Tuesday, April 18, 2006

2005 INTRAV Inventing Southern Africa Fam Trip JOURNAL

Thursday, September 8

11:00 am - receive call from Nancy (my boss at INTRAV) asking if I would be able to go on a FAM (familiarization) trip leaving on September 10 and returning September 22. Realizing this was in 2 days, I quickly check my calendar and make a couple phone calls. Forgot to ask where the trip was going.
12:00 pm - Nancy tells me the trip is going to South Africa, quickly make the decision to go! This was a travel agent fam trip for FITA (Inventing South Africa) and one of the travel agents had cancelled very late and they needed to fill the spot and asked me to go. It was a working trip, and I didn’t even have to work! Everything was free, only had to pay for souvenirs!
Evening - begin packing

Friday, September 9

Take ½ vacation day to pick up malaria medicine (Malarone) at pharmacy and begin shopping - go to Bass Pro Shops with Bobby, buy some cool safari pants!

Saturday, September 10

Morning - go to Sam’s Club, buy 1 GB picture card for camera
Afternoon - watch OU game and continue packing; more shopping - Galleria & Target.
Back home - finish packing. Starting to get sick – oh no!
7:00 pm - drive to airport, see that I-70 is closed and they are directing traffic through the airport! Yikes! Finally get through and check-in at 7:30. Said sad good-byes to Bobby. Board the plane to Atlanta (Delta) and flight takes off at 8:10. Arrive at Hartsfield Airport in Atlanta, get luggage, hop on hotel shuttle, and arrive at Best Western at 11:30 pm. Room # 203. The room was very nice, but I had problems with the toilet - very annoying - it never stopped running and wouldn’t flush. Security came twice to fix it. Finally got to bed at 1-ish; already feeling very home sick, partly because I was definitely getting sick - very sore throat and beginnings of a sinus infection - not good! Never fell asleep this night.

Sunday, September 11

Wake up call 5:30 am (eastern time); met Christa downstairs for continental breakfast at 6:15. Hopped on hotel shuttle at 6:30, got to airport, checked in and got new tickets (South African Airways) - all by 7:30. My throat was hurting very badly now and felt very feverish.

Met up with the 4 ladies traveling with us:
Carol Bacon - from Chicago, IL
Pat Coffey - from Newport Beach, California
Kathy Esposito - from Pasadena, California
Karen Maldonado-Portanier - from Park Ave, New York City.

Nicky Esson was already in South Africa - she went a couple days earlier because a friend of hers got married over the weekend.

Boarded SA plane at 9:45 am. Flight #SA210. Left Atlanta at 10:30 am EST.Plane was very nice, 8 seats across: window 12 aisle 3456 aisle 78. (I was in seat #6, Pat was in seat #3, same row, and we had seats # 4 and 5 empty!) We each had our own personal TV’s that we could watch movies (stop, rewind, fast forward, pause, etc.), select tv shows, play games, listen to music, watch the view of the plane, and a flight map. I watched Kicking & Screaming, Off the Map, an episode of George Lopez & Becker, and Monster in Law. Throat still hurting very much - started taking Amoxicillin at 1:30 pm.

Monday, September 12

Still on plane…. Approx. 8 hours into our flight, we stopped on Sal Island to re-fuel and switch crews - we did not get off the plane - were here for about 45 minutes. Left Sal Island at 6:30pm CST - have about 8 more hours left until we get to Johannesburg. Scheduled to arrive at 9:58 am SAT (South African time) - 2:58 am CST. My ears were hurting very badly, can’t get them to pop; throat also hurts terribly. Were served a light dinner (ham & turkey sandwiches); had an awful lunch, and were given snacks frequently - stale cookies and biscotti. Will have breakfast 2 hours prior to landing in Joburg. Actually slept for a few hours, woke up at 1:00 am CST/8:00 am SAT - waiting for breakfast… got eggs, fruit, yogurt, hash browns, OJ. Arrived in Joburg @ 10:20 am SAT, went through customs/immigration; met up with Nicky, got luggage and transferred to hotel in Sandton via van. Sandton is the business and economic capital of Johannesburg. Were greeted at Sandton Sun hotel http://www.ichotelsgroup.com/h/d/ic/1/en/hd/jnbha with fruit drinks/smoothies. Went up to hotel room - very big hotel! I was on the next to the top floor. Group went on township tour to Sowento from 1-4, but I’m feeling so sick (congested & sore throat) that I decided to stay behind, take a shower & rest. The group said it was ok, but they were so tired that they feel asleep most of the time. Took a nap from 1-2, watched Dr Phil, Days of our Lives, & Sunday night baseball on ESPN. Took a wonderful steam shower, there were speakers in the bathroom so you could hear what was on tv. Went down and checked out the HUGE, really nice shopping mall that was attached to our hotel while waiting for the others to get back from their tour. 5:00 - met group in hotel lobby and went on site inspection of our hotel, and then drove to The Saxon hotel www.thesaxon.com - beautiful place, used to be someone's home! It was located in a residential area that looked like BelAir - mansions with big security fences & large entrance gates. Bill Clinton was there last month, Oprah stays there often. We did a site inspection and then had a very fancy dinner. I ate Kingklip - a very good tasting white fish. Returned back to Sandton Sun after dinner. I had been trying to call home all day and couldn’t use my phone card that I bought and cell phone didn’t work, very upsetting. Finally got to call Bobby - went to Business Center in hotel and just called direct (not cheap), then awhile later, my parents called my hotel room and gave me the access numbers to use their MCI calling card (39 cents a minute). I was very home sick this night.

