Posted by: Laura | November 10, 2012

All aboard!

July 16, 2010

Today was a jam-packed day of activities! We woke up and quickly grabbed breakfast at the hotel before heading out to the Zambizee River for some extreme white water rafting. When we say extreme, we mean Class 5 rapids and crocodiles in the water! The good news is that the crocs avoid the rushing water, which is where you are most likely to fall out of the boat… but if you jump into still water it is at your own risk because we definitely saw crocodiles sitting on rocks all around the river. The rapids were SO fun! We had Potato, who turned out to be a wonderful guide that was determined to give us a good time.

Rapids!

We went from rapids 14-25 and ranged from Class 3-5, though the most extreme were three Class 5’s in a row and our boat flipped on the third! It was an extremely intense moment when our boat flipped and all 9 people hit the water at the top of the rapid! Both Kyle and Laura (along with a few others) ended up underneath the boat when the flip happened, which meant getting out from under the boat as quickly as possible and trying not to get sucked into the whirlpools around us. Kyle escaped the rough water pretty easily but freaked out for a minute since he couldn’t locate Laura who ended up on the other side of the boat and was bobbing up and down in the rapids trying to get air and see where she was. Luckily our host for the trip, Richard, threw an oar in Laura’s direction and pulled her safely to the boat. We all had to jump on top of the upside down boat to ride out the rest of the rapid before coming to a still location where we could re-flip the boat. Jumping back into the water with all of the shock and adrenaline from the boat was scary considering the possibility of crocs in the still water! Thankfully we didn’t see any at that point and everyone quickly climbed back into the boat. We only flipped the one time, but came close a few others. Another highlight of the rafting was getting to stop to cliff dive off the Zimbabwean side of the river – which of course Kyle loved. Laura didn’t get out of the boat this time, which means Kyle got to Zimbabwe, Laura did not.

Cliff jumping in Zimbabwe!

We ended the rafting and hopped directly into a jet boat for another less thrilling, but still fun experience where we did 360 degree turns at 4G force. It was a nice way to end our time on the Zambizee River. We then took a cable car up the gorge and had lunch overlooking the rapids below.

After lunch we were heli-lifted over the falls and back to the hotel. It was Kyle’s first experience in a helicopter, and what amazing sights for his first ride! The Falls look spectacular from the air – a totally different experience than walking beside them. Being able to view all 1.6 kilometers of waterfall from the air was simply amazing.

Kyle’s first helicopter ride!

What a view!

We had a quick few minutes at the hotel before heading off to the next activity: gorge jumping! Matt had already jumped earlier in the day, since he was unable to raft with us do to leg injuries, so we heard all about how fun the jump was at lunch. This jump is a 53 meter free-fall attached to a climbing rope from a harness. Once the rope catches you it swings you across the gorge. Sounds pretty intense, right? It is. Many people told us this was worse than the bungi-jump because of the whiplash that some people get if they don’t hold the rope right or jump wrong. Kyle and Andrea braved the gorge swing while Laura was a little more cautious. Not one to pass up a zipline, Laura headed to the activity next door, the flying fox, and ziplined across the gorge a few times while Kyle and Andrea hiked back out of the gorge after their jump. They both let go of the rope a little early, so we are a little worried about them being sore for a few days – ouch! The reason they went first on the swing was so we could hurry over to the next activity – we told you we did a lot today! Next stop: bungi jumping!! Unfortunately we got there as they were closing shop and had to reschedule for tomorrow morning, which means another busy day because we are already scheduled to microlight as well.

After the rejection at the bungi-jump we went back to the hotel and took the quickest showers possible before heading out to our Zambian farewell dinner. It was a secret location that no one would let slip, and was well worth the surprise. We took a van to the secret spot and arrived at a 1926 vintage train that has been refurbished and is fully operational. After staying at the Royal Livingstone Hotel all week, which is the epitome of English Colonialism, this train was really the icing on the cake.

All aboard!

