of the areas in Africa, there is a great deal of pride in the past and the history of their local regions.  A game drive through the hotel property (or safari to photograph the inhabitants) was next on the agenda at 11 am. Kathy opted to take a walk and chill on her veranda while Dave set off to enjoy the sights of zebras playing, giraffes just being giraffes, and wildebeest being not so wild.  The Farmhouse managers knew each of them by name.  Wildebeest, despite their size, are fairly docile and non-threatening. Dave came back with lots of stories to tell while Kathy perused his many pictures as he told his stories.  A leisurely lunch of lasagna and salad and a bit of a break was next on the agenda. As the afternoon rolled around, it was time for the second safari of the day, a trip into Matobo National Park – home of the rhinos! A drive in with our guide (John) and we were soon gazing with awe at a group of rhinos – a mom and her baby and another female with two males. The two groups normally do not socialize, but it was an opportunity for the mom to introduce the baby to the other group. A bit of head nudging and they were soon fast friends.  The rhinos paid us no mind and we were standing within 15 feet of the massive critters.  All of them except the baby were de-horned.  Park managers do this to remove the reason why they are so attractive to poachers.  The horns grow back and they have to start the process over again every 5-6 years. The rhinoceroses in Matobo NP are fiercely protected and guarded by local protection rangers. When Dave first spied the rangers, he thought they were carrying quivers on their backs with arrows.  It turns out the rangers carry AK-47s, but with old, weathered wooden stocks which are slung on their backs.  These long guns are not to defend the tourists against the rhinos, but to protect the rhinos from the poachers.  The local laws allow the rangers to shoot poachers dead on the spot.  We drove a little further to a spot by a small pond where we had a rest.  At this beautiful rest stop we had an opportunity to see some people fishing illegally, but not much more in the way of animals. The guide though offered us all a beer or glass of wine (nothing without alcohol) and we relaxed by a lake hoping to catch an animal coming to drink from the water. Dave, though, with his law enforcement hat on, noted that our guide and driver participated in having a beer.  All in all it was not a lot of candy or tricks, but we were treated to a lot of great memories.  The next morning dawned bright and early and Dave opted to go for a hike with Tilley up to the top of a small bouldery-like hill to watch the sunrise prior to leaving the lodging, The Farmhouse.  While they could not see the sun rise through the clouds and mist, it was a lovely hike and the boulders were splashed with a kaleidoscope of color from the various lichens that paint the rocks in this area.  Kathy, meanwhile, sat on the front porch of our room with a cup of coffee and listened to her book.  When she looked up, she saw a wildebeest about 4 feet from her.  (We are working on improving her situational awareness…) Today will we head off early as we travel to Hwange National Park for our next adventures.

 

11/3/2023 – 11/4/23

Hwange Safari lodge was an amazing lodge that sat at the edge of the park and overlooked a watering hole that was visited by a plethora of animals. We had an opportunity to go on another safari this afternoon and, surprisingly, almost 50% of the group decided to stay behind, Kathy being one of them.  Being bounced around in the back of a vehicle can take a toll.  While Kathy sat by the pool chatting with Tilly, Esther and Marilyn and drinking her strawberry daiquiri, Dave set off on another adventure. While Kathy was awed seeing a baboon drink from the swimming pool and watching the animals that  were within feet of the pool (intent on ignoring the human interlopers in their world), Dave and his group had the most amazing safari. The group was lucky enough to see a cheetah feeding on a fresh kill, his belly distended from the bountiful feast of the sub-adult kudu. He saw a large herd of elephants, including a baby that was only two weeks old and plunged his head into the water to drink rather than using his trunk. The entire group held their breathe hoping that the baby was not eaten by the many crocodiles that roamed in the water. Luckily, the baby survived that encounter.  He then had to be rescued when he fell into a stone drainage canal head first.  Mom pushed the rest of him in so that he could stand and then she tried to pull him with her trunk.   After a few attempts, his aunt came over and the sisters together pulled him back to safety. It took two elephants to help him out of his jam. The group also saw the hippos lazing in the water minding their own business when a pair of lions came up to them. A standoff ensued when the hippos opened their mouths wide and “yelled” at the lions.  The Kings of the Jungle decided that there were easier meals to be had and moved along. Kathy and the rest who stayed behind, while disappointed to not see the sights, relaxed and felt spoiled by massages, enjoyed the cold drinks and viewed the sights that overlooked Hwange NP.

