Thursday, December 31, 2009

Diving the Indian Ocean

Early the morning after the wedding, we piled into the little car and headed east to Sodwana Bay for some diving.

(Link to Google Maps)

It was an easy drive with lots to look at.




On our way to Sodwana Bay for diving

Sodwana Bay is a place that I grew up going to for summer vacation - which was Christmas and New Year's - with family friends. This was a VERY remote place in those days. Just some campsites with concrete bathrooms. We had to take all our food, water, and living needs. There was no diving at that time, because there was no power or infrastructure. We used to drive up the beach a couple bays and pick a spot with no kids, and just hang out all day.

Well, not so much anymore!
This is a diving mecca with all these different outfits taking people out... there are lodges and hotels, and POWER, water you can drink, a/c in the cabin, my own bathroom with my room, TV!
Sodwana Bay Lodge

At the Sodwana Bay Lodge, you are assigned a porter/caretaker/person who is responsible for the stuff you rent. This is George, he wouldn't let us do any of our own prep! Which was weird for us because our first day of training was about setting up your gear, and why you need to do everything twice! George knew what he was doing, and by day 2 we were letting him boss us around.
George and Lisa.  George was our porter.

You go out with a Dive Master (ours was Dennis) who ensures your safety on the boat
A little rough to get to the dive sites but definitely fun!!

in the water
Picture 002

and makes sure you are enjoying the best spots at the dive sites.
(We spent our dives on 2-mile reef, and Dennis took us to a different spot each day)

And wow, what incredible diving it is.

Clown Fish



Wednesday, December 30, 2009

A Truly Amazing Wedding

I'm not a big wedding fan. I find all the schmultzy love love disingenuous. I started thinking that people should get married after living together for 10 years. At that point, you can safely say you are going to love this person "forever" because you've seen them at their lowest low... and they have seen you. I thought - now that's a wedding I want to attend.

I got the opportunity this month.

The bride (my maternal cousin) and groom have been in a relationship for 11 years. They have traveled the world together, lived in a single bed at my aunt and uncles, lived in foreign countries, and made a life together.

Here are my Aunt (my Mom's sister) and Uncle.
Denise and Alan

Their wedding was the epitome of what a wedding is... the coming together of friends and family to witness the formalization of their commitment to one another; and it was a lavish affair!

(Tables set with Johnny Walker Black)

If you think about it, their community has been waiting for a long time to have this celebration, and its like they had been saving up!

The location was serene, the food was the BEST wedding food I have EVER had! (the main course was a BRAAI! with chops, ribs, and mielie meal with gravy!; the desserts were FUDGE, pavlova, and chocolate cake! yummmmm!), and the people were ecstatic.

Since the groom's family is religious, the wedding was a very traditional Jewish wedding.

My aunt had gotten everyone together to make patches of love for the couple, and then sewn them together to make the underside of the chuppah (in this photo, you can see the bride looking up at it... I love this photo).
Dani and Guy

The bridesmaids were wearing saris, and wow, that was spectacular! What a brilliant idea!

This is the maid-of-honor, the bride's younger sister looking beautiful in her sari.
Dani and Kira

The highlight of the night for me were the speeches delivered by my two cousins. When I left South Africa, these ladies were small children. They were amazing children, and since my Mom and Aunt are close, we spent a lot of time with them. Hearing their speeches at the wedding made me realize that they have grown up into even MORE amazing adults! and I very much miss being a part of their lives.

The younger wove a story and some anecdotes about the couple into a piece of prose. She explained who the bride and groom are with perfectly chosen adjectives that demonstrated that they are gracious people who are very giving, and have a bond in how much they care for others. She then went for the low punch of taking on the question of the night: why were they finally getting married when it had never mattered before? and her answer, because it was a nice thing to do for their community.
I have never heard such a well constructed speech! every word chosen deliberately.

And then... the bride! wow! talk about taking it on!
The bride is an audiologist and speech therapist who has chosen to work at a hospital that caters to the poorer populations. This was a conscious choice so that she can make a difference in people's lives. The first thing she said when she stood up is "I am going to take this opportunity of you as my captive audience to speak to you about the importance of living at this time in South Africa!" And then she appealed to her family and friends to remember that they are in control of making a difference in how the new South Africa evolves.
And unlike me (who would have been direct and probably come off as BOSSY!), she was graceful, clear, and convincing in her appeal.

