You have to leave room in life to Dream.
~Buffy Sainte-Marie

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Africa Day 9: Surprises

Remember the bad weather that I mentioned that had us change up our plans? Well, thankfully our flight wasn't until the afternoon, so we had just enough time to squeeze in the last of the activities that had been originally scheduled for us - Table Mountain!

Our export local guide had some friends on the inside, so we were able to skip the very long line for the cable car. The cable car was pretty cool - it rotated while going up, so no matter where you were, you could get a 360 degree view of the area.

Once on top we made our way to the abseil base. Ben and I got to go first. We got into our harnesses and safety gear and we were on our way down! It was so cool. There's a part called the "surprise" that was, well, a surprise. At that spot the cliff wall that you were going down disappears! When I got there I said to Ben, "Um, I ran out of rock!" So with a deep breath, I let my feet off the rocks and was suspended in mid-air. It was awesome!

When we got to the stopping point, we got our gear off and waited for Alex and Erika to make their way down. It was fun to watch them as they made their way to the surprise. Once they made it down, Ben and I took off and left them to watch DJ and Poto. We followed the trail back up to the top. We took in the views, had a snack, then started to wonder what was taking the others so long. After awhile we gave up and took an uber back to our hotel since we didn't want to miss our flight. Turns out, the other 4 zigged when they should have zagged. They were rushing to get packed and to the airport on time. Luckily, we all made it. And Ben and I got a bonus surprise - we got upgraded to First Class! After our busy time in Africa, it was very nice to have a comfortable seat on the long journey home.

And then we were home. The best place to be.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Africa Day 8: Making A Splash

As I mentioned earlier, due to weather our schedule was thrown off a bit. That made Sunday our day to see Great White Sharks!

It took a couple of hours to drive to the shark "hot zone." Once there, we had lunch provided while people talked about sharks, their operation, etc. Once everyone signed waivers, we went to collect our gear. A short walk to the shore and we got on the boat. The ride out was chilly. I was not looking forward to taking my outer layers off, even though I knew a wet suit would be waiting for me.

When we got to the site, we were told to get our suits and booties on. I was handed a weight belt and a face mask and told to get it. I was a little confused... I didn't think I would be in the first group! But they hurried me along and into the cage (securely attached to the boat) I went! Once in the (freezing!) water, I realized that part of our group was in the cage too. Oh, yeah, the boat had probably 30 people, so we were just half of the tour. Anyway. The crew on the boat got busy putting chum in the water and throwing decoys out. When they came close they would yell for us to get down into the water to see. Unfortunately, the water was pretty murky so you actually couldn't see much. But, at one point a great white smashed into the cage! That was pretty exciting! My group got out of the cage and were greeted with warm cocoa and towels. As fast as we could with numb fingers and a rocking boat, we changed out of our wet gear.

Ben was in the second group, so into the ocean he went! Ben's group was in the water forever. And no sharks. I felt so bad that I had gotten smashed into by a shark and Ben, who was more into this activity than me, saw nothing. Finally, they pulled the second group out and the third went in. And of course, the third group saw a shark almost right away. After the last group saw a few sharks, they offered to let the second group go back in for a second chance. If it were me, I would have stayed out of the cold water (I was still trying to warm up!), but most of the group headed back in. And thankfully, they saw sharks! It was a cool experience, but wasn't as cool as I thought it would be.

Back in Cape Town we got ready for our farewell dinner. We were picked up by classic cars! We were in a 1930's something or another. Our guy seemed upset that he had to take us to dinner, so we didn't talk much about the car or anything. Dinner was amazing. We had a chance to share our personal highlights as well as thank people in the group. It was so nice. We are truly blessed to be part of such an awesome group of people. 

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Africa Day 7: Waddle, Waddle

This morning was glorious. No one stomping up the stairs to get to breakfast. No chairs scrapping against the floor. And of course, poached eggs. MMmmmm....

After breakfast we waited outside for our rides to an unknown adventure. After a few minutes, a fleet of Jeeps pulled up. Our people from the other hotel were already in them, so we were trying to figure out where to put ourselves. Sophia told Ben and me to go to the street corner and wait for our ride. As we walked away from the group we joked that they were trying to leave us behind. Nope! Turns out that we were too many for the number of Jeeps, so a handful of us got to ride in a limo! It was funny... in Vegas there are limos everywhere. Even not in Vegas they are pretty common place. Not so in South Africa. EVERYONE stared at us as we drove by.

Our first stop was on a hillside that overlooked the Cape Town valley. The views were pretty good. On top we had champagne and took pictures.

We loaded back up and headed down to the sea. Those of us who were up for some adventure got ready to kayak in the bay. The wind and current was in our favor, so it really took zero effort to go the few miles along the coast. The reason for the kayaking... penguins! We saw them pop up in the water and then dive back in. So cool to see them in nature!