Our visit to the area was short-lived and we were soon off to visit Victoria Falls, one of Kathy’s bucket list items. I think her last one in the bucket at this point! She will need to add some more. Arriving mid-morning at the falls, we started down the paths that provided us with ample opportunities to view the majestic falls as they flowed over the rock face and plunged deep to the bottom of the canyon. Dave pondered: where does all this water go? Traversing along the paths we had an opportunity to follow the flow as it meandered along the canyon floor until it disappeared around the corner.  From there, it heads into a narrow, steep canyon where the Zambezi River continues – much narrower than before the falls.

Afternoon brought us to our next stop, which was lunch with a local group of women who explained and prepared some local dishes. Dave, feeling brave, opted to try a caterpillar while Kathy recorded his desperate attempts to mask the taste and feel of the insect using beans as a lubricant to help it slide down his throat into his gullet.  No amount of beans, though, helped him as he chewed and chewed the rubbery insect before it was small enough to swallow. Next on the agenda was to buy a specially designed t-shirt and to view the wares of some local women. The meal, local wares, and the explanation by the women is collaboration between our tour company, G Adventures and the community to help the local area thrive and provide jobs in a struggling area. Finally at our hotel we settled in for a bit, just a bit, before we set off on a river cruise down the Zambezi. We had discussed going over to Zambia to swim in the Devil’s Pool, but somehow had a failure to communicate and we ended up on a very painful river cruise. The cruise had a large group of young people who loved the open bar and became drunk and obnoxious ruining the cruise for others on the boat. To compound the matters we were then confined to a bus heading back with the same drunk young people, egged on by their tour leader, sang and shouted the entire way back. A miserable time was had by all!!  Sitting at Devil’s Pool, while more death defying and scary, would have been at least quieter! Oh well, maybe next time.  The last little bit of the tour was a dinner and a sad goodbye to the many friends made on this tour. While we are still here for a couple more days the group is splitting up with many of us going to Chobe NP the next day, some heading on another extended tour (including our newly adopted daughter Claire), and yet others going home.

Our last tour, last moments to see the big 5, and last full day in Africa started early as we headed to Chobe NP in Botswana to have our last safari. The long drive to the border between Zimbabwe and Botswana was surprisingly easy, the roads were smooth and without too much traffic. The reason there was no traffic is we must have been the last bus on the route as there was a line that snaked around and out of the building in order to cross from one country to the next.  We were soon off to our next adventure a river cruise on the Zambezi and part of Chobe NP that was much quieter than the previous night excursion. We were lucky enough to see lots of hippos lazing in the waters, some crocodiles, and lots and lots of birds. It was an enjoyable time that gave us the opportunity to speak and spend more time with our new friends. After a two hour cruise (makes you want to sing a sitcom ditty doesn’t it?) we were back at a resort where we had a buffet lunch.  Next on the agenda was the land portion of where we explored Chobe NP and got to see a pride of lions, more elephants, giraffes, and other assorted animals, including a jackal. All in all, it was a good end to an amazing trip.  The last little bit was saying goodbye to our other friends we met along the way, including another borrowed daughter, Kaylie, and her parents.  Tonight we change hotels and we plan on relaxing. Being granted an upgrade due to a shower issue saw us relaxing in our three room suite that includes living room, two chandeliers, a sitting room, and a bathroom as big as our bedroom at home. Kathy has a special thanks to her travel agent, Dave, for finding such a sweet hotel.  Tomorrow we head home. Safe travels to all our friends as they continue on their way we will miss you!