Tuesday, September 13

Wake up at 7:00 am (feeling a little bit better than the day before, got a couple hours of sleep) Breakfast at 8:00
Left to return to Joburg airport at 9:00
Weather today in Joburg: sunny, 70’s - very nice! Flew from Joburg to Greater Kruger National Park on a little SAA prop plane which sat 30 people - only 10 on board so we got to spread out. I sat in a window seat behind the wing. Very smooth takeoff, were served smoked chicken (cold cut) sandwiches and mini chocolate bars and OJ. (got lots of juice on this trip!) Flew over some terrain that looked like the Grand Canyon; lots of big rolling hills and dessert area. Arrive in Mala Mala airstrip at 12:00 pm – were met at the bush airstrip for our transfer to Lion Sands Private Game Reserve www.lionsands.com via an open Jeep-like vehicle - this was our first, unformal game drive because we saw several animals. The road was pretty windy and bumpy, but we were driving slow so it was ok. We arrived and once again were greeted with juice & also damp cool cloths to freshen up from the drive. We realized that we were short on time, so we did a very fast site inspection – the place was gorgeous! Had a very quick, small lunch - fortunately I had eaten the food on the plane! We then had to rush around and leave to go back to airport. At this point we were very late for our plane so we drove like maniacs to get to Skukuza Airstrip for our flight to the next lodge! Probably going 50 miles an hour on these VERY bumpy rides - crazy ride! We were hanging on for dear life - I was in the back with Christa, and she never had a chance to fully get into her seat before the vehicle took off and she lost her sandal! Our driver got a call on his radio and we had to turn around and go back for it - it was very funny!! But now we had to drive even faster! Yikes!! Being in the back, I bounced around like I was on the Jack Rabbit roller coaster - flying out of my seat - if I wouldn’t have been holding on, I would have fallen out of the vehicle. We finally got to the airport and all survived our dangerous ride. We then got on an even tinier plane - 8 seater - old, very crowded. The flight only lasted 20 minutes and we landed on a dirt airstrip in the middle of the bush. We were met by Dale from Singita Private Game Reserve http://www.singita.com/ - he was our Ranger for the time we were there. Very nice, reminded me a little of Darren Wright. Again were greeted with towels & drinks (bottled water). We hopped into his Land Rover and traveled an hour to the lodge - on paved roads, what a treat!! We saw some animals on our transfer. Arrived at Singita - AMAZING! There are several “branches” of Singita, most of us stayed at Sweni (only 8 cottages total) and Nicky & Christa stayed in Le Bombo (just a short walk away). We each had our own building. Rooms were not attractive from the outside, but are fabulous on the inside! Rack rate for this place is $1200 per person, per night. There were 3 showers in each cabin, 1 totally inside (I used this one), 1 inside, but had a glass wall so that you could look outside, and 1 totally outside - the nature shower. Had 2 toilets, a tub, and 4 sinks. Bed had a mosquito net around it. And there was also a bed out on the balcony where you could sleep. No thank you! Besides, it was way too windy out that night. I think Carol slept out on her balcony. She’s brave!

Went on our first game drive that evening 5-8 pm. Again, our ranger/driver was Dale and our tracker was Seabol (aka Seabs) Seabs sat in a seat attached to the front of the game vehicle and was in charge of spotting the wildlife and their tracks in the ground to figure out which way the animals went and how fresh they were. Also analyzed dung - had to know what animal it came from, how fresh it was, etc. Also, Dale & Seabol communicated to each other in Swaheli. We saw giraffes, buffalo, lion & lioness (they were flirting with each other!), elephants, birds, antelope, crocodiles, and a bunny! (scrub hare) Made me miss my Bunny! When it got dark, Seabol used a high-powered spot light to find the animals. Came back, had dinner at 9, got back to room at 11, took a shower and was in bed at 12. Didn’t sleep well again, hard time breathing with the congestion & sore throat, fell asleep around 2-ish and had wake up call at 5 am!!