After getting out of our kayaks, we changed clothes and headed back out in the Jeeps. That didn't last too long.  They took us to helicopters! They were based on weight, so we had assigned seats. Of course, people wanted to change, so after a few shuffles we were off! The views were fantastic as we flew along the coast. Our pilot (per request) made it an exciting ride getting super close to the ocean's waves. Just about when I had had enough, we landed at a vineyard and greeted with champagne. After a short walk, we were in their restaurant for a wonderful lunch with wine pairing.

After that, we got on our bus and headed to another winery. At this one we got a brief lesson on different wines from that area. Then we were brought into a tasting room to sample the three. After tasting the wines, we were given empty bottles for us to make our own custom wine! It was a fun experience, although I think all of us have a long way to go in our mixing skills!

We had dinner at the hotel that the other of our group was staying. It was a very nice, low-key dinner.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Africa Day 6: Fancy Free

Friday's forecast was for rain and wind. All of our activities required not that. So we shuffled our activities around and ended up with a free day. The "plan" for a bunch of us was to hang out in a cool place with food and drinks.

After a leisurely morning (and being woken by the breakfasters above us), Ben, Meredith and I headed out. We found a place along the shore called "Blue." We ordered drinks and appetizers. We updated the rest with where we were. Not long after that we found out that Blue is where dinner was going to be that night. We decided to finish our order and then find another place.

Just up the street was The Cod Father. Ben said we had to go there. So we did! I am sure glad we did! The place was cozy and slow, so they didn't mind us hanging out for hours. We wanted a wine recommendation, so we ended with the manager at our table. He must have been bored, or entertained by us because he kept finding reasons to sit at our table with us. We didn't mind. He was a hoot! A few hours in, Dori joined us. But everyone else kept ditching out on us. We ended up having so much fun, that we ditched the group dinner and just stayed there. Excellent choice! The food was terrific! The people were outstanding!

An interesting thing about The Cod Father.... they don't have a food menu. They had sushi that you could pick up from a conveyor belt. For the rest of the food, you just went up to the fish counter and told them what you wanted and they would prepare it. I know we had squid. It was fabulous! It was just grilled with seasoning, but it was so tender and tasty. So delicious! The fish we had was good too. I don't remember what kind it was.

When we got back to our hotel, we were told that they moved us into a new room. No more people walking above us! So happy.

The day wasn't how we planned it, but to me it was a perfect day with perfect companions. 

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Africa Day 5: Time Flies

Another early morning for our last game drive. Having seen all the animals most of us wanted to, it was a relaxing drive. We saw some more giraffes!

After a delightful breakfast, it was time to load up and leave Ulusaba. Our rangers drove us one last time. We said our good byes and then off in our little planes to the main airport in Kruger. Things took longer than expected so we were pushing the time to check luggage unto our flight. Sometimes it's a good thing that your group is most of the flight... they made exceptions for all of us and we all made it.

I should mention that today was our 15 year anniversary. :) On our flight to Cape Town Ben and I were sitting by Paul. Towards the end of the flight he got up and was talking to one of the flight attendants. We saw hand gestures and looks coming our way. We knew he was up to something! A few minutes later, the flight attendant came over and congratulated us on our anniversary. She said that the captain wanted to invite one of us to the cockpit. I wanted Ben to go. He wanted me to go. We decided on me. I started to get up and she quickly said to sit down and that she would get me later. We then thought that perhaps we had misunderstood her and I would get to go to the cockpit after we landed. Not nearly so cool, but whatever. We went back to chatting. A few minutes later, the flight attendant came back and said the captain was ready for me. I guess we were right the first time!

I got escorted to the cockpit door and then it was opened and I was ushered inside. The captain introduced himself and his copilot. He helped me get settled into the jump seat. He told me about our approach. At this point we were above a huge layer of clouds, so beyond clouds, I couldn't see anything. It was slightly unnerving for me to watch us go through the clouds knowing that we were relying on equipment and maps to keep us from plowing into the side of the mountains. But once we passed through the clouds, it was a beautiful sight! I quickly made out the landmarks the captain had told me about. He pointed out a few more things as we made our way to the runway. And then, we had landed. It was then that the captain told me that the copilot was picking up his mom and sister and flying to Johannesburg to propose to his girlfriend.

After getting our bags we loaded up into a bus and made our way into the city. In Cape Town we were staying at cute little boutique hotels. Because of this, we had two hotels to accommodate us all. Slightly disappointing to be separated, even if it were only by 600 meters. We were in the second hotel. Our host, Emmy, was fabulous! Just a bubbly lady with happiness following her around. Unfortunately, our room was directly underneath the reception and dining room. And we could hear just about everything.

Soon it was dinner time so we headed out to catch our bus. One of our guides came by with her car and said there was a problem with our bus but they had chartered a city bus for us. Whatever. Soon the bus pulled up. I told Ben, "Look, there are randoms in the bus. That's weird." But whatever. A few blocks into our journey and the most amazing thing happened... the randoms started singing! They were an a capella group! It took us seconds before some of us were up and clapping and singing along. It was so much fun! One song they sang was "Welcome to Cape Town." We sang it for the rest of the trip.

