Posted by: auntbtravels | September 5, 2017

First day of safari


We were up early to catch a  flight to Pokolone, then spent 2 hours in a truck,
(passing the Tropic of Capricorn) until we had our first giraffe sighting just after Vivo.  We also saw Sable antelope and Impala before even passing into Botswana.
Arrived at the border where we left South Africa. Our camp driver picked us up in an open air jeep and we drove almost immediately into the Mashatu Game Reserve to an old airfield.  There they had tea ready for us.  Empanadas, meatballs, and drinks.
We then piled back into the jeep to start our afternoon safari.
And what a day it was! It was warm but not too hot. We bumped around then saw a herd of Impala. These were to be common sightings throughout the trip. We stopped to see a number of exotic birds, then spotted a Wildebeest. They are so awkward looking that the myth is they were put together with all the left over parts from other animals
Our driver got the signal that there was a cougar sighting  30 minutes away. Off we went!  On the way we saw one dazzle of zebras, then another one, which we just had to stop at for a few photos. Finally we arrived and spotted three cougars.  These are known to the,trackers as the three brothers.  One was lazing on the ground to one side of a big bush, while the other two were grooming each other in the shade on the other side. Eventually one of the two moved out front to catch some rays and the other followed shortly after, but not before a huge stretch and a yawn.
We then continued a bit longer until with inctedible luck, we spotted a herd of elephants lumbering steadily along the path. We pulled up and stopped, watching as they marched by. A few reached up to feed on small birds nests perched in the branches of nearby trees.
Could have watched them for a very long time but the sun was starting to set so our guide found a safe place to stop for ” sundowners.” This is part of a traditional safari schedule that must date back to the British Empire. The guides pulled a cooler , a table, and a kit of metal cups and wine glasses,  then proceeded to fix us each a proper drink with which to enjoy the sunset – thus the nane “sundowners.”

I personally imbibed in a lovely, light and crisp gin and tonic while others chose red or white wine, which was also on offer. The sun set and we headed back in pitch darkness to find camp. The road was bumpy, taking us down into dry river beds where the temperature would drop noticeably, then  back up onto the bank and through windy pathways that only the driver knew to take. We had a “branch manager” otherwise known as our second guide in the back of the jeep who would warn us when we needed to dodge a particularly invasive set of tree branches. Thankfully nobody lost an eye from a branch or fell out of the jeep when it tipped precariously on a steep turn or uneven patch of trail. It took a long time to get to our destination and there really was no sign of camp until we came right upon it. But what an oasis it turned out to be.
We were greeted at the jeep by our hosts upon arrival and led up a path to a wonderful outdoor sitting area where we received instructions about our stay and the forthcoming evening meal. Everyone walked down to the cabins together and our guide brought us all in to one tent to explain accomodations. The tents were stunning. Full electricity and running water, beds with cosy looking pillows and  comforters , full safari themed decor, and an open air en suite bathroom,  projected from the wild by tall walls and thatched coverings. It was quite an inviting and  adventurous ambience  discovering the tents at night.

We even had personalized thermoses waiting for us in the rooms along with a lovely welcome letter.
There was no time to waste so we dropped off our things and walked back to the “lounge” to have our pre dinner drinks. Everything was on offer – cocktails, wines, small snacks. We settled  in for a little while with our drinks, reliving the short but full afternoon of viewings, then were ” called for dinner” ( again, how proper!).  Our guide walked us down a short path, then threw open a curtain to reveal a lovely, fully lamp-lit outdoor dining room.

Two long dining tables were set up for the two groups staying at camp, and there was a small campfire crackling in the middle if the space. A woman stepped out and asked for our attention as she announced the menu for the night.  We were served a delicious leek and sweet potato soup as a starter. We then came up to the outdoor “buffet” and were able to self serve from a hearty menu of grilled pork, beef stroganoff, pasya, mashed potatoes, steamed broccoli and butternut squash. There was also a salad and plenty of homemade bread, followed by a dessert. Our whole group then finished the meal with a small after dinner drink of Amarula. A local fruit distilled into alcohol with cream added – a Botswanian Baileys Irish Cream.
With that the meal ended. We had an early 5:30 am  wake up call to look forward to!

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Posted by: auntbtravels | September 5, 2017

African Adventure – Johannesburg


After a VERY long trip from San Francisco via Paris, we arrived at 1030ish to a charming gentleman named Johannes, who was waiting for us as we got off the plane. What service! We easily grabbed our luggage and went through customs – I was asked to take off my glasses – and we exited where we found Ant and Karin waiting as well.

