Sunday, September 20, 2015

South Africa 2015 - Take Aways

South Africa 2015 - Take Aways

This is a bulleted list of some revelations we had during our trip to the country on the right.

In no particular order but divided by locale… a recap. Enjoy!

Johannesburg, South Africa

  • Due to my err in carefully looking at the itinerary, we did not stay as planned in this town
  • The OR Tambo International Airport, and process of taking care of guests definitely needed some attention.  
  • Plenty of options for eating and shopping.
  • Seriously, bused to and from the planes?
  • Seriously, we walked 5k steps from one terminal to the other (I counted via my Fitbit).
  • Airport Craft Brewers (ACB) beer was pretty dang tasty, each of the three four times we landed there.
  • Airport security was just that, people making money to make you take stuff out your pockets.
  • I didn't feel safe, but I didn't feel in danger either.
  • I didn't have to take my shoes or belt off, and still felt safe.
  • We had to go through security each time we went from terminal to terminal.
  • People watching at this airport was pretty excellent.

Zulu Nyala, South Africa (aka Hluhluwe, KwaZulu Natal)
  • Renting a car is easy, even if you reserve it in a different town, like Durban (a mere hour plus away).
  • Hertz took good care of us by changing the reservation, which made me thank them very much.
  • GPS devices are very nice, since our US phones couldn't do data over there without charging us a mortgage payment in fees.
  • They drive on the wrong (left) side of the road.
  • Cows and goats are free range (no fences).
  • The Big 5 and Magnificent 7 are fenced in with electric fences.
  • NO such thing as free range wildlife, as we know it.
  • They are called ‘preserves’ - as in preserving the wild from poachers (aka reserves).
  • Or so they say…
  • Impalas and Nyalas still roam free (nobody wants them as target practice).
  • The game drives were fun, no matter the size of the pre/reserve. 
  • Its all about the guide and his/her radio on what game you got to see.
  • Tips were only supposed to be 10%, but we tipped 20%.
  • We were LOVED at Zulu due to tipping practice!
  • Zulu felt like home, mostly due to all the Americans that were there.
  • This made for a nice break in period in a different country.
  • Nyala is pronounced “In-Yeah-La” not “Nie-Al-Ah” as previously thought.
  • We never, ever, never had a bad meal at this lodge.
  • We never, ever, saw a male lion or a leopard in these parts, which saddened us.

Richards Bay, South Africa
  • Beer in the bay at Jacks was R11.50, which at the time equated to $0.80US each for a 500ml.
  • 500ml = 16.907oz.
  • I liked Richards Bay.
  • Massages were R400 for 60 minutes, which at the time, equated to $30US.
  • I loved Richards Bay.
  • WiFi was plentiful by just asking the bar lady what the password was.
  • The Protea Waterfront hotel was quite nice.
  • I want a bathroom in my house just like we had in this hotel.
  • The Protea Waterfront hotel only passed out 500mb chits for WiFi use per day.
  • I got three or four said chits each day because the front desk liked us.
  • They loved what we call classic rock.

Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe
  • The leaders changed the currency in 2009 from the Zimbabwean dollar to the US dollar.
  • They charged for things like beer, food, and attractions like we were in New York City.
  • Sorry NYC, but you gouge too, at least in Midwest terms.
  • One of the seven wonders of the world, Victoria Falls, was ominous, fantastic, mysterious, and just plain freakin awesome.
  • Zambia River splits Zimbabwe and Zambia and while on a cruise, you can see the difference (not really, but you could feel it).
  • I never got tired of seeing hippos in the water, birds on the trees, or crocs sunbathing on the shore.
  • After eating in the bush, I gained a new respect for animals - the ones that eat you as well as feed you.
  • We still never, ever, saw a male lion or a leopard in these parts, which saddened us, again.
  • Even after canceling our Boma dinner for another game drive just to see one of each.
  • We still saw some elephants where one got pissed and acted like it wanted to charge our jeep.
  • The locals are high pressure sales people once outside of the confines of the hotel.
  • They are like clickers in Las Vegas (yes, that bad).

