Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Confederation Cup

Jules and the coworkers attended one of the last games of the Confederation Cup last week. South Africa versus Brazil...I didn't go so I can't tell you much about it except Brazil won and then Brazil beat the US in the final game this past Sunday.

You'd be wise not to hold your breath for a blog entry from the Wife but, they say a picture says a thousand words so here are 153,000 from that night...

Monday, June 29, 2009

last weekend in south africa

For our last weekend in South Africa we made the trek again to Cape Town. After picking up our 10 person van (thank you S. for doing such an awesome job driving us around, even if you did feel like you were the bus driver from the retirement home because we wouldn’t sing and dance enough in the back) we headed to the coastal town of Hermanus. We arrived in time for a late dinner and after some wine we all headed to bed.

Our reason for going to Hermanus was for the whale watching. The hotel booked us a 2 hour tour for noon so I loaded the Wife and Marco with Dramamine and we headed to the dock after breakfast. I, personally, don’t get seasick. Even though I suffer from motion sickness in the car if I read or sit in the back I’ve only suffered severe nausea.

As we started out on the boat I was concerned Julie was going to feel bad. I kept telling her to focus on the horizon and not to think about feeling sick. Apparently she had nothing to worry about and I on the other hand had everything to worry about. After 20 minutes I decided I felt a little off and took a Dramamine but shortly after that I knew I was a goner. I won’t go into gory details but I had to quickly head to the bottom of the boat and that is where I stayed for the remainder of the ride praying that somehow the sea would become still or a nice helicopter would drop out of the sky to rescue me.

As I was in the rear and lower deck of the boat I didn’t see as much as the others. I did see whales but focusing on them was a bit much for me. Really I should force the Wife into writing about the experience because they all had a wonderful time. I, on the other hand, was praying to God to get me off the boat before I died or just to go ahead and put me out of my misery.

We did run into a school of about 1500 dolphins though and the incredibleness that was this experience gave me the only relief I had for the 3 ½ hours I endured on the boat. We were completely surrounded by these playful creatures as they raced the boat and showed off their jumping skills. It really was mind-blowing.

They saw a lot of whales up top which is why the guide kept us out for an additional hour and a half. Again, Julie should write about it but since you know she won’t you should check out the slideshow. She took some unbelievable shots. I may relinquish the camera duties to her from now on.

After getting back we hung around until some of us got our land-legs….or stomachs for that matter and headed into the little town. We shopped at the little craft market and then had an early dinner. I was still a little green around the gills so when we headed back to the hotel I was done for the night.

We had a late breakfast Sunday morning and then spent the day stopping at various beaches on our way back to Cape Town. The coast in South Africa is really gorgeous.

Our mission for the day was to go up Table Mountain. On all previous trips the mountain was covered in clouds so we were all really happy to have a perfectly sunny day to take in the views.

Outside of the outrageous seasickness on Saturday I enjoyed the weekend a great deal. I’m glad everyone else enjoyed it even more and I think it was a pretty awesome weekend to close on. I will definitely miss everyone as we scatter to the winds this Friday.

I’m planning a “wrapping it up” entry for South Africa…hopefully I’ll get to it before we leave for Argentina.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

recommended read

not sure if i mentioned before but books cost about their weight in gold in south africa. a measly paperback can easily set you back about $35-$45 USD.

i refused to pay so much for a book i would only end up leaving behind but after actually getting excited about a free copy of "o" magazine i knew i was going to have to break down and get a book. if i'm turning to poprah, you know it was bad.

after some painful shopping i finally decided on nelson mandela's "long walk to freedom"...one, because it was long so i thought i'd be getting more bang for my buck and two, the former political prisoner who led our tour at robben island had recommended it.

i don't find myself reading too much non-fiction but i have to say i thoroughly enjoyed this book. it is a truly amazing story not only mandela's life and his commitment to the struggle for equality but of a modern day country's journey towards democracy.

it is an inspiring and powerful read. one that i don't think you need to be visiting south africa to appreciate.

btw- i need book recommendations...i'm too lazy for goodreads.

