South Africa Safari – Big Five

Flying from Cape Town to Hoedspruit Airport (HDS) near the East Gate of Kruger National Park in South Africa takes about two and a half hours and costs about $250 USD one way on South African Airways. We flew on an Embraer 190 which reasonably comfortable seating for about 100 passengers four across with a single aisle. After landing we were shuttled by van about 50 minutes to Shiduli Private Game Lodge.

The Shiduli Private Game Lodge is on banks of the Makhutswi River and at the fringes of the Karongwe Game Reserve. The property is beautiful and elegant in a way that elegance can only be found on the African savanna. The staff is exceptionally warm and welcoming. The lodge and the surrounding property are steeped in lush gardens with ample shade, lounges with internet facilities, bar, a nice swimming pool and thatched dining areas all highlighted by original South African Art.

Some photos of the facility:

When we arrived at the Shiduli Private Game Lodge camp we were warmly greeted and shown to our accommodations. The lodge area was rustic, but beautifully decorated. From the reception walkways led us past the pool to the cabins where we’d stay for the next four nights. Ominously there is an electric fence that surrounds the property. Apparently some of the animals didn’t find it too difficult to traverse, namely baboons and the tiny Springbok, the smallest of the antelope family.

View from near our accommodation:

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After unpacking our bags and a short rest we went back outside to see animals beginning to gather in the vicinity outside the wire. We saw a variety of antelope including the kudo, eland, waterbuck and shaggy and stout nyala. At the time I didn’t know I’d be trying kudo for the first time at the dinner table later that evening after our first game drive.

Meet our Guide Respect and Tracker Johnson:

We’d go on six game drive of the next three days, each one exceeding the last. This blog post is really about the Big Five (Lion, Leopard, Buffalo, Rhino and Elephant), other animals and of course our guides so it’s best to let the pictures do most of the talking.

Lion:

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Leopard:

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Cape Buffalo:

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Rhino:

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Elephant:

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Other animals:

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Having a flat in the middle of the African bush as it’s getting dark was a little unnerving:

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Really had a great time with these awesome guys:

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Some finals shots from a great trip:

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We had a great time here and would love to do it again one day.  From here we made our way to Zimbabwe and the amazing Victoria Falls.

Parting advice: “every morning an impala wakes up knowing that it must outrun the fastest lion if it wants to stay alive. Every morning a lion wakes up knowing that it must outrun the slowest impala or it will starve. It makes no difference if you are a lion or impala, when the sun comes up in Africa you must wake up running” – Anonymous

Amazing New Zealand – Part 2

The South Island, or Te Waipounamu in Maori, is as diverse as it is beautiful. From the extremely wet and lush West Coast to the semi-arid Eastern plains, and from the Tasman Sea to the highest peak of the Southern Alps at 12,316 feet the Island is a fascinating smorgasbord of nature and pretty nice people as well. The rough West Coast is where we turned our sights next. Leaving Fiordland behind we headed north on Hwy 6 to the Fox Glacier, Barrytown, and Punakaiki before making the turn to the east at Golden Bay.

We stopped for short breaks in Lake Wanaka and along the coast at Bruce Bay on our way to the Fox Glacier.

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Beautiful Lake Wanaka

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Commemorated our Anniversary at Bruce Bay with this little note among the hundreds or perhaps thousands like it.   This beach was awash with driftwood and these smooth rocks.

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the bluest fresh water
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Find Mercy

We had arranged a helicopter ride over and onto the Fox Glacier, but the ceiling was too low that whole day so we had to settle with going in on foot. Somewhere along the 30 minute hike out from the parking lot I must have dropped the car keys. Noticing they were nowhere to be found and in a panic we retraced our footsteps carefully back to the parking lot. The terrain along the path varies from smooth and clear to rough with small streams and standing water to step over and around. I began to second guess if I’d left my keys in the car, but I was certain I had them when we left on our hike. All the way back to the car and still no keys. Not to be found on the ground, and not in the car. We were miles from our hotel and I’d begun to think about what it was going to cost me in time and cash to have the car towed back to the hotel and have the rental car agency figure out if they had another key for me. Then, as if on cue, there was a tour guide with his hand up in the air, keys dangling and waving……. toward me. He must have noticed the stress on my face or my near frantic search of everything around me. He found my keys! This Chinese tour guide left his group on the trail and came back to the parking lot to find whoever lost those keys. He explained that they were just on the trail, but in a little notch between some rocks. He just happened to look down when he saw them. I couldn’t thank him enough. He wouldn’t accept any reward. He was grateful to be helpful and we were heading back up to the glacier.

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River of Ice

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Himalayan Tahr – unusually out in the open near the river. This animal is rarely seen except in the remote reaches of the mountains.
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Some trekkers out on the ice

One of the most enjoyable parts of our trip was our stay at Blue Waves Homestay in tiny Barrytown. The word “town” is a misnomer as there is no town within 30 minutes, but this place is pure heaven on earth. We were greeted by our host Dennis who was out tending to the lush surroundings on the property. Dennis is a retired search and rescue guy who can tell a story like no other. And does he have some stories to tell! He is animated, real, friendly and FUNNY!

Dennis warmly greeted us and showed us the house and our room, offered us a drink and immediately made us comfortable in his home. The property is simply beautiful. Raelyn arrived home from work later in the afternoon and advised us “tea” would be sometime shortly after 7:00 PM. Rae is equally delightful and enjoys a little playful banter with Dennis much to our entertainment. We decided to go for a walk on the beach across the street. It was overcast that day, but it didn’t detract from the fact that we had beach as far as the eye could see both directions to ourselves. The driftwood and the birds and a calm Tasman Sea at low tide made for some great photo opportunities.

The best part of our short stay was the meal that Dennis and Rae prepared. I’m not sure what was better, the food, including delicious fish caught by Dennis across the street, or the conversation. If you have even a passing interest in fishing you must ask Dennis about the “torpedo” Dennis designed to fish for deep water fish from the shore. You need to see it to believe it. I felt as though I was among old friends. Dennis cooked fish that he had caught just across the street and while eating we got to share in some stories of Dennis’ life working Search and Rescue on the West Coast over the years. Dennis’s best mate Neil was there as well and between the two of them we had some great laughs and learned some interesting facts about the area.

