Nicky's Journal
"All The World's a Classroom"
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03.28.2006

Thailand to South Africa via Doha, Qatar

Wow that was a long trip but the girls were great and we made it. We woke up 4:30 am (3:30 am for me) and went to the airport where we found out our flight had been delayed for an hour—agh! We had an eight-hour flight, a nine-hour layover, then another eleven-hour flight. It was tough but thank goodness for on-demand videos and games in the airplanes. The girls slept three hours in total, but they were really good. Qatar Airlines was great. Everyone was very friendly and they gave us a free hotel room since we had such a long layover, so we all got to take a two-hour nap. That was a life saver. Qatar was surprisingly cool and friendly. A very pleasant layover.

03.29.2006

Cape Town: Day 1

We arrived around 9:00 am Cape Town time (2:00 pm Bangkok time, or about 33 hours after we left the hotel). A driver was there to talk us to Silvermist Lodge, with a huge package prepared by Cederberg Travel, on the self-drive holiday. Coleen, the lady who worked with me on the trip, also included a couple of present for the girls for their birthdays.

The cottages are great and the grounds are beautiful. The car that Coleen has set us up with is very nice. Overall, a very good start to our time in South Africa. Clearly, we need to be diligent with our safety, but that should be manageable with common sense.

Wow, I'm really tired. No sleep on the plane. Hopefully I'll have a really good night tonight.

03.30.2006

Cape Town: Day 2

The girls woke up at 3:00 am and 4:00 am and got up at 5:00 am (which was 10:00 am per their Thailand body clock). We decided to hit the road early and have the girls sleep in the car since they had such little sleep. We first drove to Boulders Beach, which is where penquins come right up on the beach. It was really incredible. We got there early and the penquins were on the beach and they swam within a foot of Darren and the girls. It was a little scary for the girls but it was really amazing. We drove back along the Atlantic coast. The difference between the Atlantic coast and the Indian Ocean is amazing. It's all beautiful, but the Atlantic side is more rugged and rough. It truly is beautiful scenery.

Around 1:00 pm we stopped at a farm for a camel ride. I had heard that it's very steep when the camel gets up and it's really true. You have to hold on really tightly. It was pretty scary for me because I was also holding on to Annette, and I was worried about Dominique since she was on her own camel. Dominique did great and it was lots of fun, but I'm glad no one got hurt. After the camel ride, the girls hadn't fallen asleep, so we decided to keep them going otherwise they would crash. We went and toured a local winery, which was pretty interesting. The girls weren't at all interested but I was mainly trying to keep them busy.

We had a very early night. I put the girls to bed at 8:00 and they both fell asleep as I was singing to them (I did too). An early night for me, too.

03.31.2006

Cape Town: Day 3

We had a great day today. I woke up at 4:30 am and the girls woke up at 5:30 am. Dominique did a great job with her reading and then we took a boat to Seal Island to see the seal colony. That was actually pretty unimpressive and touristy, but it was good to get the girls out. We came back to the house for lunch and naps—the girls both slept for 2.5 hours so it's good that they're getting caught up on their sleep. The five-hour time difference was a lot easier to cope with than the twelve-hour change.

We went to the store and bought Annette's birthday present and a journal for Dominique. Darren found an internet café, so we're getting a little more in the groove. In the afternoon, we went to the beach for a couple of hours. It's so great to go there since the girls have so much fun and get a lot of exercise.

This evening Dominique started writing in her journal. She wrote a full page which took close to an hour and she really wanted to keep going but we needed to go to bed. It's really cool since she's practicing her writing and getting a keepsake of the trip at the same time—and she wants to do it so I don't have to battle with her. The home-schooling has been fun and very rewarding so far. We've mostly focused on reading for Dominique and she's improved so much in the short time we've been traveling—it's very rewarding for me. Annette has been watching a couple of educational videos and playing some educational computer games—they're great because they both love to watch and play them. I'm really enjoying it.

04.01.2006

Cape Town: Day 4

Another very fun day today. We explained April Fools Day to the kids and they spent the rest of the day saying things like “Mom, there's a spider on your back—April Fools Day!” We got up early (5:30 am) and went to the Table Rock Mountain cable car ride early to avoid the crowds. The view was amazing and the girls enjoyed the ride. After the Table Rock, it was only about 9:30 am, so we decided to go to the Bird and Monkey Sanctuary. I assumed it would only take about an hour or so to get through but it was huge. There were over 100 exhibits—it's on of the largest sanctuaries in the world.