Monday, June 22, 2009


a belated anniversary weekend, we left friday afternoon for the south african wine country. it is a short distance from the cape town airport and thanks to the wife's left-sided driving skills we made it there just after dark. the drive in was lovely but the camera was in the trunk so i was unable to capture the blues, pinks and greens that greeted us as we made our way into stellenbosch. the south african sunsets have truly been some of the most incredible i've ever seen.

we stayed at the kleine zalze winery just outside stellenbosch. due to availability issues we had booked a suite. the place was more like an apartment though with a kitchen, dining area, living room, bedroom, master bath and even a half-bath. it is amazing how after living in hotel rooms for 5 months something so small can seem so large. we were blown away by all the space.

we had a delicious, albeit loud, dinner at the hotel restaurant. it seems that a van full of english and irish rugby fans plus an all-day winery tour equals some very boisterous dinner companions. they were having a blast though and provided much entertainment.

we slept in and awoke to find our views were even better than we had hoped.

we had a relaxing morning and then made our way into town for lunch. stellenbosch turned out to be a cute town with a smattering of quaint white churches and smart little shops and restaurants.

after milling about we went back to kleine zalze for our wine tastings. they apparently do quite well in south africa and have won many awards. i really enjoyed their pinotage and the sauvingion blanc.

the winery also boasts an award winning restaurant, terrior, where we dined saturday night. it is supposed to be one of the top 10 best in the wine country and i have a hard time believing they aren't actually number 1.

we had hoped to do most of our touring on sunday to check out other wineries and take in more of the countryside but we awoke to a dreary day. overcast, chilly and rainy we had breakfast in town and then headed out to the fairview winery for some wine tastings and a late lunch. they had some nice wines, some even better cheese and a wonderful little restaurant.

even with the weather not cooperating it was a weekend we had hoped for...great wines, good food and just the two of us...a lovely way to celebrate the past 3 years.

this weekend we're back in "tribe mode" as we all head to the coastal town of hermanus to see if we can spot some whales. our last weekend in south africa...my how time flies....

Thursday, June 18, 2009

seriously heart keith olbermann

"some rights" to "some people" is not equality

not the "change" i was looking for

Wish President Barack Obama felt the same way…

“It is my strong belief that the government has to treat all citizens equally. I come from that in part out of personal experience. When you're a black guy named Barack Obama, you know what it's like to be on the outside. And so my concern is continually to make sure that the rights that are conferred by the state are equal for all people.

That's why I opposed DOMA in 2006 when I ran for the Senate. That's why I am a strong supporter not of a weak version of civil unions, but of a strong version, in which the rights that are conferred at the federal level to persons who are part of the same sex union are compatible.

When it comes to federal rights, the over 1,100 rights that right now are not being given to same sex couples, I think that's unacceptable, and as president of the United States, I am going to fight hard to make sure that those rights are available.”

- Senator Barack Obama

…I thought I finally had a President I could believe in, but, as of now it looks like I very, very wrong.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The Wife had yesterday off for Youth Day, a public holiday here in South Africa honoring the young people that died during the struggle to end apartheid. Fittingly, we chose to spend the majority of the day at the Apartheid Museum.

It was a sobering experience but one we are both glad we had. I'm actually reading Nelson Mandela's book "Long Walk to Freedom" right now and the museum really helped paint an even more vivid portrait of this country's struggle for equality.

One of the things that really stood out for me in the museum was the summary of South Africa's Bill of Rights...I just stood reading it in awe...and with envy...

•No one may be discriminated against on grounds of race, gender, pregnancy, marital status, ethnic or social origin, colour, sexual orientation, age, disability, religion, conscience, culture or language.

• Everyone has inherent dignity and the right to have their dignity respected and protected.

• Everyone has the right to life.

• Everyone has the right to freedom and security of person, including the right not to be detained without trial and not to be tortured.

• No one may be subjected to slavery, servitude or forced labour.

• Everyone has the right to privacy.

• Everyone has the right to freedom of conscience, religion, thought, belief and opinion.

• Everyone has the right to freedom of expression, which includes freedom of the media.

• Everyone has the right, peacefully and unarmed, to assemble, to demonstrate, to picket and present petitions.

• Everyone has the right to freedom of association.

• Everyone is free to make political choices, which includes the right to form a political party and the right to free, fair and regular elections.

• No citizen may be deprived of citizenship.

• Everyone has the right to freedom of movement.

• Everyone has the right to fair labour practices, including the right to form and belong to trade unions and the right to strike.

• Everyone has the right to an environment that is not harmful to their health or well-being.

• No one may be deprived of property except in terms of law of general application.