Two truly amazing women!

One last thing of note... This wedding connected the one side of my family to the other. I am now related to myself on both sides =)

My maternal cousin is also my paternal step-cousin in-law in-law
My maternal cousin in-law is also my paternal step-cousin in-law
My paternal uncle is also the grandfather of my (blue)step-cousins...
(seriously freaked the kid out when I told him that!)

Saturday, December 26, 2009

The Perfect Vacation

Before I give specifics on each of our stops, I wanted to run through the itinerary and give mention to some folks.

When I started planning this trip, I did some research online. I quickly realized that I didn't have time to figure things out on my own, and so I did just one more search - a travel agent.
I found Megan Phillips at African Rainbow Tours and figured if they had an online presence they would be ok working with someone in a different country via email. It took a couple tries to work out when, how long, and in what order we would do all of the stops, and Megan was very responsive and easy to work with. We didn't realize realize how important the decision to use a travel agent would be, until we started on our trip. Everything was made easier by the fact that we had "vouchers" from an agent... but more importantly, the locations that Megan recommended were incredibly amazing! We highly recommend her services, advice, and assistance.

Megan hooked us up with a car from Europecar. It was a Toyota Yaris and served us very well for the two plus weeks of driving around.

Of course, the first couple of days were about an amazing wedding (more on that later) and we stayed at my Maternal-aunt and uncle's. Right after the wedding, still hazy from jetlag, we headed east to the ocean.

Our first stop was Sodwana Bay Lodge. We stayed here because they have a dive center and we thought it would be easiest to have the diving and lodging in one place. It was definitely easy, and the lodge was amazing. We had breakfast, lunch, and dinner here. They had a varied menu and all the food was excellent. We stayed in a bungalow and it had every convenience - air conditioner, mosquito net, fridge, bathroom en suite (yay!), and a big deck.

The diving operation at Sodwana Lodge was magnificent! Every dive went out with a dive master who looked after the divers and acted as tour guide. The team was very organized and you were assigned a person to help you with your gear (will post more about all this later). Bottom line - would use Sodwana Lodge diving team without hesitation!

Or next stop was Phophonyane Falls Ecolodge. For some reason, we were the only people with a booking the 2 nights of our stay. We had the dining all, paths, and grounds to ourselves. This is a very interesting place with very comfortable accommodations, delicious food, and amazing views. This lodge was Megan's recommendation. Thank you, Megan!
It rained the day we were here, which was perfect because we were here for a day of rest.

...and then we headed north. The big reason I looked for a travel agent was because we wanted to do a walking safari in the game reserve, and I had a hard time figuring out how to do that from so far away. Megan hooked us up!!
She put us in the Rhino Post Safari Lodge for one night, and their Plains Camp for three. This was such an amazing experience, there are no words big and full enough.
The lodge is built with incredibly creative architectural details, in the perfect location on a river, with all the comforts you could want.. including a large soaking tub and outdoor shower. Again, we were the only people staying at the lodge and the camp (we were joined by a man and his mom our last night at the camp), and so the rangers and facilities were at our beck and call.
The lodge was very African themed, but the camp was like taking a step back into the past and ending up at a colonial explorer camp. Wow! was this place incredible!
Rhino Post has a concession in the middle of the Kruger National Park northeast of Skukuza which means that you are not on a contrived, stocked, private park... but part of the large preserved landmass of Kruger. I highly recommend Rhino Post and Plains Camp, and see if you can get a reservation when the ranger Bernard is scheduled to lead the walking tours. He is so knowledgeable, entertaining, and runs a tight ship at camp.

Our stay was supposed to end at a bed & breakfast in Johannesburg (The Space), but compared to all the other places we had been, it was just wrong. so we canceled our last night and went back to my aunt and uncles. This is the only place that I booked myself, and I shouldn't have! I should have asked Megan to help with this reservation too.

