6.30.2009

Our Great South African Adventure: Days 7 & 8

Note: I'm posting the trip in increments of one or two days, so make sure you start from my first post and work your way backwards--just follow the titles!


DAY 7
  • I couldn’t get enough of the wild animals, so Bryan and I decided to do another game drive, this time in the Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park. The weather had finally cleared up the day before, so this was our first chance to see a beautiful African sunrise (since we left the hotel at 4am!!). We didn’t get to see the elusive leopard, but we did get a lot closer to the buffalo, and we saw more giraffes, zebras, wildebeests and elephants.
  • Next it was back in the van for a long drive to Durban, one of the big cities in South Africa. Durban is known to have a fair bit of crime in the city, so we actually stayed a little north of the city in an area called Umhlanga. Linda dropped us off there just after lunch, and then he left us! We were sad to see him go, he was a great guide!
  • Durban was the warmest city we had been in, and our hotel was a short 5 minute walk from the beach. Bryan and I grabbed a pizza and then headed down and relaxed a bit on the shore of the Indian Ocean. I was struck by the difference in their sand (if you can call it that) and ours—there it was basically small pebbles and shells. We didn’t change into our bathing suits before going down, but I did roll up my pants legs and get my feet in the water. When else am I going to have a chance to get in the Indian Ocean?! Bryan put his hand in… that was enough for him. :) It was VERY chilly, that water!
  • Since the sun was out and our hotel had a pool, we did go back and put our swimsuits on and lounge by the rooftop pool for a bit. That was the only time the bathing suits came out. And, really, it was a little too chilly for them that day, but we were determined to make the most of it. :)

DAY 8
  • Day 8 was a travel day. We were scheduled to fly from Durban to Port Elizabeth, where we’d meet our new guide who would be with us for the rest of the trip. Somehow our three travel companions had an earlier flight than us, so we got to sleep in a bit while they got to wait for us in Port Elizabeth. :) This was okay when they were only waiting an hour or so, but we encountered quite a debacle at the airport. To make a long story short, one of South Africa’s rugby teams had decided they wanted to go to P. E. that day, and they took over the flight we were supposed to be on. With all of their equipment, they were too much weight, so we got booted. Of course, South African Airways told us we couldn’t go on the flight because there was really bad fog in P. E. and the pilot HAD TO carry extra fuel and that was making the plane too heavy. When we finally did arrive in P. E. 3 hours later, the sky was clear, and Alex, our new guide, informed us that it had been beautiful all day. Nice. Alex would be with us for the rest of the trip, and he provided a whole different perspective from Linda. Alex’s parents were Dutch, but he had been born in S. Africa. His and Linda’s views of their country were similar, but there’s still a distinct difference (from what I could see) between white South Africans and black South Africans. It’s funny, because, as an American, it seems wrong to make that distinction in writing, but for them it’s very natural—apartheid ended just 15 years ago, so the separation is still very relevant.
  • Next we headed to Knysna, where we’d be for 2 nights. We were now in the southern part of the country, and boy, is it different from the parts we’d spent our first week in! Equally beautiful, but in a totally different way. We arrived at our hotel in time for dinner, where Bryan and I both tried springbok, a type of small antelope. I liked it, I don’t think Bryan liked it as much.

Our Great South African Adventure: Days 5 & 6

Note: I'm posting the trip in increments of one or two days, so make sure you start from my first post and work your way backwards--just follow the titles!