Another highlight was being handed a copy of Neil’s biography signed by both Neil and Dennis who is mentioned many times in the book as the two had worked for decades in Search and Rescue while Neil was a Senior Sergeant with the Constables Office in Greymouth. I read the 373 page book, Step Up to the Line, Biography of Neil Smith from cover to cover on the flight home and it was a continuation of the conversation we had that night over our meal.

I get the feeling Dennis can do or build or fix just about anything and having built the property with his own hands there’s just something special about it. The room was comfortable with great views of the sea. Breakfast was wonderful we only wish we had another day or two to stay at Blue Waves. If you’re looking to stay on the West Coast and enjoy some authentic West Coast hospitality I highly recommend this place. There is plenty to do in the area and I certainly plan to return for a longer stay in the future. Don’t forget to ask about the torpedo!

This is Blue Waves Homestay:

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looking back at Blue Waves from the beach

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our patio
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Rae, Mercy, Dennis, Jerry (I didn’t get the email on the V-neck)
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view from our room to the Tasman Sea

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From Blue Waves we headed north to Golden Bay.  A must see along the way is the Punakaiki Pancake Rocks and Blowholes. The Pancake Rocks were formed 30 million years ago from tiny fragments of dead marine animals and plants. The water pressure and time caused the fragments to solidify in soft and hard layers creating the limestone layers that were then sculpted into the interesting shapes you can see today by wind and seawater. The hike is an easy 20 minute loop.

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We completed our trip up the West Coast with a couple day stopover in Golden Bay. Like the rest of what we’ve experienced to this point it was another beautiful destination. The Wharariki Beach (featured below), Farewell Spit, and Waikoropupu Springs were among the places we visited. Wharariki Beach is a good 30 minute hike from the parking area through sheep farmland over easy terrain. With Cape Farewell at the northern point it’s usually windy. Although wind and sand don’t normally make for a pleasant beach experience we had a calm enough day to make this really worthwhile. The vistas with their massive sand dunes and rocky sea views were spectacular. By sheer luck we were there at low tide which was good because more of the beach is accessible.

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Hope you enjoyed traveling with us to New Zealand!

NEXT: Abel Tasman National Park – Picton – Crossing the Marlborough Sound to the North Island – Wellington

Veterans Day – France 1918

Veterans Day observed annually on November 11, honors our military veterans. Uniquely it coincides with other holidays, including Armistice Day and Remembrance Day, celebrated in other countries that mark the anniversary of the end of World War I. Major hostilities of World War I were formally ended at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918, when the Armistice with Germany went into effect. November 11, 2018 marks 100 year since the end of WWI.  My Grandfather William Strubeck, who I never met, fought and survived the war and although his unit was only deployed during the last two months of battle in France their contribution to ending the war is remarkable. Many years ago while doing some research I came across the History of the 314th Field Artillery Division compiled and presented by Linda Cunningham Fluarty on http://www.wvgenweb.com

Part of that history includes rosters where I found my Grandfather’s name and hometown, Hughestown, PA. Also included are some diary entries from the various gun batteries, and photos from Fort Lee, Virginia where the 314th was commissioned and where the division would return after the war. For many this would be their first and last home in the Army as they returned to the railroads, farms, coal mines, factories and other cradles of the continuing industrialization of the United States that would soon usher in the Roaring 20’s.

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Pvt. William G. Strubeck, 314th Field Artllery
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my Grandfather’s Draft Registration Card

September 23, 1918 —

Batteries “B,” “C,” “D,” and “E” left camp under cover of darkness
and marched north, toward their positions on the southern slope of Le
Mort Homme. Traffic was so congested that they were unable to reach
their destination before daybreak and so were forced to take cover in
the woods near Montzeville where they remained the following day.
The ammunition train was not functioning properly, which was a cause
of worry to regimental and battalion commanders. All wagons in the
regiment were used to haul ammunition. They were out all night on
heavily shelled roads carrying shells to the gun positions. This was
the first time that our regiment had been under fire.

Battery “E,” 314th F. A., made their first appearance in actual
warfare September 25, 1918, at Dead Man’s Hill. The position was
shelled lightly but the men were cool and collected at all times. As
we were not to fire until 5.30 A. M. of the 26th, we spent all our
spare time in making preparations to give the Boche hell. On the
night of the 25th the heavy artillery in our rear opened up for the
big drive and presented a wonderful scene which will be carried
forever in the minds of those present. At the hour our guns fired for
the first time against the Germans in the form of an offensive
barrage supporting our 80th Division Infantry, who were near
Bethincourt. There were several gas alarms, but these were false, so
there was nothing to hinder the firing of the barrage, which was a
success from the start to the finish two hours later. Several men
were lost in this position. Corporal Kirkpatrick had his leg broken
helping to move a gun, Private Dobbins and Cook Pultz were sent to
the hospital with influenza.

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314th F.A. Fort Lee, Virginia – prior to shipping out for France

Below are a few MEMORIES OF BATTERY “E”

On the morning of the 26th we moved forward to Hill 277 where we
went into action in old-time open warfare style. An O. P. was
established on the hill and the guns fired without putting up their
camouflage, for the infantry was being held up by machine guns. It
was in this position we experienced our first air raid when ten
German planes, flying very low, fired on us for nearly half an hour,
but luckily no one was injured. The men also had their first
experience in digging dugouts. They worked several nights on them but
just when they were finished and ready to use we were ordered to
move. Our kitchen had not yet come to us but the men were cooking
their own meals, for we were getting rations daily. It was in this
position that the men gathered a bunch of old and new German
equipment and it was a common sight to see the men wearing German
shoes. Some men also gathered up German blankets, but were sorry
later, for they turned out to be inhabited extensively by cooties.
There were numerous gas alarms given in this place and on one
occasion an alarm given caused our Battery Commander to break all
records for a kilometer dash for his gas mask, but it proved to be
false. The machine gun section had an elaborate dugout, and when
Lieutenant Forst took it over for an orientation room he did not take
the good will of the section with him. Sergeant Vees found a keg of
German beer in an old dugout which proved to be a healthy beverage to
more than one of the Outfit; in fact, canteens carried very little
water as long as it lasted. Private Hackett was sent to the hospital
and Private Coleman Was very ill in an old German dugout. In the
echelon Private Steil was injured and Private Schnelle’s tent was hit
by a shell, but he was not injured.

