Around the World in 90 Days

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Monthly Archives: January 2011

Rift Valley Road Trip: Part 1

There are several ways of looking at travel.  When it came to Africa Tompaul and I focused on visiting family and friends, and then we were just happy to see what we could see.  Often in parts of Africa one shouldn’t have too many expectations, as that leads to frustration, impatience and not good times ;).  Often things don’t work out quite as planned.  Then you have room for the unexpected.

So when Tompaul’s sister Robyn and her husband Lari asked us what we wanted to do in Kenya the two of us had really a short list.  Our main goal was to see the children.  Then the opportunity of a road trip in the rift valley came up.  We were game!

Sometimes it can be difficult to fit everything in.  Especially when you have 6 people, their food, a massive tent, bedding and clothes for camping for 4 days.  But Lari is the packing master!

Before leaving we had to get the brakes checked.  As a special treat Robyn and Lari found Tompaul and I Paprika (maybe the only Mexican Resturant in Kenya).   Granted our burritos were not up to Chipotle (or even Moe’s) standards, but it was nice to have something that resembled familiar food.

After an afternoon on the road we made it to a place to camp just before nightfall.  We planned to camp at the Ian Castleman Orphanage.  This is an orphanage run by an Australian Adventist.  Frequently he takes orphans in that have special needs or=r are HIV positive, many children that other orphanages will deny.  Currently there are over 130 orphans here.

I am not sure what message our nephew Xander is conveying, but I think it is relief to be out of the car, desire for water, and desire to use the outhouse.

Prior to unpacking we wanted to document Lari’s excellent packing job.  Now getting it back in the next day?  That is another story.

This is Nathan.  Xander brought him to the tent to visit, and once we started giving him some attention, he decided we wanted to stay.  He liked to walk around, hold hands and be tossed into the sky.  This lasted until the monkey showed up.  The orphanage has two main pets, a monkey (for which they reportedly have a special license) and a tortoise.  The monkey had recently escaped and been running around.  Once the monkey appeared Nathan screamed, and attempted to climb my legs (like a monkey).  He clearly did not have a fondness for monkeys.

Would you buy chain mail from this character?

Camping with Robyn and Lari means living in their tent castle.  Is this Kenya or Yellowstone?

It’s break time during school.

Here is a view of one part of the school.  To the left is the volunteers house.  To the right, the farm.  Ahead you can see the outhouses we used.  Beyond that is a roof of one of the dorms.

Next stop was a volcano crater!  On the way to Lake Baringo we stopped to stretch our legs at this incredible lookout over the ancient volcano-ridden valley.  This is a distorted panorama of the view.  It was amazing to see how large (though not as large as Yellowstone) the volcano was at our feet.

Tompaul showing which way forward.

This is the w.c. where an angry man demanded shillings but there was no mention of payment on the sign.  Tompaul and I both had “anxiety” from the large amount of instructions and were not “productive” so we didn’t pay.

 

More tomorrow…we are staying at a hotel that only gives us 300MB a night for internet…so the post is not yet done.

 

Elephant Orphanage

One of our first things to do in Kenya was visit the Elephant Orphanage, or as it properly called the David Sheldrick Wildlife Fund.  Both of us have always loved the Elephant Orphanage, and try to go every time we can. This visit was our third. You arrive at 11:00, when the orphans come down for feeding.  You watch the feedings and watch the elephants work on their mud-coating skills.  During this time keepers tell you about each orphan and about the orphanage.

Orphans arriving for feeding time.

These elephants may be orphaned by poachers, disease, or elderly mothers, or left behind after falling in a well or hole.  Once found they are delivered to the elephant orphanage.  Over half of the elephants may have PTSD.  Some do not survive this.

The elephants are taught to forage, but still receive milk.  Initially baby elephants were tried on cow’s milk, and became ill.  The new and improved elephant formula is similar to baby formula.

Elephants are cared for by “keepers,” who act as a mother figure for the elephants.  The elephants and keepers are rotated so the elephants do not become too attached to one person.  The keepers stay with the elephants at night so the babies feel secure.

One of the younger orphans.

