First stop, Winchester, Virginia. Stepson Rob and grandsons Samuel and Lang live outside the city in a lovely country location below the ridge of Big Schloss Mountain, part of the Appalachian chain. Their house, which we had not seen, is spacious and tastefully decorated by Rob – with a few treasures from Germany donated by his father.
Rob drove us around the picturesque area with stops at the Muse Winery Swinging bridge on the Shenandoah River and a visit to the Woodstock Brew House in the town of Woodstock, Va. The artisanal beer was a treat, as was another German favorite,
sauerbraten at a German restaurant in nearby Harrisonburg
On the way home from dinner we passed a Krispy Kreme donut store. They were excited. The red light was on. ?? We learned this means donuts are coming off a conveyor belt to be doused with glaze. Purchase them fresh and warm and enjoy on the spot. “You will love these,” they insisted. The boys had more than one each… Bob and I failed to share their love of Krispy Kreme. We’ll take croissants, merci. But, good to know about that red light. And, the German dinner was wunderbar.
Bob spent several days with Rob and the boys, then flew on to Ohio for a reunion with six of his seven brothers and sisters, as well as many nieces and nephews. They had a belated b’day celebration for Bob, 80 last October. I flew west to San Diego for a reunion with some of my family.
My brrother Tom, who now lives in San Francisco, wanted a reunion in San Diego where he had worked for several years. Brother Steve and sister-in-law Yoshie came from Boulder. Nephew David and his mother Joan came from Kentucky. Missing was brother Dave, Joan’s husband and David’s father, who had work commitments and could not join the fun.
Tom was our guide. He made sure we visited famed Balboa Park, his beloved Coronado, downtown landmarks and more. Thanks to nephew David, who combined business with pleasure, we were chauffeured in style. His rental car was upgraded to a gleaming, cherry red Cadillac. A tight squeeze, but we all piled in for a scenic ride up the coast to La Jolla where we took lots of photos of seals.
More seal photo opps awaited on our sailboat adventure with Captain Charley in the San Diego Bay. We enjoyed superb views of the city skyline, sailed past the Naval Base, and, in addition to seals, watched dolphins training to detect mines. All beautiful, fun and relaxing, until Joan realized her Iphone was missing — not to be found on board. It obviously had disappeared overboard. Although the phone was insured, most of the photos had not been backed up. Lesson learned: back up all.
Balboa Park, San Diego’s “cultural heart” with 17 museums, gardens, the city’s famous Zoo, plus stunning Spanish-Renaissance architecture, is impressive. Tom recommended a visit to the Botanical Building with more than 2,100 permanent plants, including collections of tropical plants and orchids. Alas, it was closed for cleaning. Instead we went to the Japanese Friendship Garden.
Yoshie, who is Japanese, enlightened us on many aspects of this marvelous garden with its streams and pools where vibrantly colored Koi (Japanese carp) swim.
My favorite part of the San Diego visit was the Ocean Beach street fair. It is a regular happening, we learned, a feast for foodies with a range of international culinary treats: Mexican burritos, Chinese steamed buns, paella, lobster rolls, tangy East African specials, pizza – even crème brulee. Plus – lively music — and dancing in the street. Tom and I joined the dancers.
We ended California family fun at the beach in Coronado watching the sun set with a Margarita in hand. All agreed. We should have these reunions more often.
Scroll down for more of the family photo album.
Coming soon: Rajasthan, the best of India, and then, Costa Rica, which followed this US trip. If not a talesandtravel follower, sign up, upper right. Your address is kept private and never shared.
A new taste — trout for fish lovers. See recipe, click on photo above right,
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Wow! There he was, lounging high up on the rocks. Magnificent. Gorgeous. Bhamsa, a 3-year-old male leopard. On a previous safari in Africa, then one in Sri Lanka, I had hopes of a leopard sighting. No luck. These cats are secretive, elusive.
We were in the rugged countryside near Narlai, a rural village in Rajasthan, India. Just us, a guide and the jeep driver. First we bounced around the back country near our hotel, off roads, into fields, through bush, stopping frequently to scour the landscape. A few peacocks. Antelope. Errant cows. Nary a leopard. I was more than disappointed, certain this would be yet another failed mission.