DAY 5
  • We headed out early, but luckily we had about 2 hours worth of driving through the park to spot a few more animals. Saw one elephant up on this rock mountain and watched him for a while—no idea how he got up there! I actually saw him before Linda pointed him out, but after you spend HOURS trying to spot wildlife in the brush, every rock starts to look like an elephant or a rhino, so I hadn’t said anything because I was sure no elephant could be up on a mountain like that. We also spotted a baby rhino with its mother (although it was behind the brush so couldn’t get a good shot of it), and just as we were about to leave I saw a mama elephant and her two babies about to cross the road. Precious!
  • Once we were out of Kruger, it was on to Swaziland! Swaziland is a small country that’s landlocked by South Africa. It’s ruled by a king who gets a new wife every year. I think he’s up to 16, and he only turned 40 last year.
  • Once we got through customs, we went to the Swazi Cultural Village, where we were treated to some traditional singing and dancing. I really enjoyed this afternoon! We also got to see how they used to build their homes and such, and had an authentic Swazi buffet lunch, which Linda told us reminded him of home. Good stuff!
  • Our next stop was the Ngwenya Glass Factory, which was SO COOL. Well, I mean, it was really HOT in there, temperature wise, but watching them making things out of glass was really neat. I could have stayed and watched that for hours.
  • We stopped by the Swazi market to get some souvenirs, and I was reminded how uncomfortable bartering makes me. Got some good deals all the same, and then it was to the hotel to check in and get some dinner. A few of us went over to the hotel next door and visited the casino. We played a little roulette, a little black jack… it was fun, but a casino is a casino is a casino, you know?

DAY 6
  • On the way back into South Africa, we first visited the Swazi Candle Factory. Cool stuff there, but we were a bit early for the candle makers so didn’t get the full demonstration.
  • Driving through Swaziland (and most of this portion of South Africa) was an experience in itself. In Swaziland there are people walking along the roads EVERYWHERE—including children as young as, say, 5 years old. Linda told us there’s no fear of kidnapping or anything, so that’s how the kids get from school to home and such. I was quite surprised when, in one stretch of about 3-4 miles, we passed no less than 6 little boys peeing. Like, right on the side of the road. I guess when you gotta go, you gotta go. There were also tons of cows everywhere—they’re not kept in any sort of enclosure during the day, they just round them up at night. Also, many people in Swaziland still live in thatched-roof, mud & stone huts that they build themselves. It’s fascinating to see.
  • Our stop for the evening was St. Lucia, back in South Africa. We arrived to discover that we were sharing our hotel with the Harley Davidson rally! So that was fun. J We had a couple hours to chill out, then we went on a sunset cruise on Lake St. Lucia, known as a sanctuary to hippos and crocodiles. Dinner that night was VERY fresh seafood… so good!

Our Great South African Adventure: Day 4

Note: I'm posting the trip in increments of one or two days, so make sure you start from my first post and work your way backwards--just follow the titles!

DAY 4

  • SAFARI DAY! Probably the day we were most looking forward to on the trip. And it did not disappoint! The weather sucked (again)—Bryan tells me it was in the low 60’s, but I would swear it was colder than that. But maybe he’s right, because 60 when you’re in an open jeep with the wind blowing and it raining off and on feels more like 45-50. Bryan had the good sense to make me bring a pair of his socks to use as gloves, and the tour company had plenty of blankets for us to use, so I survived. And seriously, when you’re on the lookout for/seeing all of these animals you’ve only ever seen on TV or in the zoo, being cold is the least of your concerns.
  • On the subject of animals: The “Big 5” are the ones that everyone tries to see. They are: rhino, elephant, lion, leopard, buffalo. We saw all of those except the leopard. Which we were fine with, because we got to see a couple of cheetahs instead, and there are only ~200 of those in the whole park!
  • We also saw: lots of giraffes and zebras and wildebeests, warthogs, kudu (a type of antelope), impala (another type of antelope, but more like our deer), all kinds of birds, hippos, crocodiles, baboons…
  • Our guide was set on us seeing as many of the big 5 as possible. We actually got back about an hour late because we couldn’t find any lions, but then we came upon a pride of about 6 of them, then just a couple minutes later we encountered two females walking down the road right in front of us! They were on the hunt, and our driver hung out for a while to see if we could see them in action, but apparently they take their sweet time attacking, so we had to go. And I have to say, we were all disappointed not to get to see Mother Nature in action. Which was surprising to me, because I hate to watch anything die… but it’s weird, when you’re out there, you WANT to see that!