The orphans form “mini” herds.  The oldest female acts as the matriarch.  The elephants are currently in two herds, one older and one younger.  The younger elephants had difficulty in the mud bath, getting in, getting out and forming the mud coat.  The keepers helped them out.

There was lots of “elephant play” going on in the mud hole.  Periodically they would try to sit on each other and play with a muddy soccer ball.

The youngest elephant was not yet three months old.  She was found in a well.  The keepers kept a close eye on her, and she kept a close eye on them.  They helped her form her mud coat, and she really didn’t get into the mud hole with all of the play.

This one just can’t get out of the mud.

The keepers are shoveling dry dirt on wet elephants to form mud sunscreen.

Honestly, we could watch the elephants all day. We stayed every minute they were out.  There are also rhino orphans in the rhino preserve.  We’re just jealous of Tompaul’s niece and nephew, who have “adopted” an elephant and visited it during evening feeding time.

Robben Island: Historical Home of Penguins, Lepers, and Nelson Mandela

We scheduled Robben Island for our last full day of Cape Town.  Our guidebook recommended booking well in advance, and when we arrived the first tickets available were two days later in the afternoon.

That morning we checked out the South Africa Museum.  It was hosting an exhibition of “Wildlife Photography of the Year,” which intrigued Tompaul.  The planetarium also looked groovy, but time was short and the stars were not aligned.

The SA Museum is mostly a Natural History Museum, with gently used animals, fossils, and a history of the peoples of South Africa.

Lemur that met its end as it got its height measured.

Lisa with the bones of a Blue Whale.  You could hear its cries throughout the whale atrium (I guess to teach young children what a whale sounds like if you had sonar?).

The Robben Island Museum is located in the V&A (Victoria & Albert) harbor.  The harbor is alive with activity.  The amazing architecture, historical sights, high-end eateries, street performers, and fair-like atmosphere make for a great summer’s day.

Our firstborn will be named Ferris.

This dude looks like he was made out of legos, but in fact it’s empty Coke Crates, presumably for the 2010 World Cup.

At 2:45 we boarded the ferry to Robben Island.  We had to go through security, where they scanned us for knives and other weapons.  Then everyone was equipped with a little paper bag (for the Easter Egg hunt?) and we took a choppy 30 minute ride across to the Island.

One of the first things one notices is how barren the island is.  The coast is surrounded by rocky outcroppings, presumably from the Lime Quarry, where Mandela and other prisoners suffered permanent eye damage.

Initially Robben Island was inhabited by indigenous peoples, who moved on to greener pastures.  In the 1700s Irish settlers came there to escape English rule.  In the 1800s it was used as a leper colony. Over 1000 lepers are buried here in the cemetery.

Later still it was used to house psychiatric patients, and in World War II it was used as a base to guard against a potential German attack (the cannons were completed right on schedule, in 1947).  In the 1960s the South African government began to use it to house political prisoners.

One of our collection of M*A*S*H signs.

Upon arrival we all loaded into buses for our tour.  Our guide was Mohammad, who waxed eloquent.  Apparently he is the guide of choice for dignitaries such as Obama and Mandela himself as he had worked in the freedom movement.

We look a bit wretched, but a super nice man took this for us.  Amazing how one can see the African coast but can’t get there. A form of torture in itself.

After our bus tour, we had a tour of the actual prison.  Our guide was the bus driver, who had been imprisoned on the island for 5 years for his involvement in the freedom movement.

The prisoners were segregated by race (no white prisioners were on Robben Island).  There were two groups of cells, the group cell and the solitary cell.

This is a group cell. Initially it held 15 people, but bunk beds bumped it to 30.  The good news is here you could have a W.C. at your disposal.

Here is our tour guide.  Most of his time was answering questions that people had.

Meals were also segregated.  Indians had better meals than “bantas” or blacks, and you could “earn” better meals.  Better meant a little more fat and sugar.  This lasted until all of the prisoners went on a hunger strike, and everyone got equal meals.

Here is the courtyard of the solitary confinement cells. The first window was Mandela’s cell.  The plants to the right were his garden where he hid his memoir until he was found out.

