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.

Spanish Inquisition? September 10, 2023

As part of our traveling, both of us have our strengths and our weaknesses, but combined, we make a good team. Dave’s primary job description is Planning Section Chief and, eventually, Operations Section Chief in charge of implementing the Travel Management Plan (TMP).  He also dips a bit into the Logistics Section, including one of the most important parts of the job, the duties of Emergency Preparedness Coordinator. After all, this is how he made a living at Adirondack Medical Center: writing, planning, and preparing for every likely emergency.  We have worked on our Hazard Vulnerability Analysis before each trip.  Historically, we have had some successes and some failures.

After each trip, we do an After Action Review to see: 1) What did we expect, 2) What actually happened, 3) What went well, and 4) Where can we improve. This has helped Dave be prepared for things like Kathy’s bout with dysentery (all hail, the Z-pack!), her allergic reaction to shellfish (thank goodness for Benadryl and the Epi-pen which was poised to be deployed), and his own bout with food poisoning (gotta love Zofran!)  These are some of his excellent successes as the Medical Unit Leader.  As part of our planning, we also build in an extra day or two upon arrival before any tours, cruises, or events begin in order to mitigate any delays in flights (part of Kathy’s job as the Air Operations Branch Manager!)  This has the added bonus of giving us some extra time to explore the area at a leisurely pace and get accustomed to the new time zone.  We also store our most critical items in our carry-on packs, including a spare change of clothes.

But, of course, we have had some failures, including the most epic one: not planning for a global pandemic.  As Monty Python so accurately said “Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition!” How could we have expected a global pandemic??  Okay, it was one of the potential risks identified in our Hazard Vulnerability Assessment, but way down the list of “what might happen”, so far down, like way down on the list.  Learning from past mistakes and successes, Dave decided to take his preparedness to a higher level.  As part of the checklist and planning for our upcoming trip to southern Africa, we updated our vaccinations (RSV, typhoid, and COVID/FLU), renewed our prescriptions for anti-malarials, and refilled our meds to treat things like dysentery, nausea, anaphylaxis, asthma, and traveler’s diarrhea, just in case.

All boxes have been checked. We are a walking pharmacy!  Next, we updated our packing lists to prepare for our 23-hour trip (each way), including one flight that is 16 hours alone! We have checked and double-checked the plans, verified our trip details, contacted the travel agency to verify details, registered with STEP (the US State Department’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program), alerted our credit card companies that we will be out of the country, downloaded the airline’s app, completed a spreadsheet that has all the details of the trip along w/any confirmation numbers needed for our travels, and made copies of our passports, health insurance cards, and travel insurance.

Last, but not least, Dave planned a table top exercise for our next upcoming trip to Africa. The table-top exercise is designed to test our response to every possible eventuality that could happen while traveling in the National Parks of Africa.   The table-top exercise planned was not exactly what Kathy expected…. she is pretty sure that this won’t happen while we are on our trip (but she didn’t think a global pandemic was upcoming either!)  But just in case, we are now prepared for the eventuality of utter chaos!!  (See the  photo of our table-top scenario.)


South Africa Country Info

South Africa Info

The homeland of Nelson Mandela beholds much natural scenery in addition to its painful past and hopeful future.  Penguins, whales and sharks can be seen along the coast which spans two oceans.  Kruger National Park offers ubelievable wildlife viewing opportunities.  Table Mountain’s views are umatched.  Snowy peaks in Drakensberg bely their southern location.