Abruptly the driver turned around, backtracked through the village, on to a major road, racing like police on a chase. Hold on! A sharp turn onto a dirt track through rugged, barren terrain. The chase intensified.
As we approached a range of rocky slopes, the vehicle came to a speedy halt. “There, up there, a leopard.” Leopard? Where? I had a hard time finding him. Those spots and the beige coat blend in with the background. The guide gave me his binoculars. Yes. There he was. Awesome.
We watched Bhamsa, mesmerized. He stared at us. My Olympus lens was not long enough for photos, but the guide took many with his Canon Power Shot and sent them to me on Whats App.
As we marveled at our leopard, out of nowhere appeared a young man with masala tea (an Indian special with spices), sandwiches and cookies. Also awesome.
We learned that eight leopards make their home in this region which is not on the popular Rajasthan tourist trek. Each leopard has his own territory of about 14 kilometers.
Bhamsa grew bored watching us, slowly stood up, stretched his long, lean beautiful body and moved on, jumping onto rocks out of our sight.
The excitement, the thrill of viewing wild beasts — be they gorillas, elephants, lions, leopards — in their natural habitat is like no other. I can’t get enough.
India rewarded us – not just with one leopard, but two tigers. We joined a group safari in Ranthambore National Park, a vast wildlife reserve in Rajasthan and home to 68 tigers. This time we were in a jeep with four others, some of whom had been on many tiger safaris and had interesting tales to tell.
On our morning trek we saw the imposing 10th century Ranthambore Fort up on a hillside, as well as the ubiquitous peacocks and antelope. Leopards also make their home in the park, but it is the tigers for which it is known.
After several boring hours, a tiger was spotted. That is, someone spotted a tiger. Again I failed to see it. This feline was sleeping in the brush, well camouflaged. All that was visible was the head. We drove around to another spot for a better view, soon followed by vehicle after vehicle. Word had spread fast.
We, and at least 12 other vehicles filled with eager eyes, waited and waited. My patience was dwindling. I had seen enough of the tiger’s head. The guide knew best. The tiger would wake up.
It did. He sat up for awhile, taking in the conglomeration of vehicles, perhaps hoping we would disappear. No way. Not concerned, after a bit he headed in our direction, closer and closer. Even my Olympus could handle this. Ranthambore tigers are obviously accustomed to an audience.
And, not far behind, another stunning tiger. They were brother and sister, 1½ year old cubs, we learned. They paraded by, the female following her brother, remarkably close to the safari jeeps.
Too close for comfort was the tiger which jumped in front of a resident at our lodging, Khem Villas, located in the wilderness on the edge of the park. The gentleman from London decided to take an early morning stroll (5 a.m.) and was standing by the pool when the tiger jumped from a wall. He froze. The tiger went her way. All was well. We later learned that a few days earlier another resident had spotted the tiger drinking at the pond on the property. I was not so lucky, but I was overwhelmed with the footage of the same tiger, a mother with two precious 2-month old cubs dutifully following behind, that had been captured by the hotel motion camera.
According to the staff, the tiger has left the park in search of new territory to protect her babies from a sex-hungry male. The latter are known to kill the cubs of a female if they want to mate. Khem Villas advises residents not to stray from the complex. Barriers are erected at night.
One of our vehicle mates, a young man from Mumbai, knew more about tigers than the guides. He had been all over India on tiger safaris. I was fascinated with the story of Machli,a famous Ranthambore tiger, “the most photographed tiger in the world” who died at the age of 20 in 2016. She had seven liters of cubs and is legendary for killing a huge crocodile. Google her. There are pictures of the crocodile kill, and her funeral.
After returning from India about a month ago, we launched into house sale, a big project which has left me no time for blogging. We must downsize and hope to move close to the Med. I have missed blogging and have much more to tell about India, and Egypt, and where we may move. So stay tuned.
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My friend Mollie has been vacationing in this Indian Ocean paradise of islands almost every year for the past 26 years. She swoons when talking about her perfect holidays: sensational snorkeling, gorgeous accommodations, fabulous food, pristine beaches. What more could one want?