Mandela’s cell, with a recreation of his belongings.  In solitary confinement you had no access to a w.c. at night, so each prisoner was given a “package” to use that one emptied out the next morning.

After our tour we arrived back to the shore, amidst a beautiful sunset.  We walked the harbor, peeking in shops and looking at performers, soaking up the atmosphere.

We dined at Steers for old times sake, with memories of our August in Zambia, 2008.

Apparently M*A*S*H signs are popular in Africa.  Alas, the pic with Lisa got corrupted somehow.

The seals seemed weary as they were splayed out on the dock, so we decided to head home.  After all we had to leave at 3:45 in the morning to catch our flight.

Cape Town is definitely a place to return to again and again.  We look forward to coming back and exploring everything we missed!

Spud

On our second night in Cape Town Tompaul took me on a date to the movies.  We chose Spud, a South African movie about a boy who heads off to boarding school as Nelson Mandela is released from prison.  It stars John Clease, who has the ability to make me laugh without speaking.

I tried to upload the trailer, but am unable to somehow on the computer I am borrowing.  It was hilarious, part of this may be that we watched it in South Africa and the audience was eating it up.  Overall the movie was hilarious, poignant, and showed the pain but also joy of growing up.  The child actor,  Troye Sivan, was amazing and well directed.  I think I might understand South Africa a bit more, but I will never get why the theater we were in was named Labia.

The Best Day Ever

The Cape Town saga continues…

On Saturday we woke up and decided that today was a beach day.  So we ate a hearty breakfast of Lion Bar cereal and granola, packed a lunch and set off in search of adventure (via cab) to Fourth beach at Clifton Bay.  Tompaul decided to go on a walk, but only after making sure Lisa was settled into a “bed” (beach chair) and an umbrella.  Initially the beach was shrouded in mist, but after an hour (around 11am) this lifted.  Clifton Bay Beaches (First, Second, Third and Fourth) are separated by large rocks, but overall the beaches are nice and sandy for games, and the waves are excellent for body surfing.

Unfortunately the first tragedy of the day occurred (what’s the best day ever w/o some tragedy?).  Lisa fell asleep waiting for Tompaul to arrive, but Tompaul lost where Lisa was.  An hour passed and Lisa awoke with sunburned feet…so it goes. It’s the beach, right?  The water was frigid, as it is summer and the water is cooled by Antarctic currents from the south.  After lunch we decided to walk up along all of the beaches up to the lighthouse (about a 6-7 km walk).

This is a view from between First and Second Beach, looking back to Fourth Beach.

Cape Town has a lovely sidewalk system going along beach road, then you can transfer onto the 5km walkway which ends at the lighthouse.  The beaches become more rocky as you move toward the light house.  Clifton Beaches seem to mainly attract European tourists, as they have hotels attached, but there are many beaches to choose from.

A view from the sidewalk.  You can see Clifton Beach in the distance.

Rocky shore, as viewed from the sidewalk.  There were many fisherman dotting the coast.

We walked through some pretty posh hotel areas, with resturants, fancy condos, Bentleys and pharmacies.  Then we approached an area that had more of a “city park” feel.  Amazingly they had plenty of rubbish bins.

Nice view of the hotels dotting the coast.

The more “local” beaches were rocky some with big rocks to lay out on, and some areas were more pebbly.  Many of these beaches had pools constructed that would fill up daily with ocean water, but were calm enough to swim, float or take the kids in.

You can see one of these “pools” to the far right.  It was more of a kiddie pool.

This is the “municipal pool” that is overlooking the sea.  It is more traditional, and packed on this hot, hot, HOT day (the high was 40 C).

Speaking of hot, we saw a 7-11 and decided to stop in.  Granted this was a “fake” 7-11 as no slurpees were in sight.  We did buy much refreshment in the form of water and a grape juice spritzer.

Here are two boys standing on the wall of a pool, enjoying the waves filling the pool.

Then the second tragedy of the day occured (again what is a perfect day w/o a few tragedies).  We were almost at the lighthouse (our goal) when I was distracted by a beautiful wedding.  It was quite the large party.