Kruger, Part Deux

October 28-30, 2023

We arrived at Timbavati Safari Lodge early on the 28th and settled into our room – a thatched-roof hut. In the afternoon we did a short “bush walk” around the reserve. Walking along the trail we saw zebras, wildebeests, and warthogs. We got to learn about many of the trees, plants, insects and ground animals in the local area.  We also saw fresh leopard tracks.  The guide stated the tracks were from this afternoon as evidenced by the fact that they were on top of the vehicle tracks laid earlier in the day. It was so amazing to be on foot with these wild animals and to be within a few feet of things like a baby zebra.  We felt truly blessed to be part of so many adventures the last few days.  Dinner was a fun night and we had a little after-dinner entertainment as Ian played the guitar, and Dave – with a voice that Ian derogatorily likened to Bob Dylan – belted out a few songs.  Sitting around a stone patio with a fire in the fire pit singing old songs was certainly a highlight of the entire trip. Soon it was off to bed with our windows tightly latched to keep out the monkeys who were trying to break into the room to steal our belongings.

The 29th,unlike yesterday, was not so leisurely and it dawned bright and early.  It was a cold, gray overcast morning, with the clouds sprinkling rain occasionally.  Quite a change from the stifling heat of yesterday. Still, excited, we headed off at 5 AM to begin our last open vehicle drive in Kruger NP.  Luckily, we had some insulated ponchos to snuggle beneath to try and fend off the cold, sometimes wet, weather.  It was an amazing day! We got lucky enough to see a hyena with her baby as he pranced around his mother.  We also saw tons of giraffes, zebras, and impalas. Lots of elephants, too, as they lazily munched on the dew-covered leaves. The highlight was a large male lion who majestically posed in a self-assured manner as the tourists gazed at him from their perches high in the open-sided vehicles.   We were within 15-20 feet of this large carnivore, yet he barely acknowledged our presence. We also saw a group of hippos as they lazily bathed in the shallow waters of the lakes. One crested the water and let out a big yawn.  We were thoroughly impressed with his large mouth – large enough to fit one of us measly humans inside! After the game drive, our new lodging at Lalapanzi started off with a bang, as we lost power in our room minutes after settling in.  Power was scheduled to be turned off due to the rolling blackouts in South Africa beginning at 9 PM.  Apparently, being the emergency preparedness freaks that we are, we thought we would do a Power Loss Drill before the power was actually lost.  It came back on just before the scheduled blackout.  Power was then out from 9 PM until 11:30 PM and when power was restored, all the lights in the room announced, “We’re ba-aack!”  Since Kathy slept through this public service announcement, Dave turned the lights back off before attempting sleep again.  The next scheduled outage was from 5 AM until 7:30 AM.  Amazingly, we had hot water for the morning showers, even if they were in the dark.  During these on again/off again power changes, we received a nice tour of the small museum on the hotel property.  The museum was dedicated to the Boer War in South Africa at the turn of the 20th Century.  Although it was a small, one-room museum, they had amazing special effects.  While discussing one of the battles, there came a loud crashing sound which we all assumed was to get us in the mood of the battle lines.  At dinner, we were told that it was actually part of a very large tree that fell over and very nearly crushed our bus!

Our last day in South Africa started out with breakfast and then a sad goodbye to the two domesticated cats at the hotel. Kathy, pining for her babies at home, was missing the chance to cuddle and pet them. A long bus ride was in store next. In the first two hours we were at the border between South Africa and Zimbabwe and began the long process to get our visa. It was about two hours later when we finally were on the Zimbabwe side of the border. The interesting part of the process was, depending on what your citizenship was, the price of the visa changes. Those from the US have the lowest price and for a double-entry visa it was only forty-five US Dollars, while Canadians paid seventy-five US Dollars for only a single- entry visa (no doubles allowed), and the UK paid fifty-five for a single visa. Go USA!!!  A double-entry visa for us was cheaper than a single visa from the other two countries.

