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South Africa Sabbatical

Welcome to Mike and Alicia's South African sabbatical travel journal. We spend three weeks traveling around South Africa going on safari, scuba diving, wine tasting, shopping, hiking, exploring and more. Journal entries are written by Alicia, photographs are taken by Mike with his shiny Canon DSLR.

Diary Entries

Saturday, 04 September 2010

Location: Livingstone, Zambia

We had a pretty easy morning, drinking coffee in bed before heading to the lapa for breakfast. We finished packing and before we knew it we were in a car on our way to the airport. We made it through the tiny airport crammed full of two planes worth of people and made it to Joburg with no problems. Of course, Joburg was where all our problems started. I wondered several times if we were on some hidden camera show.

We had to pick up our luggage and go through customs and then recheck our luggage and go back through security once again. Let's start counting how many times we went through security. Did I mention we had to go through it twice in Livingstone? No? Well we did. So that's two. Customs into Joburg makes 3. This is where we went to pick up the box of wine we had in storage. Of course they only took cash. I found an ATM and was forced to take out way more cash than what we needed. I got our wine and we went to the tax refund booth to turn in our receipts to get a refund of the 14% tax we payed on everything we bought. We had to pull all the items we bought out of our luggage. We had no idea that we could get a refund of tax and that to do so we needed itemized receipts, so we didn't keep them all and some we only got a credit card receipt for, which wasn't enough to qualify. We ended up with only 4 that qualified. The lady stamped them and told us we could turn in the receipts at another booth after we got through security. We checked in and went through security for the 4th time. We found the booth and waited in line, again. They informed us that our most expensive item receipt wasn't valid because it said "delivery invoice" instead of "tax invoice". He was like "here, I'll give it back to you so you can go back and get a better receipt". I'm like "hello, we are leaving the country, in like, an hour!" So we are down to 3 qualify receipts, but it gets worse. He gives us a special check for about 100 rand and tells us we have to go right next door, stand in line again, in order to get cash, yippee! We got next door and stood in line, again. Of course they charge a fee to cash the check and won't give us U.S. dollars, so we end up with about R70. We were like wtf are we going to do with all this extra rand? We found a duty free shop and bought a bottle of Amarula which is an African fruit cream liqueur for R100. That left us with about R50 which we spent on snacks and some bottled water for the plane. We got to the gate and there was some security people who stopped us and said we had to go through security again. Anyone flying to the U.S. had to go through another security checkpoint at the gate. The problem with this was they wouldn't allow liquids (i.e. the water we just bought) to go through this checkpoint. I was all "are you people fricken serious? we bought this water like 10 yards before the damn gate!" Mike and I each chugged a bottle of water and then went through our 5th security check.

8 hours of flying + 2 hours sitting in Dakar + 8 more hours of flying = 18 hours of sitting on that damned plane. We arrived in D.C. and went though customs and our 6th security check of the day. Our flight was almost an hour late so we weren't sure if we would make our connection. At this point Mike was pissed off, like everything little injustice that happened would set him off. He was already angry and convinced we would miss our connection as we stood in line for customs. I kept my cool, tried to calm him down and did all the talking so he didn't berate the customs agents. We made our connection with about 5 minutes to spare. I used those 5 minutes to stop at Starbucks and get myself a java mocha frappaccino. I never knew iced coffee could make me so happy. I was just excited to be in the U.S. again and was too tired and loopy to worry too much about anything. We finally made it to Madison and I was giddy.

Friday, 03 September 2010

Location: Livingstone, Zambia

Today the only thing on our agenda was a village walk and school visit. A guide took us in a boat down the river a little ways to one of the small local villages where about 300 people lived. Almost every building was made from sticks and termite mound mud (which, when dried, dries as hard as rock) with a grass roof. There were a few buildings built with bricks and some had tin roofs. The children in the village were all very friendly and would walk by us and smile and pose for pictures. We were surprised to learn at one point that this was the village our guide lived in and he even pointed out his house and children to us. There were chickens and guinea fowl running around and most of the ground was littered with trash like plastics, wrappers, bottles, broken fruit husks and even broken glass. This village made the poorest parts of the U.S. look like the Taj Mahal. Everyone and everything had a layer of dirt and dust on it, which, with it being the dry season, is tough to avoid since it's everywhere. Despite how clearly poor this village was, everyone seemed happy and friendly. They had 3 bars in the village where they played music at night by using a generator and during the days using a solar panel. They had a field where the kids would play soccer, sometimes against kids from neighboring villages.