We had booked a trip to Sri Lanka last February (see previous posts, “Wonders of Sri Lanka” and “Sri Lanka: Wondrous Wildlife”). The Maldives were in the neighborhood, about an hour and 15 minutes flight time from Colombo. We had to see this paradise for ourselves, so we added a week of Maldives R&R to our trip.
No doubt — the Maldives are magical. Postcards cannot capture the beauty of beaches surrounded by shimmering sapphire waters. Our resort was luxurious. We had our own bungalow, our own piece of beach. The food and resort staff all rate five stars.
Yet, we were not overwhelmed. Unfortunately we did not have the best weather. Too many cloudy, overcast days and rain. When it rains in the Maldives, it teems. I had been eager to experience what is considered some of the best snorkeling in the world. I was disappointed. I did see colorful, exotic fish and other creatures, but not the extravagant underwater wildlife I had expected. Mollie said we should have chosen a smaller island and resort, and I should have taken boat excursions to other places for better snorkeling…
The Maldives consist of more than 1,190 islands on a coral-formed archipelago. Only about 190 of those islands are occupied by the country’s some 341,000 inhabitants. The rest are virgin islands, or, like our Island, Horubadhoo, Baa Atoll, private islands developed for individual resorts – one resort per island.
Hasan Ibrahim, reservations manager at Royal Island Resort and Spa where we stayed, told me there are 114 of these private island resorts in the Maldives, with another 14 under construction. On the main island, Malé, and on some of the other larger islands, there are guest houses offering far more reasonable accommodations than the pricey, private resorts.
Royal Island Resort and Spa has a capacity for about 300 guests, and a staff of 350 coming from at least 10 different countries, he said. Most of the guests are Europeans.
“Since the tsunami (2004) everything has changed,” assistant manager Sharif said. “The winds, the waves, you can’t predict. The rains are heavier now.’’ The inclement weather we experienced in March was abnormal. “This is supposed to be the dry season.”
He explained that El Nino in 2016 killed the coral, turning it brown. “It will take eight years to come back.” Although Royal Island did not suffer extensive damage from the tsunami, a rock wall, mainly underwater, was built around the island in 2008 to protect it from big waves and erosion. I did venture outside the wall when snorkeling several times and spied different fish, but the sea was a bit rough and I feared venturing too far. There were no other swimmers in sight.
I did fulfill one wish – to scuba dive again. I am certified, but have very few dives on my dive card. I just wanted to prove that I could still dive, and thanks to a very patient and understanding diving instructor, Anne from Russia, I succeeded.
Bungalows at Royal Island are spread throughout a tropical forest, but all facing the beach. The only sounds are the gentle slapping of waves on the white sands and bizarre shrieks from all manner of jungle fowl.
In addition to diving and snorkeling, tennis, big game fishing, sailing, and canoeing are offered. A posh spa offers a variety of treatments, massages etc. We took beach walks around the island (800 meters in length and 220 meters wide), and rarely encountered another soul.
If you seek solitude and tranquility, the Maldives is the place. We like both, but mixed with exploring and mingling with locals. We had our chance for the latter on a boat trip to a larger island where we followed our guide through a tiny fishing village — and shopped. There were just a few souvenir shops, but each offered bargains and friendly, delightful shopkeepers who, not only gladly posed for pictures, but showered us with small presents after we made our purchases.
A bit of adventure awaited on the shark and ray feeding outing. The marine mammals are obviously accustomed to visitors and snatch food from your hands if you are brave enough to offer. I was intrigued.
The majority of Maldivians, Sunni Muslims, live in the capital city on the island of Malé where the main international airport is located. Their religion prohibits drinking alcohol and eating pork, but the resorts are an exception to this ban.
Ibrahim said managing Royal Island is“like running a cruise ship. We have to do everything ourselves… We produce our own water. All the food is imported.” All the staff live on the island, he said. “We are like a family. We live and work like a family.”
The Royal Island family treated us and all the guests royally. We were amazed with the variety of tasty food. The surroundings, both the beach and the jungle-like interior, are enchanting. All is magical, but perhaps not the kind of magic that will lure us back for a repeat visit.
More photos follow.