• Everyone has the right to have access to adequate housing.

• Everyone has the right to have access to health care services, sufficient food and water.

• Every child has the right to care, basic nutrition, shelter, basic health care services and social services.

• Everyone has the right to a basic education.

• Everyone has the right to use the language and to participate in the cultural life of their choice.

• Everyone has the right of access to any information held by the state and by another person where the information is required for the exercise of any rights.

• Everyone who is arrested has the right to remain silent, to be brought before a court within 48 hours and to be released if the interests of justice permit.

Wow. Wow. Wow.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Safari- Take 3 (eh...)

This past weekend the Wife and I set off alone for our last safari trip. We had decided to stay in Jo'burg Friday night instead of driving in the dark to Pilanesburg. After sleeping in a bit we made our way and arrived at our lodge in time for a late lunch on Saturday afternoon. The lodge was supposed to be one of the nicest in Pilanesburg and it was true our little cottage was much better than our room at Bakubung a few weeks ago. The lodge also promised more attention to the guests and ensured that we would have the same game driver for the length of our stay so they could customize our drives and maximize our game viewing.

Our driver was Paul, a very nice young guy who just happened to be maybe the worst game driver in the history of man...or at least in our history of game drivers. With only staying one night we only had 2 game drives and as stated before they would both be with Paul :(

You drive slowly on game drives so you have time to scour the area for animals. Paul drove about half the speed of everyone else though, even when we were in areas that he assured us no animals would be because the grass was too high and not nutritional for them to eat. Paul also found it necessary to stop and turn off the vehicle for every single animal. Not a problem, except when the animal is a common antelope or wildebeest so far off you can barely see them all while you watch the giraffe and elephants in the distance making their way from the roadside to the hills.

I was annoyed with his style from the beginning but when he got word over the radio that a cheetah had been spotted with a large kill and Paul suggested we go see the elephant instead because he didn't like "racing around to see animals" I knew our last safaris weren't to be our best.

I've said on here before that safari is a matter of chance. You may or may not see anything but when you have a driver that doesn't make any effort to see what others are already seeing you're chances go way down.

We did see the elephants and got lucky enough to happen upon some giraffes and zebras.

On our way back to the lodge a male lion came out of the bush right in front of the car. We followed him for a while but he was busy marking his territories after the rains so we went back for dinner.

At Ivory Tree you eat at large tables with your game driver and the rest of your game drive party. Outside of the game drive Paul was a nice enough guy and we enjoyed talking to the others during dinner. It was another early night though because we were to leave for our last drive at sunrise.

I had low expectations but had hoped we'd at least see the cheetah since Paul assured us that "it would still be there tomorrow". Of course, it was not. We had a very slow morning and got to see little more than a few antelope, a couple of zebras and some hippos swimming. We came back, ate a quick brunch and headed back to Joburg to do some shopping at the African Market next to our hotel.

I know it is ridiculous for us to expect every single weekend to be AMAZING. We had just really hoped for a nice last safari experience in South Africa. But, we still saw some great animals and enjoyed spending a weekend with just one another.

Next weekend we head to the wine country to finally celebrate our anniversary. Can't wait!

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Safari - Take 2

Due to the early winter closing times of the gates in Kruger National Park we left early on Friday afternoon for the long haul to Nelspruit. This town was about 4 hours away and another 2 ½ hours from our final destination.

Lidia had recommended the guesthouse she stayed in when previously in South Africa. With the whole team of eight we ended up renting the entire place out for the night. It was a wonderful home oozing with charm and packed from floor to ceiling with art and treasures from around the world. It was relief to see that one can actually make such an eclectic mix actually work. I’ve been a bit worried our house is going to look like an international flea market exploded inside of it when we return. If you’re ever in Nelspruit I can’t recommend Utopia of Africa enough.

Although Patricia was a wonderful host, Sam was the one who really made us feel at home and made me miss our pups back home even more than I already do...

After a leisurely breakfast on the back deck we headed out for the last leg of our road trip. Even though at times we felt our Honda Jazz would literally fall apart on the rocky and unmaintained dirt roads we actually reached Indube Lodge early Saturday afternoon.

Indube is located in Sabi Sands, a private reserve that is connected to Kruger. When we pulled into the driveway a huge Nyala (think big, shaggy haired antelope) leapt in front of the car and we got out t see a family of warthogs grazing on the front lawn.

