Jamie’s in Africa! Part 4

We had the opportunity to take an optional elephant back safari at Camp Jabulani, which is located on the Kapama reserve. It meant giving up a morning game drive and the cost was about $175 Canadian per person.
One of the rangers drove us over to the elephant camp at 6am. We were given some background on the camp, some information on the elephant as well as a brief interaction with them before the safari began. Camp Jabulani began when the had their first elephant, Jabulani, who came to the reserve. He had been raised by humans and they were unable to integrate him into the wild herd, despite numerous attempts. Jabulani wanted to be with humans, not other elephants. Over time, they were sent other elephants in the same situation, some of these mated and had babies and so the camp grew. In order to support the camp and raise funds to look after the elephants, they started offering elephant interactions and elephant back safaris to the guests of Kapama.

After meeting the elephants, we were seated two per elephant, with a guide in front. For an hour, these elephants walked through the bush where our normal game drives would take us. They stopped to break branches off to eat when they were hungry and they stopped to drink from ponds when they were thirsty. There were also a handful of the baby elephants following and playing with each other. We saw zebra, giraffe and wart hogs, as well as lots of impala. It was a worthwhile experience (despite the sore bottom) and Mark and I both said we would do it again!

That evening and the following morning we had two more game drives. On the evening one we were lucky enough to spot a cheetah. She was gorgeous and spent most of the time ignoring us, as cats tend to do. After the cheetah, we spent about 45 minutes in the company of a pride of lions. One male, three mamas, three toddlers and 6 babies. It was awesome to see the babies playing and the interaction and affection between the adults and all the members of the pride. The big male lion waled right past the front of the jeep at one point, sniffing the bumper and coming within inches of our tracker. Steven, our tracker, admitted after that was close enough to make him nervous!

On our last morning drive we were able to add crocodile and baboons to our list, as well as seeing hippos again. After having breakfast and packing up, we were taken on the short drive to airport and a huge gathering of giraffe were waiting at the gates to see us off. We hated to leave, it was the best holiday I have ever been on. Everything was perfect. We sadly said goodbye to Stephan our ranger and the others in our group and made our way to Johannesberg for a quick overnight on our way to Capetown.

In Johannesberg we stayed at the Metcourt Emperors Palace. It is 5 minutes at most from the airport. The rooms were small, but comfy and clean. They had a free hot breakfast buffet included. The best part is it’s attached to an entertainment complex, with lots of restaurants and a casino, as well as a movie theatre and nightly live shows. It was very Vegas style and an easy way to kill a few hours in the evening.

Today, it’s off to Capetown, the one and only hotel and chairmans circle conference. Stay tuned!

Jamie’s in Africa! Part 3

Our morning drive from 6-9am was good, but fairly uneventful; the only new animals were water buffalo and black backed jackals. We saw lots of giraffes, zebras, impalas, water bucks, kudu, etc, but none of the big ones we were hoping for.

After a big breakfast and bigger nap, we spent a relaxing afternoon getting massages at the spa. Well worth the $50 or so for an hour!

Our evening drive started at 6pm and right off the bat, it felt like a lucky night. Dozens of giraffes, water buffalo, zebra and different kinds of antelope right away… but we wanted to find the elephants. Soon we came across a herd of a dozen elephants, lots of babies and when we looked to the other side of the vehicle, there were two white rhino grazing three feet from the jeep!

We left the area only to see two more rhino, a male and a baby. We saw hippos hiding in a dugout but not much more could be seen than their noses. We commented that seeing the big daddy lion would be awesome. Next thing you know we drive up a cliff and he’s a few feet away, roaring and all! We went down the cliff to get a view from below – it was awe inspiring and sure got the heart pumping! We saw a jackal feeding on an impala and just before heading home, we got a good look at a leopard by driving like maniacs through the bush, over trees and logs. It was pretty exciting!

So that tops off our wish list except a cheetah, a hyena and Mark says a crocodile.

We finished the day with another great meal by the bonfire, good company and a stroll under a full moon. A perfect end to a perfect day! 🙂 Tomorrow morning, it’s elephant riding!