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The Big Five – almost. The leopard, the most secretive and elusive of cats, escaped us, however we were hot on a leopard trail more than once. Sightings of lions, elephants and Cape buffalo were plentiful. We even saw one rhino. Impala, giraffes, zebra, various antelopes, crocodiles, warthogs, hyenas and lots of birds were also captured on our cameras.
(A previous post was devoted to gorillas in Rwanda, “Gorillas in our Midst,” truly the most outstanding animal experience during our African adventures.) Subsequent visits to Botswana, Zambia and Zimbabwe were nonetheless rich, rewarding, often exciting, and always educational. Following are highlights of our animal encounters.
ELEPHANTS: These massive creatures are a source of wonder. We spotted them in all three countries, and learned much about them. Botswana, specifically Chobe National Park, is home to 65,000 elephants. They eat 18 hours per day, as much as 150 kilos of food per day. In Chobe, most all the trees are bare, stripped clean by hungry elephants. During a Learning and Discovery session, we were told that one elephant requires about one square kilometer of space.
Chobe encompasses 11,000 square kilometers – clearly not enough for such a large elephant population. It is a dilemma. Sterilization or translocation is too expensive for the country. Furthermore, translocation does not usually work as elephants, no matter how far from their original home, will head back. Culling has been considered but would generate negative publicity that would surely cut down on tourism. “What can we do?” our lecturer asked. Anyone have any ideas?
Super large elephants with gigantic tusks are rare. Most have been taken out by poachers and/or hunters. In Botswana, guards “shoot to kill” poachers. The country has fewer poaching problems than many other countries, and has banned safari hunting.We marveled at solitary elephants munching on trees, large groups marching to rivers and mothers with babies in tow. Elephants can communicate for great distances with a rumbling sound, and other sounds not audible to humans. They can run at speeds up to 25 mph. If you happen to be charged by an elephant, do not run. “Stop and clap and shout.”
LIONS: None of our safari group was charged by an elephant , but one angry lion did charge an open safari vehicle. The driver saved the day and raced away at great speed. We had numerous lion sightings – magnificent, astonishing, brutal, gruesome. More than once we witnessed lion sex . No wonder. They are champion copulators, we learned, — up to 100 times in 24 hours. A male and female can be at it more or less nonstop for three to five days – without Viagra.
“This is National Geographic stuff,” our guide Abiot commented after we had watched a mating couple. Later that day, more National Geographic – too much for some. The Kill. Along the side of a road, a group of eight female lions was in the process of attacking and eating a live Cape Buffalo. It was bloody. It was fascinating. It was agonizing.
The poor beast struggled to stand up, only to fall down and groan in pain. The killer team took turns. A few would lunge and bite, while others rested and observed. We watched and photographed for at least 20 minutes, but had to move on to our next camp. We later learned from the bus driver who passed the scene many times that the buffalo’s suffering went on for three hours before he succumbed.“This is a training session,” Abiot said. “These lionesses are young. They are not skilled at killing.”
I had naively assumed that when killing lions went for the jugular to put the prey out of its misery. That is far too dangerous with Cape Buffalo due to the horns. For this reason, Cape Buffalo, considered the most dangerous of African animals, are rarely attacked by lions.
Elephants are also not normally targets for lions. “Most lions are afraid of elephants,” a guide said. Even lions have enemies. Honey badgers – small but fierce – can kill a mighty lion. “They are very clever. They go for the private parts. If you ever encounter one, back off,” we were warned. We did see one along a safari track. The driver floored for a close-up view. The petite creature stopped and bared his teeth at us, as if daring us to get any closer.A group of baboons can also kill a lion. They have very sharp teeth. They are also mischievous. Several broke into the tent of a couple in our group. No real damage was done, but all their belongings were helter skelter.
HIPPOS: It is rare to see more than the heads of these giants which spend most of their days submerged. They do emerge from the water at night in search of food, eating up to 45 kilos per night. During the day they must stay under water because the sun cracks their skin, and they have no sweat glands. They are fast and can run at speeds up to 34 mph. Because of the weight of the male, hippos mate under water. Babies are born in shallow water and stay with their mother for up to eight years. A canoe guide in Zambia where we spotted hippos on a game viewing boat excursion complained that business was down due to an erroneous report on Facebook that hippos are the most dangerous animal in Africa. Not true — the Cape Buffalo as mentioned above.