Not to mention that we discovered once aboard the train that one of our resources, Christopher Tett, who had been with us all week and helping plan our daily activities is British and his family has been responsible for refurbishing this exact train. It was over the top and included a huge dining cart, cigar car, full bar and observation deck. It was really crazy to see all of the local kids so excited as we went down the tracks past their homes, and most of them chased us for quite a while.

Local children chasing the train.

We watched the sunset from the observation deck and enjoyed a few drinks, and before beginning our delish dinner, we snuck into the engine room where we saw where the train conductors sit, where the coal fire burns and coal is kept and even got to toot the trains horn as we went along. Then we rushed back to enjoy our amazing dinner which included amazing roast lamb.

Posted by: Laura | November 10, 2012

Safari Part 1

July 15, 2010

We woke up this morning, put our “safari” gear on and headed downstairs for breakfast before leaving for , Chobe Park, Botswana: home to some of the largest herds of elephants in the world. To get into Botswana we had to take little boats and go through customs where they checked our shoes – an interesting experience.

The boat to Botswana.

First we went on a boat tour, on the Chobe, which runs between Botswana and Zambia. We saw a Red Hornbill bird, like Zasa from the Lion King, and many elephants.  The most amazing part was watching the elephants cross the river, a seeing a smaller male trying to join a group of 3 other older elephants.

“Hey, can I join?”

They finally let him join them!

We also saw tons of hippos, the most dangerous of the African mammals – there were probably 50-60 laying in the mud at the end of our tour. Also on this boat ride we saw plenty of Kudu, a Fish Eagle, Crocodiles, Giraffe, Impala (species of antelope, around 7), and about 10 zebra, baboons picking through elephant dung.

Crikey – a croc!

Hello, water buffalo!

Long neck

Pumba?!

Lee Berger, paleoanthrolopologist (probably the longest word in our blog so far, and definitely the longest going forward.  Anyways, he’s been in Africa since 1986 and has recently (2009) discovered a new species the Homo genus that has completely redefined and reshaped the landscape of how we think humans evolved.  Essentially, it’s a new age “missing link” between homo erectus and “Lucy” or Australopithecus africanus, and dates all the way back 1.9 million years ago.  What a treat to have on the trip: an absolute expert about human kind, evolution, the animal kingdom, as well as the anthropological aspects of our ancient ancestors.  He has truly been an amazing resource on this trip and has added so much to our experience.

Safari Kyle!

Our dinner tonight was both Kingklip, which we enjoyed in Cape Town with Keith and Michelle Petty, and also a new experience for both Laura and I, impala.  It was a delicious red meat, though not as tender as traditional beef fillet or elk tenderloin.  The fish, as well, was not as good as what we had experienced in the coastal Cape Town environment, but who can complain about anything on this trip?

Posted by: Laura | November 10, 2012

Elephants, “rain” & Saturn’s rings

July 14, 2010

We woke up  and headed downstairs for breakfast at 6 to find only pastries and juice, a bit bummed that we got up so early for it. We were called out this morning for our outfits, matching khakis, white shirts, and the same brand of hiking boots. Short endorsement: Asolo Gore-Tex boots are amazing.  Not only did they not get wet, they’re comfortable for long hikes. So what if we are dressed alike? We have been together for about 80 days now with little more than one bag of luggage – what did you expect?

We arrived at the elephant park, and had a real (English) breakfast after the first group of 11 goes went to see the elephants first.  After breakfast, the other group arrived back and we took pictures of them as the dismounted.  It was now our turn!  Elephants are such gentle giants.  They hear very well to make up for their eye sight being rather poor.  We got to ride the largest elephant in the group, Bop (though for most of the trip we thought his name was Bob, and was handled by William); Bop is the dominant bull of the herd.  He was the only elephant that does not use the loading deck to let people on his back.  Instead, he sits down to allow his passengers on board.

Very excited to get on board while Bop sat down for us

The difference in this elephant park from others, is that while the elephants do sleep on the property, they are given the days to roam wild.  It’s actually how they have grown the herd.  Somewhat domesticated however, they roam freely and then always come back.  With skin about half an inch thick, it was amazing to see the things they would eat.  Using their trunks, they would rip branches off of trees and chew them up while we were riding them.  Their power and strength is amazing!

