On to Botswana!

Amanda Vallone

As you can tell we had been on an amazing journey through the Southern countries of Africa thus far. We saw Table Mountain, the newest addition to the natural wonders of the world, and Victoria Falls, one of the largest and most noteworthy waterfalls in the world. So what else is there to see? You guessed it! Wildlife!

So onto Botswana we went.

On the way to Botswana we had to do a border crossing where we showed our passports, itineraries and then had to walk out through this pesticide (shoes on) as to not bring certain pests into the country of Botswana. In all honesty I am not quite sure how this stops the pests, but I’m sure it helps a little as what we picked up on our feet was pretty grody.

Anyway… you didn’t want to read about that wildlife, I know. The Big 5 is what you want to know about, right?

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We arrived in Chobe National park and were brought to our game reserve: the Chobe Lodge. I have to say we were all really tired and slightly ornery because it had gotten pretty hot, not to mention we had been traveling non-stop for days with little down time… Granted it was kind of our own fault, because the one ‘down’ day we had, everyone in the group decided to partake in 2-3 optional excursions instead of having down time. But that aside, we were all exhausted and temperamental travelers…

But then we were greeted with a refreshing drink and a cool towel and ushered to a lovely lunch.

With a little bit of time to get ready before our first event, everyone decided to freshen up a bit. Then it was on our way to a river safari at 4:30pm.

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As my group walked down the steep stairs to load onto the boat, we were diverted onto a private vessel of our own. Just one more reason why going with a group-led custom-designed trip is simply amazing! My group had no clue we were going to be on our own vessel as they saw hundreds of others boarding these big boats. But Victoria at Salute Africa and I planned for it to be just our group and simply perfect, and perfect it was! But really, I must give all of the credit to Victoria—she was amazing!

So we boarded this covered boat and as always on a Roseborough Trip, we had a cocktail party. While we were drifting along the Chobe River, we first saw so many beautiful birds that were everywhere, as well as some crocodiles. Next up we saw tons of water buffalo and hippos. I mean hundreds of these things. It was incredible. To see the wildlife so close was really amazing.

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A little more downstream was where we saw elephants, and not just one or two. There were about 30 all in one area. They were splashing around in the water and having a great time cooling off. What a sight to see!

But then, suddenly, we see these elephants trying to cross from a center island back to the mainland. We stayed for a while watching the process of it all. The elephants lined up one by one and crossed the deep river to get back. But when it came to the last two little babies they could not get across. At this time, we were so close to the babies the father got really mad, or maybe protective is a better word. He helped his two young across the river then he blew his horn, waived his trunk and made sure we knew who was boss. And it most certainly was him!

During all of this we were literally right up close and personal. The elephants crossed right in front of us. We did not move or get into their area. We simply watched nature take its course and the animals decide their own path. It was exhilarating, exciting, and emotional. These animals are so majestic. You literally do not hear them walk on land at all, yet they are MASSIVE. They are truly creatures to be respected. The wildlife was so incredible, and this was only our game drive water safari… I mean can anything really top that?

Oh, and yes, the sunset in Africa really is the most beautiful sunset in all of the world!

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Riding an Elephant

Amanda Vallone

Lions and tigers and bears… oh that’s a different trip. Let’s talk elephants in Victoria Falls.

As you have probably already read in some of our last blogs, the experiences in South Africa and Zimbabwe & Zambia are spectacular. This is one account of one more stunning experience.

It was 5am the day after our brush with death touching the lions… Joking!

Seriously, it was more like 4am the next morning when we woke up and had a cup of coffee and headed out. My family was the same as normal, dragging their feet getting ready. How does one get ready for a Bush Safari on Elephant anyway? Because that was exactly what we were doing.

As we got to camp, we were given a safety briefing and history lesson about the elephants we would see, and we were told of their handlers.

And then we all walked out on the deck and saw this spectacular parade of majestic creatures walking one by one to the balcony we were boarding them from. Besides pure size alone, the thing that most impressed me was their skin. It is all dry and wrinkled, thousands and thousands of beautiful old wrinkles, and their eyelashes are incredibly long. Like that 99-year-old woman whose skin was tanned from her life and all her wrinkles show the proof of the life she has lived—the good, the bad and everything in between. Those wrinkles are her storybook of every smile, cry, laugh, and heartache in her life—it is completely beautiful. Elephants are just the same. When you look them in the eye, there is so much depth… you find a connection right away. The elephant is truly a soulful creature. It is no wonder why all of the other animals respect them the way they do.

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So how does one board an elephant?

Let’s just say, I am not your best example…

The elephants walk up to the deck that is designed to be right at the height of their backs. You walk up and set your left leg (inside leg) up first then quickly hoist the right leg over the back of the elephant. This does take some maneuvering and stability but is so worth it.

After you are on be sure to LIFT your left (inside) foot up. Why is this an important thing? Well the elephant leans into the deck to allow you to get on. So, if you don’t do as you’re told—and are an idiot like me—your foot will be squished between the deck and the bajillion pound elephant. This, my friends, is not a comfortable position to be in.

After I realized my ankle was not crushed into a million pieces, it was time to enjoy the ride.

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We took a leisurely stroll on the back of our elephants through the bush, where we learned about our lovely pachyderm, her feeding habits, and why their tusks are all broken or sawed off.

