Kat: June 2013 Archives

South Africa (Johannesburg)

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I stepped up to the passport control booth as the immigration officer in front of me was laughing with one of his colleagues. Their laughter was infectious and as I handed the officer my passport I chuckled too. Still smiling he asked me if I understood their language. I said no, but that I understood laughter. Without skipping a beat he said, “That’s why I love Americans. They’re like us, not so reserved. When you’re happy you smile. Welcome to South Africa and please enjoy your visit!” So wonderful!

We arrived in South Africa after a quick night in Abu Dhabi and met up with a friend of mine from camp, Lolly, and her fiancé Catherine. We can’t thank them enough for being such great hosts. Not only was it wonderful to catch up, but they took us for a delicious meal at a local African restaurant and then on a bit of a driving tour around Johannesburg. Things just kept getting better and better.

The next morning we picked up our rental car and set off for Kruger. Elephants, rhinos, lions, buffalo (four out of the big five), hippos, zebras, giraffes, ostriches, warthogs, springboks, baboons, monkeys, and more…yep, we saw them all!!! Seriously, within five minutes of passing through the gates we had already seen Zebras and a welcome committee of warthogs was waiting for us next to our bungalow. We spent three nights in the park setting out early each morning to catch as much wildlife as possible. On our first full morning we drove through the southern part of the park and not only was the scenery gorgeous, but we must have seen a different type of animal every few miles. We spent the first two nights at the Skukuza camp and then drove north a bit into “cat country” to spend our last night at Satara. The nickname didn’t disappoint and we managed to spot a number of lions on our way (next time we go we’re on the lookout for Cheetah and Leopards too).



After leaving the camp we decided to spend an extra night in Blyde River Canyon before heading back to Johannesburg (thanks to the great advice from Liz Korb). It was totally different but as beautiful a landscape as we’d seen so far. Our favorite part was definitely the pre-dinner entertainment of Zebras wandering on the lawn. They were clearly used to people and came within a few feet of Greg and I before getting bored (and probably realizing we didn’t have food for them) and strolling away. The next morning we drove back to Johannesburg via the aptly named “panorama route”. Again totally different and again totally gorgeous. A perfect way to end the first part of our trip before heading to Cape Town.




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We had a wonderful time in Jordan. This was another place where we didn’t have much time (and would definitely have enjoyed more), but still felt like we managed to see a lot. After arriving on a super early flight from Delhi we picked up a rental car and drove to the Dead Sea. It was absolutely gorgeous, crazy to be able to look across to Israel and a blast to swim in. Everything we’d read about it was true. It was completely effortless to float in and we had fun doing barrel rolls almost on top of the water. I went all in with the mud too while Greg stood by (mostly laughing, partly grimacing). http://farm8.staticflickr.com/7286/9095548148_5beb08095a.jpg http://farm8.staticflickr.com/7460/9095520574_ed5c387daf.jpg After an afternoon in the water we drove further south to Petra. Thank you so much to Stephen and Sarah for all of the advice. The hike was indeed hot and incredibly dusty, but we made it through the gate by 6:45 or so and after the heat in India it wasn’t nearly as oppressive as we had psyched ourselves up for. The hike into the canyon was almost immediately breathtaking and of course very Indiana Jones-like. It just kept getting better and better though as we first made it to the treasury and then a couple of hours later up the 800 or so steps to the monastery. Exhausting, but totally worth it. Petra P1100186 After a cold beer, about a half dozen showers to rinse of the dust (and more of the salt from the day before) and a good night’s sleep we drove the next day back towards Amman and stayed in Madaba, a smaller town nearby. We weren’t there long, but had a lovely dinner and walk through the town. We met so many friendly people in Jordan (we had multiple people spontaneously try to give us directions even though we didn't need them) and I loved getting a chance to speak a tiny (very tiny) bit of Arabic. Can't wait to go back!