October 31st to November lst. Hell on earth, or the Bois de
Rappes. When coming from the Romagne position the battery was lost
for a short time but after going through a small barrage, they
arrived at the Bois de Rappes, where there were both artillery and
infantrymen to help manhandle the guns into position. This was a very
dangerous job, for the flares from the German front lines lit up the
country and our horses and carriage’s could be seen very plainly. The
woods were shelled continually and thoroughly all night. Telephone
wires were being cut by shells every minute and it was a difficult
job to keep up communication. It was three o’clock before the guns
were properly placed and even then they only fired fifteen rounds,
Lieutenant Fiske acting as cannoneer. Corporal Falland was wounded
while helping carry other wounded men out of the woods. Privates
Smith and Nelson were seriously wounded, both dying later; Sergeant
Howard, Corporal Graves, Privates Miller and Hart were wounded.
Sergeant Wolfe’s gun was hit by a shell and put out of commission.
Lieutenant Robinson made a great impression on the men by his bravery
in looking out for them all the time we were in this position. We
were ordered out of here at one o’clock P. M. on November 1st with a
Halloween celebration in our minds that won’t be forgotten for some
time to come.

From November 2nd to 4th we were located southeast of Andevanne
and this proved to be our easiest position. The nerve of the German
aviators was displayed here when a German plane came over so low that
Lieutenant Fiske said that if he ever saw the aviator again he would
recognize him. In this position we received our first news of the
proposed armistice and of Austria’s defeat for the Allied planes
dropped circulars of information. We moved from here, for the Germans
were driven out of our range, and on this move the men forgot all
about the armistice and Austria. We pulled out in the evening during
a hard rain which had been coming down steadily for a day or so. It
was very dark and shell holes of all sizes were numerous. The roads
were unfit for traffic and in one place several trucks were broken
down so we had to resort to the field on the side of the road. It was
a tired and wet bunch that arrived in the Bois de Mont.

November 4th to the 10th, Bois de Mont. After making our worst
march we landed in the worst position for firing that we had during
our period of service. Trees had to be cut down for the guns to be
put into place and also to facilitate the delivery of fire. It was in
this position that we first had a good look at the Meuse River, and,
incidentally, also a good view of a hostile battery of 77’s which was
firing on the town of Mont devant Sassey. Battery “E” opened up on
them promptly and in a short time the Boche lost all interest in the
scrap and headed for Berlin.

November 10th we arrived at Mouzay, our last position. As
we were going into Mouzay we were held up by a slight road jam. In
reply to a question as to whom we were a machine gun sergeant from
the 90th Division said, “Let them go through, they are the 314th
Field Artillery and are fighting sons of –.” We were backing the
90th at that time and all of us felt that this was a tribute worth
having. After putting the guns into position about 500 meters out of
Mouzay the men, with Lieutenant Bailey and Lieutenant Robinson in
charge, were placed in houses in the town. Later Lieutenant Fiske,
coming in from the position, expecting a corn bill breakfast, found
Lieutenant Bailey and Lieutenant Robinson sitting before a big fire
drinking champagne, which the old French lady had hidden from the
Germans to give to the first Allied officers that entered Mouzay. It
did not take Lieutenant Fiske long to impress upon her that he was
one of them. We fired from here, but on November 11th, as we were
getting ready to move forward to pick a new position, the message
came in that the Armistice had been signed and that hostilities would
cease at 11 A. M. On November 12th General Bryson inspected “E”
Battery’s material and found it to be in fine condition, especially
Wolfe’s section, to whom he paid a very fine compliment.

November 11, 1918 —

The batteries delivered some previously planned fire on the Bois-de-
Chenois, Femme St. Martin and road forks and ravines north of Baalon.

At 9:15 word was received by telephone from Brigade that Germany had
agreed to an armistice and that hostilities would cease at 11:00 A.M.
We were to cease firing at once.

This news was transmitted to the battalions. The message had hardly
been sent when Brigade called us again and ordered fire on a battery
that was shelling Mouzay. This order was countermanded before it was
executed. We were told not to fire unless we were actually fired on
and then to only return shot for shot.

39 men from the 314th F.A. died in action or due to illness and 115 were wounded. _________________________________________________________

I hope you enjoyed reading these accounts as much as I did. They paint a vivid picture of what war was like then and now. I am grateful to all who have answered the call to serve America and protect the freedoms we all enjoy.  Below are some family photos of our legacy of service.

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Why we fight for freedom
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Riverine Squadron One – deployed to Haditha Dam on the Euphrates River
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LT Joshua Strubeck – United States Naval Academy, Class of 2004 (award the Bronze Star for action in Afghanistan).
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Welcome Home!
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LT Strubeck on patrol as part of a multi-national force in the mountains of Afghanistan
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My father Seaman 1C Robert B. Strubeck – WWII Saipan and Tinian
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With my parents at my retirement ceremony after 22 years of service
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My hero
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Builder Construction Apprentice Jerry Strubeck – Naval Mobile Construction Battalion THREE – Okinawa, Japan
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Grateful for their sacrifice – the day I was promoted to Chief Petty Officer

Amazing New Zealand Part 1 of 4

Of all the places I’ve dreamt of visiting New Zealand was always near or at the top of the list. In photos the country seemed mystical to me. Always amazed by the beauty of its mountains, fjords, glaciers, waterfalls, and beaches, the culture and the people, I had to see for myself. This is the first of four blog posts on this amazing place that will culminate in a shire on the North Island.  When I planned our trip I knew I needed three weeks just to scratch the surface. After months of reading and researching I put together an itinerary that would take Mercy and I on the ultimate self-driving tour from South Island destinations such including Christchurch to Queeenstown, to Te Anau, to Milford Sound, to Lake Wanaka, to Fox Glacier, to Barrytown and Punakaki, to Golden Bay and finally Picton. From Picton we turned in our car and crossed the Marlborough Sound to the North Island city and capital of New Zealand Wellington. Having spent the majority of our time on the South Island we made our way directly to Lake Taupo, Rotorua, Waitomo, Hamilton and finally wrapped up our trip in Auckland.