Interesting fact: Elephant Reserves in Africa have begun sawing off the Elephants tusks to make the elephants less desirable for poaching AND because an infected tusk can lead to death. So by sawing them down, there is less of a chance for the ends to be broken and later infected.

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Time to Walk on the Wild Side…

Amanda Vallone

 

A trip to Victoria Falls allows for a great adventure opportunity. There are helicopter rides over the falls, bungee jumping off the bridge, diving in the borders of Zambia and Zimbabwe, and white water adventures.

Many of the people in our group could not choose what they wanted to do as a side trip so they chose to enjoy a few things.

About 8 of our Explorers took a helicopter ride over the falls. From what I heard, it was quite an incredible experience.

15 of us decided to live on the WILD side…

The evening after our daring jump into Devils Pool, 15 of our group members decided to walk with the lions. We did not know what we were getting ourselves into. Would we be eaten alive, would we get to touch them? Would we only get to be with the cubs?

We would soon find out.

Our guide and driver picked us up at the hotel and brought us out into the bush to a wildlife refuge. Along the way our bus broke down and we had to hoof it about ½ a mile through the bush. We were all concerned a lion would find us looking quite yummy for their dinner…

Upon safe arrival to Lion Encounter, we were offered a beverage and given a briefing as to how to walk with the lions. We were all given a stick to protect ourselves. You read that right, a STICK was our protection against these creatures. If a lion lunged at us we were to point the stick at them and say “no.” Whaaat?????

So, off we went. Splitting into two groups, my group took the path with more of a hike and the other group went along more flat land in the opposite direction.

And out came the first two lions.

Trained they were! But wild animals just the same.

Paula was the first one up to walk with the lions. I think everyone stopped breathing as she approached him.

Then each of us took our turns to follow walking with these amazing creatures and getting photos along the way.

When I say this experience was magical, I really mean it. To say you walked, and even touched, a lion is quite spectacular.

I to this day cannot believe we did it.

The walk alone was a full hour or more. When we were done we were served a nice small meal and given some drinks. We then learned a lot about the conservation, how the lions were brought here, and how they’re prepared for release into a pride.

I had a few guests on my trip who did not want to participate in this experience because they watched a documentary about experiences like this that would kill the lions after they were done with them. How horrible!

The Lion Encounter is all about ethical rehabilitation and release into the wild. They do not declaw or de-tooth their lions, which is what you hear of at some of those places. It was the goal and priority of Salute Africa not to fund any of the inhumane projects. So, they paired us up directly with Lion Encounter.

Our group was so impressed by this experience and what they do for the lions. It was incredible. But a picture is worth a thousand words. Check out our photos:

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Goodbye South Africa, Hello Zimbabwe!

Amanda Vallone

After an early morning flight on South African Airways (great airline – they include a meal on every flight and perfectly poised flight attendants), we landed in Zimbabwe, home of Victoria Falls!

After exiting the airport, we were welcomed to Zimbabwe by traditional singers and dancers—It was amazing!

Visas: When you fly or Drive from South Africa to Zimbabwe you actually cross borders into a new country. Often times people I run into think of Africa as one big country — it is a continent!!! When you go from one country into another you have to cross the borders of that country and go through their visa and passport checking system. I will say South Africa was the most intimidating one to me, but Zimbabwe was no joke either. After debarking our plane we were walked down a ramp to the checkpoint. My group had to be prepared for 2 different kinds of visas. Six of my people needed a multi-entry visa from Zimbabwe and Zambia called the KAZA because these 6 were going to take a jaw dropping adventure to jump into the Devil’s Pool at the top of Victoria Falls on the Zambian side.

The rest of my group only needed a single-entry visa. These Visas range from $30-50 cash depending on the type.

Of course, when we went to purchase our KAZA visa they were not issuing them anymore L Did this mean we wouldn’t get to take our Devils Pool adventure?

No… We just had to buy 2 single entry visas at the airport, then another visa at the Zambian Border—i.e. spend more money. It seems like all government is on the same path worldwide hehehe.

So we all had our visas and we were on our way. •

The Best Welcome!

After exiting the airport, we were met by a group of 10 men wearing traditional dress of Zimbabwe and singing the most amazing songs. I believe they were performing a traditional Mbakumba dance. Since dancing is very important in the Zimbabwean culture, it was a fantastic way to start our journey through Zimbabwe.

Climate: Opposite of South Africa being very green and chilly, Zimbabwe was about 80-90˚F and extremely dry. Before hopping into our transfer vehicle, we all stripped off all those layers from the morning to t-shirts and pants or shorts.

This is what we all thought Africa would look like.

After a short ride with our tour director, Mombassa, we made our way to Kingdom Lodge, Victoria Falls, where we were met again by a traditionally dressed man.

Kingdom Lodge: We stayed at a 4* resort in Victoria Falls called Kingdom Lodge. It was extremely beautiful and the rooms were quite spacious. Breakfast in the morning was amazing. And this was our first real opportunity to use the pool—refreshing! Our resort had a bar, a pool, a gift shop, a few restaurants, and even wildlife living on property. It was anything you could want and more from a trip to Zimbabwe. It was family friendly too!

But we weren’t there to soak up the hotel amenities. We were there to experience the Mosi-oa-Tunya (read on…), but we would have to wait until the morning.

So, for our evening experience we enjoyed a sunset cruise on the Zambezi river.