So, those are all the places we stayed. If you're looking to do a similar type of trip, I would recommend Megan, Phophanyane, and Rhino Post. I noticed that Rhino Post is part of a chain of lodges, Isibindi, and there is one in the Sodwana area. If (or... WHEN) I go back, I would try that accommodation instead (Thonga Beach Lodge).

Cookies 2009

Baking cookies each year at the holidays became a tradition for me many years ago. Even though I don't live close enough to partner in crime to do cookies with her, we wanted to continue the tradition by making a cookie swap. Last year was a solo attempt in a small loft kitchen. This year I had help, and baked for two days in the kitchen of my home. Here are the results. Ready to be packed up tomorrow for shipping.

cookies 2009 1

cookies 2009 3

Monday, December 21, 2009

Out of Place

Somewhere east of Skakuza... maybe here, our Ranger looks in the side mirror and says:

"Here comes a funny car with lots of cameras!"

and low and behold, we are passed by the Google Maps car* taking "Street View" pictures of the Kruger National Park.

I can't wait for those to be loaded to see if we are in it!

Do you think they can hit "pause" and watch the lions for an hour?

(* same car, different location)

Thursday, December 17, 2009

View 6: The Space

B&B in Melville
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Wednesday, December 16, 2009

View 5: Plains Camp

The most perfect location for an African wilderness experience.
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View 4: Rhino Post Safari Lodge


Amazing architecture, people, and experience!

4 days late since no service at Rhino Post - SMILE!
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Friday, December 11, 2009

Good morning!!

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Thursday, December 10, 2009

View 3: Phophanyane Falls, Swaziland

This is a place for rest and contemplation.
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Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Sodwana Bay


Sitting on my bed in the lodge, with a/c, my own bathroom, and a bag of biltong.
I used to come here as a kid. We only had what we brought. There was nothing here. Now its a nature preserve, diving mecca, and full service accommodations.

Had two incredible dives today. Saw so many different varieties of fish. Of note on the register of sightings where two sea turtles and lots of moray eels. Just wait until you see these pics.

The second dive was on very rough seas. I was pretty surprised we got out. Once you get under, its calm and serene. Had to imagine the surface chaos.

The lodge is a couple miles before you get to the beach, so we got a ride over with the staff. The park and campground entrance are the same as they were when I was a kid.

Its funny, the last time I was here, the divers were just getting into diving here, and I thought - yikes! There goes the neighborhood. Now that I known what diving is all about, I realize, its a good thing. There people care about the preservation of the ocean.

We have another day of diving then its off to Swaziland.
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Monday, December 07, 2009

Headed east from Piet Retief

South African Economic Stimulus Package.
Improving roads everywhere...

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35,000 ft

Somewhere over Africa.
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Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Thinking about...

I feel really bad for Tiger Woods. We all have bumps on the way, but when you are that famous, they become giant mountains. It's not fair that the media expects famous people to be perfect all the time.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

What is it?

I am going to double ask this question because the people who are confirmed as my friends haven't been able to give me an answer, and I'm hoping maybe the greater Google searchable virtual inter connection of everyone can help me out.

- they are Korean
- it is the patriarch who is working on this project.
- its a dried plant of some kind, like tea leaves
- I didn't notice anything that used to be growing (outside) and is now gone - ie they grew a lot of oregano and now they are drying it.
- its one consistency; no twigs, blooms, buds, and its very fine.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

What the ! is this?!





The Late Colonel John Carlyle

Last night I went to my first funeral.

It was the reenactment of the funeral of Col John Carlyle.
John Carlyle was a respected trader (of slaves and guns) and helped establish the town of Alexandria, VA.

We paid our respects to the family, and learned of the ghosts that still live at the house.

Apparently, there are energy orbs that show up in photographs of the front yard.
I took a bunch of pictures, but didn't see any light that came from something that was not a lamp.

After our tour of some haunted Alexandria spots, we went back to the house to join behind the coffin, family, militia, bagpipes and drummer to form a procession down Fairfax from the house to the cemetery. There the coffin was placed on top of the actual gravesite of John Carlyle. The paster read the same words, and the militia set off a three-musket salute.

What an incredible evening.