Cape Town, South Africa
  • This was the most pleasant surprise of the trip.
  • We had no expectations of this town, but absolutely loved it.
  • So much, we could see ourselves living here (at least Rob could).
  • I felt like I was in San Francisco on steroids and visa versa (I heard it both ways).
  • We weren't big on the wine thing, but we still did the tours due to the beauty of the country.
  • Whilst in Rome… (do as the Romans do).
  • Sonoma and Napa took second place, in our opinions.
  • People are extremely nice here.
  • The Cape of Good Hope was a great experience.
  • Shark diving rocked better than expected.
  • We felt very safe, but cold in the ocean.
  • I know why they call them wetsuits now.
  • Apartheid ended over 30 years ago in South Africa, but it was still felt there.
  • Townships aren't slums, as I was corrected many times.
  • I felt sick to my stomach while touring the townships.
  • I felt welcome while touring the townships.

  • NYC to Jberg flight better-than Jberg to DC flight (note to self).
  • We checked out of work pretty much right after we boarded the first plane.
  • We watched very little TV while overseas.
  • We listened to very little radio while overseas.
  • We didn't miss either very much.
  • We didn't track the Royals or Chiefs like normal while overseas.
  • We still loved the Royals and Chiefs, but didn't care if they won or lost nearly as much.
  • We quickly cared once we returned home.
  • We learned - A LOT about African countries, not just South Africa or Zimbabwe. A LOT!
  • South Africa is freakin huge, not to mention the other 53 countries that make up Africa in total.
  • We missed our family, friends, neighbors, and home while gone - very much.
  • We still haven't checked in to work on the day prior to be going back.
  • I saw some things that I could only imagine, both good and bad.
  • I still love the USA, more than any country.
  • South Africa comes in a nice second, so far.
  • I have a new found respect for my country and the freedom it has provided me.
  • I have a new found hatred to the capitalistic bastards that make this country one of the most selfish in the world (not the worst, but how can I buy a beer for $0.80 in SA but not in US?).
  • Ok, bastards was a little tough, but jesus, it doesn't really cost that much for beer, right?
  • Poverty in US has nothing on poverty in SA.
  • This was a trip of a lifetime.
  • We will go back to South Africa, because nobody does something so nice just one time.
  • Because we didn't see, do, or experience quite enough of this wonderful part of the world.

South Africa 2015 - September, 18 - 2015 - Travel Day - CPT-JNB-ACR-IAD-MCI

South Africa 2015 - September, 18 - 2015 - Travel Day - CPT-JNB-ACR-IAD-MCI

We woke up without an alarm, much like any other day we had in Cape Town.  The sea breeze was making its way in to our opened up room and the sounds of the waves were pounding the rocks on the shore.  We each took our time on the patio before we packed all our belongings in to suitcases, carryons, and such.  Thing was, we had way more stuff to pack than what we took over.  A set of three hand carved chairs for the grand girls (one each in each suitcase and one as a carry on), a hand carved Noah’s Ark for Scott and Victoria, some shirts for Kathy's mom, Marie as well as Tonya, material for my mom, Jan, and some art for our soon to be themed South African half bathroom.

The plan was to be back to the Cape Town airport by around 1115 AM SAST / 4:15 AM CST so we could drop off the car and get checked in to South African Air for our day plus voyage.  The trip was to be Cape Town to Johannesburg (more on that drama later) to Accra Ghana (more on that drama later), to Washington DC Dulles (more on that great experience later), and finally to Kansas City International (home sweet home).  The CPT-JNB-ACR-IAD-MCI first flight began at 1330 SAST / 6:30 AM CST and only took a couple of hours to get to Jberg, where we waited for the next flight.  Security at Cape Town International was pretty straight forwards. Matter of fact, that happened to be our favorite airport in Africa during our visit due to the ease of use and up-datedness (is that a word?).