Zimbabwe is less developed and seems to be a much poorer country than South Africa and it is sad to see how most of the people here live. The area is beautiful, but it seems like much of the past political strife has impacted the people and their standard of living. According to financial experts the inflation rate for 2022 was 104% – an amount that is staggering, especially considering Dave and I got two sandwiches, two drinks, a bag of chips, and two pastries for only $5.89 USD. The country’s currency is now officially the US dollar and it is easy to compare our prices at home from here. The drive continued through mist-shrouded mountains and lush green areas that were interspersed with strips of shanties and dwelling along the road. I say “road” loosely as the majority of the trip was on a dirt covered road that trucks, pedestrians, goat, and cows all shared and the speed limit was whatever! Arriving at our beautiful hotel finally at 6 pm we unpacked, went the bathroom and enjoyed a lovely dinner.

Kruger National Park

October 24-26, 2023

Chaos, tumbling, fumbling, and bumps

The start of the tour began as a gray, dismally cloudy day, but like most vacations, ended up with the sun shining. We started the day with a leisurely breakfast then soon headed off with Claire to conquer Table Mountain, or maybe more appropriately, surviving Table Mountain. We headed off and decided that, due to the weather and work of climbing up Table Mountain, we would take the tram to the top. Table Mountain History, Cape Town, South Africa  The views, while not exemplary, were surreal and we felt as if we were a part of a mystic adventure.  We were lucky enough to see a rock hyrax or Dassie – the closest animal to an African elephant – perched upon the rocks looking wet and bedraggled and pining for the sun to come out. Deciding erroneously that walking down would be easier than going up Table Mountain, we headed for the trail. We started clambering down the rocks, sliding hither and thither, and occasionally sliding on the wet-slicked rocks. Dave – the ever trusty Park Ranger – kept a steady middle ground, holding Kathy’s hand on one side and gently easing her down from the top, while steadily holding Claire from the opposite side. Halfway down the mountain, the sun broke through the clouds treating us to a stunning view of the shores of Cape Town framing the city that basked in the sunlight. Continuing down, Kathy slid on her butt to get from rock to rock while Dave continued to steady us and guide us in our path down the mountainside. A short while before the end of the trail Claire took a minor tumble and Dave came to the rescue applying bandages to the gushing wound that caused her to become lightheaded and weak. (Okay it was a minor scrape but Dave does need credit for the medical encounter – It’s our story!) Another tumble and a couple bumps and bruises later and we were finally down the mountain. What should have taken three hours instead took six hours, yet it was time well spent. A memory that will stay with us forever!

We then had a quick trip back to the hotel where we cleaned up and met to discuss our dinner plans. Deciding on going to a local ramen house, we set off with another new friend, Tilly from Australia, and Claire where we dined on some of the best ramen noodle bowls. The broth and noodles were savory and delicious.  Afterwards, we headed back the hotel for dessert, some ibuprofen, and then bed. Tomorrow was expected to come early as it begins the start of our tour.

The day dawned sunshiny for Kathy and Dave as we were up and about to begin our day of travel. We went from the bus to the plane and then back again to a bus, our home away from home for the next few days. We soon saw ourselves at the township, Soweto, which means South West Township and was the home of Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu. The adventure was set to be a bicycle tour of the local area with stops along the route to learn more about the area.  The temperature was not conducive to riding a bike in Kathy’s opinion, so she lagged behind, staying safely in the bus while Dave “sped” through the streets of Soweto. Sped again might not be the best word.  We don’t know the right word for “barely keeping enough momentum to keep upright.”  Along the way we were treated to a local dance by some residents of the community.  Quite a good day was had by all.  Eventually we got to the hotel, but then chaos ensued. The room had multiple issues and we moved after unpacking and laying all of our items out. After getting finally settled, we were off to dinner, which was a nice place called Tribes. The restaurant, located in a complex reminiscent of the Vegas strip, was a nice place that offered a variety of menu items. The meal, while excellent, was followed by the chaos of trying to split a bill nine ways. Why it was done this way still boggles Kathy’s mind. The meal took approximately an hour – paying the bill took about thirty minutes! When Kathy asked the tour guide, Wes, he just stated it is South Africa.  So while the meal was excellent, the final impression left something to be desired. Like many things the first and last impression is what stays with you the most.  Luckily our first impressions have been amazing from our first landing in Cape Town.