After the village walk we headed to the school where children from this and other villages in the area go starting at age 7. This school went up to grade 8, children who continued in school after that had to go into the city for grades 9-12. Classrooms were fairly basic desks and chairs, but had colorful paintings on the walls of the buildings and bright posters in each room which, depending on the grade, highlighted things such as animals, math concepts, days of the week in English as well as other English vocabulary words, artwork the children had made, and pictures of the students and progress charts. They had a music room and a small amphitheater for music performances and plays and traditional dancing. I was surprised to learn they even had a computer lab with 7 laptop computers connected to the internet. They had a library as well with over 7000 books ranging from children's book and novels, to encyclopedias and old text books or other informational books.

It was about mid-day when we got on the boat to head back to the lodge, it was blazing hot and we couldn't wait to get back to the lodge to at least get in some shade. For lunch they made us spaghetti and some super yummy cupcakes for my birthday. We relaxed for most of the afternoon and I read a lot. Another couple arrived at the lodge, of which we only met the wife because the husband was really jet lagged and apparently drinking beer in his lodge. This lady was the last person you would expect to be staying at a lodge in the bush. She didn't know hippos only ate grass, not people. She worked in car insurance in L.A. which should give you a good idea of what type of person this lady was. They were only spending 4 days in Africa and then going to the Netherlands. What we all wondered was why in the hell anyone would spending 24-35 hours traveling one way to spend only 4 days in Africa and not go on Safari or really plan any activities. It was good night, I had several glasses of wine for my birthday an some yummy dinner. We could hardly believe it was our last night in Africa.

Thursday, 02 September 2010

Location: Livingstone, Zambia

We had to get up around 6:30 to get ready to go rafting. A truck picked us up at the lodge right after breakfast to take us to the rafting place. As we started to go though town we approached a group of police standing in the road stopping each car that drove by and waved some on while they stopped some to ask them questions. The police officer stopped us and started asking the guide questions like "where are you taking these people?" and "why did you pick them up in this type of vehicle?". Finally he made the guide pull over and get out and they went out of earshot so we weren't sure what was going on. The officer eventually came over and asked us a few questions like where we were going and how much we were being charged for the ride and for the activities we were going to do. We sat there a bit longer and at one point almost had to get out and walk the rest of the way, but the officer let the guy take us to the office, but said he had to come back after he dropped us off. When we got to the main office we finally figured out what had happened. The government regulates taxis and other vehicles that can drive tourists and they have to be registered if they drive for hire. Since the vehicle we were in was owned by the rafting company and we weren't paying for the ride itself they weren't registered that way and I guess the police officer was being stupid about it not realizing that this guy wasn't a taxi and was in fact a part of the rafting company. Luckily we weren't delayed too long and it would be something that the rafting guys would have to figure out with the police later.

We picked up the other folks who would be going rafting with us and heading to the Falls. Our rafting trip would be starting from rapid #1 which is called 'the boiling pot'. Today is the first day of the year they are starting from rapid #1 because the water just dropped low enough to make it safe to go on the first 10 rapids. Before today they were starting at rapid #10. We had to climb down into the gorge right at the base of Victoria Falls and enter the raft as it bounced around in the turbulent water. The first half of the rapids were so intense! There were several grade 5 rapids and one grade 6 which we portaged around. The grade 6 rapid was called 'commercial suicide' and it didn't look like something I would want to try to go down anyway. The rapids are graded 1-6, with 6 usually being something that is unsafe to run. As we climbed across the rocks to avoid the grade 6 rapid we figured they would carry the rafts around it, however, then we saw a guide get into each raft alone with a paddle and shove off down the rapid paddling furiously. We stood there in shock and awe as they bounced down and made their way down the rapid and picked all of us up at the end of it. They had to be crazy. When we got to rapid #7, which is called 'Gulliver's travels' we lost two people out of our raft when our raft was completely sideways on a wall of water. I have no idea how Mike and I managed to hang on, but we made it through and pulled out the people who fell in when we got to the end of the rapid.