Our small pontoon boat sailed slowly upstream meandering along the banks of the river in search of wildlife big and small. The Zambezi River is Africa’s fourth largest river system after the Nile, Zaire, and Niger Rivers. This river actually runs through six countries and into the Indian Ocean. Many of its dams are harnessed for power, though the Zambezi is the least developed in terms of human settlement, as many of the areas are protected.

Along this cruise we saw elephants on the bank, hippos peeking up out of the water, and various species of birds. This was our first “wildlife adventure” and we loved it. We were served hors d’ourves and had an open bar along our journey, meaning we were able to toast the most amazing African sunset!

This was a great experience!

Was it handicap accessible? Yes and no. As you can see there was a ramp to get on the boat. So boarding and disembarking the vessel was certainly accessible. To get into the port-a-potty type bathroom you had go up 2 steps, and it would not be safe for anyone to attempt if they had a walking disability like my mom. But it was only a 2 hour boat ride, so don’t let that deter you from taking this adventure if you are wheelchair bound.

The location that we boarded the boat however, had a steep hill to walk down that was not paved so getting a wheelchair down this would have been very difficult. I am pretty certain the operators would have moved the boat to board a wheelchair or had a backup plan. My mother walked it. It was not easy for her but she did it and was happy she did.

Boma Dinner: Known as more than a night out, it was an EXPERIENCE!

The Boma Dinner Experience began after dark with a traditional greeting in the local languages, Shona and Ndebele. We were all hugged, dressed in chitenges (traditional robes) and prepared to enter the main enclosure by the addition of a face painting.

After we entered, we were invited to take part in a hand washing ceremony and then let loose to  sample traditional beer (that was worth one try, but not on my top 10,000 things to taste again) and snacks, as a prelude to dinner.

Partially open to the African skies, the Boma offers a unique experience that bombards the senses with the tastes, sights, sounds and smells of Africa. There was not only food and entertainment, but handicraft workers and artists selling their wares. You could even go and have the bones cast by the Sangoma (traditional healer). All of this together with the warmth and hospitality of Zimbabwe and its people, Boma was the perfect dining experience for our group.

Several of us even were awarded a certificate of bravery for eating the Mopani Worm- that’s right! We ate a WORM, people.

Don’t believe me? Watch the video umm chewy!

The food was plentiful, there were many vegetarian options as well as desserts, meats, and sides. In all honesty, I enjoyed this food much more than the dinner in Cape Town. To anyone going on this adventure, I would recommend not choosing one over the other- go to both Gold & Boma—they are too different to only choose one.

Don’t tune out too quickly though… wait to see what we did next!

I Left a Piece of My Heart in Africa: Part 2

Amanda Vallone

Robben Island

“A symbol of the triumph of the human spirit.” Robben Island is exactly that. The island is off Cape Town, South Africa. You can get there by visiting the VA waterfront and boarding a hydrofoil boat. The ride, as long as the newer hydrofoils are working, will take about 20 minutes in some rough waters. If you have a weak stomach, you’ll want to be cautious about this experience. When we went the fast hydrofoil was broken and in dry dock, so our boat ride took one hour in very rough waters. After the Seal experience and knowing we would be in the same waters, I chose to sit right outside in the open air of the boat. Even after it started raining, I held my seat, and boy was I happy. All of the inside seats were in a confined area, and with no windows to boot if you went in the belly of the boat. If you sat in the front covered section you could see out the front, but got little fresh air.

 

Upon our much-anticipated arrival onto Robben Island, our tour guide of the Island, Nakita, informed us, though rough and rocky, we got a truly authentic experience. The boat we’d taken over to the island was actually a prisoner transport boat in the past.

We began our tour of the island with Nakita by walking through the visitors section. This looked like a sad and lonely area to visit with loved ones and family members. We learned that the prisoners were able to receive 1 letter and 1 personal visit every 6 months. Talk about lonely.3

The island itself was known to have millions of penguins years and years ago. But then the people of the island ate them, and their numbers decreased rapidly. The island also was the first place where one ailed with leprosy would be sent, away from their family, isolated from others.

Along our journey we learned about many of the prisoners, including Nelson Mandela who most of us automatically associate with the island. One that really hit home with me was a man by the name of Robert Sobukwe. Politically, Sobukwe was strongly Africanist, believing that the future of South Africa should be in the hands of Black South Africans.  Robert was a lecturer at the university, family man, and a leader in the ANC followed by the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC). His memberships within these organizations, nor his Africanist belief system, were not what got him entry into Robben Island. Rather his political power scared the government with opposing views.

In 1950’s, there was a law that made any black African man or woman carry a “pass book” with them at all times. These pass books were an internal passport designed to segregate the population, manage urbanization, and allocate migrant labor. This law, also known as “the natives law,” required black Africans to carry pass books when outside their homelands or designated areas. These black men and women of Africa could not walk a different route to work, go to a different neighborhood, or really go anywhere outside of their designated work/home combinations included within their passbook without good reason and being checked by the government.

Can you imagine not being able to leave your neighborhood or walk off the path to work for a day without being questioned and showing your passbook? Neither can I!

And Robert Sobukwe did not want to live this type of life either. So he did what any strong, powerful, and vocal person in leadership would do. He led an anti-pass campaign.

Sobukwe organized over 5000 marchers against the pass book law and in turn was arrested for incitement. But here’s the catch: Sobukwe was actually never sent to trial; he was never officially convicted. And he was kept in limbo for years so that the system did not have to call him a “prisoner” as he was awaiting trial.