6.29.2009

Our Great South African Adventure: Day 3

Note: I'm posting the trip in increments of one or two days, so make sure you start from my first post and work your way backwards--just follow the titles!

DAY 3
  • Plan for the day was to see some of the natural wonders of this part of the country before arriving at Kruger National Park. Weather was worse than the day before—the fog was not making our photo ops look very promising.
  • Bryan thought maybe if we gave the sun a little time to burn off the fog we’d have a better chance to see some things, so he “forgot” to turn in the key to our hotel room and didn’t “remember” until we were about five miles down the road. And since it was a real live key, not some plastic card thingy, we had to turn around.
  • Bryan’s “plan” worked! We got to our first site, Blyde River Canyon, and we could SEE! We visited one area of the canyon called the potholes, and one called Three Rondavels. Truly a beautiful place, but I have a thing for canyons anyway… Next we tried to go to God’s Window, but it was so foggy that Linda drove past the entrance to it because the sign was hidden behind the fog. Yeah, we weren’t going to see anything from there.
  • After a quick lunch in Graskop (at some crepe place, yum!), it was on to Kruger! We got to our camp, Pretoriouskop, around 5pm, and were greeted by a bunch of monkeys, guinea fowl and impalas running around the campsite. We stayed in a chalet, which in this case was a fancy word for “concrete thatched roof hut.” It was simple, but nice. Dinner was at the restaurant at the camp—I had some sort of venison stew (not sure what the meat was, but it was tasty), Bryan had a steak. It was Chris’s 60th birthday that day, so Linda bought him a cake and a bottle of wine and the wait staff sang Happy Birthday to him in both English and Zulu. Cool, huh?

Our Great South African Adventure: Day -1/1 & 2


It ain't easy to summarize 14 days of adventure, but I've tried! I decided to post it in one or two day increments, but I'm going to post in chronological order, so, just make sure you follow the numbers in the titles. This one starts with Day -1 because our vacation actually didn't start until the day after we left. :)

Anyway, I present to you, our great South African Adventure!

DAY-1/1:

  • We left on a Saturday, but didn’t arrive until Sunday evening. My dad was kind enough to drive us to the airport, which made life SO MUCH EASIER. Thanks again, dad.
  • Our flight from ATL to Johannesburg was delayed for a couple of hours—probably because no flight out of Atlanta except the one you only have 15 minutes to catch can ever depart on time. Once we got on the plane, we sat there for another hour + because, as we later discovered, there was some issue with someone touching someone else’s leg and one of those people got kicked off the plane. Was dying to know if it was the toucher or touchee, but didn’t feel right asking.
  • Arrived in Jo’burg several hours late, but that was alright. Had just enough time to eat and go to bed. Dinner at the hotel was tasty and we discovered that restaurant prices are about 50-75% of what they are in the US. Nice.

DAY 2:

  • Met our guide, Linda, a South African guy from outside of Johannesburg. His family lives in the city but keeps ties to their tribal roots, so he was a wealth of knowledge and insight about black South African culture and history.
  • Since we were in a tour group, we knew we’d be traveling with others, but didn’t know who they’d be. We met them Monday morning—two Irish girls on holiday together, Lorraine and Susan, and an Englishman doing the trip on his own, Chris. We were grateful that we got along very well with all of them, and they managed to not pick on us too much even though we’re American.
  • Quick drive through Pretoria, the capital city. Stopped for photos at the parliament building, that was about it.