 

We took a turn in the side walk, but the sidewalk had a part missing. Lisa’s Birk became caught and she tripped.  But she was wearing the backpack.  Let’s all revisit our days in middle school when tripping w/ a back pack.  It flies over your head and you just can’t regain your balance.  Lisa plunged face-first into the pavement (praying “God please don’t let me break my nose!).  The damage wasn’t bad (as she was protected by her sunglasses).  A scraped knee, shoulder, chin, lip, nose and eye.  Not too shabby.   

The offending sidewalk (see how a strip is missing?)                                      A bit of damage (look my travel bracelet!)

So we took a cab back to the hostel.  After a quick shower and change of clothes we ventured back out into the Company Gardens. These garden’s were planted in the 1650’s by the original settlers to grow fruit and vegetables.  It is an amazing, shady place to chill on a hot day.

This is an original plant.  It is the Saffron Pear, and is believed to have come from Holland.  It was thought to have died many years ago as the trunk fell over but these stems arose as “suckers”.  The tree is too heavy to stand so major surgery has been performed on the tree.  They hollowed out the trunks (see center stem) and have multiple props, keeping the tree up (on the right).

Wedding No 2.

Extreme, wonderful, delicious shade.

Well that almost brings us to the end of the perfect day.  We saw a South African movie that evening…but that is more tomorrow.

Service Interrupted

Well folks we are about a full week behind in our blogging.  I blame slow internet connection and a bit of relaxation.  We are about to go on a 4-day road trip in Kenya with Tompaul’s sister and brother-in-law (Robyn and Lari) and our niece and nephew Larissa and Alexander (Xander).

When we return I promise more blogging on Cape Town and updates on our Kenya excursion!

Cheers!
Lisa and Tompaul

A table (mountain) set for two

Thursday, Jan. 6 was the day of the long slog. Cardiff stayed wet and cold, then we took the 1:55 train to London, transferred at Paddington (paying due homage to the bear), and got a neighbor to let us into our friends’ flat in West Ealing. Then on to Heathrow, where we abandoned a bulky sweater because a) it made our luggage overweight and b) we wouldn’t be needing it in Cape Town.

In Heathrow we made one of the best purchases of our trip: an (approximately $9) Insight Guide to Cape Town. Our flight finally took off a little after 10 p.m., and 11.5 hours, two meals, a few movies and tv shows and a couple hours of sleep, we arrived in Cape Town. Stepping off the plane into the warm South African sun, we soaked in the summery goodness. “Welcome to Cape Town, your home away from home,” our taxi driver told us on the way into the city, and we soon realized he was right.

We settled into our new abode, the Zebra Crossing Lodge, recommended to us by our good friends Heather and Don Koons.  After a shower and fresh clothes we were two new people ready to explore the wide world around us.  The Zebra Lodge is perfectly situated.  In a quick jaunt one can reach Woolies (aka Woolworth’s grocery store), Nando’s, Pizza, and other good restaurants, an internet cafe, and even a movie theater.

A cab was ordered (it was unusually hot) and we arrived at the cable car station. The soft serve ice cream was looking inviting, so Tompaul indulged in a caramel and Lisa “cool lemon.” The cable car fee was almost as steep as the mountainside, but we would have no regrets. The car, redesigned and installed by the Swiss in 1997, holds 64 people plus driver and is a perfect circle. The floor rotates 360 degrees as it travels, so everyone gets a full panoramic view. Tanks of water hidden in the bottom stabilize it in the event of high winds–as this oft-seen sign describes.

The view from the top? Stunning. Awe-inspiring. Beyond gorgeous. Unique plants and animals (though we never spotted the hyrax, or dassie, small furry creatures). Turn one way and you’ll see the beaches. Another, the city spread out below. Another, the regal Lion’s Head. Another, the Twelve Apostles. Another, the fabled “tablecloth” of mist. Beautiful and unique flowers and birds. These photos hardly do it justice.

The flora and fauna of Table Mountain was unique and amazing.  We spent about 2 hours hiking around, but unbeknownst to us there is a 2-4 hour hike one can take.  Next time (yes NEXT TIME) we are going to pack a lunch and see the other end.