Our destination wasn't what we were expecting. It was someone's house! The lady there offered tours and from her home, cooking lessons. So we all got to help make roti, curry chicken, samosas, and some fried corn balls. We had a lot of fun. And the food was delicious! Although it was a fun time, not exactly what we were thinking would be a nice anniversary activity. We had talked about just going out the 2 of us, but part of the reason we love going on trips is the interactions with the others in the group. We can always hang out just the 2 of us. Had we known though, we may have been selfish (mainly because we were so hungry when we got there and then we didn't eat for another 1.5 hours). But I'm glad we stayed.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Africa Day 4: The Elusive Black Rhino

Early (notice the trend?) the next morning, we went on our morning game drive. Early on in the drive our guide Jason, and tracker Don spotted some tracks that belonged to a black rhino. Don got out of our vehicle and began tracking on foot while we drove around looking for him. The black rhino became our white whale. We looked for over an hour, driving back and forth looking for him. It was frustrating. Mainly because we did not see a single animal while looking for the rhino. Not even an impala.

Interesting fact: The rhinos are heavily poached for their horns. Chinese men think this helps them out in the male department. For this reason, if the guides or trackers see a rhino, they don't report it over the radio. Sometimes they will use code phrases or words, but only in rare circumstances.

After a while we took a break to use the... bush... and eat a little snack. Off of the truck we were given a lesson in identifying animal droppings. I can tell the difference between elephant, white rhino and black rhino, giraffe and impala. Impressive, right? And then Jason grabbed some impala poop and put it in his mouth and spit it out like a watermelon seed. He told us we should all do it. I'm all to embrace the experience, but I do have to draw the line somewhere, and this was it!

We also took a walk. I felt safe with Jason and his gun. But I couldn't help but wonder if he was that quick with it if something were to charge us. Thankfully, we didn't need to find out!

The afternoon was a lazy one with time spent at the pool.

For our evening game drive, I sort of mentioned to Jason that we wanted to be sure to see a giraffe. The other truck had seen several. We had not. The other truck saw a bunch of animals in the morning. We spent our time searching for the black rhino. Well, say no more! The evening drive did not disappoint! We saw the male lions that are usually on the property. We saw giraffes! We even saw a leopard with it's kill in the nearby tree. It was fabulous!

After our drive, we went to a fire pit and had drinks (whisky and ginger for me!), and roasted kudo (deer type animal). We had a dance and singing show. At one point they said we should join the dancing line around the fire. Some of us girls did. And then we had a sort of dance off. Each dancer paired up with one of us. My guy said that I better not let him down! It was awesome!

From there it was back to our lodge for another amazing meal.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Africa Day 3: Up, Up, and Away!

Another early morning for us... this time we had to leave the hotel by 6:30. Only some of our group participated in the first event of the morning... microlight flights! Somehow I ended up being the first one to go. It was amazing! We flew over our hotel, Victoria Falls, hippos in the river, a giant crocodile in the river, elephants wondering around... it was incredible!

After a quick breakfast on our return, we were off to the next adventure - jumping off the Zim Zam Bridge! (So named because it links the countries of Zimbabwe and Zambia). Our options were to do a zip line across the river, bungee from the bridge or swing from the bridge. Ben and I opted to do a tandem (the two of us together) swing jump. The swing really was a lot like the bungee, but instead of bouncing up and down to stop, we swung back and forth. It was so much fun! Unfortunately, Paul took a video of our jump with his thumb in frame the whole way, so we don't have proof of our adventure.

The bridge was an interesting experience. Scott was there. But not really wanting to be. He was upset and swearing at us for "making" him be there. When it was his turn, he was panicked! They told him to let go of the hand rails they had to pry his fingers off. And then he quickly grabbed back on. Finally, they got him to let go and he jumped! And it was a perfect swan dive! It was glorious! When he got back up he had huge hugs and thanks for us for making him go through with it. And then, Poto convinced Sophia to do the swing with him. I am so proud of how people conquered their fears and embraced the adventure!

After the bridge we raced back to the hotel to pack up and leave Zambia. We took a commercial flight into South Africa, then hopped on small (Cessnas) planes to fly into Ulusaba! Ulusaba is Sir Richard Branson's resort. The reception of the resort is located at the end of the runway. They greeted us with champagne. We quickly changed into game drive gear and loaded up into land rovers for our first drive!

Our driver and ranger was Jason and our tracker and bait was Don. I really liked both of them. Anyway, on our first drive we saw some various deers, zebras, elephants, water buffalo... and lions! We found two lionesses and two adolescents. It was right at sundown. It was so cool to see them up close and in the wild. And then, they two cubs went on the other side of our vehicle. Then it got a little creepy... I started to feel like dinner. We left there and met up with the other land rover and had light snacks and drinks. I asked for a vodka soda and somehow ended up with a whiskey ginger ale. It was pretty good! On our way back we rounded a corner and there were rhinos! It was so cool! It was hard to see them in the twilight, but it was cool.

When we got back we quick changed and had a fabulous meal and evening.