let's just say if you want to understand half of the Wife's new jokes you're going to need to watch this...
Monday, May 25, 2009
We flew into Cape Town for the first time this rotation. We’ve got two more flights scheduled but this would be the only one we actually spent in the city. We’re heading to the wine country one weekend and our last weekend will be spent 2 hours from Cape Town in the coast city of Hermanus in an attempt to see some whales.
We arrived on Friday in time for dinner on the waterfront. Cape Town has a great little waterfront area with live music, tons of shopping and colorful boats sprinkled throughout the harbor. Outside of a little taxi/shuttle drama it was a nice night. It seems that a fairly large proportion of taxi driver are cheats and jerks no matter what country you’re in.
After a comedy of errors getting everyone together and into the car (the entire team went on this trip so you can imagine getting 8 people on the same page) we set out for Cape Point and Boulders Beach on Saturday morning. It was overcast but the drive along the coast was really nice. Boulders Beach is home to a pretty large colony of Jackass Penguins. They get this name from the noise they make which sounds exactly like a donkey’s bray.
Pretty cute little birds to make such a raucous...
Cape Point was awesome and after a quick tram ride up afforded some great views…
On our way back we stopped at a little local beach for the sunset…it was AMAZING. Seriously it may have been the most beautiful sunset I’ve ever bore witness to…
We all headed out for sushi that night and afterwards a few of us went to one of Cape Town’s many gay bars. As you know we’ve barely seen any other gay people since we’ve left so it was nice to be in a very gay friendly city. We went to a very unpretentious bar called Beulah’s just a few blocks from the restaurant. With a very healthy mix of guys and girls it really reminded me a lot of Athens…just with an older crowd. We had a few drinks, danced to non-house music (nice to be away from Europe in that respect) and just enjoyed being in the company of some fam.
We had an early afternoon tour of Robben Island on Sunday. This is the island where Nelson Mandela was held for most of his 27 years of imprisonment. It was a sobering tour but I found it both fascinating and inspirational. It is incredible for me to think of how young South Africa’s democracy really is…just 15 years old. I know this country has a lot of work yet to do but it is wonderful how far they have come in such a short period. It was only 15 years ago that people’s lives and futures were completely dictated by the color of their skin and now they have true equality under their constitution…including gay South Africans who enjoy the same marriage rights as their straight countrymen. Our guide at the prison was a political prisoner during the dark days of apartheid. He spoke of how is country is learning from other great democracies in the world but I couldn’t help but think that maybe my own country could actually learn something from them.
Although Sunday was supposed to be nice and sunny the clouds clinging to Table Mountain refused to budge. Having to neglect our plans to visit it we instead had a long leisurely lunch on the waterfront and then did some shopping before heading to the airport. Looks like we’ll have to do Table Mountain one of the other weekends we’re on this side of the country.
Next weekend we head to Zambia to see Victoria Falls!
Posted by MAV at 9:24 AM
Tuesday, May 19, 2009
Monday, May 18, 2009
This weekend we went to Pilanesberg National Park for our first safari experience. The park was created in 1979 and thousands of animals were brought in to fill it, including all of the "Big Five". If you, like me, have never been to Africa you may not know what the Big Five is...apparently based on the most dangerous animals to hunt this list is kinda the "must-see animals" when going on a safari. The Big 5 consists of elephants, rhinos, water buffalo, leopards and lions and Pilanesberg is home to all of them. It is only a couple hours from Jo'burg so we booked rooms at the Bakubung (People of the Hippo) Lodge located inside the park. After a very long drive packed like sardines in the back of the car through standstill traffic we arrived in time for a late dinner on Friday night.
Saturday morning after breakfast we set out to see our first animals. The hotel only offered safaris at 8am which according to the guide is a bit late to see the good stuff. Apparently hotel guest complain too much about the cold to go early in the morning. We were able to see a lot of the antelopes, some zebras and even a giraffe from afar though.
Afterwards we had lunch overlooking the watering hole in the back of the lodge. There were some wildebeest hanging around but the real excitement came when some Vervet monkeys came onto the property...they hopped on the roof, ran across the patio and one even jumped up onto a table and took a swipe of whipped cream off the top of a little girl's cake. I always feel like there is at least one picture opportunity that I miss each weekend and the shot of this monkey running off with a whipped cream mustache is definitely the one I regret not capturing. I still giggle thinking about it.