Wednesday, September 14

Wake up call 5, coffee/hot cocoa at 5:30, began game drive at 6. It was very chilly (maybe 60 and cloudy) so we were each equipped with blankets and hot water bottles! We saw lots of animals - zebra, hippos swimming in water, elephants (even a baby!), giraffes, etc… Came back to lodge had a great breakfast at 9, had French toast and bacon, OJ, yogurt, strawberries, and a croissant. Maybe ate too much because I got sick to my stomach. Left at 11 and had a 2-hour road transfer by van to Thornybush Lodge. On the way we saw a mother giraffe with 2 young ones - maybe twins! Also saw a turtle sitting on the ground next to a pond. Inside the pond were some hippos, and next to it were some warthogs, I think. As we were driving we had views of the Drakensburg mountains, very pretty. Arrived at Thornybush Game Lodge (Main) http://www.thornybush.co.za/ at 2:30 pm - scheduled to arrive at 1 (very long transfer!) Ate lunch right away - buffet - had a little chicken breast, yummy bread, little bit of salad, and a coke. Checked into our rooms and had a couple minutes to change clothes & take some medicine. 4:00 - met and left for evening game drive. Beautiful weather - sunny and high 60’s/low 70’s. Ranger’s name was Charl, ranger trainee Kiran, and tracker was Ishmael. When Shelly Young & Karen Trigg (INTRAV coworkers) were there last year, they had Charl as their ranger also, and they loved him. Charl remembered them! We saw some Impala (big surprise! We saw thousands of them.), Kudu, giraffes, a pride of lions (2 females and a bunch of cubs), a bush baby (so cute - it bounced like a bouncing ball!), zebras, dwarf mongoose, an African wildcat (endangered species!) - looks just like a domestic cat, gray dieker, vultures, warthogs, nyala, bush buck, water buck, steen buck, and then we stopped at sunset for drinks & snacks. Came back to the lodge around 8:30, I was so exhausted (up since 5 and have only gotten a couple hours of sleep each night since leaving home) that I decided to skip dinner with the group and instead had it delivered to my room. Beef fillet & potatoes. When I got back to my room, housekeeping had already drawn my bath and there were rose petals sprinkled on the bathroom floor with candles all around. Nicky’s dad, former owner of Grovesnor Tours (INTRAV’s tour operator in SA) had been to Thornybush earlier that week and paid for this service to be done for all of us. There was also champagne, but I was afraid to drink it because I didn’t know it was free! Called my mom, called Bobby, took a bath, and then broke shampoo bottle - oops! Got stuff out for the morning and got ready for bed. Went to adjust A/C and it’s broken! Called front desk, someone came to look at it and couldn’t fix it. Oh well, it was getting pretty cool outside so it was ok. Bedtime 11:00.

Thursday, September 15

Wake up call: 5:30 am. Got a wonderful night’s sleep - finally! It was cold though in my room when I got up, which meant it was going to be quite cold for our game drive - right, it was! Layered clothes: 3 shirts, fleece jacket, safari pants & shoes. Wished I would have had a scarf & hat too!

We saw very few animals, and began our search for rhino. About 2 hours later, we finally found them! 3 of them! They were huge, but Charl told us they were young males. We got really close to them in the vehicle, about 15 feet. Then we drove a little ways away from them, and got out of the vehicle! Typically a safari no-no, but this was ok because we had strict rules to follow from Charl. We had to walk in a single-file line, he went first with his rifle, then we all filed in behind him (I was third in line) and then Ishmael was last, carrying a first aid kit. We had to be very quiet, and we tried, but Charl said they heard us because they started running away. Also, the wind changed and they probably smelled us. He said since they were young that they would be afraid and run if they sensed us, and they did.

After those adventures, we visited a couple other lodges, Chapungu Luxury Tented Camp, Serondella, and Shumbalala. (may not be exactly correct about all those locations) We then returned to camp for a delicious breakfast – ate rice krispies, croissant, and fruit. Went back to our rooms, packed up and were supposed to take off on our little charter plane at 11, but for some reason, our plane was delayed, so since Thornybush had their own airstrip we could hear when the plane arrived, so we just hung out at the lodge, watched the warthogs eat the lawn, shopped in the store, walked around a bit, worked on our journals, etc.

