Tuesday, May 28, 2013

In transit

While you were celebrating Memorial Day and time off work, I spent the day in planes and airports. Not too much to tell other than it really wore me out. By the time I arrived in Kenya and got to bed it was about 4am! Needless to say I took advantage of a low key Tuesday and slept most of the day and just read my book the rest of the day. 

This morning I head out for a six day safari. I'm not sure if I'll have any connectivity as there won't really be any electricity either :). See you in a week!

Monday, May 27, 2013

Biking tour of the wineries

We planned to do a leisurely bike ride through some wineries on Sunday. The weather was wet, about 60 degrees, so not the most ideal conditions. The rain was off and on though and I had my rain pants and jacket. I however did not need these long :). We got set up, put on our slow moving vehicle signs and did a little practice with the gears. Much nicer bikes than my last bike ride. Didn't help me much though ;). 

We started. I was behind from the get go. My seat slipped and my knees were practically knocking my elbows. The guide fixed it and we were off. We had a good downhill start that I really enjoyed but then we got to a slight incline and the end was in sight. My thighs quickly started to burn, very tired from yesterday's climb. I had to walk the bike the last bit to where the group had stopped and that was the end of my bike riding :). A pitiful showing I know. The van picked me up and I skipped ahead to the next winery. 

The wineries were great. They specialize in Sauvignon blanc and had some really nice whites. One has the best wine in South Africa but was sold out so we couldn't taste. These were smaller farms and much of the process is still done by hand. We definitely enjoyed the wine, had a nice, late lunch and took the scenic drive along the coast back to the hotel. We even passed a beach with a guy whose job is to sight sharks. Crazy! 

It was a great day despite the weather and we called it an early night as we had morning flights. 

Exploring the area where the wine is made. 

The VIP tasting room. Not where we did our tasting :)


Stephanie and Mary riding. Me in the van :)

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Climbing a mountain

We left at 7:40am this morning to head to Table Mountain for a morning hike. Basically it's this huge mountain on one side of Cape Town that plateaus at the top, thus looking like a "table". We had a local guide, Pietro. He was in his 50's and going strong, such a great guide. He's Italian but moved to South Africa with his family when he was only ten. He use to work in management and around 54 decided he wanted to do more in his life. He was a joy of a guide and went slow for us (i.e. me). 

The walk was tough for me, I couldn't make it up two escalators in Dulles without breathing heavy ;). But the view from the top was amazing! We did an uphill portion, then one with less steep of a gradient and the last part was flat (the top). We rode a cable car down thankfully because we were all tired. The guide said we hiked six kilometers (felt like more!), around four miles or something. We made it to just over 1,000 meters above sea level (3,000+ feet I think). It was cool and sunny for most of the hike. The clouds thankfully didn't roll in until the very end. It was really beautiful and always nice to get some fresh air and exercise. We took it easy in the afternoon and evening but did manage to find some good (and cheap!) Italian for lunch and South African BBQ for dinner. We are eating well for sure :). 

Fresh in the morning..that's where we were headed. 

There were some ladders involved. 

And some rock climbing. 

But we made it!

That trail is one of the middle sections, we weren't quite at the top yet. 

Now we are :)

A map of the different trails. We went 4, 3, 2. 

The gang at the top: me, Stephanie, Brian, Mary 

Then the clouds rolled in and consumed everyone :)

Cape Town

Friday morning we flew into Cape Town. My flight wasn't too bad. I got a seat up front in the bulkhead row. I slept during the full hour delay on the runway and most of the flight. Then my bag was one of the first off. Too bad the others traveling with me were in the back sitting next to smelly people and the bathroom, they did not sleep during the delay and their bags came a lot later than mine. But, we checked in to the Westin in Cape Town (very nice hotel!) and it was a beautiful sunny afternoon. Turns out the Rand (local currency) has a pretty good exchange rate. We found a place for a late lunch on the waterfront and went shopping at a hiking store. There is a ferris wheel at the waterfront that offered great views of the city. At $8 for 12 minutes, we thought that was pretty good and enjoyed the ride. We grabbed some drinks at a nearby brewery restaurant and played gin for a bit. Tomorrow we start early to climb Table Mountain, so we called it an early night. 

At the waterfront

Having some late lunch. 

The mountain for tomorrow :) we will walk to the top and across to go down the other side via cable car. 

On the Ferris wheel. 

Playing cards. 

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Day safari at Pilanesberg

At 6:15am (no worries, jet lag had me up at 2:30 :) ), we were picked up by a local Zulu man (one of the larger ethnic groups in South Africa) and headed 2.5 hours outside of Johannesburg to Pilanesberg national game reserve (http://www.pilanesberg-game-reserve.co.za/). The drive provided for some time to catch up on sleep thankfully. We got to the park around 9am and our guide drove us through. He gave us some historical information of SA and helped spot animals for us. Basically it was a park with roads all through it. It was 55,000 hectares (roughly 136,000 acres) and had animals from all over Africa. 