The birds were amazing and the girls really enjoyed seeing them. They had the most fun in the monkey forest. We went into a monkey cage where they told us to empty our pockets and zip the backpack before entering. We did that but as soon as we walked in, the monkeys jumped all over Darren (who had the backpack). They were all over him for about ten minutes before they realized that Dominique had a candy in one of the open pockets. Anyway, we caused quite a commotion and decided to leave the forest before creating more issues, but we got some great pictures.

tablerock

In the afternoon, we went back to the beach to let the girls play and get an ice cream. A very persistent beggar came up and begged for money. It led to a good conversation with the girls about working hard for your money versus being a free-loader.

The girls are playing really well together. No sign of them getting tired of so much quality time yet.

04.02.2006

Cape Town: Day 5: Annette's Birthday

The girls woke up at 5:30 am today so we opened presents early and got on the road early to see Cape Point, the southern most tip of the Cape where the Atlantic and Indian Ocean currents converge. There was supposed to be some animals and a train ride to the top. We saw three antelopes and two baboons, but nothing else. The train ride was more like a shuttle. The view was mainly just cliff and ocean, not the really rough ocean I've heard about that wrecks ships, but the same as anywhere on the coast. Overall, pretty unimpressive. I'm glad I went but I was totally under-whelmed. I think the girls felt the same but I got them a couple of bead necklaces from Gran and Grandpa for their birthdays, so they were happy. We went back to the beach again in the afternoon. The girls wore their “clippie cloppy” princess shoes that they got for their birthdays (Dominique opened hers early), and Annette wore a party hat. Annette wanted us to have the birthday cake at the beach, so we did.

frisbee-dog

We made homemade pizzas for dinner—we're eating in as much as possible to keep costs low. I worked with Dominique on her journal. It's taking a long time but it will be great when it's done and it's helping her writing skills. She's doing great and also coming along really well with her reading. She's already reading Book 4 of the Dora series, mostly on her own after starting only at the beginning of the trip. They watched BBC Muzzy to help them learn Spanish this evening. They're learning very quickly.

04.03.2006

Cape Town: Day 6

We had a pretty mellow day today. We drove back to Boulders Beach to see the penquins but the wind was so strong from the east that it wasn't pleasant to stay there. We then went to see the Naval Museum in Simon's Town, but erroneously went into the Simon's Town Museum, which was pretty small and unimpressive. After that, we decided to head back and grab some lunch at a restaurant. We erroneously picked an expensive restaurant and ended up spending about $40. Fortunately, our dinner only cost about $5, so we're making up for it by cooking in the cottage. We spent the afternoon in the cottage, which gave me a chance to so some laundry (by hand) and sew some rips in the girls' clothing. It was great to have some time to catch up on little things like that. Darren had to buy another book, so he took both girls to the store and I had a short time to read my own book. This was the first day that we've seen rain, so it was good that we were able to see all the sights with great weather. This is the last day in the Cape. Tomorrow we'll drive east to the ostrich farm. I think 5-6 days is good in the Cape. I'm looking forward to seeing new areas.

We're beginning to get a little better with our traveling and using the car as a base. It's so nice having a care. I'm not sure what we'll do in South America, but we'll miss it if we don't have one.

So far things are going really well. I'm really enjoying home-schooling Dominique (we're just focusing on reading and writing). I've enjoyed everything we've seen and where we've stayed. The girls have been great and we've all been healthy. No one is getting tired of each other yet. It's great and I'm not missing working at all (I wondered if I've miss the mental stimulation or sense of accomplishment). It's lots of fun.

04.04.2006

Oudtshoorn: Day 1

We drove from Cape Town to Oudtshoorn today—a five-hour drive. The drive seemed longer because there is very little between the two places and the land is very arid. It was a good preview into what we'll see in Namibia since the drives between most of the places we're staying are about five hours each. It's also good to think about how much driving we want to do in Western Australia since the Outback area will be similar. The girls were very good—they played their games and watched TV, but it's not very fun or educational for them. We only have a total of about five hours to drive over the next couple of weeks, so the rest of the trip along the Garden Route will be interactive.

The Bed & Breakfast is on a working ostrich farm. We've got two separate rooms, which is not ideal, but it's OK. The self-catering places are so much better for us.