RHINOS: It was at a private game reserve in Zimbabwe where we saw one rhino. Three rhinos were introduced to the reserve in 2000 and six more have been born since. The reserve has an anti-poaching team who live on the grounds. Rhinos are dehorned every two to three years to discourage poachers, but they are often killed nonetheless. Poachers don’t want to waste time tracking a rhino only to learn it has no horns, so they eliminate all. Horns do grow back.
Horns are sold to powerful criminal syndicates who ship them to Asian countries, including Vietnam and China where their weight is valued at more than gold due to the erroneous belief that Rhino horn can cure everything from cancer to hangovers.
It’s a thrill viewing these creatures up close and leaning so much about them. As fascinating and wonderful as the animals are the people. Coming soon: Adventure Africa: The People. If not already a Tales and Travel follower, sign up (upper right) so you will not miss future posts. Your address is kept private and never shared.
Our 16-day safari was organized by Overseas Adventure Travel, www.oattravel.com We paid $4,495 each for the all-inclusive package (lodging, all meals, most tips, land and air transport within Africa).Like my blog? Tell your friends. Please leave a comment – if you can’t see the Recent Comments list below, use the link on the right-hand menu (below “Recipes”). Feedback is welcome. I love to know what my readers think about my posts.
Three countries. Lots of animals. Fantastic people. Delicious food. “Ultimate Africa,” our 16-day safari to Botswana, Zambia and Zimbabwe, surpassed our expectations. We shared this fun and enriching adventure with 12 other travelers from the US.
After the sensational gorilla experience in Rwanda (see previous posts: Gorillas in our Midst and Remarkable Rwanda) we flew to Johannesburg to begin this journey which proved to be much more than African animals. Of course, they were the focus and we were lucky enough to witness some incredible happenings, including a grisly lion kill in action, lions mating, giraffes courting, elephants on the march and more. My next post will be devoted to animals.
During our travels we stayed in comfortable safari camps, most located in vast national parks. Each couple or single traveler had a tented room with shower and toilet. Days began with a 5 a.m. wake up call. In Botswana, it was the sounds of a drum beating outside our door. Animals are best sighted early in the morning or late in the day. They and we need to escape the blazing afternoon sun and intense temperatures.
After breakfast (usually fruit, toast and/or homemade muffins, porridge and sometimes eggs) we climbed into two safari vehicles, seven passengers, a guide and a driver each. Off we’d go into the bush, bouncing over rutted dirt tracks. Often we’d be deep in the wilderness in the midst of jungle growth. “Branches” called out the driver, so each passenger behind could lean in and escape bodily harm. Lee, a retired diplomat from Colorado, was named trip “Branch Manger.” He had a very distinct and aristocratic manner, like a Brit educated at Oxford, to warn those behind of “branches.”
“It’s time to read my morning paper,” a guide announced as we rolled out of one camp. He carefully surveyed the ground, his “newspaper,” looking for tracks to determine which beasts may be in the area. Our camps were not in fenced-in enclosures, but in the open where animals, big and small, were free to roam. At night when it was time to go back to our individual tents, we were accompanied by a guide with flash light and usually a gun. At our tent home in the Lufupa Camp in Zambia’s Kafue National Park, monkeys chased one another on the roof, Bushbuck munched on grass in the back yard and hippos splashed and snorted in the river which flowed right outside our front door. Fortunately we never saw lions lurking nearby.
During the morning game drive, we’d stop for a coffee break at a place deemed safe by the guides. They’d clap and scout out an area for those in need “to mark their territory.”
Brunch, back at camp at about 11 a.m. served buffet style, was an array of tasty casseroles, salads and fruit – a copious feast. Then rest time. November, when we traveled, was supposedly the beginning of the rainy season. Instead of rain, we encountered scorching heat, often temperatures above 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Our tents had ceiling fans, but lying down for an afternoon nap was like lying on a heating pad. Several camps had plunge pools for a welcome relief.