Riding Bop!

We even got to feed them!

Baby baby elephant!

Afterward the elephant adventure, we came home and took a much needed nap before lunch. The post-nap hike was incredible. We hiked down to the Boiling Pot and had amazing views of the bridge and swirling pools that give the area its name. The most amazing part of hiking near the falls were the “rain” and rainbows!

hiking

Notice the bridge: more to come on that in a later post.

it’s “raining”

After getting soaked by the Falls we cleaned up for dinner. Dinner was a bit of a walk at a location just between the hotel and Victoria Falls. We actually walked past it after we hiked down to the boiling pot this afternoon. We were led by a group of tribally dressed locals chanting all the way who later provided the entertainment: chanting, singing and dancing the night away.

We also had a fortune teller/witch doctor who was telling people about the ailments in their lives and predicting their futures, unfortunately she said telling fortunes took a lot of energy and she was worn out before we had a chance to talk with her.

Trying to coax the fortune teller into giving her predictions.

We also spent quite a while, well, Laura did, with the astronomer and his telescope. He had the telescope fixated on Saturn and you could actually see Saturn’s rings. It was so cool! They spent a large part of the evening discussing the vast space in the universe and debating that with 100,000 stars in our universe and 100,000 universes with 100,000 of its own stars: what is the likelihood that there isn’t something else out there living on at least one of them. The conversation turned science fiction and was a little surreal, but was so interesting to hear an astronomer with a deep science background share his view.

Fascinated!

We shut down the dinner party again, being the last to leave and headed back for some good conversation with other YPOers at the bar before going to bed. Tomorrow is a big day – we are heading to Botswana to look for the herds of elephant at Chobe National Park!

Posted by: Laura | November 10, 2012

Victoria Falls here we come!

July 13, 2010

Arrive in Africa picked us up this morning to head to Zambia.  Luggage call was at 6:30, we had breakfast until 7:15, and were on the bus headed to the airport at 7:30.  Our flight didn’t actually leave until 11:00, but to allow for traffic and security we left extra early. As soon as we landed in Zambia we were whisked away to our first adventure: a “speed boat” that took us to the hotel – where we saw hippos, crocodiles, kingfisher birds, giraffe, and monkeys! The speed boat took us right up to the edge of the falls, where we found our hotel. We were greeted at the Royal Livingstone Hotel by tribal dancers and had lunch on the waterfront deck at our hotel which butts up to the Zambezi River. It is beautiful here!

We settled in to the hotel and then headed back out for a Sunset Cruise. It was an awesome African sunset. We had one pretty disappointing casualty: Kyle’s “famous” sunglasses fell in the river while trying to get a nametag-free picture. Sorry, Kyle! Other than that the cruise was a wonderful start to this leg of the trip.

Sunset cruise

African Sunset

The last “famous” picture.

After the sun set we enjoyed an outdoor dinner on the hotel grounds. A perfect end to our first night in Zambia!

Posted by: Laura | November 10, 2012

We’ll see you in Rio

Today, we woke up in Sandton Towers, next door to where we were staying tonight. Thanks a million to the best hosts EVER for letting us stay in their rooms – Ryan, Nathan & Miki – we owe you big time! We are staying next door in Sandton Sun overnight once we meet up with the Dillard crew.  We rounded up our stuff and had another great lunch with Ryan, Nathan, and Miki at Kauai, a health sandwich/wrap place with amazing smoothies and then did a little shopping in the mall connected to the hotels. After resting up and transferring hotels we greeted family and said farewell to our friends. We’ll see you in Rio 2014!!

Thanks for everything!!!

Farewell friends! It’s been real!