A quick trip to the airport hotel and we were ready to hit the town. A minibus collected us and we headed out to downtown Johannesburg for lunch.  After circling a while to find the parking,  we went to Mad Giant brewery for lunch. It was in a regeneration area, very industrial and modern looking.  I had a lovely light cider and the rest of the table tried a flight of the brews ranging from a weiss to lager to porter. We tried a sampling of tapas plates that were unique and delicious. Venison carpaccio , skewered chicken, spicy  broccoli,  etc etc.
As We were finishing up our tour guide Jo from her company pasttimes arrived to get us started on our 2 hour walking tour.  The modern , hip complex we were in at Mad Giant just happened to be located across the street from the most sinister building from the apartheid era,  the police building.  Here,  many young blacks were brought in for questioning and never made it out of the building.  There is still one case that has been going on for years by the family of a young  man whose death was recorded as a suicide. The family wants it officially changed to murder.  What’s compelling is, that the daughter of the last living person who was there,  a police officer,  just turned him in to the govt saying it was time he came clean with the truth. Watch this space.
Next up we walked through the original Chinatown. Only one street of 2 -3 blocks long,  it still offers Chinese restaurants and stores. Most of the original families own the buildings and their next generations have moved on but newer immigrants keep the shops going.
A local native medicine shop showed us another way immigrants integrated into the community. All the shops are run by two families of Indian origin, who help keep the roots and plants available while also actively practicing the local beliefs- not just merchandising them.
We then took a look at public art and graffiti,  which is not only tolerated but encouraged.
At about the same time SF was going through its gold rush,  Johannesburg was experiencing its own rush.  Mining themes are still evident downtown including old drilling machines now used as public art.  A neat part of having Jo as a tour guide was that she is definitely part of the community and the history. A graffiti artist makes reference to her in some of his tags and she was able to point out where her grandfather had worked.
We walked to the building where a young Nelson Mandela opened the first all black law office with his partners and saw the photo if him sparring on a rooftop that inspired “the boxer” statue across the street .
Last stop was the cheery Perk cafe, which we caught right before closing.
All in all a great introduction to the city in a very short period of time. Now, on to safari!!

Posted by: auntbtravels | December 17, 2016

Savor the journey as much as the destination


Usually I’m so focused on my goal, or destination, that I don’t stop to appreciate all the moments along the way. I’m not even half way through my journey to Tallinn and already Ive had just an awesome journey.

Forget that the Lyft driver almost didnt show up this morning to pick me up at 0 dark thirty. Fortunately, I called the number I had missed at pickup time in time to discover he was going to be late. After momentary annoyance, I rebooked in real time and had a gem of a driver at my door in 8 minutes. Situation recovered!

On my flight to Portland, I sat next to a mom and her 7 year old boy from Petaluma. Turns out it was the young man’s first. flight. ever. He was sooooo excited.  It was funny to hear her answering all his questions  and telling him what to expect. We looked at each other at one point and she told me she had been answering questions since 3:30 am  that morning and that they were going to see her mom in Washington for the weekend. But still, it was wonderful to watch how much she did to make the experience special. He got a snack box treat and a sparkly drink. I mentioned to the flight attendant that it was his first trip and she made a nice fuss over it, giving him a chocolate bar and finding him his “wings.” I mean, how often do you get to be part of a rite of passage like that? So fun.

Now I’m on a 3 hour layover in Portland and after a bit of a wander, ended up at Stumptown coffee for some caffeine. Just happened to start chatting to two cool young ladies who attempted to educate me on the difference between Instagram and Facebook. That kickstarted a conversation about blogs, goal setting, travel and bucket lists. We are now Instagram friends!

I am holding out hope for a comfortable coach flight over to Amsterdam. And if I can’t sleep, well, I’ll just watch all the movies I’ve missed and shows I can’t watch online (yeah, I don’t have real TV anymore) and enjoy the ride…..

Posted by: auntbtravels | November 27, 2016

Northern Christmas Markets – Tallinn and Helsinki


My newest adventure is in the works – an off the beaten path Christmas Market jaunt in Estonia and Finland.  The Christmas Market is just a excuse – I have wanted to visit Tallinn for a very long time and the early furlough at work has provided the perfect opportunity. 2.5 days in Tallinn, 2 days in Helsinki and half a day on a ferry round trip.

I arrive on Sunday at about 1:45pm and leave Friday morning.    The Christmas markets will be  evening destinations as there will be limited daylight to see the  deep history of Tallinn and dynamic outdoors of Helsinki,  so I will definitely savor the Christmas   lights and keep warm with Glugwein.