GETTING THERE: We flew Virgin Australia non-stop from Los Angeles to Sydney and connected after a short layover to Christchurch. Returning we flew from Auckland non-stop to Los Angeles.

The absolute best way to get around New Zealand is by rental car or camper van. Since we were planning an assortment of accommodations from B&B to apartment to hotel we decided on the car. With driving in New Zealand there are a couple of challenges, but they’re easily overcome. The first is New Zealand, like the UK, Australia and Japan is left side drive. We overcame this by adopting a simple pilot-co-pilot plan. As the pilot I drove and kept my eyes on the road and Mercy as my co-pilot repeated the term “keep left” early and often. Another thing is that because everything is reverse on the steering column every time I turned on my turn signal my wipers came on instead. I’d like to say I overcame thins after a couple of days, but old habits are hard to break. The price of gasoline at $2.14 NZ per liter or about $8.08 NZ per gallon ($5.63 USD) might bring sticker shock to the uninitiated, but for those who have driven in other countries in Europe and parts of Asia I feel like we’re pretty spoiled with our prices in the United States. On the plus side there’s no traffic outside the major cities and the drivers are plenty courteous. One word of caution: Don’t speed. I got a speeding ticket and a mild rebuking by the local constable in-between Golden Bay and Picton. The officer told me, “now see what you’ve done…. you went and drove too fast and now you have to pay the consequences.” “What do you think of that?” Add a kiwi accent for effect.

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Official New Zealand Driving Hat – gives superpower to drive on the left side of the road
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Mercy gets her turn driving on the left

After an overnight in Christchurch we headed to The Hermitage. This is a beautiful alpine lodge setting in the Aoraki/Mt Cook National Park. This is a perfect accommodation to use as a base for a couple of days exploring the Tasman Glacier and other area attractions.

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the view from our room

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The two highlights of our stay in this area were the Blue Lakes excursion with Glacier Explorers and our amazing ski plane glacier landing with Mount Cook Ski Planes. For the former Glacier Explorers picked us up at The Hermitage and took us to the boat landing maybe 20 minutes away where we donned our life jackets and boarded a zodiac-like custom MAC boat and made our way onto the milky colored lake for our hour-long trip. The ride offered spectacular views of the surrounding mountains and an up close view of icebergs small and large and an opportunity to taste the water from a 500-year-old ice crystal scooped up from the remnants of a fallen sheet of ice that recently tore away from the glacier. The guides are professional and well versed in the geology and history of the area, the formation and transformation of the lake and the local flora and fauna. This is a must-do experience on the South Island and is highly recommended at $170 NZD for adults and $87 NZD for children.

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One of the best experiences we’ve ever had traveling anywhere was our ski plane flight and landing on the Tasman Glacier. The pictures tell the story, but Mt. Cook Ski Planes safely gets you there and provides an experience like no other. I’ll caveat my enthusiasm about this trip by warning that this is not cheap. But, if you’re going to New Zealand and are carving up your budget make sure you plan well enough in advance to schedule and book THIS excursion. You won’t regret it. We chose the Grand Circle tour on the ski plane. This 55 minute flight offers amazing mountain and glacier scenic views of the Southern Alps, the Fox Glacier and the Franz Josef Glaciers. The flight also briefly navigates north along the Tasman Sea before crossing the breathtaking snow-capped peaks before a landing on one of the glaciers. The take off and accent up the mountain was thrilling with the craggy edges of the mountains rock formations seemingly within a few yards of the wing tips. The landing was a little bumpy, but fun and stepping out of the plane onto the frozen glacier was incredible. It was so quiet and bright. Our pilots Ross and Sam were friendly and knowledgeable and really loved their job. Heading back Ross jumped into the tail section and Mercy got to be the “co-pilot” for our decent.

http://www.mtcookskiplanes.com

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landed on the Tasman Glacier – altitude over 10,000 feet
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our pilots
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the mountain can receive as much as 160 feet of snow accumulation in the winter. More than 23 feet remain through the summer after the melt

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looks like snow, but that’s ice and its about 2,000 feet thick at its thickest
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co-pilot for the return trip

From Mt Cook we headed to the Queenstown area and opted for a B&B in the quaint picturesque town of Arrowtown. Arrowtown is a living historic settlement established during the Otago gold rush. Most of the old pioneer constructed shops and churches and cottages still stand and there is a Chinese settlement with restored buildings along the river that is worth a visit.

While staying in Arrowtown we took in some excitement in the adventure capital of the Southern Hemisphere, Queenstown. It doesn’t matter the time of the year; Queenstown has something to do for the adventure minded traveler year round. We spent a full day walking around the town, visiting museums, eating a famous Lamb Burger at Furgburger (must do) and taking a wild white knuckle ride down one of the world’s most dangerous roads into Skipper Canyon for a Jet Boat ride on the Shotover River with Skipper Jet. If the ride in didn’t kill you the Jet Boat ride just might. Actually Mercy and I are all in for high adventure within reason and this seemed reasonable enough and I’d do it again. The ride down the 16 mile long steep dirt road unprotected by guard rail makes the drive along the Amalfi Coast seem benign. What’s remarkable is the skill of the drivers that take dumb tourists like us into these places. The road is so narrow that if two vehicles need to pass one may have to back up to a mile or more to allow passage. The cliffs are hundreds of feet high and the views are spectacular. One word of caution if you decide to take your rental car down that road: Don’t do it! Your insurance won’t honor anything that happens on this road. At the bottom we enjoyed an equally hair-raising JetBoat ride on the Shotover River.

SKipper Canyon

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no guard rail and a long way down

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overlooking Queenstown

On to Te Anau, Milford Sound and adjacent sites. Here I’ll let the photos speak for themselves. This was a nice wind down from the high adventure activities of the previous days. We took a boat onto Milford Sound which is beautiful and took a scenic drive and did some trekking and exploring in Fiordland National Park.  Getting lost in this amazing country was a pleasure.  If you have three weeks you can put a good dent in  New Zealand, but if not you can always return again as we plan to.