 

Posted by: Laura | November 10, 2012

WORLDCUP FINALS

July 11, 2010

A little back story for those of you who may not know: Originally, we planned to come to South Africa with Matt Thomas and Scott and Allie Moore for the World Cup.  We all went through the ticketing mess with FIFA on the first deadline and all ended up with one game a piece.  The World Cup was obviously the motivation behind our friends coming, but we had ulterior motives, which was to come and visit Ryan and Brendan in their country after becoming good friends in Aspen.  Both of them spent the 2008-2009 ski-season working at the Merry-Go-Round restaurant on Aspen Highlands with Laura.  Kyle became good friends through snowboarding and hitting the town with the crew.  This past season, Ryan was going to come back to Aspen, but after finding out that he was to be the Best Man in his friend’s wedding, he opted to stay.  We’ve been counting down the days to catch up ever since.

A bit let down to only get one game, especially considering how far in advance we had applied, we were still resolved to make things work, banking on being able to get more tickets once here.

Originally, we were planning on about a 3 week South Africa experience.  After telling Mike Dillard (Laura’s Dad) about our plans, he mentioned that he would love to take us on a safari there, since his experience there in 2001 has been one of his favorite vacations ever. So, we started looking at dates, and realized that the Africa Family Safari Experience (AFSE) coincided perfectly with our existing plans.  We could just meet up after visiting our friends and attending the World Cup.  That’s where we are in this part of the story: about to meet up with Mike, Libby, Matt, Andrea, and Mikey.  It just so happens that our accommodations for tomorrow night are the same as our FIFA friends for tonight and YPO has been kind enough to come and transfer us to Sandton.  We were downstairs, ready to rock this morning after a nice breakfast.  About 9:15, we got a call from the AFSE organizer, making sure that we had been picked up as arranged at 9:00.  He said he had just spoken with the driver and that we were in the car.  Well, it turns out that there had been a major mix-up.  The driver took a “young couple”, but not THE Young couple to the Sandton Towers.  How crazy was it that they were going to the exact same place we were? And that they were “young”? We waited about 45 minutes for another driver, relaxing poolside in jeans. At about 10, we were on our way.  On our way in, we talked to Ryan, but no one had leads on tickets.  It looks like it may be on to Plan B.

Since our check in isn’t until tomorrow, we are planning on staying in Ryan and Nathan’s rooms for the night.  Arriving at the hotel, we set up to store our luggage and as soon as we were done and wondering what to do, we ran right in to Ryan, who had just arrived from the airport!  The stars have aligned quite often for us on this trip, like we were fated to be here!

We met up with Nathan, but were quickly separated from them, as they had to be in their caravan group about 1:30 for their VIP transport to the game.  We stayed back in Ryan’s room for a little bit devising a plan to get in to the game.  We decided that our best shot at this point would just be to scalp some tickets outside. We got dressed up in our most Netherlands appropriate gear and headed for the stadium about 3:30, even though the game doesn’t kick off until 8:30.  Armed with only about $600, assuming we could get to an ATM at the stadium, we arrived around 5:00, only to find out that the only ATMs nearby are inside the stadium! D’oh! How are we supposed to scalp tickets to the final with $600 for 2 of us, considering that a Category 1 Ticket face value is $900? Technically, it was illegal to scalp tickets to the World Cup, so the first few people with tickets were very discreet.  The first offer we heard of was 15,000 ZAR, or about $2,000! Things weren’t looking very good for us.  After talking to a few more guys over the next couple of hours, we decided that the probability of getting 2 tickets together was very slim.  We jumped at the next offer, a Category 3 seat for about half of our money, with about an hour and a half before kickoff.  Now, the real mission: to find another ticket for about the same price and get in before kickoff.  30 minutes later, we were in luck.  Some Spanish speaking older gentleman had a Category 1 ticket, that he sold us for our remaining cash.  Whew! This was one of the greatest feelings of luck I’ve ever experienced.  Yes, we did get 2 tickets to the World Cup Final for about $700 USD! I’m still excited about it.

Possibly the happiest Kyle has ever been

All the while we were outside hustling to find tickets, we missed the Closing Ceremonies that started about 6:30, but we did catch a bit of the light show and the fly-over.  Walking in, hurrying in to get to our seats to catch the lineups, etc., we run in to none other than our boy Miki, who says to come say hi to the crew in their Category 1 seats.  We get there to find out that there are 2 empty seats right next to them!  Everything was falling in to place again!