Because of his in-limbo status, Sobukwe was kept in solitary confinement – his living quarters were separate from the main prison and he was allowed no contact with any other prisoners, nor to speak with the guards. He was, however, allowed access to books and civilian clothes because he was not technically a “prisoner.” But books and clothes did not make his time pleasant. The solidarity and lack of communication with people got him to the point that he told a woman named Helen Suzman that he was actually forgetting how to speak.

It is said that Sobukwe would look at the guards, pick up a fistful of dirt from the earth and let it fall back to the ground or in the wind to tell the guards, his black African brothers from the earth of Africa we all came, “You are the son from the soil of Africa.”

Over the course of his 10 years on Robben Island, he was never officially convicted. He was actually offered a job by the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People and the Montgomery Fellowship for Foreign Aid in the US. Sobukwe applied to leave the country with his family to take up the employment but was denied permission by the Minister of Justice. As we learned, it takes a pretty powerful person for the minister of Justice to vote against one single man. Robert was not even technically a prisoner, he was in limbo from a free man and a prisoner, he literally was not classified a prisoner.

Sobukwe was released from prison in May 1969, but the government was still afraid of his power among his people. Sobukwe was banished to Kimberley, where he was joined by his family. He remained under twelve-hour house arrest and his banning order prohibited him from participating in any political activity. He was also denied a passport or a job until the day he died from lung complications.

What hit home the most to me was how much power the government had against this one man. One man who was never convicted of any crimes. He organized a march defending his own rights. But the government was scared of what he may say to other Black Africans to get them to rise up against their oppressors.

South Africa has changed dramatically since the 50’s, as I believe the whole world has. But the pass-law was abolished, the political prisoners were released, and South Africa has transformed into a loving country known as the rainbow nation, coined by former Archbishop, Desmond Tutu, in 1994 as his neat description for a very multi-cultural, multi-ethnic country.

Interesting things about Robben Island:

  • Robben Island was a maximum security prison. Those who went into maximum security were political prisoners.
    • Minimum security was for the people who were thieves, rapists, murderers… you know, those people who need less security… – whaaaat?
  • Nelson Mandela and other political prisoners were kept busy by being put to work in the limestone quarry. The cave is where many of the prisoners, including Nelson Mandela himself, got bad eyesight from the bright lights and reflections of the limestone quarry.
  • There was no real need for the island’s limestone during the time of Mandela. Prisoners would break up the stone and carry it to one end of the quarry one day and then back the next — the work was really just to keep them busy.
  • While working the quarry, many of the prisoners learned to read. Even the guards would participate in the secret lessons sometimes. The rule of the quarry was “each one teach one.”
  • Once the political prisoners were all released and the prison was shut down, a national convention was held a few years later. Each of the prisoners were asked to come back to the prison and offer tours to visitors.
  • One of the former prisoners, and now guide and leader in the ANC, explained that the tour is not a museum to hatred. Visiting Robben Island should provide a lesson in reconciliation.
  • Over 1000 people were buried on Robben Island, most in unmarked graves.

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  • Nelson Mandela clearly describes his cell (which you see at the end of the tour) in his book, A Long Walk to Freedom. It really is quite cramped and nothing I would wish upon my worst enemy.

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  • There was a reunion at Robben Island. Many of the ex-political prisoners visited the island in which they were imprisoned for years. Many of these leaders reflected on their lives, planned for the future, and ended with a ceremony of the ex-prisoners picking up a rock from the quarry and placing it within a pile, one last time. To date, you see the pile of rocks they left there. And if you visit Johannesburg, as we did later in our trip, you will find rocks outside of Nelson Mandela’s home.

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Wine Lands… Wine Farms

Stellenbosch is a town in the Western Cape that feels like you are being transported to a small vineyard town in France or Italy. The views are simply spectacular! All of the little villas on the side of the street are B&B’s, with wineries in the background. While we were in Stellenbosch, we visited a local winery and spa that was amazing. The Close Wine Estate Winery & Spa was where we enjoyed a wine tasting and food pairing with all of the local delicacies. To be truthful, the food was quite as delectable as my favorites in Spain and France. I would even venture to say, since I am on a white wine kick right now anyway, South Africa has some of the best white wines I have ever had. Some of that love may be due to the amazing trip, but either way I can say visiting a winery and enjoying some wine while in South Africa is a MUST!

Fun & Interesting Tidbits:

  • Vineyards are called Wine Farms in South Africa.
  • In the early 1700’s, one of the world’s most famous wines was produced right from South Africa, so I’d say they’ve been doing this for a while.
  • Pinotage was one of the reds I was pleasantly surprised by. It is South Africa’s very own grape variety – a cross between Pinot Noir and Cinsault. Pinotage was more dense and had notes of spices, chocolate, and even fruit flavors, including raspberry and blueberry.
  • Chenin Blanc is the most planted grape variety in South Africa. The wines hold peachy and floral undertones, but don’t let that make you think the wine is sweet; this white wine is slightly dry and quite refreshing.

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Dinner and Drumming

While in Cape Town, we decided to enjoy a themed dinner at GOLD, a dinner and drumming experience. This was described as a taste safari of foods that will transport you from Cape Town to Timbuktu.  We received about 15 tastings of very interesting foods. Each came with a description of the ingredients as well as the area of Africa it was derived from. Each of us got some paint on our face as a traditional décor. And every chair had a drum on it.