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NEXT: FOX GLACIER, the WEST COAST, GOLDEN BAY

HAPPY HALLOWEEN

Halloween was one of my favorite holidays as a child second only to Christmas. Although celebrated in many countries around the world as All Saints Day, Day of the Dead (Dia de los Muertos), or All Hallow’s Eve, the American secular version couldn’t be too much further departed, so to speak, from its more religious or even pagan roots.

From as early as I have memory from my childhood children would dress in costume and canvass the neighborhood for candy on October 31st. I must have entered this world near the time commercial costumes were introduced. With his permission I share the following memory penned by my brother Bob in a Facebook post last Halloween:

A HALLOWEEN MEMORY

I know this happened, exactly what year it was is a little cloudy, but my best guess is 1959 or maybe 1960.That would put me at seven or eight years old. Halloween was a BIG deal, and you looked forward for weeks for the chance to prowl extended parts of your neighborhood that you didn’t frequent, but you knew that the volume of candy and “junk” as my Mom called it could be increased greatly ,with the more stops you made. The Adventures of Superman was a must watch for kids, especially young boys, and my costume choice that year could only be the Man of Steel! The costume which probably cost about 3 bucks back then most likely came from JJ Newberry’s or maybe Rockaway Sales in N.J.
It consisted of a blue one piece jumpsuit with an open back and a string that secured it behind the neck, and it was emblazoned with a red “S” on the front and it came with a separate red cape with another neck string (surprised I didn’t choke somehow) Unfortunately, the cool red boots that Superman wore were not included, so the baggy pant legs probably stopped at the top of some scuffed up Buster Brown shoes.(More on the shoes later) The suit was made of cheap thin synthetic material, so naturally you had to wear clothes under it, thus giving Superman that lumpy wrinkly physique that he was so known for. The icing on the cake was the cheap plastic mask with the elastic string . Not only did you begin to sweat the minute you put it on, but every time you inhaled, you sucked it tighter into your face. From what I recall, it looked nothing like George Reeves, who played Superman, but bore more of a resemblance to the William Shatner mask from the film “HALLOWEEN” (Almost every year one end of the elastic would break so you had to hold the mask in place or try to repair it by re tying the end to a hole that was now more of a 2 inch tear) Nonetheless, I was now ready to hit the bricks with my Halloween sack (One of the handles would always break, so Superman would look more like a bag lady trying to keep all her worldly possessions from spilling to the ground) The weather was usually chilly, and a foreboding sky with some wind would be a welcome addition to the thrill of the night. I waited all day in anticipation for a heaping pile of Milky Ways, Chunky’s, Necco wafers, Hershey bars, Nestle’s Crunch. Bonomo taffy that could weld your top and bottom teeth together the first bite, and even cash! A few people without kids would let you grab a handful of pennies from a bowl in their foyer! Of course there was always the jerk who would fling a half rotten apple in your bag and slam the door before it hit the bottom. When the time came to head out, I was Superman! and I was cool!……until!!!!!!!!….guess what? Rain!!!!! There was no sense fighting it, it was either do what I was told or stay home, so Superman was now wearing “rubbers” over his Buster Browns and they made squeaky sloshy sounds with every step!(Cool huh???) The final insult was being Superman, sloshing through the neighborhood in a once cool costume that was now covered by a glow in the dark yellow Gorton’s fisherman raincoat complete with hat! ‘Look! up in the sky!…it’s a bird!…It’s a plane!!!!…..It’s an IDIOT!!!!! Happy Trick or Treating!!

Upon returning home from a night of scaring up goblins children quickly forgot about their costume, or the effort it took to choose it. The ensuing weeks would be spent working hard to undo whatever dental work you’d had done that year leading up to October. And dental work brings to mind Dracula. I’m sure I was Count Dracula at least one year. As an adult Halloween “provider” I know I’ve had hundreds of Dracula’s visit my home. I’ll get back to him.

Of all the places I’ve ever dreamed of visiting Romania never crossed my mind. Several years ago Mercy and I booked a River Cruise from the Black Sea to Vienna and the point of embarkation was Bucharest, Romania. As a rule when we’re joining up with a guided tour, cruise etc., we like to arrive a couple days early and try to see some of the area attractions and sights. When we arrived in Bucharest we made our way to our city center hotel and arranged an all-day private guided tour to Transylvania. For $300 USD our driver and guide allowed us to completely customize our tour on the spot and off we went. As we left the city and headed north toward the Southern Carpathian Mountains I was struck by the scenery and resemblance to the Sequoia National Forest. Our first stop was Peles Castle in Sinaia. This is a modern castle built between 1873 and 1914 by King Carol I. It looks rather German Alpine if I can make up a type of architecture, but in reality is a blend of Neo-Renaissance and Gothic Revival. The masonry and woodwork are amazing, but the real show is in the art, armor, weapons collections, and stained glass you’ll find inside. It’s an impressive place that’s definitely worth a visit.

From Peles Castle we made a brief stop and walked around and into the ruins of the 11th Century Rasnov Citadel. The fortress that was used to protect against invading armies sits in partial ruin and has a small feudal art museum. With its beautiful scenic vistas and interesting history it is worth a visit.

When you approach Bran you can see the castle, Dracula’s Castle from a good distance. Aside from the mythical appeal of the legend of Count Dracula, the 13th century medieval castle is considered one of the most beautiful in Romania. It is indeed beautiful and although Bram Stoker wasn’t even aware of this place, I’m not sure I’d sleep here at night. This is a must visit for anyone who loves architecture, history and legend.

I’m happy to report that although the castle in Bran lends itself to the setting where Vlad the Impaler may have spent his Halloween, we suffered no ill effects. Visit the castle’s website at: http://www.bran-castle.com

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Goooood Eeevening!

IF I LOOK LIKE A TOURIST ITS BECAUSE I AM A TOURIST

There is a lot of nonsense written about how “NOT” to look like a tourist when traveling. GQ magazine, Conde Nast, blogs galore, Facebook and other social media all carry a common and recurring admonishment, don’t look like a tourist! I’ve heard it all. Don’t wear t-shirts, don’t wear athletic shoes, don’t wear workout clothes, don’t carry an SLR, don’t wear shorts, polish your shoes, don’t carry a backpack, don’t use the hop-on hop-off bus, don’t wear a ball cap, and the list goes on. Some articles even go on to give advice about how not to look like a tourist in a specific city. Or worse yet, how not to look like an American tourist. Of course they don’t state the obvious that the second you open your mouth and speak your accent will give you away.