At 3:30 we headed out for our evening safari. Much more excitement...we saw some giraffes up close and personal and saw our first elephants and hippos out of the water. The night drive back was great...we followed a small jackal around, saw a herd of wildebeest running and were able to catch some elephants and giraffes eating in the dark. We ended our day without any big cats though but had high hopes for our last safari the next morning.
Our last guide, Peter, asked us right off the bat what animals we hadn't seen yet or wanted to see. The entire vehicle said "cats and water buffalo". Personally I had traded water buffaloes for giraffes in my own "big five" but I did really want to see some lions. The buffaloes at Pilanesburg are still fearful of vehicles so apparently very hard to see but they do have lions and leopards in residence. Peter immediately got on the horn asking other guides about the whereabouts of some cats. We spotted our first lions after only a few minutes but they were pretty far away. It was a large pride but after driving around in vain for where they were headed we gave up and drove on. Just as we were looking at some hippos from across a pond Peter yelled "I see cats, hang on!!"..."No, seriously hang on!". He put the pedal to the metal and we were off. I couldn't have been more grateful for Peter making such an effort. We got right up to two male lions and even witnessed them stalking a wildebeest. The wildebeest caught wind of them before any real action happened but it was seriously like being in an episode of National Geographic...so freaking cool.
I knew we'd enjoy safari but I had no idea we'd both love it so much. The anticipation of seeking out the animals and the thrill when you find them is awesome. Watching these beautiful creatures in the wild has no comparison. We both said we could honestly do it every weekend and never tire of it. Thankfully we're in South Africa for another 7 weeks so there should be more to come!
*disclaimer-there are like 500 pics from this weekend...so check them out when you have time to browse them all...the animals are amazing!
Posted by MAV at 11:16 AM
Tuesday, May 12, 2009
After a fairly short flight from Athens we arrived in Cairo early on Friday evening. We were first greeted by the employees of the Egyptian Health Minister’s office. After a quick temperature check (swine flu free, thank you very much) we were greeted by our hotel’s visa assistant. We had set up our airport transportation through our hotel and I can’t recommend this service enough. The guy was able to skip all lines and get us a visitor visa and out to claim our bags in about 10 minutes. So nice!
We were excited that our friend Cloris from the India audit was able to meet up with us on her way to Kenya. She had arrived that morning and had set up the sunset Nile cruise for that evening as well as our tours for the next day (thanks again C!!). After a long walk along the Nile we finally found our boat for our cruise. We boarded the giant gold ship with a little hesitation but the food was actually pretty good, the entertainment was decent and although it was completely cheesy, I think a “must-do” when in Cairo.
Saturday after breakfast we met up with our tour guide and headed to Giza to see the pyramids. I think sometimes major attractions can be a bit of a let-down. Sometimes they just aren’t as grand or as beautiful as you’ve imagined. This is not the case with the pyramids in Giza. The sheer size of them is enough to make your mouth drop open. Guess they’re not one of the 7 wonders of the world for nothing!
After Giza we headed out to Saqqara to see the step pyramid and a few others. The drive out gave us a glimpse of rural Egyptian life and it didn’t look like it had changed much in the last few hundred years. Saqqara, itself, was actually pretty though with its rows and rows of palm trees at the many date farms. The step pyramid is the oldest in all of Egypt and the surrounding pyramids look like nothing but piles of rubble. But, it was one of these piles of rubble that we entered and saw the only carvings ever found inside a pyramid’s tomb…very cool. We also toured the interior of a minister’s tomb which was filled from floor to ceiling with incredible carvings and hieroglyphics.
Afterwards Jules and I went to the Antiquities Museum. I was very thankful we had a guide with us to enable us to hit the high points. It isn’t a huge museum, but it is packed with artifacts. Definitely the highlights were the treasures from King Tutankhamun’s tomb. Incredible stuff. I know there was a traveling exhibition of his treasures a few years back that even came to Atlanta. Our tour guide said the famous gold funerary mask never traveled. Let me know if you saw it and if the mask was there. If not, I find it sad the rest of the world must travel to Egypt to see it. It was really amazing.
We had an early dinner with Cloris at the hotel and for some reason decided to forego naps before our 2:40 am flight to South Africa. Up until our trip to the airport I really felt the people of Egypt were incredibly warm and welcoming. In general I think the culture and people can really make or break an experience. Unfortunately, this feeling dissipated during the last hours in Egypt. It began with our taxi driver who upped the price of his ride because he took us to the wrong terminal and even pulled over demanding payment before we had even reached the correct one. It ended with the ridiculous amount of people grabbing at my bags and demanding tips, including an actual employee of Egypt Air who seemed to be threatening to not allow us our carry-on luggage until he received money.