We landed in Jberg without any incident and were bused in off the tarmac…  But realize and imagine 300+ airplane passengers being lined up cattle style to board the busses as they came to the area. It was what it was, but I was pretty glad that was the last time that we had to do that type of transfer.  The “fun” didn't start for a bit, but we were able to navigate through (the first) security line without issue.  We were able to find the bar from our first and second visits to JNB, so we partook again, as a celebration somewhat. 

Our next stop was gate A15, which was the gate that was to take us to Accra Ghana.  However, prior to being allowed in our gate area, we were asked to line up again for another security line. This time, they lined us up in male and female lines.  As we proceeded through the lines, we were asked to remover our shoes (which we didn't have to do in the initial security line), receive a pat down (which we didn't have to do in the initial security line), and have a thorough carry on inspection (which we didn't have to do in the initial security line).  They blamed it on the US and the TSA, but we feel a little different about it - I digress, for now. 

We entered the now-secure-gate area only to learn that there was a “mechanical issue” with the plane.  Great.  As we waited for around thirty minutes past our original boarding time, they began pre boarding of around us 300+ passengers.  What a hoot so far. We got on the plane and did what cattle people do once in their place and proceeded on our now 18+ hour ride to the US of A, via Accra Ghana, which was another hoot.  Once we got on and settled, the flight attendants shot some kind of cloudy disinfectant in to the air to ensure we didn't have cooties or something (it was for airborne diseases really, I think).

A few movies and some free dinner and drinks later (US is so money hungry compared to SAA), we arrived in Accra Ghana somewhere in the night time (it was dark out).  We had around an hour to be there to disembark some passengers and embark some others, as well as gas up and get the cabin clean.  The (more) fun came when they had security get on the plane and ask us to all stay seated.  After a bit, they then asked us to clean out the overhead bins of our carryons and still remain in our seats.  I asked, “How in the **** do we do this?”  So I got my stuff, put it in my seat and laughed a little, thinking - there is no ******* way we could sit in the seats with our stuff.  No way.  So, I stood as the gestapo security came through the cabin while the cleaners were cleaning and the pilots were hiding and the microphone was telling us to do one thing for a second then one different thing the next.  We rolled our eyes and just waited for the handcuffs because we weren't doing what we were supposed to.

After about an hour, we were back on our way with Ghana folks and others out and new people in - bound for the DC, baby!  This was the leg where not much happened other than a little sleep and some more movies.  Breakfast was served with around two hours prior to landing at DC, which worked out pretty nicely. However, the french toast was more like german sour kraut on warm soggy bread and bacon.  Well, at least the bacon was good.  We then tossed down a couple of coffees each, which was very strong (and good). 

Great landings were a plenty on this trip and DC was no exception.  The landing was near perfect, or at least I thought.  It was likely due to being back in the states, but you know what I’m saying… We then disembarked (I don't know why, but that sounds cool when saying it out loud) and moved over to the shuttle tram thingy where we were transported over to USA Customs and TSA security (again).  Reminder, we have now been checked for security once in CPT, twice in JHB, another time in ACR, and now twice-ish in IAD.  This **** is fun, eh!?!?  However, the customs line was actually pleasant due to the new and improved customs custom.  TSA wasn't too bad either. Once we passed through each, which was around 30 minutes in total, we headed to the next gate which was for home sweet home.  But first, we had to get a beer. Surprised?  Bonus session, I found a bar in the airport that had Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale, which is some sweet nectar from the gods in the great state of KY that contains around 8.2% alcohol by volume per serving.  Salute!  After a couple of those for me and a Sam Adams Octoberfest for Kathy (they didn't have Bud Light, Mich Ultra, or any other domestic worth drinking), we headed to the gate to get to the 816.

A small plane was ok, as we were headed back home.  We had an uneventful flight and were greeted at the curb by my mother, Jan.  She also had more beer in a cooler, which is how we roll, which you should know by now.  The plan was to go home and catch up for a bit then head to Rancho Grande for a welcome back, where a bunch of KC friends joined us for some Mexican and half price margaritas.  Lots of margaritas!