When it comes to clothing its useful to know what local customs are and what is acceptable at the location you’ll be visiting. For example shorts and sleeveless shirts may prevent you from entering some religious facilities in Europe or other places. Otherwise wear whatever you’re comfortable in. I’ve always heard about how much Italians value and appreciate good shoes. If you travel to Italy I hope shoes are on your shopping list. The travel “experts” will brand you a tourist, or worse yet (apparently) an American if you wear athletic shoes during your 8-10 hour walk around Rome or some other major European city. I thought this was good advice until I witnessed a very fashionable local woman snap a five-inch stiletto off in the cobblestones outside Saint Peter’s Basilica. Locals most certainly don’t know what your physical limitations might be and when it comes to comfort I don’t care what they think as long as I’m being respectful. Wear what’s comfortable and you’ll be a happy tourist. You might also take note that tourists aren’t the only ones dressed comfortably and practically.

“Don’t go here and don’t go there” warn the articles about the most “overrated” tourist attractions. The author often speaks to this subject as if they hold the only truth on this matter. The real truth is that its subjective. Your trip might be a once in a lifetime experience. Go where you want and see whatever interests you. Rest assured you still won’t be a local if you avoid tourist destinations. It is absolutely a good idea to read and be informed so consider a good guidebook, but be advised even these have opinions that I believe are cookie cutter approaches to being “proper travelers”. There are many good guide books and I often prefer Lonely Planet, but shop around for one that suits your needs, or consult with an experienced travel agent. They provide excellent information on culture, social norms, safety, itinerary help, attractions, lodging, restaurants, and a plethora of other information. Planning your trip well will help you optimize your time, save money, and reduce disappointments.

Most locals want you visiting their town and aren’t looking to critique what you look like. It helps to talk to them if you have a chance to learn a little about their home and the way they live. You’ll probably find there are more similarities than differences. Learning a few useful phrases in the local language can go a long way. We often seek opportunities to meet with and share a meal with a local family. It’s a great way to learn about the people, one of the primary reason I travel. I’ve done this Croatia, New Zealand and Zimbabwe and each experience has been memorable.

Carrying an SLR on trips is both a blessing and a curse. I love to photograph landscapes and architecture and this is a hobby within my travel hobby. But, the gear is heavy and it can be cumbersome. It really helps to plan and narrow down the lenses and other gear you really need. People who say leave your SLR at home don’t get it that that’s a big part of why some of us travel in the first place. So I pay no attention to them. If you’re into photography you may even considering booking a photo tour with a local professional photographer.

You can go out of your way to blend in with the locals, but the more you travel and the more borders you cross those lines become increasingly blurry. Be respectful, get to know the people, see what you want to see, and be adventurous and your travel experience will likely be a great one.

Looking like a tourist is OK!

What If Our Golden Years Aren’t So Golden?

Of all the terrible words in the dictionary, the “C” word ranks up there as one of the worst. When Mercy was diagnosed in July 2011 with Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma I was shocked. After all, she took care of herself. How could SHE be sick? But cancer and disease in general and as we would learn life’s trials don’t discriminate and this was our new reality. As I went about removing my golf clubs from my car to stow them in the garage in preparation for my new job as caregiver I quickly learned that although our lives would be changing forever it wasn’t going to be in a bad way if Mercy had anything to say about it. My golf clubs were ordered back to my car and we began five rounds of chemo, each with its own ebbs and flows. She was not in the mood for any pity and had no plans to let this happen to her. As if NHL wasn’t enough toward the end of the treatment plan Mercy was diagnosed with a separate and completely independent Thyroid Cancer. It would have been so easy to hang our heads, but instead we became advocates for local cancer patients even as we dealt with our own issues.

After radiation therapy for the Thyroid Cancer was completed we had no idea what to expect from the cancers or the side effects from the treatment plans. By October however, with permission form her doctors Mercy and I travelled to Zion National Park to get away from everything for a few days and just enjoy a days together away from what had become our new routine. Make no mistake, when it was all said and done Mercy got me through her cancer. She was a great patient and a fighter. Now, none of us know what’s around the next corner, but as for us we kept our faith in God as the beacon that would guide our way, whatever the path, however long the journey. Zion turned out to be just what we needed. I recommend if possible that if you ever go through a major (or minor) health issue getting away for a weekend can be some good medicine. In the photo below Mercy is wearing a stylish wig that was pretty hot for her to wear in Southern Utah in October.

Zion

Fast forward less than a year and were booked on an Avalon River Cruise on the Danube River from the Black Sea in Romania to Vienna, Austria. This was our second trip to Europe and we excited and apprehensive given what we had just gone through and what in some ways we were still going through. Each test and each doctors visit gave us pause, but we know that fear and hope or doubt and faith cannot occupy the same space in the same human mind at the same time. So we chose the latter and carried on. Eventually the good days outnumbered the bad.

River cruises, unlike ocean cruises, are small and intimate. Our ship, the Avalon Imagery, had about 150 passengers, no big variety shows, no casino, and no 24 hour dining options. Instead we had local folk entertainment, on board lectures in small groups, and open dining. Unlike many ocean cruise liners everything is included, including drinks and excursions. The service is first class and it’s really quite nice. I highly recommend them for empty nesters, and couples and singles 40+.

We took a couple pre-days and explored the Carpathian Mountains in Transylvania on our own. After arriving in Bucharest we did a self-guided walking tour of the city followed by a more comprehensive and more restful overview of the city on the hop-on, hop-off bus. Ten we hired a guide and a driver through our concierge and off we went to explore, Bran Castle (of Vlad the Impaler, aka Count Dracula infamy), the Citadel in Rasnow, Pele Castle, and the Germanesque Village of Brasov. If you woke up in the Carpathian Mountains you might guess you were in the Sequoia’s. Just beautiful.