We finally boarded our plane at 12:30 and then arrived at Kirkman’s Kamp http://www.exeterlodges.com/kirkman_camp.asp 30 minutes later. Had lunch – picked up some meat that I thought was roast beef from the buffet, starting eating it, and just as I was taking a bite, Carol (who was sitting across from me) said, “oh, you’re eating the ostrich!” I had no idea! It tasted like roast beef, it was good. We had a short time to relax, so I went back to my room, unpacked a little, put some clothes out to be laundered (free service there), and went and sat by the pool for a couple minutes. It was beautiful, but the water was way too cold for me! Nicky swam though.

Our ranger at Kirkman’s Kamp was Nicholas, and he did pretty much everything for us during our stay – he was our ranger, our porter, our waiter, everything! Very nice guy, so polite and perfect manners. He had only been doing this for about a year, but he loved it and wanted to do it forever. His accent was thick though, I think he was from Joburg, and it was a bit hard to hear him at first – but that was also because my ears hadn’t popped yet from the last flight. Ugh. Our tracker’s name was Elvis. Yes, Elvis.

We left for our game drive at 4 pm.
Highlights of the game drive:
Chased a leopard through some very thick brush, kind of swamp-like. We finally found her and she was gorgeous!! She was trying to be very elusive and we only caught a couple glimpses of her because she kept sneaking of into the weeds. The funniest part was when we kept following her through all that thicket! I mean, there was nowhere that Nicholas didn’t think we could go, over big rocks, through mud, up & down steep hills, and we did get stuck a couple times! At one point we all thought the Land Rover was going to flip over because we were nearly vertical, going up a hill, over rocks, and our back wheels were spinning in mud. But finally, we got free! I think we all said to Nicholas, ok, that’s enough chasing the leopard, let’s get out of here!!!
We saw 9 lions laying in the grass, 2 were injured… very sad!

We stopped at a great location, up on a hill, to view the beautiful sunset. Nicholas & Elvis brought snacks & drinks for us, but unfortunately I was in desperate need of a restroom so I had to humbly ask Nicholas to scope out a safe, nearby, hidden area for me to go. (Christa took a picture of me asking him!) What a memory, going in the bush!

Overall, we saw 4 out of the Big Five just tonight at Kirkman’s Kamp, only the buffalo we didn’t see. Amazing!

Came back to camp and had a boma dinner! This is an open-air meal in a reed-enclosed boma around a campfire. Once we were seated at a long table, the ladies on the staff (housekeeping & kitchen) came out in a line and were chanting (singing African gospel songs), stomping (and one lady had rattles attached to her ankles), and clapping. After our “entertainment”, we were served salad & soup, and then dinner was served buffet style. I ate lamb (off the rack), mashed potatoes, and homemade ice cream with chocolate sauce. Yum!

Went back to room and went to bed at 11:30.

Friday, September 16

Wake up call 5:30; coffee/tea/hot chocolate at 6:00. Left for final game drive shortly after. Weather was quite chilly again. We saw a bunch of elephants right away – there was a small baby (probably about a year old) with it’s mom and she was mad at us so we kept on driving, didn’t stop, so we didn’t get any pictures. We saw another elephant down at the bottom of a little hill so we drove partway down, but he got really nervous and started running around and he trumpeted at us! We were informed that this behavior was a sign that he was just warning us not to come any closer, that he wasn’t go to charge us. We later saw quite a few rhinos, a croc, monkeys, and buffalo. We got to see all BIG FIVE just at Kirkman’s Kamp! We even got a certificate that says so.

We were all pretty tired this morning, I even dozed off a couple times while we were driving around. Got back to camp at 8:40, packed up suitcases, had breakfast at 9 (corn flakes, yummy homemade biscuit, bacon, fruit, yogurt & granola.) Left at 9:30 to go get on our plane at the Mala Mala airstrip – got on our last little/chartered plane at 10:30 – flew 20 minutes to KMIA airport (Kruger Mpumalanga International Airport) – boarded a small commercial plane and left for Cape Town.

Feeling much better today! Still a bit congested, glands still slightly swollen, throat only hurts a little, but now I’m coughing. Ugh!

Ate a really bad lunch on the plane. Arrived in Cape Town at 1:30 pm – met Maggie and Amelia at the airport, they brought us to the hotel, The Mount Nelson. www.mountnelson.co.za
Beautiful, huge, old, charming hotel! We had a great view of Table Mountain from the hotel. (neglected to take a single picture of the mountain from the ground) Quote from their website: “Nestling at the foot of Table Mountain and set in nine acres of lush gardens, the Mount Nelson Hotel is one of Cape Town's most elegant hotels offering unparalleled tradition, history and luxury.” And it’s true! We ran to our rooms and change clothes; 5 minutes, we met back up as a group and drove to do a quick hotel inspection at the Cullinan Inn Hotel http://cybercapetown.com/CullinanInn/index.php . Then we went to Table Mountain and took the cable car to the top – not scary at all!!! Amazing views! Table Bay is gorgeous! The weather was perfect – sunny and not windy – very important when you’re over 3500 feet high!