  • Headed northeast en route to Pilgrim’s Rest, where we would stay for the night. Encountered so much fog that I had to close my eyes because not being able to see more than 3-5 ft in front of the van was freaking me the hell out. Thank God Linda knew where he was going.
  • Arrived in Pilgrim’s Rest with enough time to walk around and check out this quaint village. The town was founded way back in the gold rush days for the miners, and they’ve kept that feel to it.
  • Got shit on by a bird. Had to “shower” in a tub with only a shower head, no standing shower or shower curtain, because our hotel, The Royal Hotel, is intent on its authentic Victorian styling. Did not enjoy being shit on OR sitting in the tub that I was rinsing the bird shit into. “Showered” several times in a row until I was sure that pigeon poop was all gone. *shudder*
  • A nice normal dinner of steak and some awesome dessert, then joined our traveling companions in the bar at the hotel. Supposedly it was formerly a church and the actual bar was formerly an altar, but we didn’t see it.
  • Met JT, a native of Pilgrim’s Rest, in the bar. Apparently his dad Johnny owns the OTHER pub in town, and he came to our bar after he finished his bartending shift. JT looked a lot like Brendan Fraser (the actor), only he was huge. JT bought us several (many) shots to show us what “locals” drink, and a jolly good time was had by all.

6.24.2009

Bryan Gets Bluetooth


One of the many reasons I love my husband is that he makes me laugh my ass off on a daily basis. Like today, when he waited for me at the bus stop after work. I got off the bus and he was sitting next to my car on his motorcycle, talking on his "bluetooth." This picture totally cracks me up, especially because he was having a totally serious work conversation like that.

Posted by ShoZu

6.23.2009

Overheard while Working for the State

The researcher works for a division that is, for all intents and purposes, split. One administrative assistant handles the research side, another handles the clinical side. This conversation occurs between the researcher and the RESEARCH administrative assistant.

Researcher: The punch button lock on my lab is broken, I can't get in, can you help me?

Admin. Assistant: Well, there are two clinical doctors' offices in that lab, so Dr. X's assistant is going to have to help you.

Researcher: She's not in today. What should I do?

Admin Assistant: I don't know. That lab isn't my job.

And what, you may ask, was the solution to this problem? 1) Call facilities management and tell them the lock is broken. 2) Go to the person you know has the master key for the floor and ask her to use the key to unlock the door.

Actual time taken by someone willing to help to solve the problem: 3 minutes.

6.22.2009

Back to reality.

Well, peeps, we're back!

We got home yesterday afternoon from our two-week adventure in South Africa. Thankfully our return home was not at all stressful, since my dad picked us up from the airport and Delta was kind enough to hang on to our luggage in Atlanta for a few extra hours and deliver it to our house yesterday evening. I mean, seriously, it's not all that bad when your luggage doesn't quite make it on your plane if you're just going home, because then someone ELSE lugs that shit to your house for you, AND you get a few hours to decompress at home before you have to feel guilty that you haven't unpacked your suitcases yet. Am I right, or am I right?

People keep asking me how the trip was, and my response has been either "it was great!" or "it was amazing!" Because, really, how the heck do you summarize fourteen days where you did something different EVERY DAY? So I figure I will give a pretty detailed recap of our trip on this blog as soon as I can sift through the pictures and get my thoughts together, that way if you want to know exactly what happened, it'll be here. If not, well, just don't read it. I promise my feelings won't be hurt. :)

Seriously, though, it was a super trip. South Africa is a beautiful country and each different town we went to was significantly different from the one before it. I think we both loved the variety of beautiful scenery, but the animals were the highlight, with our safari game drives and visits to various animal parks/preserves/farms.

I can't wait to tell you all about it, and I promise to do so soon! :)

6.06.2009

Congrats, Grad!



Last night, my baby sister graduated from high school! I can't believe she's old enough to do that, but there she was, cap and gown and all. :)

I picked my mom up at her house and we rode up together. Unfortunately Bath County has an infamous speed trap to which I fell victim... it was kind of amusing, because the rest of the night when I told people from BC that I had gotten a speeding ticket, they said, "Oh, at XXX place?" Yes. Everyone in that damn county knows where the speed trap is--including me--but I had been so wrapped up in conversation with my mom that, God forbid, I neglected to slam on the brakes as I came down a mountain and missed the fact that it turned from 55 to 45 for--and I quote my lovely State Trooper--"just about a mile there." ARG!