04.05.2006

Oudtshoorn: Day 2

We had a good breakfast at the Bed & Breakfast and left early to go to an ostrich tour and show. The tour was very educational and we got to feed the ostriches, sit on them, and ride on them. It was actually pretty tough to ride them. A man ran around with me but if he hadn't been there, I'm sure I would have fallen off. We had a big lunch and plan to have a small dinner each night back at the Bed & Breakfast. We only have a small fridge (honor bar) where we've stored some cold-cuts to save money on eating. We did that last night and it was a pleasant little picnic dinner at the Bed & Breakfast watching the sunset—the owner even gave us a bottle of wine. We stayed by the pool and ate dinner at the Bed & Breakfast for a relaxing evening. The girls are still sleeping in my room to give Darren a chance to work on the internet.

04.06.2006

Oudtshoorn: Day 3

We went to a huge craft and music festival today, all celebrating Afrikaans. Apparently it's the largest annual festival in South Africa. That explains why it was hard to get reservations anywhere. The craft stalls were similar to any other festival you'll find in the U.S. I did find a couple of cute dresses for the girls for about $8 each. I also found a nice glass bead necklace for me for about $8 and a really pretty top for about $20. We went early so we left at mid-day when it got really hot. We spent the afternoon hanging around the Bed & Breakfast and by the pool. I'm now trying to figure out what we'll do when we get there. I'm sure we'll want something a little more substantial (e.g. volunteering to help kangaroos or living with the Aboriginals).

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04.07.2006

Oudtshoorn: Day 4

We went back to the festival for a short time this morning. We had to leave early to get back to a tour of the ostrich farm. I didn't get much out of the tour since we'd heard most of it on the first tour, and the kids were tough, but the guy seemed really smart and enthusiastic about this work. We watched movies for the rest of the day because the temperature dropped from about 90 degrees to 70 degrees and started raining (very weird for this part of the country). The movies were a welcome relief from having to entertain the kids with pick-up stick, Frisbee, “tag you're it”, monster etc. However, eight hours in one room took its toll, and the kids were bouncing off the wall at dinner time and bed-time. We're going to find somewhere to stay with other kids at some point, even if it's a tacky tourist place. Dominique is doing great with her reading and swimming.

04.08.2006

Oudtshoorn: Day 5

We went to Cango Caves in the morning. The caves were very impressive with the lights on the stalagmites and stalactites, but it was pretty touristy. We opted for the standard tour, where we went into the six largest caverns, not the adventure tour where we would have had to crawl through fifteen inch holes. That would have been really cool but it would have been tough for the kids. They turned off the lights to show the total darkness compared to the light of one candle that the first explorer used. The only light we saw was the light from Annette jumping around in her light-up Care Bear shoes—very funny! It's amazing how they've been able to find anything. Even now, they're still exploring it, finding new places through fifteen inch holes. You've got to have a unique personality to want to crawl through pitch-black holes, not knowing how long they'll be or what will be on the other side. The one-hour tour was long enough for the kids. After the caves, we went back to the festival for lunch and for the kids to do some more rides. I was able to pick up a couple more of the dresses for the girls—they look so cute in them. Again, we spent the afternoon playing in the yard of the Bed & Breakfast. I'm still trying to find out something interesting to do in Australia. I'm thinking about some guided camping to get off the tourist route, although we'd miss the swimming pools.

04.09.2006

Oudshoorn to Knysna

We drove two hours to Knysna, on a lagoon right on the coast along the Garden Route. The town is as touristy as I expected, and the hotel is a standard two-bed, over-priced hotel room. Fortunately, the hotel is right on the pier with a number of restaurants, so at least lunch and dinner are within walking distance. I didn't want to come to this town or to the hotel, but the self-catering cottage that we're going to next was fully, so we're using this as a stop-over for two days. The kids think it's cool staying in new places, and it's got a pool and swing set, so they're all set. It's actually been nice that they've had a couple of other kids to play with. However, there are kids on holiday, so they play is pretty superficial compared to more authentic interactions with home stays. I'm going to try to set up more of that in Australia, but I'm finding mostly tourist Bed & Breakfasts and guest houses.

04.10.2006

Knysna: Day 2

We moved onto a new book for Dominique's reading today. The first time she reads a new book is painful. She moans and whines and pretends that every word is too difficult, even the ones she's read several times before. It usually takes her about thirty minutes to read a new book, mostly because of the antics. We always finish up with one of the books she's mastered. It only takes four to five times of reading the book to be able to read it unassisted in about three minutes. She's really doing great. We spent the morning by the pool playing with a couple of kids from South Africa. Everyone that we've met from South Africa is bi-lingual (Afrikaans and English) from birth. There are things to do around here, but they're very touristy. We had lunch and dinner at the same restaurant we ate at yesterday. They had a kids' area and very friendly staff that treated us like regulars—very nice. A nice memory of the area.