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When the performers came out they were energetic, charismatic, and informative. We all learned to play the drums as well as got an extraordinary show. This evening was so much fun! We all loved Dinner and Drumming, and were very happy to have gotten the opportunity to enjoy the experience.

Interesting Facts:

  • When you visit GOLD, the queen actually scatters 24 karat gold on each person. My husband, George, may or may not have tried to collect the remnants scattered on the table… hehe.
  • You will have the opportunity to dance with and be visited by the very tall, yet graceful Mali Puppets as they dance around your table accompanied by drummers, dancers and singers.

Is it handicap accessible? NO. Though, in all of the brochures GOLD is in fact considered handicap accessible, their definition of accessibility is quite different than mine and standards in the US. It simply means they have a handicap toilet… on the second floor. All of the dinner, drumming, and dancing takes place – you guessed it – on the second floor. And there are no elevators in this building. So, if you are looking to experience GOLD and are confined to a wheelchair, it will be difficult to say the least.

Now, when I asked if there was a lift or elevator the women of GOLD said no, we have strong men. And they were not joking! If visiting GOLD is on the top of your Live It list, just call ahead, they will literally make accommodations to carry a wheelchair up the two flights of stairs. Talk about customer service!

My experience: So I already mentioned my mom is in a wheelchair. She can walk, just not far, and certainly not up two flights of stairs. But my mom is also a determined explorer. So, what did my mom do? She slowly and with help climbed the two flights of stairs. With tears in all of our eyes, my mom made it to the top. She enjoyed the evening so much that she said to me, “Amanda, do not be upset that it was not handicap accessible. I am happy I climbed the stairs, and I would do it again for this experience.”

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Is it child friendly? Of course! What little kid doesn’t want to beat on a drum all night long and not get in trouble for it? Face painting to boot? A match made in heaven for the wee ones. My Aurora the Explorer absolutely LOVED this evening and experience.

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So as you can read, we fit a heck of a lot into our few days in Cape Town… but everyone was really looking forward to the next stop – Victoria Falls.

Read my next blog to learn about our lookout from the edge of the earth… literally.

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Keep your eyes open for more about the rest of the trip!

 

Want to learn more about traveling to Africa? Our travel professionals at Roseborough Travel would be happy to answer any questions you have and help you plan the perfect vacation! http://roseboroughtravel.com/

I Left a Piece of My Heart in Africa: Part 1

— Amanda Vallone

 

On September 21, 2017, of group of 19, including my family, and myself departed Daytona Beach for our very own African Adventure. None of us knew what was in store. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I watched every movie, read every lonely planet blog and article, spoke with my Salute Africa Rep more times than was humanly possible, and (tried) reading as many books as I could about the culture, destination, and trip… But the fact was: none of our 20 extremely well-traveled explorers had ever stepped foot in Southern Africa. Kenya, yes; Egypt, sure; Asia, a dime a dozen; Europe, almost everyone. But this African Adventure was a first for us all… In so many ways.

We were picked up in style from Roseborough Travel via luxury limo bus to make our way to the Daytona airport so we could have a nice and smooth departure out of our nearby airport.

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I won’t sugar coat this part; our flight was cancelled due to engine failure. We were extremely happy they figured that out while we were still on the ground!2

We were re-accommodated on a later flight, but we missed our first day in Cape Town because of the delayed flight and missed connection (thank God for travel insurance and pre-nights).

After many hours of flying, we finally arrived in Cape Town, South Africa, to a very cosmopolitan airport, that in my opinion was more streamline and even more lovely than most we have here in the states (this was my first pleasant surprise). As soon as we grabbed our luggage and walked out the exit gates we saw James, our tour director for Cape Town (our next very pleasant surprise).

The very courteous, pleasant, informative, and yes, handsome, James brought us to our home for the next 3 nights, the Southern Sun Cullinan, a waterfront area hotel in Cape Town with free shuttle access to the VA waterfront.

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The hotel was our third and most amazing pleasant surprise of the evening. Yes, I looked at every photo online. I read all of the trip advisor reviews.  But this hotel is rated a 4* hotel, and when you are going to another country, 4* is a different standard than we as U.S. travelers are used to. There is a sliding scale of the rating standards. OMG, we pulled up to the Taj Mahal of hotels (okay, I might be exaggerating slightly…). After spending 2 days on airplanes, though, this did feel spectacular.

The Southern Sun Cullinan gets its name from the largest Diamond in the world. It was found in the diamond mines in Africa, and when the diamond cutter went to make his first cut he passed out from the stress. This diamond now sits in England on the crown jewels.

Table Mountain

Prominently overlooking the city of Cape Town, this 600 million year old flat-topped mountain is one that is not to be missed. With its own rich diversity of plant life distinct to the Cape alone, it is no wonder Table Mountain is one of the ‘New Seven Wonders of Nature.’ You can see Table Mountain from all over Cape Town, but you cannot truly say you have taken in all of its glory, or truly visited Cape Town for that matter, until you have stood on top.

So if the day is clear and you get out early enough in the morning, you must get to the top of Table Mountain. We had pre-arranged tickets thanks to Salute Africa and Roseborough, which cut our wait time down by over an hour and a half on that day. The short ride in the cable car was fun; it spun slowly so that no matter where you were standing you could see different views — and yes, we saw many mountain climbers making their way to the top (eeek!).