On day three we’d begin our journey on the Danube beginning in Constanta at the Black Sea and would make our way through the locks as we gained elevation moving from east to west across Eastern Europe. Our ship would take us through the Iron Gates (Gate of Trajan that forms the 83 mile boundary between Romania and Serbia), stopping in Veliko Tarnov, Bulgaria; Belgrade, Serbia; Vukovar and Osijek, Croatia; Pecs, Budapest and Szentendre, Hungary and finally Vienna, Austria. Some photos from this trip:

Now, why did I write about this? During our cruise, like I said earlier, we had open seating in dining. At breakfast one morning we spotted an elderly couple seated in the corner of the dining room and decided we’d ask them if we could join them for breakfast. They kindly asked us to sit down and we began to introduce ourselves. The wife, the more talkative of the two, made an observation that we looked too young to be retired. We assured her that we were both in fact still working and just enjoying a vacation. Then across the table came here boney pointed finger dancing first in my direction and then Mercy’s, “you two are smart”, she said….. “you’re golden years might not be so golden, do what you love now!” We thanked her for her sage advice as she had no way of knowing what we’d just recently gone through or that the beautiful hairdo on my wife’s head was a wig. This would be our mantra moving forward.

Do what you love NOW!
Your golden years might not be so golden!
Retirement is wasted on the elderly!

For us it’s travel and a combination of other things that excite us about life and what we enjoy doing together. I suppose there was a time when we said “one day” or “maybe next year” or “we can’t afford that” about travel and other aspects of our lives. If travel is what you love then you can probably find a way (there is a way) and make it a reality. Like with all other things there must be balance and I believe that there’s a way for just about anyone who truly wants to live now and not dream of retirement “one day”. For us it’s travel, for others it may be another hobby or moving to a different part of the country, or spending more time with family, or volunteering more, or a combination of all those things. If our lives are in order and we plan and we set out to become what we dream of everything is possible. And sometimes life throws an event your way to remind you. My Mother taught me, just as millions of mothers taught their children across the globe, “tomorrow never comes”.

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Lessons From Soweto

I travelled to South Africa for the animals and they were grand and did not disappoint. When I return it will be for the people first, then the flora and fauna. I found them genuine, welcoming and overtly friendly. Whatever you do, if you travel to this beautiful place take in the history and take in a guided tour of Soweto.

In writing about it I couldn’t possibly do any justice to the subject of apartheid and what the people of South Africa endured under its brutal policies. I’m not qualified to draw too many conclusions or express any worthy opinions. One thing that I find amazing however is how far the people and the nation have come in just 23 years since free elections were held (one man, one vote) and Nelson Mandela was elected President.

During our brief stay in Johannesburg Mercy and I had the opportunity to visit Soweto and then the Apartheid Museum. It’s important to do them in THAT order so when you visit the museum you have context. I never got impressionist art until I visited Monet’s Garden in Giverny, France. Only after seeing the garden and the water lilies in their natural landscape did they manifest themselves in the panoramic canvasses in the oval of the Musee de l’Orangerie in Paris. So, go to Soweto first. Hire a guide and go.

I could write pages about the history of Soweto and surrounding areas. The legislation of apartheid began in 1948 when the National Party came into power, but many restrictions on the black majority (whites made up 20% of the population) began in the late 1800s. Dutch settlers invoking a right to the land given by God saw no reason to surrender what they believed to be theirs.

Nearly half of the black population were living in cities and worked for low wages for on farms and in industry, including the significant mining industry. Their labor was the engine that allowed the country to prosper. While white workers wages were protected by law employers could pay black workers whatever they were willing to work for. This is the pretext for what would spawn the uprising that would lead to the freedom enjoyed today throughout the country. This is probably a gross over-simplification; for the sake of brevity and my limited knowledge on the subject I’ll defer the details to the experts.

As recently as fewer than 25 years ago black citizens were not allowed to participate in the voting process. The cities were very similar to how I imagine some parts of our American South in the 50s and 60s. There were separate entries, water fountains, transportation, and schools. Everything was segregated to the point that every piece of the country was designated as belonging to one group or another. The whites, the blacks, the coloreds, and the others (mostly Chinese and Indian immigrants). Blacks were forbidden to own homes in the cities and were in only tolerated as necessary transients for the purpose of their labor. They could not move freely within their own country. Speech regarding their plight could land them in jail. Working conditions for many were deplorable.

By the early 1950s the African National Congress began to rally blacks to oppose the laws that governed them and in so doing large numbers participated in boycotts, work strikes and organized civil disobedience. The threat of strikes by mine workers for better wages and conditions was met by the government with the threat of bringing in tens of thousands of Chinese as replacement workers. Thousands of blacks and a smaller number of colored and white sympathizers were arrested further exasperating or more correctly mobilizing the people against the government and its supporters.

By 1956 Nelson Mandela and scores of other opposition leaders were indicted after the ANC, joined with the Communist Party of South Africa, issued the “Freedom Charter” with the primary assertion that South Africa belonged to all who lived in it, black and white, and called for the freedoms found in the United States Bill of Rights. A critical moment came in 1962 in Sharpeville when police fired into a crowd killing 67 and wounding 186 including many women and children. Blacks were being murdered in the streets for assembling or for being out after their curfew. The timeline is long and writ with thousands of details that describe what it was like to be black and South African. Mandela was finally found and sent to prison for life, narrowly escaping the death penalty in 1963.

With the world now on their side the people of South Africa persisted over the next 30 years. The government offered shallow concessions but the people wanted simply equality. Nothing short. With increasing pressure form inside the government and the international community, but as recently as 1989 4,000 deaths were reported as a result of the brutal apartheid laws under the leadership of Prime Minister PW Botha and scores of others were tortured, imprisoned, or simply disappeared. With Botha retiring and giving way to Frederick W. de Klerk in August, 1989 the stage was set for the release of Nelson Mandela and the reveal of the ANC. So many details are left to learn.

Knowing all of this, if all of this came to a head in 1994 how is it these people are some of the friendliest and industrious I’ve ever met? You cannot enter a shop or eatery or even pass a stranger on the street without receiving a warm and genuine smile and greeting. Where is all of the hate and just bitterness? Have they forgotten? Certainly not as it was explained to us by our guide, but they have forgiven.