Jamie’s in Africa! Part 2

The good thing about jet lag? I’m up at 3 am and have time to blog about my first game drive before heading on my second one in two hours.

Our driver and ranger is Stephan, not to be confused with our tracker Steven. We share our open jeep with two ladies from Brazil and parents and their 8 yr old daughter from Richmond, VA. Our drive started slow, seeing some warthogs and a bunch of Impala, but we were enjoying the fresh air and the feeling of adventure. After a while, we came upon a few zebra, then a whole field of zebra mixed with kudu and a wildebeest. I kept thinking that it felt familiar and I realized it smelled like it does as home after a rainfall and that it wasn’t terribly different than going for a drive with my dad through the game reserve at home, looking for deer and antelope and spotting ducks and geese… The impala and nyala look very much like deer and we saw some geese and fish eagles, similar to our Canadian geese and bald eagles. There was definitely a sense of deja vu.

That lasted until we started seeing lions and giraffes… Then it was like “OMG, I’m really in Africa!” After the field of zebra, we stopped for a sundowner drink to watch the sun disappear behind the mountains. As we drove away, we came across a huge male giraffe. I have awesome video, but wont be able to send it till I’m home.

Not long after that we came across three small toddler lions, but they went into the bush before we got very good photos. Then we heard her – the mama lion. We took a
couple turns and there she was, lying down and calling for the rest of her pride. I have super photos and video of her criesm she was only a few feet from our vehicle. Afterwards, i was surprised we weren’t more scared with her that close, but at the time it was just a feeling of utter awe!

We followed her for a bit as she looked for her pride, then eventually went back to our lodge. It’s amazing how cool it gets when the sun goes down, but we had a gorgeous, warm sunny day during the daytime. It was perfect.

Back at the lodge, we had dinner at the Boma with our guide. It was like a huge outdoor BBQ party with a big fire pit. The staff were singing and entertaining and the food was awesome. I even tried curried kudu, which is much better than crickets! 🙂

I can see why Africa is a trip of a lifetime, I have fallen in love with it… Although our guide did spend dinner telling us about the deadly snakes its possible to see at the lodge. Running into one of those might change my mind!

Going to try to get another hour of sleep before our morning drive. Goodnight!

Jamie’s in Africa! Part 1

I was lucky enough to be asked to attend Uniglobe International’s annual chairmans circle event in Capetown, South Africa. Since we were flying all that way, we decided to add on a safari before hand. This is something I have always wanted to do and is sure to be a highlight.  Come along on our adventure!

On November 24 we left Saskatoon bright and early and flew Westjet to Calgary, then KLM to Amstersam and onward to Johannesburg.  All of our flights were ontime and uneventful. We paid the extra cost for exit row seats – a nice treat if you are tall as the total travel time was 32 hours!  Both KLM flights had inseat personal entertainment, friendly staff and decent food.

We had arranged our Safari tour with Wildlife Safari Adventures. When we landed in Johannesburg, they had a driver waiting for us and they transfered us the 10 minutes to the Airport Grand hotel. The hotel said our reservation had been cancelled, but they had a room for us anyway and by morning they had straightened it out with the tour company. The hotel was clean and comfortable, which is all we wanted for the six hours of sleep we got before we were up and taking the hotel shuttle back to the Johannesburg OR Tambo airport. The Airport Grand Hotel has a rack rate of roughly $100 CAD including breakfast and airport shuttle.

We took a one hour flight from Johannesburg to Hoedspruit, near Krueger National Park.  We are spending the next three nights at the Kapama River Lodge which is adjacent to Krueger and is only 15 minutes driving from the Hodspruit airport. They have two flights a day on South African Express from Johannesburg to Hoedspruit so it’s easy to access. On the 15 minute transfer we saw zebras, warthogs with lots of babies, and baboons. Since we arrived we have seen lots of monkeys and deer type animals roaming through the hotel. The welcome was warm – all the people we have encountered in South Africa have gone out of their way to be helpful and pleasant. We had a quick nap, a delicious lunch and booked massages for tomorrow afternoon at the wellness center. They are a steal at around $50 CAD for an hour. I am trying a traditional African one and looking forward to it! The rooms and hotel are very comfortable and well done, while keeping a rustic African feel so it blends into the landscape. I absolutely love it!