India (Kerala)

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On Saturday we flew from Pondicherry to Cochi (or Kochi or Cochin depending on where it’s written) to spend a few days in Kerala. Almost everyone we’d talked to about our time in India told us that we had to go there. Immediately upon landing it was clear we were in a completely different place. It was almost ten degrees cooler and everything was so green. We kept chuckling that we were now those people who just couldn’t get over how different places like Maine and Texas are at home. We spent that first night close to the airport before planning to leave early the next morning. Since Kerala is an entire state, and we wanted to see a number of different places within it, we decided that going with a tour company would be the easiest. Our driver, Dilleep, picked us up and we started the three hour drive west to Munnar. Among other things, Munnar is home to more than 60,000 acres of tea plantations and the highest point in southern India (Anamudi) The drive there was a bit nerve wracking (narrow mountain roads, Indian drivers and the beginning of the Monsoon), but Dilleep was an excellent driver and our surroundings were absolutely gorgeous. http://farm8.staticflickr.com/7432/9067192112_af71befdd5.jpg We spent two days in Munnar. On our first day we toured a tea museum set up by one of the oldest tea plantations in the area. Fascinating story and one of the tour guides seemed extra enthusiastic about our being there and took us to some of the off-the-tour places too. We also took a bus (that we were convinced was about to topple off the side of a cliff) halfway up a trail into Eravikulam national park in hopes of seeing Nilgiri Tahrs (a rare breed of mountain goat). Just as we reached the end of the ride though and reached the trail that would take us further up it started to rain and visibility dropped significantly. Alas no mountain goats for us. http://farm6.staticflickr.com/5338/9067091886_f351e04247.jpg The next day, however, started out bright and sunny and Dilleep took us to more of the local sites including a botanical garden, the honeybee tree and some of the large dams in the area. Honestly, around every corner seemed to be a view more incredible than the last with one of our favorites being from the top of Top Station where we could see for miles into the neighboring state of Tamil Nadu (also where Pondicherry happens to be located). As we were passing one area he told us that wild elephants had been seen there yesterday and that we should keep our eyes peeled just in case. Sure enough, we turned another corner and there was a small group of people standing outside their cars by the side of the road. Dilleep confirmed with one of them that they were looking at elephants and we too got out of the car to see a group of five including one calf standing less than 100 yards away happily grazing. http://farm3.staticflickr.com/2884/9064832377_37f73499fb.jpg The following morning we set out on a five hour drive to Alleppey (aka Allapuzza) to tour the backwaters and spend the night on a houseboat. The boat was even better than we’d hoped and again since it was the beginning of the Monsoon the canals were less crowded with other houseboats than usual. Besides a short canoe ride that took us through some of the smaller canals, we spent the afternoon and evening just floating along and relaxing. A great way to end our time in India and someplace we’d love to go back to!* http://farm4.staticflickr.com/3815/9067135652_23e8cf2daa.jpg *There’s a flower named Neelakurinji that blooms in Munnar only once every 18 years and apparently blankets the region in tiny blue flowers. Kerela in 2018 anyone?!

India (Pondicherry)

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Goa was beautiful (especially the sunsets) though unfortunately between Greg and I we spent most of the time we were there stuck sick inside our hotel room. We made it just over halfway through the trip so can’t complain that much, but man we were miserable. Goa Sunset From Goa, we made it to Pondicherry after an only slightly harrowing three hour taxi ride from Chennai in the dark...and the rain...and with a driver who may have had bird flu! We had decided to extend our stays in both Pondicherry and Kerala instead of going back north to Delhi like we’d originally planned. There were a couple of reasons for this, but a big one was the pre-monsoon heat wave that covered northern and western India. Greg and I could barely handle the 90 degree weather in Pondi let alone the 118 degree weather in the north. This turned out to be an especially good decision as it took us a few days to get our bearings in Pondicherry. Once we figured out that walking in the streets was easier than navigating the sidewalks and that venturing out anytime during mid-day was a bad idea, things got a lot better. We enjoyed walking along the beach promenade and though “white town” the former French areas where the streets were a bit quieter and the old colonial architecture was still present. I was asked if I spoke french by an astrologer outside a Hindu temple and we found a great little antique store that we could have spent days just exploring. On our last night we had dinner at the Le Dupleix, a hotel and restaurant in the former French mayor’s mansion. Great food, gorgeous setting and an excellent way to end our time in Pondi. P1090504 http://farm4.staticflickr.com/3773/9064668475_122154de3e.jpg

India (Mumbai)

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We arrived in Mumbai after taking an overnight train from Vadodara. The train was great. Ankesh helped us book an a/c sleeper cabin which meant we managed to get at least an hour or two of sleep before the sun was up and the morning news started coming through the train’s loudspeakers - first in Hindi (we think) and then in English. Just watching the scenery change from our cabin window was impressive. Miles and miles of empty brush, then a river with dozens of colorful boats stacks on their banks. Finally the city, sprawling suburbs at first and then skyscrapers to rival just about any American city.