Cymru

Tompaul has talked about his boyhood trip to Cardiff for as long as I can remember.  We had always wanted to go there.  To be honest it wasn’t originally on the itinerary.  We ended up in London because we had to pass through (not that we ever look a gift trip to London in the mouth) but Cardiff was an accident.  We waited to reserve our tickets (unbeknownst to us you can reserve your tickets indefinitely prior to paying for them).  Because of this all of the London to Cape Town flights were booked.  The first one out that we could get was January 6.  So what to do with our extra time?  We decided a quick train trip was in order.

We boarded the trains like the avid adventurers we are and waited for Cardiff.  Upon arriving we fell in love with the Welsh.  Every soul was helpful and pleasant, as if they invited us themselves.  We stayed at the Novotel (about a 10 minute walk from the Central Cardiff station).  Our room was modern and tidy (although the internet was a bit slow).  The pool had a hot tub, steam room and dry sauna (essentials for braving the chill).

Upon arriving we took a quick jaunt to the bay to see the Doctor Who exhibit, Millennium building and the sea.  Then we traipsed back to the hotel and took a dip in the hot tub.

This is the Millennium Center.

On day 2 of our Cardiff adventure we had high hopes of St. Fagans (a huge outdoor museum full of vintage Welsh buildings and various demontrations, all free) and Cardiff Castle.  The weather, however, wanted to give Tompaul and I a special welcome.  It rained almost all day.  We ditched St. Fagans and walked up to Cardiff Castle.

Brains Beers is apparently THE beer in Cardiff.

Tompaul fondly recalls peacocks bopping about the castle grounds, but according to one of the staff, they were sent packing two years ago because they kept wandering into city traffic. Too bad—they would have stood out on such a gray day.

The droll woman checking our “Essential” tickets assured us the introductory video “will change your life.” The wordless program was a little random, but the curtain rising at the end was pretty impressive—until it turned out to just reveal the rain-splattered window.

Before heading out we ducked down into the Welsh soldier museum, and learned about the goat that helped the Brits win the Battle of Bunker Hill (a fact somehow left out of our U.S. history classes).

By the time we’d read all the outdoor plaques on the castle grounds we were soaked to the skin.

The ceiling of the sitting room.

The master dining room.

By the time we’d explored the castle interior and climbed a hundred or so steps to the top o’ the keep, the sun had gotten bored of wherever it had wandered and decided to drop in again. How to warm up? A Mexican restaurant, of course! Chiquitos wasn’t quite like any Mexican meal we’d ever had, but it was tasty and warm. We stocked up on Cornwall pasties for supper later and retired to the hotel hot tub.

Doctor Who

Call us whatever you like but we shamelessly paid our pounds to see the Doctor Who exhibit in Cardiff.  Not sure if it was the weather, or that it wasn’t “tourist season” but the exhibit was ours alone.

Please enjoy the pictures to help us get our money’s worth.

The exhibit was housed in the Red Dragon Centre.  This is bigger than a mall with IMAX, bowling, games, casino, bars and restaurants.  In other words a place to go when it is cold and rainy (or Cardiff year round).  Note the alien language on the sign.

These clothes were ripped off of Matt Smith himself.

Lisa and the Tardis

Vroomp .  . . vroomp . . . Tompaul lands on the legendary planet Greenscreen.

True fact: The handles on cybermen’s heads mean they can easily count as carry-ons.

Throughout the exhibit there were bits of episodes playing on the ceiling, walls and in this case floor.

“Harriet Jones, MP, Flydale North.”

The British (I mean Daleks) are coming!

Dalek Bob shows off his lovely new purple outfit.

True fact:  Daleks can be defeated by an unattached lens cap, but only from the Nikon D7000.

Winston wonders, “Does this bowtie make me look fat?”

Don’t Blink.

Cute!  K-9 doesn’t look bad either.

More coming

Internet has been slow, especially with pictures.  We should have one more Bruges and a Cardiff post coming.  We are headed to S. Africa tonight!