ANYWAY! My speeding ticket was not the most important thing of the night. It was Victoria's special night, and I was so proud to see her up there getting her diploma. She is an amazing young woman, and I am so excited to see what she will do with her life. In August she'll begin college at Christopher Newport University. It will be an extreme change to live in Newport News after living her whole life in the country, but I think she's gonna do alright. :)

I love you, Vic!

6.05.2009

South Africa, here we come!


I can not believe that tomorrow we leave for our trip to South Africa. ACK! I am so excited.

We'll be there for 14 days, and then there's the ~2 days it's going to take us to get there and back. We leave tomorrow afternoon from Richmond, fly to Atlanta, and then hop on some giant-ass jet that will take us from Atlanta to Johannesburg, South Africa. I think it's like a 15 hour flight. No idea what that's going to be like, but luckily it's overnight, and I intend to pack some Tylenol PM for us.

While we're there, we'll be bopping around the country, not staying in any one place for more than 2-3 nights. The tour we're doing is called "A World in One Country," so while it'll be totally whirlwind (I suspect), we are going to see SO MANY different things. I have always been fascinated by Africa, and it seems that South Africa is going to give us a taste of all of the things I've always wanted to see.

Map photo courtesy of Thompsons Tours, the company who'll be our guides!

Here is a link to our itinerary. We've borrowed my Uncle Bruce's fancy pants camera, and we have the video camera my dad & Neener gave us for Christmas, and we have our trusty little digital camera, so I can assure you we will have tons of pictures to share when we get back.

I. Can. Not. Wait!!!

Grammer Family Fish Fry


Last weekend, my dad's side of the family got together for a family reunion. We used to do this every year at White Bank Park in Colonial Heights, but I think it's been probably 15 or 20 years since we got together. My Uncle George, who is my late grandfather's brother, mentioned to my Uncle Bruce (my dad's brother) last year that he missed those gatherings, and once the idea was planted, the Fish Fry plans got underway.

The culmination was a gathering of about 70 people in my grandma's back yard last Sunday. I knew approximately 1/3 of those people, recognized another 1/3, and if I had ever seen the other 1/3, I was only about 10 years old and don't remember any of them. At one point I was talking to my dad about this and looking at the people who are roughly my age, and realizing that I very well could have been playing with them on the swings and merry-go-round the last time I saw them, but lord knows we all look very different than we did then!

Uncle George was a cook in the Navy back in the day, so he was on fish fry duty. Uncle Bruce battered the fish and handled the to/from the grill duties, Bryan somehow ended up cooking the cornbread (deep fried on the grill--YES!), and my dad ended up cooking the hot dogs and burgers for all the non-fish eaters. My dad was the only one not in the shade in front of his grill, and when I asked how the hell that happened, I found out my dear husband had told him to go cook the dogs/burgers. Nice, dear... bossing your father-in-law around?! ;-)

The fish was A-MA-ZING. It was catfish, but not like any catfish you've ever had. The cornbread was awesome too--even I had never had deep fried cornbread from the grill!

We also had a cole slaw cook-off. I had never made cole slaw in my life, and it turned out alright, but I knew I would not be winning any awards. My stepmom Brenda, my cousin Heather, Uncle George's wife, Aunt Irma, were the top 3. Bravo, ladies!

Bryan's parents also came down. They've become part of the family, and all the Grammers were thrilled they could make it. (Well, all the Grammers that know them, anyway!) They're always getting schooled on the art of being Southern, so this was their first time for catfish and pecan pie. They loved both. :)

It was a great day, and I really hope we do it again! You can check out more of my photos here.