October 26-28, 2023

Lions and Leopards…Oh, My!

The first day after landing in Johannesburg, we set off on our long “trek” via bus to get to our next lodging that was located on the edge of Kruger National Park. Settling in, we explored our new surroundings which were lovely “huts” that included a separate bedroom, another bedroom that had twin beds and nice kitchenette with a spacious bathroom. Most importantly in the heat of the African climate, the room had a strong working air conditioner! The hotel, Aan de Vliet Holiday Resort, was run by a group of lovely people that exuded the joy and kindness that we have come to savor in South Africa.  The night was spent relaxing and taking our time chatting with our new friends. Dinner was a great meal that included some really weird random discussions about death plans, last meals for death row inmates, and colonoscopies. Not your normal dinner conversation. Shortly after dinner, Kathy and Dave headed back to their rooms to get ready for an early morning wake-up call to go on our safari to Kruger NP. South African National Parks – SANParks – Official Website – Accommodation, Activities, Prices, Reservations   Little did we know early meant a notification at midnight about a very important meeting back in the USA, oh and then one am, and then one at two am, fortunately! we had a no interruptions from two to four am at which point we staggered up to get our “bag breakfast” and head off. The early hour was well worth it!! We set off with our driver, Happy, (yes, that is his name!) and started the drive around the park. Immediately we spotted some impalas, then some zebras, and some elephants. Soon it followed some sightings of baboons, giraffes, and some sleeping lions. It seemed like around every corner we saw wildlife. We were also treated to some flying birds that were unique including a black berry coron and a yellow-billed hornbill.  Lunch time finally came at a normal hour of noon and at which point we dined at a golf club. Yes a golf club in the middle of the park. What a unique and amazing experience that would be to golf “at your own risk” around hippos, elephants and the like. Lunch was amazing and Kathy and Dave each relished having a real milkshake. Kathy’s was lime and Dave’s the typical strawberry. Heading back to the hotel tired but exhilarated, we enjoyed hearing about everybody’s experiences they had on the drive.  Between us all we got some amazing photographs.  Our driver, Happy, made us all happy and happiness abounded among us as we saw what many of us had only dreamed about. Kathy saw her elephants; Michael got to see his lions, and Claire was close to happy tears after seeing a leopard up close and personal. Each individual on the trip is unique and interesting and we have enjoyed meeting and discussing their lives. We have people from Northern Ireland, Scotland, Switzerland, England, Australia, Canada, and the US.  They have been interesting to meet and discuss the various aspects of their careers and life. All in all, not a one is difficult to get along with and we are happy to be with such a nice group.  Each one of them had different moments of joy upon seeing the animals and beauty of Kruger National Park.

The wake-up call on the 28th of October didn’t come as early – thankfully – and we got the opportunity to sleep in and leisurely eat our breakfast.  We next head off to Timbavati Safari Lodge our next stop in our journey.

The African excursion begins!