04.11.2006

Plettenberg Bay-Day 1

We had only a thirty minute drive to the self-catering cottage just a short distance from the hotel. We knew the cottage had been fully booked, so we tried to leave at the deadline of the hotel of 11:00 am (no earlier). Unfortunately, the care wouldn't start so Darren had to call for assistance. It didn't take too long to fix the dead battery, so we were on our way by noon. As expected we arrived too early to check in, so we had lunch at a restaurant on the beach, then cam back. The cottage and private gardens are really cute. A very relaxing place to stay for the next six days. It's nice to have a kitchen and living room again. Those hotels can only work for a night here and there. We hung around the cottage all afternoon and played games with the kids. A nice, relaxing day.

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04.12.2006

Plettenberg Bay: Day 2

I had pretty much no sleep last night. It's a cute cottage but there's no air-conditioning, so the down-comforter was way too hot. I kicked that off but still couldn't sleep because of Darren's snoring (he's got a cold). It was hot because we had all the windows closed. I'm not sure if the area is safe since we saw squatters' camps along the way—probably is, but it's the first place we've stayed without a gate, and since there was no one to ask, I didn't want to risk it. Also, there are no screens on the windows but lots of bugs—I don't get that. Anyway, I usually sleep better the second night under these conditions out of pure exhaustion.

We went to Monkeyland today. It's a really neat environment where over three hundred monkeys and lemurs live in their natural inhabitant. We heard them do their calls, saw them wrestle, saw them carry their babies on their back, and eat a bird that one had just caught. It really was cool. I'm glad it was so natural and not touristy.

Again, we spent the afternoon by the cottage, but that was after finding a nice shopping center with an internet café, a restaurant with a play area, a Laundromat (dropped off a bag of laundry), and a toy store, where I bought Dominique's present—we'll be on safari for her birthday, so this is one of the last areas of civilization for us for a while.

There are a lot of English tourists in South Africa. One family just came from Kruger and told us they only saw one of the big five (elephants), so we'll probably go to a private game reserve while we're here.

04.13.2006

Plettenberg Bay: Day 3

We left early to go to a private game reserve today. We decided to go since the English couple who went to Kruger said they hadn't seen many “Big Five” because of the long grass. Darren thought the place was really cool, but he's never been on safari. I wasn't impressed—compared to a safari, I'd say a one on a ten-point scale. There were 800 animals over many acres, which made it look scarce, but that's all they can do before the land is too used by the animals. There were also about 15 people on the big vehicle, so it wasn't very personal. It was a good warm-up to Kruger, and a good confirmation that the national parks are the only way to see the animals. We spent the afternoon around the cottage and I worked with Dominique on her work books—she's got reading and writing covered, so the workbooks are helping with the math/ logic. She's doing great. She such a smart kid.

04.14.2006

Plettenberg Bay: Day 4

We took it easy today to watch our cash. I took the girls to the beach in the morning and played on the rocks and in the tidal pools while Darren did some work on the internet. Since we don't have internet at the cottage, he needs to go into a café in town. It's so nice when we can do it from the places we stay so that I can do some research on our next places. We spent the afternoon around the cottage and the kids played with the owners kids (Kevin- 9 and Amy- almost 4). It's nice staying at places which are run by families. Dominique is doing really well with her reading. She mastered Book 8 the second time she read it, and was able to ready Book 9 with very little help. I guess the phonics method really does work. I'm excited for her to move onto books beyond Dora when she finished Book 12. Dominique also wrote a letter by e-mail to both sets of grandparents all by herself today.

Annette_beach (54K)

04.15.2006

Plettenberg Bay: Day 5

Tax deadline in the States and we didn't even think about it. We're normally rushing to meet the deadline because I'm too busy at work to do it before now. It's nice that it's a non-event. We went to a market this morning, but it was more like a standard small craft show in the U.S. We then took a really quick tour of the coast and saw some really large houses and land starting at $500,000 to $1 million. That sounds so crazy in South Africa when there are people living in shacks. I wonder how the really rich people made their money. We went to a restaurant with a bouncy house for lunch, which was next to the internet café and grocery store, so that Darren could get e-mails and dinner, then we hung out at the cottage in the afternoon. I worked with Dominique on her journal this evening. It takes such a long time because she's writing it herself, but she'll think it's so cool when she's older.