Halfway through, on rapid #14, we dropped off some people from the other raft and picked up more people who only were doing a half day rapid trip. Of the around 17-18 people who rafted that day only 6 of us did the whole day trip, it was exhausting because we had to do a lot of paddling. Some of the tamer rapids and calmer spots on the river we were allowed to jump out of the raft and float down the river on our own. It was awesome to float down the current and over some of the smaller rapids in the water, though I am glad I didn't have to float down any of the major rapids on my own.

At the end of the day we had gone down 25 rapids and could barely move we were so sore. Luckily we didn't have climb out the gorge at the end of the day, there was a cable car that lifted us out to where we got a some food and then got on the truck to go back to our lodge. On the drive back we drove through several small rural villages. The kids of the village would run along side the truck shouting "maku, maku, maku!" which we learned later meant 'whites'. We had extra bottles of water and chunks of ice from the cooler that we tossed out to the kids as they ran along the road. As we made it back to our lodge we could see our sunburn starting to appear. We had put sunscreen on in the morning before we left, but the African sun and the Zambezi river still gave our legs quite the sunburn. We showered, in cold water since the hot wasn't working, and then laid motionless on the bed trying to decide which hurt more, our arms, our backs, or our sunburned legs. For dinner we met a couple who had just arrived from Chicago and were on their honeymoon. We ended up calling it an early night since we were so completely exhausted.

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Recent Messages

From Mike
I am so glad for you both.

Love dad
From Lisa & Kevin Quinlan
What a fantastic trip!! The pictures are truly amazing (love the captions), and the journals are absolutely rivoting! We have really enjoyed sharing in your adventures.
Response: Thanks so much! I'm glad we could share our experiences with so many people, I'm happy to hear you enjoyed it :)
From Aunt Pam
Happy Birthday Alicia!! So glad you are having such a wonderful time! Love the pictures!
From Stacia Grace
I love this!! I want a copy of a bunch of pictures!! Can't wait to see more! You will have to make me a disk or two!! Ashy -your editorial is WONDERFUL!! Mmwwaa!
From Connie
Amazing! Wow! So Cool!
From Mom
Oh my gosh!!!! That climb sounded really scary. I am so glad you got down safe and sound, even if you were a little wet. You know I like to hike but that sounds like I would have froze at some point on that hike.
Love you!!!!
From Bob & Alvina
HI kids it sure looks like you 2 are having a very good time. We love the diary an the photos. We will love to here your stories when you come home. love grandma & grandpa
From Stacia
The birds flying out reminded me of the moth in the basement!! Haaaaa! Thank you both so much for making us part of this awesome expreience!! Mmwwaa!
Response: Haaaa!! Oh my gosh, it was just like that!
From Mom & Dad
Hey Kids,
I love the picture of Nala :) She is being a good girl and her and Fetch have been playing well together, tug of war and tag. Dad wants to hunt the Kudu and the Warthog. Oh yeah, looks like you were close enough to get my lion cub :)
Looks like you are having and AWESOME trip. We are so happy for you and talk about the fun you are having to anyone who will listen :)
Nala sends a bunch of sloppy kisses :)~
Love you bunches!!!!
Mom & Dad
Response: Yay, glad she is being so good and having so much fun.

Yeah, we got to be very close to all the animals. The Kudu and Warthogs were only about 30 meters away. That male Kudu in the photos is actually a fairly small one, they get much larger than that.

We were almost close enough to the lion to touch him. He was only about 5 meters from us (as were the females). No cubs right now.

Just wait til you read about our adventure today!
From The Mama
Where do we go tomorrow?!!! This is awesome! I am all verklempt here! Love the blogs and the photos are amazing! The elephants are fabulous! Alicia in the safari hat with elephant in background.... Tawk amongst yourselves!! Mmwwaa!!
Response: Love you too mom! We are in Cape Town for a few days and then in some smaller towns along the coast after that. I thought of you every time we saw elephants :)
From jess ott
looking forward to updates! :) hope your flight(s) were not too unbearable!
Response: Check out the pics of the hippos!!
From Connie
Have fun and be safe. Looking forward to reading about your adventure!