It seems that at Indube they don’t believe in fences. Except for a high electrical wire to keep elephants from coming in and pushing down their trees all animals have free reign on the lodge’s grounds. Well, I suppose a giraffe couldn’t come through either but antelope, warthogs, monkeys and yes, even lions, leopards and cheetahs could visit upon will.

Because of this we were only allowed to walk unescorted during daylight hours. Although, our “guards” that walked us around at night were equipped with little more than a flashlight. I asked one just what he would do if a leopard came out of the bush and he assured me the flashlight would be enough to dissuade it from eating us. Somehow I was not convinced.

We, again, had the run of the place. Only one other guest was in the lodge and I pray the poor girl wasn’t annoyed too much with being stuck with us for 2 days and our endless stream of inside jokes and purposeful use of incorrect English.

After a quick lunch we headed out for our first safari drive. Right off the bat we realized that being on a private game reserve is much different than being in a national park. In the national parks we could view the animals from the roads. If the animal was close then good for us, if it was far away then you better hope you brought some binoculars. In a private game reserve if the animal is not very visible from the road then you just go off road to get a better view.

Our first drive allowed us to see some giraffes, an eagle, some adorable baby rhinos, a hippo soaking in the water, tons of impalas and other antelopes and we even caught a glimpse of the elusive serval which is like a tiny cheetah.

Our main goal was to see a leopard but with night falling around us we thought we’d have another drive without any big cats. Sometimes you don’t get what you want but other times you get lucky enough to see something even better. Nearing the end of our drive we got to see two lions up close and personal. Very personal. It was a mating couple and while they were asleep when we got there they did wake up after a few minutes and picked up where they apparently had left off. Our guide explained that lions mate for up to 10 days, sleeping in-between sessions and doing not much else. All I can say is…wow.

We returned to camp and had dinner with one of the other rangers outside around a campfire. He had some great stories to tell and even shared some lovely ones about leopards coming onto the grounds to try to get warthogs. After a very dark and what I felt was a frightening walk (why again did he tell the one about the leopard??) back to our room we hit the hay very early for the day ahead.

We were on the road just as the sun rose and our mission was to see the leopard. Sabi Sands is known for great leopard sightings and home to around 15 of the cats. Alas, we weren’t to see any of them though. We went the majority of the morning without seeing anything but a few bush chickens. Our driver was as frustrated as us and took out much of his frustrations on small and not so small trees that he drove the Land Rover over in search the cats. Safari is a game of chance and even with the best odds you aren’t guaranteed any sightings much less the animals you really want to see.

We were still missing the leopard and the water buffalo from the Big Five. Our ranger had told us that although they had buffalo we were unlikely to see any in Sabi Sands. Although our leopard hopes were not to be realized we did come upon a nice little herd of the buffalo and I was surprised at how majestic and lovely they were in real life.

After the buffalo we came upon some more giraffes, had a close call with spotting a leopard, saw some baboons and again were blessed enough to see some lions at rest.

These guys were napping as the sun was becoming warm. So beautiful.

This one got a bit spooked when we were backing away and got into a pounce position. I was the closest to the cat and am amazed I even got this one shot because I was freaking out as only one can when a huge lion is doing this in front of you.

Our ranger and tracker really did their best to help us find a leopard and even kept us out much later than the drive should have lasted. Upon returning to the lodge the other ranger offered a walking safari to see some of the smaller wildlife but it was late and we were eager to get back on the road for the long haul back to Jo’burg. Thanks to some excellent driving (btw-have I mentioned the Wife has been driving around on the wrong side of the road like a pro these past four weeks?) we made it back to the Hyatt before dark.

Next weekend Jules and I go back to Pilanesburg for our last safari. So cross your fingers that we get to see a leopard as it will be our last chance before leaving South Africa.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

reunited and it feels so good...

not sure if any of you have ever had your phone stolen while overseas and then tried to get a replacement while still over there but, apparently shipping electronics is pretty much impossible. luckily, a very nice person was in atlanta and flying back to south africa the same week the pick-pocket made off with my baby.

at&t actually came through in delivering it in time but the very nice person had to take it out of the box to bring it through customs. no issue there except the bag with my battery, paperwork and charger was lost by the airline.

so although i've had the actual phone for a week, i've been waiting to bring frankenstein back to life.