04.16.2006

Plettenberg Bay: Day 6

Easter Sunday, so we went to an Easter celebration today at the Polo club. Talk about the lifestyles of the rich and richer. There were some really rich people there; at least they dressed that way. The club organized for the Easter Bunny and friends to sky dive from a helicopter, dropping candy. The kids then dove for the candy. Our kids only got one each, and then they also got a couple at the Easter egg hunt. After that, we grabbed some South African pulled pork sandwich—it was served with apple sauce, which was very good, but it was very expensive, probably because we were hanging out with the rich crowd. After lunch we watched a polo match. It was a really fun day and it was over-cast all day, so we didn't get fried. It really couldn't have been nicer. Tomorrow we head on to Addo Elephant park, which will be cool. Plettenberg Bay is a beautiful place and seems like a great place to live. I'd come back!

04.17.2006

Addo Elephant Park: Day 1

Well, this was an adventurous day. It was raining when we got up, so it was a perfect travel day. The only rain we've seen so far has been at night, so it's not stopped us from doing anything. We passed through a toll road which was probably beautiful scenery, but we couldn't see it (ironic since the same thing happened in the only other scenic toll road in the Cape).

We arrived at Addo around 12:15 but couldn't check in until 1:00, so we drove around for 45 minutes, when Annette fell asleep. Our “chalet” was actually a very rustic, 15'x25' “cabin” with a communal kitchen. I knew we had a hard time getting reservations here—there's nothing for miles, so they have a monopoly on the high-priced, low value accommodations. Luckily, Darren and I are very flexible and the kids are happy with anything, so we though of this as camping and decided to go into the Elephant Park to improve the results of the day so far (even though it was still drizzling).

So, we went to the first watering hole—no elephants—then some back roads to avoid the tourists—no elephants. How can you not see 400 elephants? The kids were getting a little restless. Five hours in the car to get here, now we tell them to look at the bush for two hours to see nothing. I'm beginning to look at my watch to see if we should be getting home. But it's 3:15, which is too early—we'll go crazy in the tiny “cabin” for that long, until bedtime, and there's nothing else around.

So we decide to go through one more loop in search of the elephant. The cars in front of us stop (it's a self-drive tour), and we realize they're slipping down the muddy road in front. They make it down so we make it down after them, with no problem. We then turn the corner and see the cars in front of us not making it up the muddy hill. So we're stuck in a valley with a slippery, muddy hill behind us, and the same thing in front.

Fortunately, we have six cars as company. Several cars try the hill. A couple of cars make it but most don't. We didn't and we slipped backwards and spun 180 degrees to face the other way. Then a guide from a tour company told us all to get in the cars and stay there because of the lions.

What an adventure.

Of all the cell phones, only Darren's had a signal, so he called for help. About 45 minutes later, a ranger came and helped us all out. Surprisingly, the mud dried really quickly once it stopped raining, so we probably would have been able to get out at some point. We kept search for another hour or so, and saw some kudu and other game, but still no elephants. I think we'll follow a tour guide tomorrow (the kids are too young to go on a tour—must be six or older).

04.18.2006

Addo Elephant Park: Day 2

Mum and Dad's anniversary.

We got up early and tried to find the illusive elephants. Still no elephants (or anything else) at the watering holes (we found out later it was because of the rain yesterday—they can get water from the leaves, so they don't need the watering holes).

We arranged for a private guide to take us around the park at noon, so we only had time to get some cash and then meet him. By this time, the girls would be getting hungry, but we didn't have time to stop, so they munched on a banana and crackers for lunch, which followed a breakfast of dry cornflakes in the car during the first drive. We decided to let them watch a movie during the guided tour; otherwise they really would have melted down (five hours in the car with limited food). So they sat in the back happily watching a movie, and Darren and I had a great guided tour.

What a Deal

The guide spotted an elephant so we approached. There's no way we could have seen it, although we did see some through the fence on the way to get cash. The guide took us on the roads in the direction of the elephant, so we got some good views. He then took us to a watering hole which wasn't even on our map, and an elephant was right by the water drinking.

It was so cool.