After reaching the top there was a nice coffee shop and a gift shop, plus a ton of area to walk around. From the top you could see so many beautiful sights including: Devil’s Peak to the east, Lion’s Head to the west, the dramatic backdrop of the city of Cape Town, Signal Hill, the City Bowl, and Table Bay Harbour. The highest point on Table Mountain is towards the eastern end and the views are simply fantastic.

Fun Fact: There are more indigenous plants on Table Mountain alone than in all of Great Britain.

And there were these little animals called the Dossie. They looked like a large rodent, but they’re actually the closest living relative to an elephant.

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If you’re a thrill-seeker but climbing up the mountain isn’t enough for you, maybe rappelling down the mountain is more your style? It’s actually abseiling off Table Mountain (backward rappelling) that you would be doing. And though no experience is necessary, it is not for the faint of heart. Our Adventurous Explorers looking to partake in this will have a helmet and be hooked to a cable with a harness and a pulley system as they take their 367 foot long controlled descent off of Table Mountain. Truth be told, I would totally do this (it’s my kind of crazy). But even to me it looked slightly unnerving. I mean it when I say, you really can’t say you’ve visited Cape Town until you’ve stood on top of Table Mountain, or abseiled to the bottom (and maybe left some of your breakfast there).

Is it wheelchair accessible? Yes! Workers took my mom in her wheelchair, as well as a few walking with canes, up an elevator ahead of the group so they would not need to stand in line.

Child friendly? YES! Especially if you dose your kid with hot cocoa like I did.

How to dress? You must wear clothes… hahaha. Okay, but seriously, Cape Town was fairly chilly and we felt it there at the top of the mountain — burr…

Hout Bay

Also known as ‘Wood Bay,’ Hout Bay is a town about a 30 minute drive from Cape Town, South Africa. At the southern tip of Africa, where two of the world’s greatest oceans converge, a total experience of land, sea and the rainbow culture of the Western Cape offer you the most exciting land based whale watching venues in the world! It is also generally referred to as the entire valley, and the boarding the Cape Peninsula. For the sake of this blog, I refer to Hout Bay as the general area or the entire Valley.

Chapman’s Peak Drive

The 30-minute scenic drive from Cape Town, known Chapman’s Peak Drive, is all about incredible scenery. It was most easily related to our amazing drives along Big Sur in California — by the way South Africa looks more like Hawaii and Northern California than any other destination we could relate it to.

Known as the “Chappies” to residents, Chapman’s Peak is the rocky coastal roadway overlooking Noordhoek and Hout Bay. It is also where we were able to see whales (humpbacks making their way with their young from Antarctica), boulders, seals, and baboons. And to our surprise Chapman’s Peak Drive also forms part of the route for the Cape Argus Cycle Tour and the Two Oceans Marathon. The winding cliff roads made our entire group think these people might be crazy, but who are we to judge?

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Seal Colony

When one thinks of Africa, she normally would think of the big 5 Game animals — specifically Lions, Rhinos and Elephants… But South Africa is home to many more species of quite amazing creatures. The South African Cape Fur Seals are the only species of seal to form permanent colonies in Africa. These Cape Fur Seals can be found in South Africa and Namibia.

We took a boat, the Nauticat, out into False Bay to see a colony of Fur Seals. There was at least 150 of them living on this big rock formation out there. The boat ride took about 30-45 minutes, and it was pretty rough and choppy.

I would highly recommend sitting outside and in the front of the boat — I know the front is not where one who gets seasick would normally sit, but this was where the best wind/breeze came from. Do NOT sit inside the boat, like my family did, unless you have a spectacularly strong stomach.

I sat in the back of the boat outside for most of the trip and had a nice ride, but once we arrived to the seals the front was so crowded that it was hard to capture the amazing pictures everyone else got. The seals were barking, jumping, going wild with anticipation (the probably though the tourists looked quite similar to them because we were all so excited, too). It almost seemed like they were putting on a show for us.

Boulder Beach

After a beautiful drive and quite full day, we made our way out to the next most unique animal, in my opinion, for South Africa. And it also just so happens to be one of my favorite animals — the PENGUIN!21

Boulder Beach is located off a picturesque drive in Simons Town, and is unique to an endangered land-based colony of African Penguins. This colony of cute little birds is one of only a few in the world, making the site famous to locals and international visitors.

There are only about 2100 penguins at Boulder Beach, which may seem like plenty for your one stop for the day, and it is quite enough in terms of a “tourist” hot spot to visit. But the sad yet harsh reality is that this colony of incredible animals was moved from the Vulnerable to the Endangered Species list for good reason. The beach was turned into an animal sanctuary in 1983 after seeing an 80% decrease in the population worldwide, which helped considerably for a while. The census of penguins had grown in 2005 to 3900, but then in 2011 decreased back down to 2100 birds. I am so thankful I had the opportunity to visit Boulder Beach and see these birds.

Fun facts about the beach & penguins:

Come one, Come all! – The beach itself is ideal for children as immense boulders shelter the cove from currents, wind and large waves. The Penguin walking area is also a great spot for the wee ones. Not only are you teaching your young about the beautiful birds of the world, but it really is just fun. I brought my very own mini-explorer Aurora, and she loved it!

Thou Shall Keep Thy Hands to Thyself! – Seriously, don’t touch or feed the penguins unless you want to be left with a nub. These birds may look cute and cuddly, but their beaks are as sharp as razors and if they feel threatened they have no qualms about nipping a finger or nose. And as mentioned earlier, you have 2100 of those beaks to compete with.