Bad news – camera battery died and charger won’t work – rechargeable batteries aren’t working either. Trying to find a place to get batteries, but hard to find time and can’t find a store that sells them. Still haven’t bought a single thing, other than bottles of water! After done looking at Table Mountain, take cable car back down, drive around the “bowl” awhile and go back to hotel.

We all are so tired and so hungry – 6:00 pm – we walked to a restaurant that was just a couple blocks from hotel – a Mediterranean restaurant that Nicky recommended, called Café Paradiso. I got a HUGE smoked chicken salad with dried mango and cashews – it was very good! Also got a yummy dessert – chocolate walnut brownie – that I split with Carol.

Came back to my room – wanted to go to bed early, but A/C was broken, had to wait for maintenance, couldn’t figure out shower, had to take a bath, talked to parents & Bobby. Finally went to bed at midnight – a/c still not working after he “fixed” it, but ok since I had opened my humungous window and door that goes out to my private balcony to cool off the room.

Saturday, September 17

Wake up call 7:00 – thank goodness it’s not 5:00!!!
Breakfast 8:00
Leave hotel at 9:00
Begin driving toward Cape Point – road goes along the coast, very windy, very beautiful! Saw many beaches, many beautiful homes. Stopped en route at a scenic view point to get an awesome view of the Cape of Good Hope. Spotted a whale way down in the water. Got back in van, drove a short ways, stopped at a bed & breakfast - http://www.thelongbeach.com/ - lovely, right on Long Beach. Saw several ranches near Long Beach that had horses for horseback beach riding.

Weather was perfect, sunny 75 degrees.

Resumed driving, entered Table Mountain National Park grounds, arrived at Cape Point – rode funicular to the top – excellent view of the Cape of Good Hope, saw the lighthouses on Cape Point. The original one is on the very top, but it was too high, got hidden in the clouds/fog and the ships couldn’t see it, so they built another one – lower, right on the edge of the mountain. Walked back down the mountain, left Cape Point, went to lunch at the Black Martin restaurant. Had kingklip wrapped in bacon and hung on a kabob – very, very delicious!

Next we went to the penguin colony in Boulders, located in False Bay. These penguins are called African penguins, but their common name is jackass penguin because the noise they make sounds very similar to a donkey braying, it does, I heard it! The penguins were about 14-18 inches tall, we saw about 100-200 of them. Very cute. After looking at them, I did my first bargaining… there were a couple vendors set up near the parking lot and one was selling these bowls that I had been looking at over the last couple of days. So I went up to them and asked how much they were and they said 50 (Rand), but I couldn’t understand clearly so I said 15? He said 50, again I still didn’t hear, so I said 15? He said no. Then I finally got it. 50 wasn’t a bad price, but I still wasn’t positive that I wanted it so I said no thanks and as I was walking away he said, “Ok, I’ll give it to you for 15.” Ha! That’s just a little over 2 dollars! What a deal! I was very pleased.

Drove back to hotel, took about 45 minutes. Christa and I got dropped off at a shopping mall so that we could run into a pharmacy-like store to get my batteries. Came back to hotel, had an hour to relax (wow!). Met back up with group at 6, did a site inspection of the Mount Nelson. Had drinks in the Planet Bar and hor d’ourves with Andrew, the hotel manager. Then we began our tour of the kitchen and our Chef’s Table event. He even got aprons! There was a table set up for us in the back of the kitchen, and as we were walking through the kitchen, the chef staff clanged their pots for our arrival and formed a tunnel for us to walk through. Head Chef Allen (looked a little like Russell Crowe) came out to talk to us about the menu and gave us our tour. There were many rooms/areas and freezers. Allen took us into the meat freezer and held up a live crayfish (similar in size to a lobster), he said, “This is Boris, he will be your starter tonight.” (fortunately not true) And then he showed us a really old oven that was going to be demolished the next day. We started eating, and between meals, Allen gave us a demonstration making a salmon dish (just like watching tv!). Karen & Carol got to get their picture taken in the kitchen “cooking” with Allen – so funny!!

Back to room, showered, and packed up suitcases.
Bedtime 12:00.