The girls paused the movie to see the elephant up close, and then went back to the movie. That was a perfect tour for them so that they didn't get bored of the “hunt”. They did great with it yesterday, but two full days of searching would have been too boring. It was 100 rand for the guide versus 150 rand per person on the scheduled tour—a definite bargain for us. Now we can leave the elephant park having seen an elephant. There doesn't look like there's much more to do around here—could be a long three more days.

04.19.2006

Addo Elephant Park: Day 3

We got up early again and went straight to the watering hole where we saw the elephant yesterday. It was there but not as close. We had to check out at 10:00 am, so we drove back to check out and saw fresh elephant dung (we're getting good at this), then saw a family of elephants a couple hundred yards away. We were feeling pretty pleased when we turned the corner and saw an elephant crossing the road in front of us. That was so cool.

We checked out and drove to our next Bed & Breakfast about twenty minutes away. It was actually pretty nice—we were a little worried since the Addo area has very little else beside the Elephant Park and citrus farms. The owners aren't here so we haven't had a chance to talk to them—it's a working citrus farm, so that should be pretty interesting. The room is decent although it's only one room for all of us.

We went back to see if we could see elephants at the watering hole at the park entrance around sunset, but no luck. Darren and the girls saw about twenty five elephants running down a hill to the watering hole the night before while they were playing and Darren was practicing his banjo. Apparently the elephants stayed there for about twenty minutes, and then all left right around the time Annette fell down and screamed at the top of her lungs—probably a coincidence!

04.20.2006

Addo Area: Day 4

There really isn't too much to do around here, but since we pre-paid the accommodation, we need to stay. We decided to drive about one hour into Port Elizabeth to do some errands (check e-mails, get haircuts etc.)—there's nothing between here and there except a really large township. We were lucky to find a place to cut all our hair immediately, so we all had haircuts for a total of $35—I used to pay more than that for just mine. We did a couple more errands, had lunch, and then came back to the Bed & Breakfast for the rest of the afternoon. Darren took Dominique exercising and I played with Annette. It's going to be an early night for the girls because they haven't had naps in days and it's beginning to show. Nothing too bad but Dominique becomes a bit of a bully and argumentative, and Annette hurts herself and cries more. It's just so much more pleasant when they're well rested.

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Ring_around_rosies_2 (73K)
Ring_around_rosies_3 (73K)

04.21.2006

Addo Area: Day 5

We went to a very small Cheetah raising farm today. They actually only had one old cheetah and two younger ones (and the kudu) that we could see, but we were able to go into the cage with them and see them up close and touch them. The kids were supposed to stay outside the cage because it was too dangerous, but they let them in anyway. It was a little nerve-wracking with the kids there since Annette did not want to stay close to me, which was the key requirement from the guide—the animals think of small kids as prey. Anyway, it was pretty cool—worth $10 (total) but no more than that.

We decided to stop at a crocodile and lion park, which looked pretty tacky from the outside, but we were searching for something to do. Amazingly, it was really cool. They had a large number of crocodiles from three weeks old to thirty-five years. They also had a large number of lions, which they raise and sell to game parks at two years old as “tame”. That was also nerve-wracking because Annette wanted to be independent and the lions were pacing the cage, tracking her as prey. Some of the playful lions kept jumping against the fences, which weren't much stronger than chicken wire. Also, the wire fence had links the size of tennis balls, perfect for Annette to put her arms through. It turned out that we all left with our limbs in tact, but it's so crazy how safety/ liability conscious the U.S. is, and how far from it things are outside the U.S.

We met the owners of the Bed & Breakfast this evening—Mike and Nita. They were really nice. She was so enamored with the kids and the travel. It's so great to talk to older people who encourage you to experience life rather than staying in your comfort zone.

04.22.2006

Port Elizabeth

We drove about an hour to Port Elizabeth to catch our flight to J'Burg tomorrow. Unfortunately, our flight has been delayed for four hours, so now we won't arrive until around 7:30 pm, when it will be dark (not good), and we'll arrive around 9:00 pm at the hotel, too late for the African dinner and dance show that we were scheduled to see. That's too bad.

We spent the day at the Oceanarium, which was right by the hotel. We saw a couple of dolphin shows, got our picture taken with the dolphin, and saw all the aquariums. The kids liked it. It wasn't very impressive but it was only $16 total, so it was a fun way to spend the afternoon.

We spent the evening in the room watching a movie since Port Elizabeth is a big city with lots of petty crime—not a good place to be walking or driving around in the dark.