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Walkways, Parking, and Viewing – Within the park itself, the Boulders consists of 3 beaches, 1 penguin viewing area, and 3 boardwalks. The boardwalks were built to allow for safe and beak-injury-free viewing of these wonderful birds. There are specific viewing hours and limited parking, so depending on the season you go, be sure to arrive with sufficient time and the ability to search for parking. Parking is available at either end of the park, on Seaforth Rd and on Bellevue Rd.

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Wheelchair Accessible – Yes, kind of. So you will see that I often, especially on this trip, talk about wheelchairs or special needs. Though I in no way use a wheelchair or accommodation, my mom who travels with me quite often has been in a wheelchair since I was four years old. She can walk a little, but not long distances. So this is important for this area. Wheelchairs – YES! All the viewing areas have ramps and are on boardwalks so it is wheelchair accessible. Just be careful to park in the regular lot. There are regular parking lots, and then there is alternative parking pretty far out. If you go park further away, you will be directed down a beautiful walking path covered in sand. Anyone who has pushed a wheelchair before knows it is not easy to push one through sand (remember you are on a beach). So, as long as you park in the regular lots- you are golden!

Who are you calling a Jackass?!? The aquatic birds were formerly called Jackass Penguins due to their donkey-like braying. You have the biggest chance of really “getting this” noise and experience from March–May.

Cape of Good Hope

Known as one point with one million points of view, and home to the famous sign most people who visit South Africa get their photo in front of showing “furthest point South West,” Cape of Good Hope. Cape Point is in the Cape of Good Hope nature reserve within Table Mountain National Park. Cape Point is a narrow stretch of land that encompasses beautiful valleys, beaches, plant life, and over 250 bird species.  This really was an amazing stop for the day.

As we entered the nature reserve, we were greeted with troops of baboons lining the roadway. This was our first experience seeing so many all at once — they later turned into sightings for us like Sandhill Cranes in Central Florida, or even alligator sightings here or deer sightings up north (pretty common, yet still pretty freaking cool).

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Things to see:

Lighthouse – In 1859, the lighthouse was put at the highest peak above sea level to help protect the sailors coming into the bay.  By day, it was a navigational landmark and by night, and in fog, it was a menace plagued by violent storms and dangerous rocks that over the centuries littered shipwrecks around the coastline. The lighthouse still stands there today, and you can visit it to look out on the coast of South Africa.

What the Funicular? – We took an exhilarating ride on the Flying Dutchman, a funicular that departs the bottom of the mountain every three minutes. The Flying Dutchman Funicular is believed to be the only commercial funicular of its type in Africa, and takes its name from the local legend of the Flying Dutchman ghost ship. So what is it? It is like a tram ride, but rather than being suspended from above, this cart is run on a rail system. It’s pretty cool and it saves you from going up the many steep steps and through the endemic fynbos (meaning fine bush) on the hike to the top.

Wheelchair accessible? YES! Mom got onto the flying Dutchman in her wheelchair and I had a few others with canes or walkers that were accommodated with seats. 40 people can fit into this trolley-type car, and it is totally worth the ride.

Also Known As: In 1488 Bartolomeu Dias named the shipwrecked point, ‘Cape of Storms’. The ‘Point’ was treated with respect by sailors for centuries.

All these views, now I’m hungry! – No need to worry, you do not have far to go — the Two Oceans Restaurant is where we had lunch for the day, and it was incredible! We of course had group reservations and our meal was included in the tour — Thank you Salute Africa for recommending this! I got the fish, of course! And it was superb. Also, the wine, produced right in South Africa, was not only quite tasty, but extremely affordable. A glass was about $3 — HELLO! The Wine-o in me rejoices! Two Oceans even made a special kid’s meal for Aurora the Explorer. Oh, the views weren’t too shabby either. The whole back side of the restaurant overlooks the bay and is ceiling to floor glass, giving patrons the most spectacular views. The restaurant is as famous for its seafood as it is for its views, including a superb wooden deck that looks out onto one of the most stunning ocean views in South Africa.

 

Stay tuned for more!

 

Want to learn more about traveling to Africa? Our travel professionals at Roseborough Travel would be happy to answer any questions you have and help you plan the perfect vacation! http://roseboroughtravel.com/

Theresa’s Travels

By Theresa Olivetto

Puerto Rico

 

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Visiting Puerto Rico was a great experience.  We got off of the cruise ship and walked.  And walked and walked.  We were hoping to find a beach to spend the day at.  We found a beach pretty quickly and at that point started walking the beach when we could, or walking through town when we had to.  

We ended up stopping 3.2 miles from where we started.  We found a hotel with a bar and pool on the beach.  As we walked up the steps, there was a security guard there, standing on the steps.  We assumed he may stop us but he did not so we went to the bar and ordered a drink.  We sat there for a while and watched the waves.  Words cannot describe how beautiful the beach and waves are in Puerto Rico.  We ordered another drink and then headed to the pool, again, no one caring that we were there.  We took a swim and then headed back toward our cruise ship.  It was very exciting to see how the people lived in Puerto Rico.  We took the streets back as opposed to the beach.  We stopped at a restaurant and had a $2.00 beer and then continued our journey.