Posted by: auntbtravels | September 3, 2016

Jaguars under the raindrops & More


Day two started out COLD but not a lot of rain. Things looked promising. Breakfast was warm and simple, and more importantly there was hot coffee. We grabbed our garbage bags (remember that purchase at the grocery store?  Well worth it!!) And took the bumpy tractor ride back down to the boat. By the way, this is the daily pattern at Jaguar Camp. Eat, boat, eat, boat, eat, sleep repeat.  It was about 7 am when we headed out and it was light but the sun was caught behind some clouds. The new heat against the old cold created mist from the water to the sky.  Everything was a bit damp and we started out with a pretty long ride out to the Cuiaba river. We heard a call over the walky talky soon thereafter,  there was a Jaguar sighting! The driver gunned his engine and we roared to the prospective spot. Yes there he was, jaguar #2. He was sitting high on the cliff and seemed very content to be lazing there. We waited a while then moved over to the other side of the river to do some fishing for pirahna.  We used raw meat as bait and more often than not, the meat was gone when we yanked the bamboo pole back up! No reel or anything to help, the ” pull in” was a quick yank up of the pole, but not so hard that the fishing hook went flying into the boat. Success! We caught a few that were too small or too skinny to eat , but ended up with two between us that were keepers and went home with the driver. We went back for lunch.


Jaguar 2

That afternoon we went out again and it started to rain. So much so that we had to pull over under some bushes for a while. It was pouring and we had no boat cover. Miserable! Eventually we went along to look for more . Under the rain we found  Jaguar #3, on our own!  It was hidden up on the bank, wisely sheltered from the rain. We were the only ones there for a while until the rain started slowing and other boats showed up. It was not very active and eventually we gave up and headed back. The rain started again and that ride back was miserably cold and wet. I went the whole way hunched over, letting the hood of my jacket and my sun hat take the brunt of the raindrop.


Jaguar 3

On Day three we did a lot of stalking of Jaguars

Jaguar 4
Was on the bank of the river and walked along.
Jaguar 5 Zoolander hanging out on a branch. Pregnant female and watched her walk down to  the bank and catch a fish. We followed her around quite a bit
We then headed back for lunch
Jaguar 6
In the afternoon found one that was not a great sighting,hidden up on the bank and stayed behind the branches
We then went out to another sighting that we thought was a new one but it was really this mornings pregnant female. We watched her stalk and miss a capiabara who flew off the bank down into the water.
On the final day we saw three more plus right off the bat we saw Zoolander. She sat around and then moved out on the beach
Jaguars 7 and 8
These were the two adults that were barely visible up high on a bank. They were mating and we hrard them a couple of times but never saw them again
Jaguar 9 was the final sighting which was pretty fantastic. We saw it stalking several prey. First time it went after a caiman, lept into the water then missed it. Then hid under the bushes on the bank and went after a capyabara who honked and got away.

Posted by: auntbtravels | September 2, 2016

Counting the Jaguars begins!


We set out on the boat at about 2 pm under the threat of more rain, really excited to find our first jaguar. It took about an hour and a half before our driver heard one had been spotted and we zoomed over to see what was up.

There it was right on the bank.

Jaguar#1 day 1

We watched it for a while as it slowly walked across the bank stepping into the water  as it continued on its way. It disappeared in the brush and we decided to go back. It had stayed quite cold and the wind in the way back was very nippy!

Dinner was rice and beans chicken and fish.None of it was near warm enough to deflect the chill but I found the hot tea again. Someone caught a pirahna and that hot soup became available too, very tasty and warm. We met the other 2 groups at camp…a large group of French travellers who were on a 20 day trip and a small BBC crew who had been filming for several weeks. Talk turned to the weather and it seemed more rain was in the forecast  for the next day but then the weather was expected to change. According to the photographer of the 3 person crew, they were here last year and it had been unbearably hot . I just wished I had a few warmer things.
Off to bed for an early rise on Day 2

Posted by: auntbtravels | September 2, 2016

Creatures of the Pantanal


The Transpaniera was never completed as intended and now  long and unpaved , it is used as a safari trail and birder’s paradise. We drove almost to the end to get to Porto Jofre but even early on in the drive we started seeing birds and nests everywhere. The giant red-necked jaipura  I mentioned before, egrets, parrors, herons, kingfishers, chickadees, bright colors, yellow and orange, we even saw a red cardinal and pink flamingos. A group at camp counted 107 birds they had seen in the area…

Termites

Another type of nest we saw were termite nests. Tall gray mounds that sometimes looked like shaped tombstones, other times like craggy rocks. They were noticeably dotted throughout the landscape earlier on the trail then tapered off.