After safely arriving at home via a designated driver (or so they said) around 3:30 PM CST, we perched in our recliners and started watching some college football.  I think we woke up around 9 PM to head to bed and then I got up around 5 AM and Kathy around 6 AM.  Yeah, we needed the catch up sleep, after a mere 30ish hour airport and plane ride journey (sans time change).

As I sat and wrote the catch up blogs (Sharks, wine tour, and our fearsome trip home), we were visited by many loved ones.  Scott and Victoria with Olivia and Clair came over.  Kathy mom Marie stopped by with her new (to her) Nissan Rouge to say hi.  My mother, Jan, came over to bring a test pillow case dress to size with the girls.  Tonya came over to eat leftover breakfast.  My aunt Bridget came over to deliver a couple steaks and twice bakers with a case of domestic beer and we sat in the driveway enjoying the 70* f weather.

Life is good.  Life is good.

Friday, September 18, 2015

South Africa 2015 - September, 17 - Cape Town - Wine, Cars, and Lunch

South Africa 2015 - September, 17 - Cape Town - Wine, Cars, and Lunch

Day 17 of this glorious trip of a lifetime found us both very wore out from day before.  Probably a culmination of all the days before, but we are blaming it on the sharks.  The plan for the day was to head to wine country, check out a car museum, and eat some lunch at some esteemed and well recognized restaurant.  Everything was planned in advance to be a full day trip, but since we were pretty much already spent and wanted to have a half day to ourselves, we opted for a shorter guided tour.

We were picked up at 1000 SAST by our driver and headed up the road to Paarl, where our first stop was Glen Carlou. This establishment was very well known around the South African nation, as well as all over the world, such as Argentina and the US.  We were to have five samples each at Glen Carlou, where Kathy opted for the more sweet chilled wines and I went for the ones that were the most expensive and rated the best, which were most of the darker red wines.  Since we are far from wine snobs, er I mean connoisseurs, we had the sommelier tell us about the wine and just shook our head like we liked it.  I didn't have any issues with any of the wines that I tasted as well as any of Kathy's too .  Kathy is far from a wine drinker and I think was just along for the ride.  Her thoughts were that the tour we had from Marc a couple of days earlier was much better.  I think for one, we started with craft beers, and two, we had someone on the trip with us that knew his stuff.

After leaving the winery, we headed for the Franschhoek Car Museum, which Anthonij Rupert put together out of his car collection.  The collection, as explained by a couple of the employees, was said to have around 220 cars in total, which only 80 were on display at any one time.  Each of the four buildings had 20 cars in it each, as well as peddle cars, bicycles, engines, and other car related items.  There were five full time mechanics that kept the cars in running condition so they could be started up and ran periodically and moved with ease.  My first impression - wow!  There were cars from Model T’s, Model A’s, Mercedes, Ferrari, IRL, Mustang, and even a Honda NSX (which we know as Acura makes now).  I took photos like a kid in a candy store, though the photos were just snapshots due to the close security and ropes guarding the collection.  Still, it was awesome!  Franshhhoek was also a winery and eatery, but we did not partake in any of that, but did look around.

After leaving the car museum, we headed for lunch, which was a nice vineyard, restaurant, and suites called La Petite Ferme,  Again, we had R250 to spend on lunch, which equated to around $37.50 US.  You might not think that is very much, but when a 10oz beef filet only costs R100, its a pretty good deal (do the math).  After spending around an hour, both having fillets, beers, some cheese, and soup, we paid our R700 ($52.50US) for a 4 course meal and drink, we headed back to Cape Town.  This trip took an exceptional long time to get back since N1 was backed up for quite a long ways due to a car vs motorcycle accident.  I didn't like the scene so decided not to post anything about it.  It wasn't good.

After getting home, we chilled out on the patio at our temporary home imbibing some beers (so we didn't have any left) and relaxed.  The plan was to go to Brian's Pub for the seventh straight night for a going away party that we created in order to have our friends all join us.  We took off and went to the ATM since we were out of Rand, picked up our laundry (so we wouldn't have any laundry to do when we got home and it was cheap), and headed to our favorite beer drinking spot to say “until next time” (instead of good byes) since we think we are going back!  Photos were taken, hugs and kisses were given (Kathy did the kissing, since they were mostly all guys) and we recapped our trip on what we did, what we wanted to do but didn’t, and when we might make the trip again.

