Milestones

This week of August contains multiple milestones ranging in emotions.  Today, a joyous one — our 10-year wedding anniversary! Hard to believe I met Dave at grad school 14 years ago and we’ve been legal for 10.

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And yesterday a bitter-sweet one — the first day of school. There is such excitement and happiness, but also some sadness as you think about your babies growing up.  Lauren got on the bus to 1st grade yesterday and Landon started Pre-K.  Apologies to Landon for no official ‘first day’ photo.

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And 5 days ago one of the saddest — the anniversary of Dad’s passing.  This is the first year of this new milestone and I hate that it was added to the calendar, but I’m thankful to have spent time with family in Dayton for the day.  Thank goodness for silly cousins who always lighten the mood.

from Blair the photographer 185 big_5x7 8.17.14 Cincy cousins

One of my favorite photos taken 10 years ago today.2004_August_21_wedding_ceremony(6)

Reentry

It’s been 3 weeks since I’ve returned to my home in Hudson and my ‘normal’ life.  Before leaving on the trip, I couldn’t imagine how long 5 weeks would feel.  I couldn’t imagine how the kids and Dave and Sable would take the separation.  It felt like it would be an eternity.  But you know what?  It wasn’t.  Not even close.  It was more like a blink of en eye.  And now that I’m back, there are times that it feels like I never even left, like the trip to Africa was a dream.

The prep work we did before the trip had a module on ‘reentry’ and it was again repeated for us when we got back.  While this term is more for someone who spent a significant amount of time out of the country, like a Peace Corp Volunteer or a multi-year international assignee, there were parts of module that resonated with me and I definitely experienced some of the reentry issues.  I was beyond excited to be home with the kids and Dave … and at the same time I was also in a funk.  A combination of jet lag, not feeling motivated to return to my regular job, missing the travel, missing my CSC friends, and missing the independence that came with life as a single gal who didn’t have to cook or clean 🙂

How have I broken that funk? Lunches, Dinners, and Drinks with friends; cramming a whole summer-full of activities with the kids into a few weeks; virtually chatting with the CSC team (and planning mini-reunions already!); and placing mementos of Africa all over the house.  Sepia photos from Zambia and South Africa were printed, framed and added to our ‘International Travel’ wall.  Whimsical animal oil paintings are up in the kids rooms. The Zulu warriors have a home on the 1st floor near the wood chess set with hand-carved animals as the pieces.  The ostrich egg is on the mantel. And lots of Amarula has been drunk!  I’m searching for a local distributor, but no such luck yet. If anyone in the US finds some, let me know!

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Victoria Falls

At the conclusion of our safari adventure, we hopped a charter flight from the airstrip outside of our lodge to the other airport in Kruger National Park — Nelspruit.  From there, we caught a direct flight to Livingstone, the airport closest to Victoria Falls on the Zambian side.

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Leaving Thornybush

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Our 4-seater flight from Thornybush to Nelspruit and the other passengers (backs pictured here) were from Solon and Sandusky. Small world!

The airports in Nelspruit and Livingstone were larger than the one-room Hoedspruit airport and actually had gates and baggage claim, but shared the same laid back approach to not checking liquids, not removing shoes, deplaning on the tarmack and having everyone walk out together to board.

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We arrived at the Royal Livingstone Hotel, one of 2 hotels within walking distance to the Falls and located within a small National Park.  The park doesn’t have any predators, but there were lots of impalas, zebras and monkeys wandering around the hotel.  They were even less phased than the animals on safari and you could walk within a foot or two of them.  Lots more animal selfies ensued.

The first night we took a sunset cruise on the Zambezi river and saw lots of hippos and a big croc.

The next day, Thursday July 17, 2014 we had a packed day planned as it was our only full day in Zambia.  We started with a walking tour of Victoria Falls where you could stand at the top and touch the water.  There are no barriers erected of any kind!  The Falls themselves run along the Zambia and Zimbabwe border on the Zambezi river.  The Falls are called Mosi-Oa-Tunya — the smoke that thunders — in the local language Tonga.   And from Wikipedia: “While it is neither the highest nor the widest waterfall in the world, it is classified as the largest, based on its width of 1,708 metres (5,604 ft)and height of 108 metres (354 ft), resulting in the world’s largest sheet of falling water. Victoria Falls is roughly twice the height of North America’s Niagara Falls and well over twice the width of its Horseshoe Falls. In height and width Victoria Falls is rivalled only by Argentina and Brazil’s Iguazu Falls”.

But unlike Niagra Falls, the water falls into a gorge about 300 ft across so you cannot boat up to it or go to the bottom of it most of the year.  You can stand across from it (and get soaked) and walk to the border of Zimbabwe.

After the walking tour, we took a tour by helicopter to see the full scope of the Falls which you couldn’t really see on foot because you were too close.  That was the best part of the day for me and it was pretty amazing.  We could also see hippos and elephants playing in the Zambezi River upstream. In one of the photos, you can see little white houses along the river bank.  That’s our hotel.