So happy to find our friends!

We had now gone from scalping tickets outside, to seats about 40 rows up right at midfield: perfect seats!  For those of you who watched it on TV and thought the game was boring, I’ll have to say that being there makes all the difference.  There is so much pent-up excitement, and with two nations, each fighting to call themselves World Cup Champions, everything was to play for.  Well, it did take 120 minutes to decide, and Spain did end up victorious., though we were pulling for Netherlands.  I guess you can’t pick against the Octopus, right?  It was definitely a historic night, and one that we’ll remember forever.  Thanks to Laura for being an awesome wife and being a great fan throughout this whole experience! I think the world has gained a new football fan – that’s great news for me!

So excited we made it to the Finals!

Still representing the USA drinking Budweiser

The time of our lives!

Post-game we headed back on the train, where we had to wait about 45 minutes for a cab to take us back to the hotel.  After the long rides to get back, we were all quite hungry, so we sat down for a bite at the hotel.  A bit exhausted coming down from this World Cup climax of the Final, most of us weren’t still in the mood to party tonight.  It was about 3:00 am already, so going out was a bit of a lost cause at this hour.  We all said a quick goodbye, in case we don’t meet up tomorrow before Laura and I meet up with our “safari” crew.  It’s all in a day’s work. I love my life.

Posted by: Laura | November 10, 2012

Relaxing in Jozi

July 10, 2010

Today, we caught an early flight (8:45am) to Johannesburg, a couple of days earlier than expected to try and pick up some World Cup Finals tickets.  Ryan was kind enough to drop us off this morning about 7:30am after very little sleep.  Again, Ryan, if you’re reading this, you’ve been the best host! Thanks Petty!

Not knowing anyone in Johannesburg, we had no plans when we got there.  With a reputation of being a dangerous city, we had little motivation to venture outside the comforts of our local hotel. We stayed at Africa Centre Hotel, near the airport against the recommendation of YPO, but everything turned out very nice.  The only issue we had in the whole process was that upon arrival in Johannesburg, Kyle’s bag was ripped! It’s only about a 2 inch rip, but what in world were they doing to the bag in order to rip it? Oh well, I guess.

Relaxing at the hotel!

We settled in, had a nap and woke up for dinner at the hotel.  It was definitely a nice change of pace to the hectic nights we’ve had with the PE crew.  The excitement has now built to a maximum, with the World Cup Final upcoming tomorrow evening.  We still don’t have tickets, as we’re hoping someone will give us a call and say they have spotted some for sale.  Plan B? Yes, just head to the stadium and try to scalp some.  Fingers crossed, we had a full night’s sleep and will be transferring to our next hotel tomorrow morning.

Posted by: Laura | September 10, 2010

One last night in Port Elizabeth

This morning we met back up with Brendan and Linzay and drove out to a Lion Park just outside PE. We saw lots of kudu, zebra, giraffe and elephants in the park and then went to the lion conservation area and spotted the white lions.

After the driving part we stopped to walk through where the younger animals are kept and saw the 13-month old lions and Siberian tigers. You could pay extra to get in the caged area with the lions and tigers to pet them, but they were a little large and before you could go in the guide had to enter to “see if they were feeling too naughty for guests or not.”

Wonder if they're feeling naughty today??

We decided not to chance it and go play with the baby lions instead. They are three months old and as playful and cute as can be!

The adorable baby lions

Playing with Simba

After the morning with the lions we decided we needed an afternoon at the beach! Kyle has been dying to learn how to surf and even though the water is ice-cold, Ryan decided to give him a lesson in the Indian Ocean – which is conveniently just across the street from his flat. The surf lesson went pretty well, but surfing wasn’t as easy as originally thought.  With experience in a wide array of board sports, I figured it wouldn’t be that big of a chore to learn.  Well, there are a few more moving parts to getting up on a surfboard than with the others I’m familiar with (snowboard, wakeboard, skate board).  After a while, and many attempts, there were a few short moments of glory on the tiny rollers of PE.  It was an awesome experience, reading the direction of the waves, and just enjoying the sheer power and beauty the ocean has to offer.  I’m beginning to understand now why people can be so in to the ever-challenging sport.