Caiman
Next were the Caimen, a form of alligator. They were everywhere both under water with only their eyes visible or lounging in the sun fully exposed, often with mouth agape as if to say “ah, that sun feels so good!”

And finally one of the more unusual ones for me were the Capyabara.

These are very large brown rodents that looked like a cross between a hippo and a teddy bear. They always appeared in at least a pair, most often sitting on the bank of the river eating grass or sitting contentedly with their families and a bird friend or two . They swim and we saw one jump off a cliff and into the water below, small legs pumping frantically in air, to escape a predatory jaguar. Oddly I found these guys very cute despite their rodent status.
At camp we had a few resident birds, large brown and red ones that cackled at each other constantly, and then a flock of large  blue macaws, who visited to eat the small nuts growing off the palm trees surrounding the camp.
On one of the days on the water we saw a group of otters. They have a unique sound they make when comnunicating to each other – part dolphin squeal, part quacking. We came upon a group who went out hunting food together. It was entertaining watching them speed off in a pod, duck under water, then come up and gasp on some air before ducking back under. One caught a fish and enthusiatically ripped into it before us.
Then of course there are the jaguars. More to come on them.

Posted by: auntbtravels | September 2, 2016

Setting off on the Transpaniera


We set off early for Jaguar Camp. As we sat  at the hotel’s breakfast buffet (which inclused cheesy bread balls and empanadas) I noticed it was raining. Quite a difference from the heat of the day before. The Wild Pantanal tour guide arrived right on time, introduced herself to us and ushered us quickly into the van to avoid us getting too soaked.
Graciele outlined what to expect. We would drive for a few hours then stop at the store where we could pick up snacks and drinks other than water that we might need for the boat. Then, because it was raining we would stop and change vehicles before we got on the unpaved section of the Transpaniera. After we arrived we would eat lunch at Jaguar Camp then immediately get on the boat for the rest of the afternoon.

The rain let up a little bit and we had a bit of fun at the first stop…the grocery store. We scanned the aisle of interesting looking snacks , crackers and nuts and tried to decipher the flavors. Dave ended up with meat flavored  Ruffles potato chips, and pringles was a safe bet. Picked up a few garbage bags just in case it kept raining which was a very smart move, it turned out! We got back in the truck and continued a short way to a lovely posada hotel to exchange vehicles and drivers. While we waited for the switch, I was able to watch a tall, white bird called a Jaipura stalk around the courtyard under the rain drops.  It has quite a personality, just pacing around, firm step by firm step. Periodically it would walk over to the far railing and gaze out over the adjacent river. Then he’d start pacing again.

Before long it was time to get going again. We hopped into the sturdier truck and headed out.  Soon the road transitioned from paved to unpaved road and by the time we got to the formal Transpaniera sign it was clear this was going to be a hairy drive in.  The road stretching ahead was of reddish pink dirt which had become a bit slushy.  For the most part it was a very bumpy ride. We crossed a number of wooden bridges and an equal number that were under construction and required a diversion around the bridge to lower ground. Once or twice the car skidded and the driver struggled to keep the car on the road. Then up ahead we ran into a bunch of cows being herded along by two cowboys, or gauchos, and we followed the heard for a short while as the gauchos guided them to the side to let us pass. On the way around one diversion ( bridge closed) there was a truck stuck at the side of the road. Coming back up the slope our tires spub…slowly then with a lurch we were back up.

Over six hours from when we headed out of the hotel, we finally turned in to Jaguar Camp. Whew! Lunch was ready and waiting so we dropped our bags in our little cabin and checked out the remains of the food. Rice, beans, fried fish and baked fish all sitting in ceramiv dishes over a small flame. The food wasnt too warm but the tea was perfect. Then we got into a little trailer and took a bumpy but short ride through the trees down to the boat at a tiny port… Porto  Jofre. The search for  jaguars begis!!!!

 

Posted by: auntbtravels | August 29, 2016

Cod 5 ways at Originale de Parma


First on the agenda – lunch! My friend found the second highest ranked restaurant on Trip Advisors for Cuiaba. An italian place called Originale de Parma. They are “known for their cod dishes” so trying that was a must. Thank goodness they had small photos of each dish on the menu because (surprise!) the entire menu was in Portugese and there was no staff who spoke English. The photos were helpful but definitely not a replacement for actually understanding the ingredients. For example, what looked like a plate of devilled eggs was actually bits of mozzarella with dabs of shredded pork in the middle. Didn’t try those. What we did try were a few croquette looking appetizers, one filled with something of a dense bean stew with spinach in the center and bits of smoky bacon (very  tasty accompanied by a mild house made pepper sauce)  the others with cured beef surrounded by  a yam or sweet potato puree. There were several options for the cod meals. Most were depicted in deep lasagne dishes and since that and the accompanying portugese descriptions were  fairly murky, I decided on the simpler version of  baked cod with some vegetables and rice. Turns out the portions are for 2 people, so that was the final pick for both us.  I looked around while waiting for the food to arrive. The place had really filled up while we were struggling with the ordering process and it seemed to be groups of families, friends and couples enjoying a leisurely Sunday lunch. All the dishes were generous, many tables were enjoying a bottle of wine with the meal, and I noticed  almost nobody had food left over when it came time to clear plates.