Unfortunately, we quickly realized that Mumbai was not the place for us. First of all, as soon as we stepped off the train we were met with the most aggressive heckling taxi drivers yet. We seriously couldn’t shake them (and then especially after having barely slept in the past 24 hours) we finally gave up and gave in to one who then overcharged us to take us to our hotel. Luckily, it was easy to keep things in perspective and understand that we were only talking about an extra few dollars. Definitely could have been worse, but not a great start. Then there was the security. While I understand and appreciate the need for the extra security in Mumbai it was also rather overwhelming. Armed guards and metal detectors just about everywhere we went. Again, I imagine mostly because we were in the tourist area, but still.

Luckily we were only spending one night in Mumbai mostly because Tim Kudo told us that there was a drink at the Taj hotel that was worth going there for. It pains me to say that Tim was right, but it’s true. The drink is called “From the Harbor Since 1933”. You should read the full story here, but the gist is that it celebrates the end of American prohibition. It’s served en flambé by a waiter who very ceremoniously presents it while telling the whole story. What impressed me even more than the drink was that our bartender still seemed enthusiastic about the whole process despite telling us that they often repeat it 10-20 times a day. Huge compliments to everyone working there.



Now off to Goa…

India (Vadodara)

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After a very brief overnight we hopped a flight south to Vadodara (a name that looks simple but has made every Indian we’ve met laugh when they hear us try to pronounce it). We were there for Ankesh’s wedding (a friend of Greg’s from RPI). First of all a huge thank you to Ankesh, his now wife, Richa, and both of their families for all of their hospitality. Everyone we met was so wonderful and did such a good job making us feel welcome and helped us to at least sort of understand what was going on. So much happened that this is another post where I think I’ll only be able to capture the highlights and even then not completely.

We were met at the airport by one of Ankesh’s relatives. He was wonderful and explained a bit of what we could expect from the next few days while we were en route to the hotel. Once there we met up with Ankesh who helped to fill in the rest of the timeline and explain that the first event would be happening in just a few hours there at the hotel.

After a lovely lunch, where we got to meet some more of Ankesh’s family, a couple of his cousins and their daughters took us to a local store to rent traditional Indian wear for that evening. They helped us both pick out outfits and I had fun with the girls as they laughed at me trying to figure out how to wear the Sari (luckily they helped me get ready again that evening, too).



The event that evening involved both families getting together to exchange gifts and then enjoy dance routines that they had prepared. Despite some serious encouragement Greg and I convinced them that they really, really didn’t want to see an impromptu one from us.


The next day we spent hanging out at the hotel again with a great lunch and some time spent getting to know some more of Ankesh’s family and friends. At 5PM or so we all gathered in the lobby of the hotel to watch the beginning of the Baraat where Ankesh and his youngest cousin rode a white horse while we processed through the streets leading the way in front of them. This was easily one of the highlights for us as, despite the heat, the energy of the music and the crowd was incredible. After a couple of hours we arrived to where Richa and her family had been waiting. The venue was gorgeous and we had a good time just getting to relax a bit, eat, and chat with some of the people we’d been hanging out with for the last couple of days.



By 11PM or so most of the guests had left (which we didn’t really realize was happening and so feel terrible that we didn’t get to say proper goodbyes to some), but the final wedding ceremony wasn’t set to begin until 1:30AM. We were told that this was because of the auspiciousness of this time and wanting to have it later in the day because of the heat. Although we had to leave soon after to catch our train to Mumbai we did manage (along with only 20 or so other guests) to see at least the start of the ceremony. Ankesh told us that this part of the process would last for two hours or so and then he and Richa would have to stay awake for another four hours to make sure the flame they were watching didn’t go out (and then make it through more events the following day).

Another thank you to Anshul (Ankesh’s cousin who we spent a good amount of time with and who was also taking the train to Mumbai) for helping us find our way. We boarded the train still smiling, exhausted and wondering how it was possible that Ankesh and Richa could still be awake. Best wishes to the new couple and we can’t wait to be able to see them again in the US.

More trip photos on Flickr…
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About this Archive

This page is a archive of recent entries written by Kat in June 2013.

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