The excursion begins

Like most trips, our latest trip to southern Africa begins with the planning and preparation, and then the implementation. Sometimes the best laid plans do not work out.  Kathy, who worried and fretted about the long journey to South Africa, had planned and prepared, and was excited that, while not everything worked out (we were not upgraded to first class/Polaris), we were seated in our own row. Kathy gratefully unpacked all her items, and prepared to have a seat open between them. Her plans though were foiled!! In this case it was a mom with a baby. They were accommodated to a better seat in order to get a bassinet, and they in turn got someone booted out of their seats.  The displaced passengers in turn were moved around by the flight attendants and the next thing we knew – all of Kathy’s planning and preparation flew out the window as we now were crammed into an economy seat with Dave wedged between the Kathy and a lady from Cape Town. Now, he might not have minded being wedged between Jennifer Anniston and Kathy. Instead he was wedged between Kathy and the lady from South Africa who kept leaning into Dave. This necessitated Dave to contort his upper body to keep from “rubbing” shoulder with his seatmate. The 15 hour journey felt a lot longer than both had hoped for, but surprisingly it seemed to go quickly. For all the issues with cramped seats and “rubbing” shoulders we had a good flight. Dave got into a fascinating conversation with his seatmate from Cape Town and enjoyed asking and learning about the city we were about to visit.  She had lived through Apartheid and, although youngish when it was happening, was able to give Dave a first-hand account of how horrible it really was. Dave was able to breathe a few sighs of relief when a couple of medical emergencies happened and luckily there were several physicians and nurses on board the flight.  No need for Super Dave to fly in to the rescue!!

A quick trip from the airport to the hotel and they were soon settled in to begin our African adventure.

They quickly met up with a nice young woman from the UK named Claire who will be joining them on their tour of Africa and all three proceeded to get acquainted. A nice dinner was first on the agenda.  All of them shared a tomahawk steak cut up right at their table and some tasty sides.  The heavy meal soon made them realize that they had not slept much in their cramped quarters, so they headed back to the hotel and were soon were tucked into bed sleeping soundly. Dave and Kathy, with full stomachs and the satisfaction of having survived the journey with little to no problems, drifted off to sleep with the anticipation of “and now the fun begins!”

The normal Monday blues did not arrive, instead it was our tour bus that arrived and we set off on our adventure. Claire, who had wanted to come with us on the tour but found the tour full, was able to get a last minute reservation and joined us on our adventure. A total of eleven guests piled into the van and we set off with our trusty tour guide, Peter, as we eagerly anticipated our first full day in Africa. The tour to Boulder Beach started off not in the sand, not at the beach, but at a Bo-Kaap, a Malay Quarter which has its roots going back to 1790. Bo-Kaap is a small community of brightly painted homes and businesses.  It became a place that the people of the Muslim faith occupied surrounded by the larger faith communities around them. The community still has Turkish shops and stores intermingled with art galleries and private homes.  The people included many of the Malay people (Cape Muslim community) and even today it is considered a hub in which to experience the Malay culture.  Many of the residents in the neighborhood have painted their façades vivid colors making the Bo-Kaap so characteristic and photogenic.  We took the opportunity to snap a few pictures.

Additional stops along our scenic coastal route gave us the opportunity to look down on the beautiful seaside town of Noordhoek.  We stopped at a small sustainable farm and shop area that served excellent coffee and pastries (and found a “birthday” card for Jill next year). Driving further along the road we saw some ostriches that placidly grazed by the side of the road. Ostriches in South Africa are kept as livestock and also roam free in the national parks. We had an opportunity to see both varieties on this fine day. Along the way at we stopped at the small Hout Bay community where we took a boat ride out to view a colony of seals enjoying the warmth of the sun as they worked on their “tans.” Another stop was Boulder Beach that is home to a large colony of African penguins. The penguins were so close you can reach out and touch them.  (Which, just like in the US, you should not harass the wildlife so no touching is allowed.) Lunch and then a drive to Cape of Good Hope capped a wonderful afternoon, which included a hike up to a lighthouse – much to Kathy’s delight. The “icing” on the day was when we got lucky enough to see a family of baboons loitering on the side of the road eating grass. The family included several “toddlers” that scampered around and played roughhouse with each other.

Finally back at the hotel we met our guide, Wes, who will be our tour leader for the next couple of weeks and the rest of the travelers. Dinner and a much needed break time was all that was left on our agenda. Sleep came easy for the pair that night.