We saw lots of impala and springbok (small deer/antelope looking things) and some larger ones, water buck and kudu. There were lots of zebras and one family that walked across the road around our car. We stopped to see a "Pumbaa" (aka warthog) alongside the road, which apparently makes for pretty tasty bacon, and next thing we knew a mom and her baby rhino crossed right in front of us. We saw like four rhino sightings which I thought was quite spectacular. 

We saw some crocodiles basking in the sun along with some hippos, though they were pretty far away. We saw one lion sleeping in the sun under a tree too, but she/he was so far away all you really saw was a light colored mark in the grass. Lots of elephant poop, but no elephants for some reason. I have been promised to see lots in Kenya tough. What else....giraffes, ostriches, wildebeest, turtles and I think that covers the big stuff. 

Here are some pics of the day:
We were told the zebras aren't pregnant, they have gas. Apparently really bad gas to set off predators. I'm a bit gullible on tours, so not sure about the truth meter on this one :). They do kick really hard, which is consistent with what I've been told before (I think on the Disney safari ride). 

I think this baby rhino sighting was my favorite :). 

The croc at the edge of the water. 

A lone giraffe. They make no sound but have a very long tongue. 

Hippos soaking up the rays on the other side of the water. 

P.S. Thanks to my Aunt Mary I found an SD card attachment for my iPad so I can share these pics real time. Great investment for anyone with an iPad!

Into Africa

So I had this post all composed and then lost it :(.  Will do my best the second time around :). 

I spent last weekend running around for last mi ute vacation items needed and trying to get packed. Here's a pic of where I ended up Saturday afternoon of all the stuff I wanted to take on my month long trek. I spent Sunday evening trying to get it all packed into that green bag (70 liters) and a small day backpack (20 liters). 

Between Sunday evening, Monday evening and early Tuesday I repacked a couple of times and finally got in about half to 2/3s of the items. Hope it's enough! ;)  Early Tuesday was a fire drill of running to the doctor to get anti malarial drugs for Kenya. Luckily mom was able to set up appointments and come with me so it all went relatively smooth and I still had some time before my 1:15pm flight that afternoon. Dad dropped me at the airport and said good-bye until June 19th!

Here's everything I took: (Unfortunately I've already left my nice sun hat on the plane when I landed in South Africa :(.  I'm hoping today I'll find it in the lost and found....fingers crossed!)

It was an hour plus flight to Dulles, about a one hour layover (enough time to grab a sandwich) and then a 7.5 hour flight stopping in Senegal to refuel (we waited on the plane) and another 8.5 hours on to Johannesburg, South Africa. I arrived about 5pm as the sun was starting to set (it's winter here), met my American friends Mary and Brian who are currently living in Singapore and had a quick dinner before an early bed time. A fairly uneventful trip, which is good :). Thursday morning we leave at 6:15am for a day safari!

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Where to next?

I haven't posted since moving back to the US. There has been lots going on but I guess I see/talk to more of those who actually read this now than when I was half a world away. Apologies to those of you I don't regularly catch up with :). 

It was a nice Thanksgiving and Christmas with family. In mid December my brother and I celebrated at a reception in Charleston for my sister's summer marriage to Tom. And then my brother proposed to Emily over the holidays and suddenly our family has grown a bit ;).  For 2013 New Years, I visited friends back in Singapore and we spent time in one of my most favorite places, Bali! It was a great back to Asia and a memorable new year. Then I worked quite a bit. In early March, I went with my mom, her sister and my cousin for a girls' trip to Disney World. Orlando set record temperature lows, but we still had a great time. I got to see Stephanie (my Singapore travel buddy) two different weekends, once in the Twin Cities visiting our friend Cindy and once in Chicago. I also got to visit my cousin Hyedi in Minneapolis and Chicago as well over a couple weekends in February and March. My friend Mary who is now in Singapore also came to visit in late March. Good Friday we threw a surprise "Hen Do" party for my best friend Shaun and we had lots of fun surprise guests. A month later, she married Bill and we had great fun at the wedding. 

I probably have forgotten some events as well, but as you can see I've been making the  most of being near family and friends again. 

It's time to set out again though. With my move home and promotion at work, I received an awesome new benefit of a sabbatical. I take a week of leave and work gives me three weeks. What might I do with a month off you ask? Travel of course :). 

In a little over a week I head to South Africa, then to Kenya, next up Turkey and finish with a weekend in the Maldives. I am meeting friends in South Africa, joining a tour in Kenya, a little meandering on my own in Turkey and catching a friend in the Maldives. I hope to keep up the blog for the month abroad and share fun pictures. 

Christmas at the new place. Thanks to my friend Melinda for letting me borrow their tree. 

Character breakfast at Disney. 

Hen Do giddiness!

Going to the chapel...more pics at http://sethmorrisphotography.com/prophoto/bill-shaun-peoria-wedding-photography-peoria-il/

My new pack for this month of adventures :).