The British influence in food and lifestyle was evident in all our camps. Before gaining independence in the 1960s, Botswana and Zambia were British protectorates. Zimbabwe was formerly a British colony known as Southern Rhodesia. Thus, high tea was de rigueur, and almost yet another meal with something sweet, often cake, and something savory, such as mini pizzas or wraps. Learning and Discovery, lectures and discussions by locals, followed tea. The session on polygamy (widely practiced in Africa) was the overall favorite and mind boggling. It deserves its own post, or at least a good part of one. Stay tuned.
At about 5 p.m. we headed out for the afternoon game drive. A regular and delightful part of these excursions was the “sundowner” when we stopped to watch the sunset and enjoy liquid refreshment and snacks. “I’ve been on many safaris, but I have never had a day like this,” commented Lee, who had served at posts in many different African countries during his career, as we marveled at a parade of elephants coming to drink at the banks of a river with the setting sun in the background. Heads of hippos popped up from the water to complete this National Geographic scene. That morning we had seen lions mating, a group of hyenas, and a pride of lionesses attacking and eating a live Cape Buffalo
This was indeed our lucky day. There are no guarantees of animal sightings on a safari. There were several days when we did not find any exciting wildlife, but the game drives were nonetheless fascinating. Guides shared their wealth of
knowledge on the terrain, climate, vegetation and more. We learned about safari survival. Many plants are edible. Certain branches if cut yield a liquid to quench thirst. Others can be fashioned into rope. Tree roots can be used to brush teeth. The leaves of one tree act as mosquito repellent. Those of another act as a laxative for elephants.
The most exciting discovery one afternoon for guide Victor was elephant excrement, obviously from an elephant in desperate need of those leaves. “I’ve never seen elephant poop like this,” he said. He asked the driver to stop at a tall brown mound for a closer look. “He must have been constipated for a very long time,” he said. It was such a sensation, Victor insisted on returning to measure the “poop.”
Between countries and camps, we flew on small aircraft (a max of about eight passengers each). For half of those flights, a woman was the pilot.
The majority of our travel companions were older and retired – like us. Three exceptions: Darcie, a nurse traveling with her aunt Raedeen, a Red Cross worker who had lived all over the world; Maia, a psychologist traveling with her dad, Charles, a retired veterinarian who celebrated his 79th birthday during the trip,
and TJ, an IT specialist also traveling with his father, Ted, a retired professor. Two Southern belles, Tootsie, 84 and Marlene, 82, were an inspiration. Lois, a retired teacher, was on her 9th trip with Overseas Adventure Travel (OAT), our tour operator. Retired US Post Office employees Helen and Bob were close behind – their 8th OAT trip. Like us, Lee was on his first trip with this tour operator. The repeat business is no surprise. Every aspect of the trip rated A+.
Abiot, our leader from Zimbabwe who accompanied us throughout the journey, deserves A+++. He was thoughtful, caring, knowledgeable, and many times went beyond the call of duty. Abiot comes from a large family in the hinterlands of his country. Between assignments, he drives 20 hours to reach his village which has no electricity. Yet, all have cell phones, he said. While at home he works the land, farming corn. Education in Zimbabwe is no longer free – about $20 per semester. He pays for four of his young cousins to attend school — and feeds 15 family members.
Prior to working for OAT, Abiot told us he worked for a luxury safari company which charged about $1,000 per day per person. He quit. “That was not Africa,” he said. “It was too much like America.” He much prefers OAT which he feels offers a genuine African experience.
We, and all in our group, felt we had indeed experienced — and leaned so much — about “ultimate Africa.”
For more on Overseas Adventure Travel: www.oattravel.com We paid $4,495 each for our all-inclusive 16-day safari (lodging, all meals, most tips, land and air transport within Africa)
Much More Adventure Africa to come in future posts: Animals, People, Learning and Discovery… If not already a Tales and Travel follower, sign up (upper right) so you will not miss future posts. Your address is kept private and never shared.
Recipes — no new recipe this time but check out the column at right for many tasty concoctions. I recently had an African dinner party and served Spicy Peanut Dip with raw veggies for an “apero” snack. It was a hit. Christine asked for the recipe. It’s up there, under Appetizers.
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