We are off on our first game drive in a few minutes. We will update again soon!

Ed’s Crystal Cruise Blog – Part 4

Istanbul!  As we gaze out from our balcony we can see the Blue Mosque and the many spires of the many mosques in Istanbul.  We were just here in June and since this is Sunday and the Grand Bazaar is closed (seems odd to me as all the other stores are open), we decide to walk from the port to the Taksim Square area.  That in itself was fun, walking the local streets of the area and up, up the many stairs until we get there.  I’m never too worried about getting lost as the area seems decent and the people we have asked for directions are all willing to help.

This bustling square and the many, many shops along the main street which goes for several blocks is jam packed with locals and tourists alike.  We are not shopping for anything in particular although I need a new sports jacket, so we pop in and out of stores with little in the way of purchases.

A stop at a lovely seafood restaurant for lunch means that Karen can have a glass of Raki, a licorice flavoured liqueur very similar to Ouzo and I opt for a very nice glass of Turkish wine.  You never hear much about the Turkish wine industry but they have some surprisingly good wines.

A few more stops and I am awarded with a new sports jacket…$75CAD so reasonably priced but it’s always fun to be able to say you bought this in Istanbul and that in Rome and these in Venice.

Back to the ship for our farewell dinner with the friends we made on board the ship and to finish packing.  We have to have our luggage outside our door by midnight and we are mostly packed, so time for a cocktail before dinner.  After another amazing supper, we head out to the piano bar for a last group goodbye.

We don’t have to get off the ship first thing in the morning as our flights to Romania are not until 18:30 but everyone is off the ship by 09:30.  We were dreading having to sit around the airport for that long but instead Crystal Cruises took us to a very nice hotel where we lounged in comfort with refreshments and snacks for a couple of hours before heading to the airport.

As it was, it was a gruelling wait at the airport because Tarom Airlines does not provide check in and gate information until 1.5 hours before departure.  That meant finding a place in the main terminal to sit around with all our luggage for about 2.5 hours.  Not the best situation but with a good book and a bit of patience, we endured.

Never having flown Tarom Air before, I was happy to see a reasonably nice 737 was our aircraft.  Off to Bucharest, Romania.  If you didn’t know, Romania was where my father was born and we had decided that since we were that close, we wanted to visit his little village of Cogealac, a 2 hour drive from Bucharest.

Bucharest itself is a fascinating city with a great deal of history. Having emerged from Communism only in 1989, it has been a long road back to democracy.  It seems there are more cars than people in Bucharest and the traffic is of epic proportions.  There are an amazing number of beautiful heritage buildings in Bucharest however they are in desperate need of repair.  The good news is that we saw a great deal of construction going on, but they have a long way to go.

We took a walking tour of historic Bucharest while there and also went out for a traditional Romanian supper where the restaurant was in a very old brewery and they provided entertainment of traditional dance.

However, the main reason for our trip here was to visit Cogealac.  We had hired a driver and translator to take us there.  The scenery was very typical of Saskatchewan with a great deal of farm land and quite flat.

While I won’t bore you with details of the village, there were a couple of highlights for us.  My father’s home is no longer there, but the house of a good boyhood friend across the street was still standing and the people living there now invited us into their home so we could see the house and even offered us coffee…they were genuinely happy to see us.

We had wanted to bring back some local wine for my dad and upon asking around, we were directed to another house.  The gentleman there took us down into an 80 year old root cellar so we could taste his wine.  It was not something we could bring home but he insisted on pour us a sample of his wine into this dusty old tumbler from an old plastic container.  I wish I could say it was amazingly good but actually, it was amazingly bad but despite that, he told us about his house and when he came to Romania from Bulgaria and was again, extremely friendly and happy to talk with us.