But, I’m going to do my best to erase those memories from my collective thoughts on Egypt. It seems only fair to not punish a whole for the rudeness of a few. If I did I’d have ill feelings towards most countries, including my own.
Posted by MAV at 5:13 AM
Tuesday, May 5, 2009
Amazingly enough, our time in Greece is drawing to a close this week. The last few weeks of India I could do nothing but daydream about strolling down cow-free streets, spending hours inside museums and gorging myself on salads day and night.
Obviously, my foot injury kept me from doing too much strolling or museum hopping during the weekdays in Greece. But, our weekends were amazing and completely worth the torture of walking around on the swollen, painful watermelon attached to the bottom of my right leg.
Our first sets of visitors came this round and for the first time in over 100 days we put our arms around people we love and who love us.
This trip allowed us to do and see so much...we rode a horrible miniature train in Nafplio, shouted in the center of the ancient theatre of Epidaurus, climbed the tortuous climb to the stadium at ancient Delphi, drove along the gorgeous Greek coastline to the temple of Poseidon, explored 500 year old monasteries atop isolated cliffs in Meteora, drank raki-como after raki-como in the ski village of Arahova, marveled at the complexity of the Colosseum's underbelly, threw a coin in Trevi Fountain to insure our return, ate dinner in the shadow of the Roman Pantheon, swam through the masses at the Vatican, took illegal photos of the Sistine Chapel, sat on the Spanish Steps, had coffee in a living medieval city on Rhodes, climbed up 292 steps to the top of the Arc de Triomphe, stood in the Parisian rain waiting to get inside the Musee d' Orsay, held hands while sitting on a bench beneath the Eiffel Tower, saw the tombs of Voltaire and Marie Currie at the Paris Pantheon, sat and listened to the organ play at Notre Dame, watched the Eiffel Tower sparkle like at jewel at night, laid in the Cretan sun, sat with mouths agape at the intense passion of flamenco, ate paella in the Plaza Major, bought a painting from an artist outside the Prado, enjoyed tapas at a sidewalk cafe, drank sangria in the Spanish sun, debated the level of insanity standing in front of Dali paintings, experienced the joy of Spanish hot chocolate and churros after midnight...and more, more, and so much more.
Just a few days left in this chapter but, in the same breath we bid Greece and Europe farewell we greet our next continent, our next country and our next set of adventures hello.
Posted by MAV at 6:14 AM
Monday, May 4, 2009
After almost missing our flight to Madrid we could not have been happier when we pulled up to our hotel. In truth we made it to the airport in plenty of time but that is solely due to Christian and his insane German driving skills.
As it was before 9 and therefore far too early for dinner, we headed out for tapas in La Latina. We wound up in a tapas bar that had no English menu or English speaking waiters. The guy was great though and with our combined Spanish knowledge we were able to order drinks and food. Of course our combined knowledge didn't add up to much and we ended up with a bunch of fried junk that left us yearning for an actual meal. We had seen a Mexican restaurant on the way and headed there for a very late dinner.
Of course Julie could not have been happier...
So there we were drinking margaritas and eating Mexican food as if it was just any other night in Atlanta...it was a great feeling.
Friday morning we set out to stroll the Gran Via, see some sights and wander around the other streets of Madrid. We enjoyed a very long lunch in the Spanish sunshine and then headed back for siestas before a night of mind-blowing flamenco.
Saturday we headed out to the museum of modern art, did some more wandering, had paella in the fabulously crowded Plaza Mayor and did a little shopping.
We had been eating and drinking our way from Madrid and this was no different our last night in town. We had drinks in Plaza Santa Anna, attempted to have tapas at another restaurant but were unable to eat in-between the minor heart attacks we were having from the screams of football fans. There was some kind of major soccer match going on and it seemed all of Madrid was watching. To make the Wife extra happy we even had Mexican again. After which we headed out for hot chocolate and churros. (see food blog)
Madrid with its passion for art, food, beauty, dance, and just life itself easily pulled me in and made me want to stay forever.
Less than a week to go before we say goodbye to Europe and head to our next continent. It was a beautiful weekend to end an incredible rotation.
Next weekend- we head to Cairo on our way to South Africa!
Posted by MAV at 5:18 AM