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A while later we stopped at a tiny little bar with a pool table.  There were a few children there, one playing pool, probably 15 or so.  We sat down and ordered a beer and began talking to this man that told us he had cancer.  We talked to him for quite a while, he told us so many great stories about his life and growing up there.  He later told us that the bar was for locals and not tourists but he was very glad that we had stopped there.  He bought us a drink and we in turn bought him one.  Funny how ignorance is bliss, we didn’t know we didn’t “belong” and loved socializing with everyone.  

As it started to get dark, we headed back to the ship for dinner and to call it a day.  It was a spontaneous, wonderful day that I will never forget.  

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St. Thomas

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So when we visited St Thomas, we decided to get off the ship and just play it by ear, nothing planned.  I was hoping to rent a scooter and sure enough that is what we did.  It was only $65.00 for the day, which to me was very reasonable.  

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It took a lot of getting used to as you drive on the opposite side of the street and there are a lot of mountains and hills and very sharp turns.  We laughed a lot as we had several close calls but being adventurous and spontaneous, we just went with it.

We stumbled upon a park, paid $10.00 to go in and walked the beach.  It was awesome.  Very few people there, a pavilion and several picnic tables, wooded.  We walked for a long way, as far as the beach would take us.  

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We got back on the scooter and rode around for a while and saw a sign that said public beach access.  We took a very steep road down to the area and once we got there, the only sign we saw was a Ritz Carlton.  We parked the scooter in public parking and walked toward the resort.  We walked up to the bar and I ordered a bloody mary and a beer.  Paid $22.00 for the two.  That’s not me but it was a time and a place.  We went to the beach and sat on a couple of lounge chairs with padded cushions.  I joked they were more comfortable than the mattress on my bed.   

It was beyond amazing to take this all in.  The wait staff came over several times and asked if we wanted anything.  I was surprised that we were there without question.  We took a swim and then headed out.  We had to know if over the mountain was the “public beach access” so we walked over hill and saw THE REST of the Ritz Carlton.  It was beyond beautiful.  They actually had a pump with several different sunblocks that you could use.

We left the resort and headed on our way.  We came upon a resort that the guy that rented us the scooter said to go to.  Secret Harbor Beach Resort .  We sat at the bar and ordered some lunch.  It was very good.  We couldn’t help but notice the swim platform in the lagoon and agreed immediately we would swim out to it before we left.  We asked the bartender if you had to stay at the resort in order to enjoy all of this and she said no, anyone is welcome as the beaches are not owned by anyone. Maybe that is why nobody questioned us at the Ritz Carlton??

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We ate our lunch and then swam out to the swim platform.  It was something I will probably never do again as where do you find that scenario??

We got back on the scooter after our swim and headed up the mountains as we wanted to see the view.  We got pretty high, maybe not the highest mountain, but pretty high.  We saw a couple of goats that were just running around the mountain.

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After we went up, we decided to head back, get closer to the ship as we were running out of time.  

Once back to the port we had a beer, decompressed and headed back to the ship.

Island number three of our cruise.  Explored, adventure, risk, crazy and fun would describe the day.  Another day I will never forget.

Turks and Caicos Grand Turk

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Today I visited Grand Turk for the first time.  We wanted to see the island but really didn’t want to take a guided tour so I quickly found a plan b, which was to rent a golf cart.  It was $80.00 for the day, which I thought was very reasonable.  What better way to see the sights on our own terms.  The island is so many things.  It is beautiful, surrounded by turquoise waters.There were many homes, looked like million dollar homes, that were half done and partially boarded up, distressed.  When we returned the golf cart I asked the man that rented it to us what had happened and he said that when the economy crashed, many people that were building those homes lost their jobs and the banks pulled out of the projects.  It was very sad.

We did a lot of off road exploring on the golf cart as many of the roads are dirt roads.  We visited beautiful beach after beautiful beach.  I wondered why someone didn’t pick up the garbage on the beaches but since they were off the beaten path, maybe no one cared.  The beaches were still breathtaking, you just needed to look past it.  There were several beaches that it was only us, which was very nice.  While there I was relaxed and at peace.  

We came upon a very interesting project.  There were several cottages and an in ground pool on the ocean in a very pretty forest.  It looked like it was going to be a very expensive resort.  Evidently the project was never finished, all but destroyed and distressed.  I wondered if it was from a storm or the economy.  It had so much potential.    

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We visited the salt ponds and made our way to the Grand Turk Lighthouse.

My favorite thing about the island and our adventure were the donkeys and horses that roamed the island, free, content, well fed.  It made me very happy to see these animals happy.  The way it should be.  

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After our golf cart ride we made sure we had enough time to spend a good part of the afternoon at the resort area.  

The resort area was magnificent.  The sand so white and the water so blue.  We did some snorkeling and saw quite a few fish.  There were plenty of chairs and umbrellas at the beach so we were very comfortable.  The island natives were friendly and accommodating.  There were plenty of rentals there from scooters, to four wheelers to dune buggies, snorkeling equipment and more to fit everyone’s needs.

We did some shopping and bought a couple of bottles of rum at the duty free store.  We had a drink at Margaritaville before we headed back to the cruise ship.

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Grand Turk was a perfect combination of adventure, exploring and relaxing.  I would highly recommend the island to anyone.

 


Theresa Olivetto is an Outside Sales Agent for Roseborough Travel Agency. If you’d like to ask her more about her travels and experiences, please feel free to contact her.