Soweto is still a black township. Everyone is welcome. Some have left for the city or other areas and many have come. Every economic status can be found there. As we drove and walked around Soweto we saw people of every economic status carving a life out of whatever talents and abilities they were given by God or had developed. Nowhere and not once did I hear a negative thought or some notion that anyone was privileged over an other. The poorest of the poor found a way. Beggars who could do something and those who are able-bodied seeking to solely survive off the work of others are not looked upon with much favor and seem few. It was explained to me that if a man can find an old ironing board one day he had the start of his business. In the following days or weeks he could find a mismatched set of wheels or casters and perhaps another day a large burlap bag and a rope. Then he could tow his homemade vehicle around the town and collect recyclables and trade them for cash. The crime is low and people help each other. There’s an amazing sense of community no doubt solidified by the mass resistance that led to their freedom. Even the poorest of the poor, and there are plenty, seem to have pride and self-determination. The government provides plenty (some say not enough), but everyone finds a way to cobble together some way of earning money and being self-reliant. You just don’t see people making excuses for their birthright or lack thereof. They work and they work hard. It’s no wonder they beat the atrocity of apartheid and truly made South Africa a country that welcomes all. The will of the people to work and be independent is fierce. Most that I spoke with don’t like their President, Jacob Zuma, a black man.

Anton Lembede, a lawyer with a master’s degree in philosophy, preached self-determination and self-reliance and called his philosophy Africanism. This Africanism championed by Lembede struck a chord with Mandela, who had witnessed the many humiliations meted out to black people in the city. Incredibly, I saw nothing of a people casting blame or making excuses or complaining that their birthright didn’t allow them to succeed and prosper.

There is no passion found playing small and settling for life that is less than the one you are capable of living.
~ Nelson Mandela

The Freedom Charter

The people shall govern
All national groups shall have equal rights
The people shall share in the country`s wealth
The land shall be shared among those who work it
All shall be equal before the law
All shall enjoy equal human rights
There shall be work and security
The doors of learning and culture shall be opened
There shall be houses, security and comfort
There shall be peace and friendship

African Penguins

It’s difficult to pick a highlight when everything is new, but the African Penguins really made us happy. One wonders if these comical birds are aware of the entertainment they provide to visitors to their habitat or if we’re simply an intrusion into their ‘busy’ lives. It’s difficult to watch them scurry about building their nests, taking shade in the brush, or playing in the calm waters of Boulder Beach and not think that they’re on a stage for us lucky humans able to visit them. Then I suppose that with or without us they’d be doing their thing, looking cute, and enjoying their folly.

Near Simon’s Town on the Cape Peninsula is Boulder’s Beach. It is a picturesque area with inlets sheltered between granite boulders. Surprisingly, at least to me, the penguins settled here recently in 1982 beginning with just two breeding pairs and do not migrate. This is their permanent home. Today the colony has grown to number over 3,000. Apparently the anchovy population is sufficient to sustain the colony and given the scenery I’d like to live here too!

The South African Penguin is also known as the “Jackass Penguin” for its donkeyesque braying calls. They definitely have a marine smell that you notice as soon as you emerge from you car in the parking area. After a short walk along the trail you’ll enter the conservation area where you are physically separated from the penguins by a boardwalk just a few feet above the beach and the friendly black and white locals. The adjacent beaches are designated for swimming a safe distance from the colony.

All along the boardwalk you’ll encounter the penguins in various states of nesting, slumber and play. The photo opportunities are endless. Some seem to be sunning themselves on the smaller boulders. Others rest in their shallow nests. Some scurry about fetching dry materials to improve their nesting areas, while others, I’d like to think the teenagers, run (waddle) in and out of the water. As much as they are hilariously clumsy on land they are swift and graceful in the water. The Cape Town area provides plenty of variety as well. Plan to spend an hour just watching the African Penguins and you’ll have a smile on your face all day.

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Cape Town, Part I

This is my first trip to South Africa and this is the Cape Town was my first stop. Thanks to the internet and guidebooks it’s easy to plan visits to foreign destinations. Still, there are times when we want to have a local guide. With so many ways to travel from group coach tours to completely independent travel it’s nice to mix it up and for that reason with destinations we’re unfamiliar we prefer semi-independent travel. Let me explain: With semi-independent travel we have a local guide meet us at each destination. In this case that was the airport in Cape Town. Our guide Carlton met us with a sign and a smile, introduced himself, and escorted us to his air conditioned van and off we were to our hotel. The first benefit we gained from our guide was his introduction to his city. He told us about the history, the architecture, the restaurant scene, and how to stay safe while visiting.

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After checking in to the Westin Hotel we took a walk to a twenty minute walk to the waterfront for dinner. Yes, after nearly 36 hours of traveling we went for a walk. I agree with every expert that’s ever said no matter how tired you are after traveling, if it’s noon, go have lunch. If it’s the middle of the afternoon find something to do. Don’t take a nap. Get your body and your mind adjusted right away to your new times zone by doing what you would normally be doing and avoid jet lag.

The next day after some much needed sleep Charlton picked us up and off we went to Table Mountain, part of Table Mountain National Park. Table Mountain is a level plateau about 2 miles wide from side to side, that serves as the backdrop for Cape Town with its amazing shear cliffs. The plateau tops off at an elevation of 3,563 feet. The mountain is often obscured by clouds, but we had a bright sunny morning for our visit. The way up is via a very steep cable car lift. Alternately you may choose the 3 hour hike up the narrow rocky trails. We chose the cable car. It’s noteworthy that we visited in July (their winter)
and the crowds were light and there was no wait to ride the cable car.

The top cable station offers viewpoints, curio shops, a restaurant and walking trails of various lengths.The cable car rotates during its ascent giving everyone packed inside a chance to see the amazing views from every angle. The best views however are waiting on the top. On a clear day you are rewarded with panoramic views of Cape Town and Table Bay, Robben Island off in the near distance and beyond to the Cape Point and Cape of New Hope.

There are some wildflowers on the mountain, but with the seasons opposite ours in the Southern Hemisphere you can expect amazing flora in November and December along with hoards of visitors. We did see some evidence of wildlife in a hyrax or “dossie” as they are locally known.

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This was our first stop on a long wonderful day in South Africa and by itself it was worth the trip to Cape Town. We found the people welcoming and friendly and the scenery beautiful. But, this was just the start to our day. We’ll meet the penguins in Part II.