Just then our dish arrived and that piece of cod was enormous. It was accompanied by a handful of broccoli and a huge separate bowl of rice. Truly, we tried not to be wasteful, but only got halfway through the cod. It was good but overall those bean stew croquettes were the highlight of the meal.

Next stop,  walking to see the sights of the city.

Posted by: auntbtravels | August 29, 2016

So, what is there to see in Cuiaba?


To burn off some of that lunch, we decided to walk down to the central square “Repubblica” and als find the two cathedrals that comprise the “must see” sights of Cuiaba. The very nice couple sitting next to us at the restaurant sent us down the street in the same direction our waiter had mentioned earlier. It was definitely warmer and muggier than when we had originally set off from the hotel. The streets again were fairly empty.  Fifteen minutes later we figured we werent seeing anything remotely like downtown. Sure enough, we passed by a couple sitting in their front, screened in porch area and they confirmed we were way off track. If this didnt happen every single time I am in a new place, I would have been surprised ( remember the two independent sources directing us down this street?) But a seasoned traveller knows its just not right if you dont get lost once or twice and call upon the locals to help you find your way. In this case, it took a  third set of locals to head us in the right direction, and in the end, Google maps got us to the final mile . Thank you, technology?

Once back on track, the sweat and heat started to take its toll. We spotted one of the two targeted cathedrals up ahead…and way up a hill. Thankfully it was a beautiful external structure of white with red brick detailig , tall, imposing and regal from its position above the city streets.   (translation:  there’s no way we are hiking up that hill). Took a few snaps and turned left in search of the original Republicca square destination. We found it. I am sure once it was splendid. Today, the fountain and surrounding statues are dulled by time and lack of maintenance, but the tall trees and greenery provide a beautiful peaceful context. In stark contrast, the museum and government offices on two sides of the square are still  resplendent, painted a cheerful yellow and brightening up the square quite a bit. Right behind the fountain we found the second cathedral we were looking for. From the outside it looked nowhere near as fancy or new as the vision on the hill we passed earlier. Plain and a bit worn on the outside, not out of place in the downtown milieu. Tall and wide, the three cathedral doors facing the fountain were open,  and as I walked in to take a look, I noticed the side doors to the street were as well. The inside was a vision! The many  small square windows along the side walls were all mini bursts of light, effectively taking the place of  fancy stained glass windows. Mosaic like paintings covering the sanctuary walls from floor to ceiling sparkled and welcomed.  It struck me that this place successfully delivers a sense of the spectacular and wonderful, an easy to access haven from the city just a few steps away.  Im glad we chose this one to explore.

The heat has taken its toll by this time and we dragged ourselves back to the hotel with visions of the cool, empty hotel pool teasing us along.

At last the hotel appeared up on the right. But wait. Is that a gelato sign? Are they actually open on a Sunday!? Miracle! joy! I sprinted up those steep stairs like I hadn’t just walked miles in a sauna and was greeted by the vision of smiling servers in an empty, air conditioned shop practically forcing me to taste the cool creamy sweetness of heaven in a freezer. Ok, perhaps a bit of an exaggeration but if you know me, you know how I feel about gelato. Long story short, the hotel pool was momentarily forgotten while I indulged in pear and lemon gelato and got a quick history of how the owners brought his gelato to Cuiaba. He pointed out his gelato making equipment and we chatted about this mutual passion in a mix of “portug-english” then it was time to get going. Have I mentioned I love gelato?

Finally we made it back to the hotel and ran, almost literally, to a pristine and empty pool on the 2nd floor.  I jumped in without hesitation and its a good thing as the water was cold!!! Very refreshing though and extremely tranquil. As I got used to the temperature I floated on my back facing the sky and was lulled into an almost a meditative state, quietly watching the clouds shift from whipped cream to wisps of cotton, and the sun set gently in a haze of pink.

BZzzz. I saw the mosquito before I heard it. And in about 2 seconds I was out of that  pool and inside. I made it to and through my  day in Cuiaba ( so there Ms. Agent from the airport!!)

Tomorrow begins the Jaguar adventure…

 

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