04.23.2006

Port Elizabeth to J'Burg

This was a tough day. We had to “kill time” because our flight was delayed, so we wandered around a flea market in the morning—they're all the same and you can get the same things in the U.S. We had to check out of the hotel, so we spent the rest of the afternoon hanging out in the airport for the 4:40 pm flight. We got to J'Burg with no problem and got out new rental car. As we expected, we ended up driving in J'Burg at night, and of course, missed the turn so we were getting lost in the dark—what we were told to avoid. Fortunately, we made it through and got to the hotel at 8:45 pm. The hotel reception closed at 8:30 pm, so we had to get the security guard to le us in. The kids had fallen asleep in the car, and they fell right back to sleep in the room. Unfortunately we missed the African dinner and dance experience. Oh well.

04.24.2006

J'Burg to Kruger

I ended up “sleeping” on the floor last night because the room only had three single beds. So after a really poor nights sleep, we got up early to hit the road by 8:15 am since we had a seven-hour drive ahead of us, and we needed to arrive before the game drive at 4:00 pm. The girls were great in the car and fortunately took about a one-hour nap.

The game drive was so cool. We immediately saw a huge herd of elephants at a watering hole and then a really huge herd of buffalo. We're traveling in the same car as a family from Columbia who lives in Nigeria, so the kids were great. I don't understand why other companies won't let kids on game drives because I'm not seeing anything that's dangerous.

We all slept well in the tent. No big animals walked by in the night. It's so great to hear all the sounds at night.

04.25.2006

Kruger --> Honeyguide Tents

We woke up at 5:30 am for the 6:00 am game drive. The kids went to bed late last night (after 9:00 pm) because dinner was after the game drive, so they were pretty sleepy. We had another great game drive. We saw a pack of five hyenas really close by, then a close giraffe, hippos, and then two rhinos. IT was so neat to see and hear. The kids were great again—going on adrenaline. We had breakfast after the game drive, and then the kids played with the other boys. This is a very nice camp—not as nice as the Governors Camp in Masi Mara, Kenya since it's not on a watering hole and the décor is not as "African", but they're very friendly and great with the kids. The guide even offered to do coloring with the girls so Darren and I could take a nap, but the girls need a nap more than we do.

We went out on another game drive at 4:00 pm. We tried to find some lions but couldn't. We stopped at a lake for the snacks and drinks to watch the sunset. We hadn't seen a mosquito the whole time we were here, but there were visible swarms of them at the lake and you could hear the swarm buzzing—not a good thing in malaria country. We packed up quickly to avoid the mosquitoes, and were able to catch an elephant bull in "must" (mating) walking in the road right in front of us. It came so close we could smell the glands that attract the females. What a great sight. The kids went to bed late again tonight but they fell asleep as soon as they hit the pillow.

04.26.2006

Kruger --> Honeyguide/Bongani

We left at 6:00 am for the safari drive. Within minutes we heard elephants breaking trees (I tell you, we're good at this now), and found a huge herd walking through the bushes and trees. We got a close-up display of a couple of baby elephants playing, and also saw an adult elephant getting a little agitated with us and showing us a “stand back” stance. It was amazing. Normally all we've seen is them eating, drinking and walking. We also saw five giraffes right up close. They're such strange, pretty animals. That was the last of our safaris with Honeyguide since we had to move on to Bongani. We were sad to leave—they've been really friendly, accommodating and great with the kids. Even the kids didn't want to leave because they enjoyed playing with the guide.

We made the three-hour drive to Bongani with no problem. Bongani is in the southern part of Kruger, on the mountain top. We had to drive 15 minutes up a bumpy road to a parking lot, then someone picked us up in a 4x4 and took us up the mountain another 30 minutes to the lodge. The lodge is nestled in between huge boulders with a great view. Unfortunately, it's a very up-scale place which doesn't cater very well to families—Annette was too young to go on safaris (they would have allowed Dominique if she was well behaved; after 3 million games of "I spy" and "Baby" on the game drives, I understand why—it's not that it's too dangerous, but that the younger kids get restless/ noisy). So we missed the evening safari drive but they'll take the four of us out at 10:00 am tomorrow. That will actually be better than going with others. While the kids have been great on the rides, it's some working keeping Annette quiet on a three-hour drive when there are no animals.