Our final stop of the day was at the Lion Encounter, which could be a really cool thing depending on when you go.  They ‘walk’ lion cubs age 3 months up to 18 months.  We arrived a few days after they retired the 18-month-old cubs and introduced a new set of 3-month-old cubs.  They were cute and cuddly, but not what we had expected.  It was more like a taking a walk and having some house cats playing off in the distance 🙂  You can see pics of the bigger lions they have and what the program is all about on their website.

We ended the day with sundowners on the deck of the hotel that overlooked the river. The sunsets throughout my entire 5 weeks in Africa have all been amazing.

7.17.14 Zambia sunset (6)

We left Zambia at 10:30 am local time on Friday  … flew to Joburg … flew to Atlanta …  flew to Dayton … picked up the kids … and drove to Hudson …. arriving home nearly 38 hours later at 6 pm Saturday local time. My African adventure is officially over!

7.19.14 Back home

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Thornybush Part 2

I’m back on US soil, sitting in the Atlanta airport after the 16 hour flight from Joburg.  We have 2 hours until our flight to Dayton and free WIFI, so time to catch up on blogging.  We’ve had internet the past few days, but it has been so limited that we focused on using it to Facetime the kids and post a quick Facebook or Instagram photo.

Our remaining time at Thornybush was just as wonderful as our first day.  We saw the Big 5 by picking up the rhino … well, lots and lots of groups of rhinos including an adorable baby who wasn’t so sure of us.  We also found a cheetah basking in the sun and went on an hour plus adventure tracking lions on two different drives and successfully finding them.  It was quite amazing to watch Jamie and John track the animals and on several occasions we got out of the vehicle to track on foot when the area was too dense to drive through.

Our typical day at Thornybush started at 5:30 am with a wake-up call.  We all gathered at the main area at 6 am for a cup of tea and muffin, then out to the vehicles by 6:10 or 6:15 am, just before the sun came up.  You’d get a blanket and hot water bottle upon entering the car since it was really cold in the morning. The vehicles are open air and seat 9, but the most we ever had in our car was 6.  The first 2 drives we had a French man and his 7 year-old daughter and Italian honeymooners with a translator/guide from a neighboring camp to be with them.  After the French family left, it was us, Marco and Francesa until the last drive, when the honeymooners had left and another Italian couple came. Simone, the translator, was working with them too so he was with us the entire stay.  Apparently the lodge we picked gets more Europeans than US folks.

The morning drive went until 9 am with a stop somewhere in the middle for coffee, tea or hot chocolate (with Amarula) that Jamie and John packed each morning.  By that point, you could shed your blanket and hot water bottle and maybe even one of your coats. We’d arrive back to the lodge for a full hot breakfast then have down time until lunch was served at 1:30 pm.  One day we hit the spa for Rungu massages with a stick and that was delightful.  The other day we slept for 2 hours!

Lunch was back in the main area, buffet style and I thought it was the best meal of the day, complete with some homemade dessert that we always had. High tea was served at 3:30 (along with some new dessert concoction) and then it was back in the cars by 3:45 for the evening drive that would last until 7 pm.  We’d stop at some point for ‘sundowners’ — Africa’s equivalent to happy hour — and something Dave and I will bring back home with us.  Jamie and John would whip out a make shift bar and serve you beer, wine or mixed drinks, along with snacks.  We’d watch the sun set with its beautiful pink, purple and orange hues. After sundowners, blankets were passed out and coats and gloves put on as the temp dropped so fast when the sun went down. It would be pitch black by the time we got back to the lodge at 7 and the night porter would take you to your room and pick you back up for dinner at 7:30 pm.  Dinner rotated between a la carte and Boma dining.  The Boma is an outdoor BBQ of sorts and just beautiful — full of candles and fires going.  By 8:30 or 9 pm, the night porter would walk you back to your room.  After a full day outside and gorging yourself (seriously, how many meals can they serve us?) and knowing a 5:30 am wake-up was just around the corner, we never saw past 9:30 pm.

We can say we are huge fans of safari and can’t wait to try other parks, other countries, etc, to see the difference in animals, etc.  Here are more highlights.

We tracked this male lion one evening and finally found him as we was marking his territory.  The first video is us initially finding him and the power of the safari vehicles going off road. You can see John sitting at the front of the vehicle where the trackers sit.  Jamie is in the hat and glasses with his binoculars, camera and rifle in front of him.  He always brought the rifle with him when we went on foot, but assured us he’s never had to use it with guests around.

The  lion walked slowly down the road as we followed him and finally settled at the dam where he roared to see if any other males were in his territory.  It shook the vehicle. You can also see how quickly it gets dark as the two videos were shot about 30 minutes apart.

Another morning, we tracked the elephants on the South end of the property which took about an hour and half to get down to.  Unlike Tau, though, we got right in the thick of the herd and had elephants surrounding us.  This video is of a young male playing with an older female.  Soon he’ll be too boisterous and will be pushed out of the herd to be on his own.

The final morning, we were tracking the leopards, but came across a group of lion tracks so switched over to finding them.  It was 3 females who we found at the dam.  We stayed with them for awhile hoping they’d hunt, but they never did.