After a few beers, we all knew the time was was near, Marc and I engaged in a conversation about gridiron again.  I was wearing my KC Chiefs shirt of course, since they played the Donkeys that night, and Marc said he wished he had a shirt like mine.  So, I went out and grabbed a fresh shirt from the laundry visit and took the Chiefs shirt off and handed it too him.  You would have thought that I gave him $100US…  You see, I was intentional about bringing Royals and Chiefs shirts over, so I could give them to new found friends as mementos of the US. However, Marc was the first to even seem interested in baseball or gridiron/football, which made me finally pleased that my thoughts were in line on the t-shirt deal.  We took some final cell phone photos of each other, some solo, some in a group, and parted ways.  Our big day was upon us - the dreaded last day of the trip, which was a day plus of travel back to the heartland.  Bittersweet day, but we expected none the less.

Tour route:

Thursday, September 17, 2015

South Africa 2015 - September, 16 - Cape Town Shark Diving

South Africa 2015 - September, 16 - Cape Town Shark Diving

Yeah, we did it!  One of the most anticipated things that Kathy wanted to do while in Cape Town was to go shark diving.  A little apprehensive at first, I went along with the plan not knowing if I really wanted to do it or not.  Not that I would feel unsafe, since I believe they companies were in business due to safety (i.e. if someone dies as a result of a defective cage, that business would be defunct pretty quick, me thinks).

The day started out at a very early 0330 SAST, when Kathy’s alarm woke us up in order to get ready for our 0400 arranged pickup time.  Yeah, 4 AM in the freakin morning to drive 2+ hours to introduce yourself to Jaws!  What in the hell were we thinking?  We were the first pickup of around 4 stops in Cape town.  Once everyone was picked up, we migrated to Supreme Sharks in Gansbaai South Africa.  Most of us slept on the bus while traversing the hillsides and roads to the way to our demise, er, I mean experience.

Once we arrived at Supreme Sharks, we were greeted by picking out our wetsuits and boots before we went upstairs to get breakfast and coffee/tea, etc.  I opted to go with an empty stomach, just in case.  A little later, we were briefed about what to expect, a safety overview, what to do vs not to do (like what happens if you #1 or #2 your wetsuit), and where to puke if we were to get sea sick (not where the cage goes, but back by the chum bucket - blech).

Once all the formalities were in order, including signing a waiver not holding their business accountable if we were to lose appendages, camera’s, clothing, or our life.  Standard business, I guess.  Either way, we both signed and gave them our hard earned money to risk our lives by great white sharks.  Not really (see statement about safety above).

We set out around 0830 SAST in to the Indian/Atlantic Ocean to go see these jaws-like creatures.  As we were touring out of the bay, swells of the ocean were taller than the boat, which made for a pretty squirrelly ride on our 20+ minute journey out to sea.  While traversing the waves, I noticed that we happened to pick the seats nearest the trash bucket, which I thought was a great idea at the time, since the chum was over on the other side of the 40ft vessel that carried 20 of us victims passengers and 5 crew members.  Turns out, that was the chum bucket, were fish parts were mixed with sea water to put out to entice the sharks to show their faces to us thrill seekers.  Some people think that chumming sharks is just plain not right.  The way I see it as someone that goes to a zoo to see caged animals are doing pretty much the same thing, so I didn't listen to them .