Safari_Bubba (36K)

04.27.2006

Bongani: Day 2

Ack, the kids woke up at 6:00 am today even though we didn't have a deadline. I was looking forward to everyone catching up on some sleep since we can't go on the 6:00 am game drives. We've got a two-bedroom place but no refrigerator. We can't walk around in the dark because of the wild animals, so we're stuck in the room. We can't go driving to get food to go exploring because we need to ride down the mountain to the parking lot. The restaurant doesn't open until 8:00 am, so we're stuck in the chalet with very little to do or eat. It's going to be a long three days. Honeyguide was so much better, but it's three times the price. This place is actually incredible, but you need kids older than six to participate in the game drives.

We went on the family-only game drive at 10:30 am and saw rhinos and buffaloes. It was as good as a normal game drive, perhaps better since I didn't have to keep the kids too quiet, so it was good. Darren really wanted to go on an evening drive, so we decided that he would go with Dominique and I would stay back and play with Annette. At 4:30, they came to the chalet and told Annette and me that we could come, so we went on a drive with one other family. Our driver, Simeon, didn't want to leave without his "Baby", his "Tracker" (Annette). So Annette and Simeon bonded and she rode up front with him during the drives to "help" him track. We tried to track a leopard but failed (not because of Annette's tracking skills—they're just the most difficult of the Big Five to find).

Then we found a male lion in the dark, which was really cool (again, not because of Annette's tracking skills). We had dinner outside in the Boma (outside eating area), then a surprise song and dance show. It turned out to be a great day. The family that came on the game drive and ate dinner with us were South Africans (Marcus, Indira, Lathan and Lisa), whose forefathers came from India, so it was very interesting talking to them. It's funny how the staff and our game drive team have made this place so nice-what a difference versus our first impressions.

04.28.2006

Bongani: Day 3

It turned out to be another great day. What a difference the staff makes. We went on a game drive after breakfast and saw rhino and giraffe really close. I have to admit that Darren and I thought that Simeon was faking his tracking skills, but when he led us directly to the rhinos thirty feet into the bush, we were totally awe-inspired. After the game drive, the kids were invited to make cookies with "Big Mama". They served the cookies prior to the afternoon game drive, and all the guests made a big deal over it. We went on another game drive at 4:00 and went into the Kruger (Simeon made a special effort to get keys to the gates), and saw lions and elephants, followed by a rhino and her baby. The family that we traveled with was so nice-they really made a difference to the trip. We had dinner in the Boma, then to our surprise, the staff came out and sang to Dominique and gave her a birthday cake with sparklers in it...and we had no camera! What a fantastic surprise. She was so happy. Apparently they heard her talking about it all day, so they arranged it. It really did bring a tear to my eye, and made her birthday so special. The staff really has made this place amazing. Simeon was a wonderful guide and he was fantastic with Annette—I think she became a favorite.

04.29.2006

Bongani to Rissington Inn

The "good-byes"” at Bongani were really special. The South African family that we met (our safari team) bought Dominique a birthday present. The staff all waved goodbye and gave the girls big hugs. I really think Simeon, our guide, was really attached to Annette (not playing it up to get a tip). That place is really special. What a turn-around from when we first arrived. It's funny, as we left, a lot of BMWs and Mercedes drove in for the long weekend—I'm so glad we left before they got there so that we could have the authentic hospitality of the staff, not the pretentious behavior of the guests that we felt when we first arrived. We really experienced true African hospitality.

We drove about 1 1/4 hour north today to an Inn owned by an English man. Our drive to the Inn was uneventful. The Inn is very friendly but totally different than what we've experienced to date-far more English Colonial. We took it easy around the Inn for the afternoon to try to catch up on some sleep that we missed because of six days of safaris...I know we were only sitting in cars, but seven hours of engaged driving and playing "I Spy" and "Baby" is more exhausting than it sounds. I know, no sympathy here.

04.30.2006

Rissington Inn

Dominique's birthday. She woke up and opened her presents right away. We had breakfast at the Inn and Dominique, as usual, enjoyed sampling everything on the buffet (Annette stayed with Cornflakes, bread and bacon). We went to Sangani Cultural Village and went on a tour...very touristy but educational. Dominique wondered why the tribe wore sheets instead of clothes. We took it easy around the Inn again in the afternoon to try to recuperate from the safaris. We did a huge load of wash by hand and Darren caught up on the computer.

We had dinner at the inn and had a birthday cake with candles delivered to the table for Dominique, which she thought was great. Everyone had been very friendly and they really made her have a special day. A very pleasant end to our stay in South Africa. What a beautiful, friendly country. The safaris have definitely been a highlight of the trip so far.


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