Sunday, September 18

Wake up 6:45
Breakfast 7:30
Left Mount Nelson at 8:15, drove to Table Bay Hotel http://www.suninternational.com/resorts/tablebay/ (where we are staying the next two nights). Did a quick site inspection and quickly checked into our rooms, I think... Left hotel to drive to the Winelands Region. Our drive from Cape Town to the winelands took us through long stretches of highway with shacks lining both sides – for miles and miles. First stop: Spier Winery. Here we had a private wine tasting (at 10:00 in the morning).

We tasted 5 wines: 2 reds, 3 whites.
1. Chenin Blanc (young)
2. Vigonier
3. something I didn’t like
4. Merlot
5. Sweet wine – I liked it so much, I bought a bottle.

After the tasting was over, we walked around the grounds, shopped a little. There was a cheetah farm on the grounds, but we forgot to go see them.
Left Spier and drove a short ways to do a site inspection.
Then drove through a really quaint town called Stellenbosch. We drove by Stellenbosch Theological Seminary and a beautiful reformed church. Couldn’t get a picture because we didn’t stop.

Had lunch at Boschendal http://www.boschendal.com/ – a very charming estate/winery. We walked through the manor house, the rose garden, and looked at the vineyards and chickens. When we walked into the restaurant, we were greeted with drinks – I had the BEST sparkling grape juice, it was so good! The restroom had the coolest sink; everyone was talking about it. We had a huge buffet meal, I ate yummy spinach soup, chicken and salad. For dessert I had cheesecake, brandy snaps filled with cream, cream puffs dipped in the chocolate fountain, and marva pudding – we go the recipe for this.

After eating, we left and drove to Franschoek (another Dutch word) – did a site inspection, drove to Paarl (another town), did a site inspection at the Grand Roche Hotel http://www.granderoche.co.za/gr/homepage.asp where there was a beautiful, intimate chapel on the property for weddings, and the bride & groom got a plaque with their names on it placed on the door. Then we drove back to Table Bay. Got back at 4:20.

Had the evening off so a few of us decided to meet at 5:30 and do some shopping in the huge shopping center - The Shops at the Waterfront – which were attached to our hotel!! Very nice! Lots of shops, mostly normal “mall shops” (clothing stores, small dept store, Hallmark, kiosks, coffee/snack shops, a grocery store, and a few African souvenir shops.) We stopped for a while and had plans to meet for dinner, but I got sick while in the grocery store (Pick and Pay) with Carol and had to leave and go back to my hotel room. I ended up ordering room service for dinner, I got a cheeseburger and fries (yay!) and sorbet/fruit. Went to bed at 11.

Monday, September 19

(Didn’t take any pictures today)
Got up at 8:30 (the most sleep I’ve gotten in one setting!), had breakfast at 9:15.
The Table Bay Hotel breakfast buffet was AMAZING! I got pancakes! It was the biggest breakfast/brunch buffet I’ve ever seen – hot food, cold food, pastries, fresh fruit, even a seafood table! We sat outside (Christa, Carol, and myself) and ate, it was sunny but the air was cool. Christa & I then went shopping in the mall stores and then walked over to a Craft Mall; we bought a couple things there too – finally I’m getting my souvenirs! Then we walked back through the mall and stopped at Woolworth’s (a small department store) and I bought the cutest capri’s! We then had a few minutes to run back up to the room and then we met the group at 12:45 to leave for our afternoon activities.

First stop, Winchester Mansion Hotel http://www.kapstadt.de/winchester/ . We did a site inspection, then had lunch at Harvey’s – the hotel’s restaurant in their courtyard. We ate outside and the air was pretty cool – I was wearing a skirt and regretting it. First we had a tomato & buffalo cheese salad – I thought it was awful and only had one bite, but everyone else seemed to like it. Then we had chicken – the meat was really good, but I didn’t like anything else on the plate. Finally there was crème brule for dessert. It was delicious, but so rich – I only ate ½ and felt sick. Others were sick too. Then we left and went to another hotel – Park Inn – it was hip & trendy, but not very deluxe (it was a 3-star property) – very unlike all the other properties we had been to so far. After the site inspection, we had some time to venture out into the flea market of Green Market Square. I bought a couple things from the vendors – had some fun bargaining. The weather was very chilly and windy – we were quite eager to get back in the van!