Anyway, back to the chum.  The best way I can describe chum is fish parts, like heads, filets, bones, skin, guts, eyeballs, eggs, and all the other things that make up a sea creature.  I guess sharks really like tuna too, so there is an aroma to thawed out tuna that didn't make the cut to go to market (which was likely days ago).  Once the chummer was done with the parts, he would mix in some full fish by breaking them up by hand (thats freakin gross, btw), and by foot by mashing them with his boot.  As I watched him do all of this, I was thinking how this position would be written for a job opportunity and who on the earth would interview for such a position.  Enough of that corporate thought, I was on vacation…

The chum was dealt out via a cut up 1-gallon container with the top missing.  The chummer would dip the container in the trash can with the guts and parts floating and toss it out next to the boat.  This was supposed to attract the sharks due to their keen sense of smell.  However, during the first say hour and a half, it only attracted sea gulls.  Hundreds and hundreds of starving and loud sea gulls.  The sea gulls would dive bomb the water and grab what parts they could for breakfast.  At times, there would be pretty significant portions that a sea gull would grab and then it was a fight to the finish.  Several would chase and pursue the flyer with the take and attack the chum until it was whittled down to bite sized pieces for all to share.  Fun times!

For the better part of the morning, we were just watching the sea gulls and each other.  At one point, the first puker made his way over to the official and allowable puke area, which happened to be right in front of Kathy and I, as well as the chum master and his trash bucket full of liquid and down right ickiness.  Well played, Rob. You chose the best spot to catch all the nasty action!

About 2 hours in to the festivities, there was finally a shark sighting.  Then, another…  That was the signal to lower the cage down in to the water.  The cage was just that. Probably 7ft tall, 3ft from front to back, and around 20ft long.  It fit 8 of us, shoulder to shoulder, quite nicely.  The first group were preparing to go in the water, while the master diver dude baited the shark with a big rope with 4 fish heads tied to it (and bolted together for some strange reason).  The second group, which included Kathy and yours truly, were in line ready for the first group to come aboard.  As the first group did just that, they handed their weight belts and goggles to us.  We had the choice to dip the goggles in to the fresh water bucket next to the line or not.  Kathy and I did, for sure, since we didn't know which one of the black suited divers puked in the water or not.

As we received our goods and headed for the water, which was around 55* f, we were hurried in due to the presence of the sharks.  If you don't know how cold that water is, pour yourself a cold water bath sometime and just get in.  It pretty much takes your breathe away, even with a wetsuit.  Kathy and I, with the GoPro in hand, were next to each other and good to go.  It wasn't long before we saw a couple of different sharks.  Then a couple of more.  What a site seeing a great white shark up close and personal.  It was one thing to snap some photos and video while on the boat, but going in the water was crazy awesome.  Out of the 20+ divers, only around 14 or so took the option to dive a second time.  Of course, the Smiths were in line for the second dive as well, which turned to be one of the better dives due to the biggest shark, which measured over 3.5 meters (approx 12 ft) approached the cage and bumped into it with his snout and his body (his-hers-whatever-I didn't check anatomy).  What a thrill!

Once we got back aboard, we changed back into our street clothing and headed back to the shop.  The guy that was sick near us was still getting sick, even though he had some water and a lollipop (I guess lollipops help with sea sickness, so they said).  We posed for a group photo and headed up the hill to the shop where we had lunch and made final purchases (Kathy got a cool shirt).  They took photos and video the entire time, so once back, they edited the assets on the fly and presented us the video, which was also for purchase, which we did, which almost everyone did, which was very nicely marketed, which was not to shabby on price ($15US).

After we got some lunch and such, we got in the van to head back to Cape Town, which was another trek of 2+ hours, but this time in the daylight.  The sites were pretty cool throughout the journey back home, especially near Gordons Bay.  We were dropped off at the condo around 3ish, and took it all in.  What a special opportunity to do something like that, especially since we are from a landlocked state in the US.

Of course, we had to do the three S’s and get ready to go to Brian's Pub and share our experiences to our new friends.  Once down at the pub, most everyone was there as expected.  They had to hear about the crazy US kids that were going shark diving, which everyone there said they wouldn't do, due to being nuts or being like going to a zoo (see above).  The beer went down exceptionally good on this happy hour time.  Though being very tired from being up as early as we were, we toughed it out long enough and then headed home to get some leftovers from our fridge.  What a great day, though very exhausting.

Map from Cape Town to Gansbaai

Video courtesy of Supreme Sharks, Ganspaai South Africa