After a local lunch of homemade sausage and cabbage (which were very good) we went to the Mayor’s office.  I had in mind that I would like to see the records of my father’s birth.  I expected some resistance and because he was born in 1925, thought it would be down in a dingy old basement in boxes somewhere if they even had them.  To my surprise, she simply opened a cabinet pulled out the ledger for 1925, asked for his birth date and found it within minutes.  They even photocopied the page and I brought it home for him.

A quick stop in Mamia, a seaside resort beside Constanta for a look around, a short city tour of Constanta and a stop at a store where I did buy a couple bottles of Romanian wine to bring back for him.  It was truly a wonderful experience visiting Romania and walking in my father’s footsteps.  I know it means a great deal to him.

Ed’s Crystal Cruise Blog – Part 3

Neflion, Greece – Didn’t know much about this port other than it was in the Peloponnese, so we decided to take a tour.  This stop was a great and very pleasant surprise.  Our tour first took us to Mycenae ruins, which was very interesting and our guide was extremely good (it was the same guide we had in Athens) at explaining the culture and what has been discovered here.  It’s a very large site and the weather is exceptional today.  Below are a couple of pictures we took at the site…

 The area itself is very green with many orchards of oranges and thousands of olive trees.  The olives are just now ripening and I suspect this will be a very good crop year.  From here we went up to the Palamidi Fortress which was built by the Venetians in 1714.  The fortress is in amazing condition and once our guide explained all of the history and purpose of the fortress, we were able to wander around the expansive area and take some great photos.  The smaller fort (Bourdzi Fort) on the island at the bay entrance was used in conjunction with city fortress and they actually used a huge chain between the small fort and the town entrance to keep invading ships at bay.

The balance of our time in Nafplion was spent wandering the old port town, exploring the many shops, squares and tavernas. This is indeed a very quaint town and we would love to have more time exploring the area.

Next stop – Mykonos!  This was one of our favourite islands the last time we cruised the Greek Islands.  The whitewashed buildings and the winding roads where we could get easily lost are all still the same.  The 5 remaining windmills add to the charm of this amazing island.  The weather was not the best being cloudy and overcast and some rain showers but it didn’t dampen our spirits as we ducked into the small shops selling their wares.  However, our experience was a little disappointing as we had to fight the crowds that the 5 cruise ships in port inevitably create…didn’t they know this was out island for the day?  Mykonos was also a little dirtier than we remembered but it is the end of the tourist season and I suspect they will spend some time sprucing it up for the next season.  All in all, we highly recommend the island for anyone in the Greek waters and our biggest tip would be to find that perfect little taverna early before all the best seats are taken!

This cruise is very port intensive and our next stop was Kusadasi, Turkey.  Best known for the magnificent ruins at Ephesus, it is the area where the Virgin Mary spent her last days and passed away.  The Ephesus site is only 10-15% excavated but what they have so far uncovered and reconstructed is breath-taking with its marble roads, the 2 storey library and of course the 27,000 seat amphitheatre.  The amphitheatre was used for many concerts right up to about 5 years ago but the last 2 concerts (I think Sting was the last) with their loud music and the vibration created, actually cracked the foundation.  No concerts are now allowed and repair work has been going on for 5 years.

It is a wondrous place to visit and although we have visited before, it still takes our breath away!

Kusadasi is also known for another great feature…SHOPPING!  With its many streets lined with shops selling jewelry, carpets, leather goods, purses, watches, knock-off clothes and other “genuine copies,” shoppers can have a great time here.  Be aware, the vendors are aggressive although very friendly for the most part.  They love to negotiate and enjoy doing it.  Many of the people we know on board came back with leather jackets (including us) that ranged in price from about $100 -$300 depending upon the quality of the leather and the style chosen.  Hard bargainers got some great deals but the quality is superb and we know we will enjoy our jackets for many years!

Today is a day at sea…finally!  We love these sea days to get caught up on things like writing this blog, a good book, a dip in the pool or maybe a golf lesson.  There is so much to do on board we sometimes forget the ship is every bit a destination on its own.  Our last stop on the cruise is Istanbul tomorrow.