Drove back to the hotel (Table Bay) and had an hour to go back to our rooms and get ready for dinner. I was very sleepy (why? I don’t know, I slept so long last night!) and made the mistake of laying down while I was watching Oprah on TV, and I decided to close my eyes for a couple minutes, didn’t plan on sleeping so I didn’t set my alarm. Well, at 6:00 (10 minutes after our scheduled meeting time) I wake up to a phone call from Nicky asking where I was! Yikes! I freaked out, told her I’d be down in a minute, yeah right! I hadn’t even brushed my hair before I laid down, I ran around the room like a maniac trying to get dressed, brush my teeth, I put my make-up on in the elevator. Shaking like a leaf, I met up with the group, apologized, and we walked over to the Cape Grace Hotel http://capegrace.accommodationsouthafrica.co.za/ . Just a few blocks from Table Bay. We did a site inspection of the property, it is a very nice hotel, amazing spa, and we saw the suite where the Clinton’s have stayed a couple times. Then we had a very nice dinner in their restaurant. Ute, our host (guest relations manager of Cape Grace), told us about all the famous guests that have stayed there: Samuel L Jackson, Chris Rock (their favorite), and Nicholas Cage to name a few. She told us that Nicholas Cage made the biggest scenes, even though he said, I don’t want anyone to know I’m here. He was there with his new sushi waitress wife and tons of bodyguards. For dinner we had a salad that I didn’t like, but I can’t remember what it was… and the main course was the best lamb I’ve ever had in my life! I was called nuru lamb – according to Nicky, the best lamb you can get. It was slow-cooked and pulled off the bone – it melted in your mouth! For dessert I chose a cheese platter (very common dessert in SA) – which I didn’t eat – too full. Following our meal, we were driven back to our hotel in a really nice BMW.

Got bags packed and went to bed at 11:00.

Didn’t sleep much this night, worried that I might not wake up for our early morning the next day.

Tuesday, September 20

Alarm went off at 4:45 am
Had a small breakfast in hotel lounge at 5:30 am
Depart hotel (& Cape Town) at 6:00 am
Amelia drove us to the Cape Town airport – from here we flew to Joburg. At JNB (Joburg Airport), Karen and I stored a couple bags in the storage area. I wanted to make it easy and just have one checked bag going to Vic Falls.
Our flight left Joburg at 11:25 am and we arrived in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe at 1:00 pm. It was quite warm when we got off the plane and we proceeded into the “airport” – it was a very small building. We had to wait in a very long (slow-moving) line in the crowded, un-air conditioned building to get our Zimbabwe visas. ($30) I think that process took about an hour. Then we gathered our suitcases and met up with our driver. Her name was Mano (not sure about that ??) and she drove us to the Vic Falls Hotel http://www.victoriafallshotel.com/ . We drove through some areas that finally made me feel like I was in Africa – nothing bad, just desolate, poor, and old. Many people were sitting and standing next to the road – perhaps waiting for transportation, I don’t know. Many women were carrying things on their heads.

We arrived at the hotel and it was very pretty – the staff greeted us with very delicious fruity drinks and cold, damp cloths. We went back to our rooms for 10 minutes to change clothes – I put on shorts – and then we were off to the Falls http://www.places.co.za/html/vicfalls.html . Victoria Falls is on a high plateau between the Limpopo and Zambezi rivers. The Zambezi River widens to more than 5,000 feet at the falls and then plunges down a chasm 225 to 355 feet wide.

We drove to an area of public entrance to the Zimbabwe side of the Falls. There were a couple of stands & vendors selling drinks and curios, but that was it – no commercialization – nothing like Niagara Falls! Mano explained to us that this was their dry season (spring) and that the Falls were going to be very sparse, and they were! But they were still very beautiful. She said that they are actually better to view like this because when they are at full capacity, you almost can’t see the waterfalls, and you definitely can’t see the bottom, because all you can see is spray. And you also have to wear raincoats because you get really wet. We only got a very light misting. The falls were definitely a lot taller than Niagara and it was very beautiful with the rocks. We stood as close as you can in Niagara – maybe even a little bit closer – but you walk through a forest-like area to get to each viewing spot.

After our brief walking tour of the Falls, we went to a market – here was a spot where many vendors came and laid out their handmade goods – many carvings and other curios. It reminded me quite a bit of Jamaica. The vendors were very aggressive – not in a bad way – but they were very eager to sell their stuff. I did a bit of bargaining and got a couple things. Others in our group brought t-shirts and jeans to trade. In Zimbabwe we paid for things in US dollars. Their currency (Zimbabwe dollars) is basically valueless. Approx US$1 = Zim$25,000. Oh, and it was very hot this afternoon.

We left the market and then headed to our Sundowner Cruise on the Zambezi River. The watercraft was an old pontoon boat and there was a table & chairs set up for us – we were the only ones on the boat, along with Shane (our tour guide), and 2 crew members were on board. We headed out onto the river and were served drinks & snacks. While out on the water, we saw quite a few crocodiles in the water, we saw hippos, and even an elephant on shore. We saw some women doing their laundry in the river. AND we saw people swimming in the river – JUST inches from the edge of the falls!!! There were several big groups of them – looked like mostly teenagers. We couldn’t believe it! We watched the sun set and then headed back to land. This was very enjoyable and relaxing – the weather was perfect once again.