Below are pictures of the animals and drives — the hyena and her pups were surprisingly one of my favorite and the hippos were great.  We found the cheetah and rhino — but the same rules applied from Tau that you don’t post pictures of rhinos.  Thornybush had lost two rhinos just recently to poachers.  They come in on foot, shoot the rhino in the middle of the night, cut off its horn, and slip out.  Very sad situation.

Pictures of our Thornybush suite. Since there was no fence around the lodge itself, we had baboons, monkeys, giraffe, warthogs and kudu by our door throughout the stay and saw a honeybadger one evening. The suites had power, but no TV or radio.  The beds were huge and had heating elements underneath.  They were draped in mosquito nets, but with it being Winter and dry season, we never saw a mosquito.  The bathroom had a full tub, indoor shower and outdoor shower.  Dave used the outdoor shower!

 

 

 

The beauty of Facetime

It’s just 4 short days until I see the kids again, but in reality, I’ve ‘seen’ them almost every one of the 30+ days I’ve been in Africa via the beauty of Facetime. Here’s what my view of life back home has been like. Technology is amazing, isn’t it?

Thornybush Game Reserve

Now that my four weeks of work for IBM are over, it’s time to relax and vacation for a week. Dave landed Saturday evening and we spent the evening at a hotel at the Joburg airport.  He was able to power through and have dinner with me before passing out at 9 pm.  Which is admirable given he had been traveling 24 hours (15 of which were on one continuous flight) and is battling the 6-hour time difference.

On Sunday we took a 45-minute flight to Hoedspruit, one of two commercial airports near Kruger National Park.  This was unlike any commercial airport I’ve ever been to — there was an excessively huge landing strip (it serves the military) and then we arrived at a small brown building.  There were no gates and there was no baggage claim.  We took the stairs off the plane, walked on the runway and into the barbed wire gate to find as many drivers with sign boards as there were passengers.  We passed through the small building which had bathrooms and a small counter and out the other side to wait on our luggage which was driven over in a pick-up truck.  3 flights a day land here and 3 take off, all between 11 and 2 pm, so I’m guessing it’s closed most of the time??

7.13.14 Hoedspruit airport (3) 7.13.14 Hoedspruit airport (2) 7.13.14 Hoedspruit airport (1)

We were off to Thornybush Game Reserve which is a private game reserve just near Kruger National Park.  It has 9 different lodges in the reserve and we are staying at the flagship location, Thornybush Game Lodge.  It’s one of the bigger lodges with 18 suites (well, separate little houses for each guest), but as of today, there are only 5 groups here and we’re one of them. The main area is all open air where we have all our meals, have access to WIFI, and gather for the drives.  It overlooks a dry riverbed (because it’s Winter and dry season) and we watched a giraffe eat lunch while we ate lunch today.  Just like my previous safari in Madikwe at at Tau, the lodge, rooms and food are all top notch.  The days are really nice — 60 and sunny with us in short-sleeves at lunch, but the beginning and ending of each drive has us in gloves, fleece, winter shell, blankets and hot water bottles (a nice touch!)

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We’ve done two game drives thus far and will continue doing one each evening from 4 – 7 pm and each morning from 6 – 9 am.  Our ranger is Jamie and we have a tracker on this safari, named John.  The differences from Tau are pronounced, mainly in the landscape.  Tau was old farm land converted 20 years ago to a Reserve so there are wide open expanses.  Thornybush is mature with the thicket and trees quite dense so you can only see a few feet in either direction.  Despite all the hiding spots, our ranger and tracker have found us plenty to look at, including rounding out my “Big 5” by finding a leopard cub!  Dave has picked up 4 of the Big 5 by seeing two lions, a whole herd of elephants, a herd of buffalo and the cub.  We’ve also seen zebras, giraffes, jackal, baboons, monkeys, warthogs, impala, kudu, waterbuck, wildebeest and lots of smaller items.  We’re on the lookout for rhino and cheetah this afternoon … wish us luck!

Cultural Exchanges – Part 2

At the beginning of the assignment, many of us exchanged a token gift that represented our country — initial post here. Over the past 2 week, more teammates brought forth their cultural gifts and it was one of my favorite parts of this adventure.  It was wonderful to learn about new countries, new cities, new religions, new customs, etc.

From top to bottom –
Wouter from Belgium … what else would you expect, but chocolate!  He shared many varieties after dinner one night and then I went back for a full bar.  What can I say, I have a sweet tooth.

Chandra from Australia (but Sri Lankan) … stuffed kangaroo for me and stuffed koalas for the kiddos.  How sweet of him to think of our families.

Paola from Costa Rica … a beautiful handmade ornament / key chain in Costa Rica colors to signify family and that they are always close to the heart.  To make it even more meaningful, her mother made these for us.

Muriuki (our NGO lead) from Kenya … a traditional Kenyan friendship bracelet in the countries colors

Sanjay from India and Valentina from the US (and Austria and Bosnia Herzegovina – she’s truly global) … they took a unique approach and didn’t provide something from their own culture, but something from the culture we were immersed in.  Tshirts and hats from North West University in Mafikeng where we stayed for 3+ weeks.  What a great idea!

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Cultural Exchange Cultural Exchanges Cultureal Exchange - VS, SG, Muriuki