i went ahead and bought a new battery today and after a short chat with at&t (probably the least painful experience i've ever had with them and i used to deal with our entire business account at work) i am up and running.

the wife has and probably always will despise the crackberry but, more than ever before i rely on it to link me to everyone back home.

it's baaaaack...

out of the mouth of babes

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

just saying...

a snippet from a recent article i read on the travel channel website:

Buzzing Buenos Aires -- where an artsy and bohemian Latin lifestyle meets Euro chic in one of the world's most cosmopolitan cities -- has been the word on budget-traveling tongues for a few years now, and for good reason. While the peso is on the rebound, dollars are still worth their salt throughout Argentina. You can have an indulgent night on the town for a fraction of what you'd shell out in London or New York, starting with a steak dinner featuring Argentina's famed beef and red wines for between $15 and $25 per person in a trendy capital-city restaurant. Carry on the evening by checking out a tango show in the barrio of La Boca and hitting the club scene till the break of day. Getting beyond B.A., there are wine-centric retreats to be had in the Mendoza wine region and more athletic adventures (hiking, kayaking, fly fishing) in Argentina's piece of Patagonia. From crystal lakes and mountain views that conjure Switzerland to a wine scene that rivals Spain's, basically everything to be loved about Europe can be found in Argentina -- and for far less fiscal damage.

why again aren't you coming to visit us there???

Mosi oa Tunya

Because of the flight times we left Friday morning for Livingstone, Zambia to see Victoria Falls. One of the 7 Natural Wonders of the World the falls are located on the border of Zambia and Zimbabwe. The latter used to be the preferred country for viewing but due to the political/economic climate we chose to go to the Zambia side.

We touched down at a very small airport and were immediately assaulted with the smell of a country that has yet to adopt deodorant in its personal hygiene regimen. We had arranged transportation through our hotel and were met by two drivers that led us to their very small and quite pitiful excuses for taxis. No longer in the shopping center laden suburb of Rosebank, it was the first time since reaching the continent in Egypt that I felt like I was in “Africa”. With the windows rolled down I took a deep breath and took in the meager sights as we rode through the small town of Livingstone to our hotel.

Surprisingly enough staying and doing things in Zambia is pretty expensive. My guess is that they have this one thing to really draw in tourists so they are going to make the most of and out of it. I say good for them. The hotels in Livingstone are either fairly basic or exorbitantly expensive. We went for the basic and stayed at the Nglolide Lodge just a short distance from the falls. It was quaint, clean, had a great little outside area and an awesome Indian Restaurant. We had a very late lunch and then headed out to the Zambezi River for a sunset cruise.

More of a “booze cruise” than anything else we enjoyed the lazy ride down the river, met some girls from Long Island and took in our first Zambian sunset.

When we got back we broke out a deck of cards, a few bottles of duty free wine and played some good old fashion Brazilian “Burro”…a pretty fun game that I’ll be sure to teach you guys when we get home. Mainly because Julie doesn’t kick my butt at it :)

We slept in a little on Saturday and then the majority of us went to see the falls via helicopter. The falls are located in a narrow valley and over a mile long so it is the best way to really understand how incredibly beautiful and majestic they really are…

After the helicopter we went to see the falls up close and personal. A nice lady from Seattle had told us we would be soaked so we dressed accordingly and headed out. The falls were roaring thanks to the wettest rainy season they’ve had in 60 years. David Livingstone was the first white man to see the falls in 1855 and named them after the then queen, Victoria. The local name for the falls is Mosi oa Tunya which means “the smoke that thunders”. The spray from the falls, which can reach 1000 feet tall can literally be seen from 30 miles away. On the Zambia side you get to walk along the front of the falls and literally walk through the spray as you go.

It was an awesome sight and even more incredible feeling being enveloped by the falls.

Our experience in Zambia was really nice. If we’re talking nature, the falls were one of the most impressive things we’ve seen thus far. The people of Zambia were all extremely welcoming and seemed to always have a smile to share. It is obvious they have much less than their counterparts in South Africa but the crime is very low and we were told we could walk around the town at any hour without fear. This is a luxory not found in any part of Jo’burg. Although they had little to offer in ways of extreme comfort outside of the resorts, I enjoyed my time in their country very much and am most grateful for their hospitality and warmth. It was the African welcome I had been waiting for all along.

Next weekend we go to Kruger National Park for our next safari experience.