We drove back to the hotel and had an hour to shower and get ready for our fancy dinner at the Livingstone dining room in our hotel. Most of us wore skirts. Before dinner we did a site inspection and learned more about the property. The hotel is over 100 years old and many members of Royal families, international and local statesmen, and celebrities worldwide have visited and stayed here. After the tour, we met _______ for pre-dinner drinks in their new bar, Stanley’s. Then we proceeded into dinner. The room we were in reminded me of the room where we had our wedding reception, only a lot bigger. Dinner was ok, mozzarella basket, celery soup, beef cordon bleu (kinda weird), and fruit/ice cream for dinner.

During dinner there was a band and they were singing/playing American songs – pretty good!

After dinner we went back to our rooms and Carol offered to come check my room for bugs. The hotel was very nice, but it was old and open-aired walkways, so bugs were everywhere – big ones! So Carol and Christa came to my room and we found a gigantic wasp and a big spider. I was very scared of the bugs and Christa was scared of her room, so we decided to bunk up and share my room – we had 2 twin beds. So we moved her stuff over, Carol got our mosquito nets set up, and then we asked the security guard to kill & remove the bugs for us and he did. So we got all snuggled into bed and both slept pretty well.

Wednesday, September 21

Our last day in SA
We got up at 7, had breakfast at 7:30, and had a couple minutes to walk around the grounds of the hotel and take some pictures. From the back lawn we had a great view of the bridge over the falls where people bungee jump. (crazy people!) Our guide driver was late, but finally came… we then drove over that bridge, leaving Zimbabwe and crossing over into Zambia. Nicky took care of our visas and while we were sitting in the bus waiting for her, vendors came up to the windows and wanted to sell us bracelets. Everyone but me bought at least one.
We drove over to a hotel and did two site inspections and then we walked down and saw the falls from the Zambia side. We walked across a little bridge that apparently is impassible in the rainy season. We got very close to the falls here.

Soon after, it was time to head to the airport. The Zambia airport was quite a bit bigger than the Zimbabwe one was – and it was new. We had to wait in line quite awhile for security, but once we got through, we had over an hour to wait.

We boarded our plane and our flight to Joburg was 1 ½ hours long. When we got to Joburg, we went and retrieved our stored bags and checked in for our flight to Atlanta. We had a couple hours until our plane boarded so we took a shuttle to the Emporer Palace hotel and did our FINAL site inspection. Carol Scott was there to meet us and they had a wonderful spread of snacks for us.

Then at 6:00 pm, we drove back over to the airport and found a really long security line, fortunately it moved pretty quickly and we had time to buy our last souvenirs and make a quick phone call home and board our plane. We all sat in basically the same seats as the flight over – fortunately Pat and I were in the same row again and had the middle seats empty again! Yay!

Plane left Joburg at 7:50 pm. We flew 8 hours and stopped in Sal Island to refuel and switch crews. The majority of the flight we flew in the dark so it was very easy to sleep, which I did a lot of. I also watched 3 movies, A Lot Like Love, Madagascar, and Herbie. I also read ½ of my book.

Thursday, September 22

We arrived in Atlanta at 8:20 am. Retrieved our luggage, rechecked it, went through customs/immigration. We had to split from the group now because we all flew different airlines – Nicky, Christa and I stayed together. We proceeded to gate, waiting about an hour, boarded our final plane at, and landed in St Louis at 12:00 pm. Bobby skipped his classes that day to pick me up and spend time with me that afternoon – we even stopped on the way home to pick up a pizza because I had been craving it so much! What a wonderful, thoughtful husband!


And now that you've read all about my trip & hopefully visited the links I posted, go to the following 2 links to view my photo albums!!! I had to make them into two seperate albums because there are so many pictures.

Part One: share.shutterfly.com/action/welcome?sid=8AbM2jdk0Yt2H9

Part Two: share.shutterfly.com/action/welcome?sid=8AbM2jdk0Yt2IB


Well, I thought I'd start out with a little intro... my name is Jennifer and this is my blog! Voila!!

OK, maybe a little more info would be a good idea... this blog is a spin-off of Bobby's blog with the main purpose of showcasing my pictures and journal from my awesome trip to South Africa last year. I'm really not sure how I'm going to format all of the info yet, but I'm sure I'll figure out something. So, ENJOY! (and I definately welcome comments)