Kyle surfing

Watching the sunset after surfing

Once the sun began to set, and Kyle and Ryan realized how cold the water they were swimming in actually was, we went back to shower and get ready for the pizza party tonight. We went to Ryan’s other married friends’ house tonight. For those in Aspen, it was their Tim and Rebecca’s, whose wedding Ryan stayed in South Africa for last season because he was the best man. It was great to meet them and to hang out with another married couple for a night. We had a make-your-own-pizza dinner where everyone brought toppings and we each made our own dinner.  Ryan made us all muffins for dessert. We played UFC tournament style on the Xbox while we ate and visited and then headed out to the bar. It was a short trip to the bar since we were all pretty tired and we have an early flight to catch tomorrow. But of course we ended up talking at the flat for most of the night; Ryan and Nathan even stayed up until we left and made us a parting DVD of music so we won’t forget what they’ve introduced us to.  Thanks a million guys! See you in a couple of days in Jozi for the FINAL!

So long, Port Elizabeth!

Posted by: Laura | September 10, 2010

Back to PE

After our day of rest yesterday we were recharged for the day ahead. We said goodbye to our wonderful hosts, thanks again Keith and Michelle, and flew from Cape Town to Port Elizabeth. Ryan had flown back yesterday (the reason we had a chance to rest) and picked us up at the airport just in time for lunch. We went to John Dory’s for their advertised half-price sushi. The waitress heard our accents and tried to hold out on the half-price part, but thanks to Ryan we got it anyway. It always helps to have local friends! Somehow Laura was still tired from the past few days and ended up napping through a lot of the rest of the day while Kyle blogged. At 8pm we got ready for dinner and went to Old Austria, the restaurant where Ryan waits tables. It was delicious! We had a great bottle of wine and tried as much of the menu as we could. For appetizers we had springbok (a kind of local antelope) carpaccio, beef consommé and crumbed camembert cheese, all sharing of course and then for the main course the boys had filets and Laura had the prawns. We met just about everyone that works at the restaurant, including the owner, and shared a few recipes with him as well. He brought us over some Don Pedro’s for dessert which are a local treat that can best be described as grown-up milkshakes. You basically pick the liqueur that gets added into the ice cream. They were great! We then took a tour of the kitchen and talked more with the owner before heading back to the flat for a low-key evening. There was no World Cup game tonight so staying in was a good option to gear up for tomorrow. It’s our last night in PE and we plan on living it up!

Posted by: Laura | September 10, 2010

Sleep, finally!

We woke up at noon, after staying out so late last night in Cape Town. As exhausted as we were, we had an important errand today. It’s been 2 months since we left home and that means it was time for real life to catch up to with the vacation time. Michelle made us an appointment and we headed off to get haircuts at 1:30pm. We  got a little lost, but made it there in one piece. It’s a little hard to get anywhere when driving on the right side of the road, on the right side of the car and the directions sound something like this, “turn left at the stop street and then go through two red robots, then take the next right at the stop street and …” Yah, their lingo is a little different than we are used to. For those non-Saffers out there, “red robots” are stop-lights and “stop streets” are stop signs. After weeks of hearing it, it is still confusing and hearing them say “robots” is still funny every time.

Well we both got our hair done and both felt a little butchered by the time we got out of there. Laura has some new fringe (bangs) and a shorter do and Kyle’s definitely is shorter as well. We’re not sure how we feel about the new styles yet, but I guess that’s what we get for getting our hair done out of town! Once we were done we realized we hadn’t eaten since the breakfast buffet at the Westin Grand this morning so we stopped over and grabbed some spicy Thai food and biltong to take back to the house. The rest of the night was very mellow for a change. We napped and watched the Germany v Spain game and decided to call it a night relatively early. We definitely have some sleep to catch up on!

Sorry, no pictures today. We are too tired to do anything but sleep!

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