Monday, January 29, 2007

Alexander Technique


On the advice of a friend who is a choreographer, I went twice to see a practitioner of the Alexander Technique for my leg pain. Both sessions were extremely helpful, but the pain did not go away, though the range of motion did increase. After the second session, he recommended I see the one and only American chiropractor here in Budapest. I have an appointment for Monday.

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Comment from Adrienn


Hi Dr. James

Just wanted to thank you for sharing your holiday shots!

I only just realized it's been such a long time since I last saw you and you look so much different, but absolutely fabulous... and I was glad to see you enjoying yourself :o)

Happy new semester! (You must be totally recharged)

Regards, Adrienn

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Saturday, January 27, 2007

Artist in Residence


We had a call from one of our booking agencies a couple of days ago. They had a man who needed a place to stay starting that night. We had the large room free and the man came over a couple of hours later. He initially booked for four nights. He is an American (US) who has been livingin Istanbul for the last one and 1/2 years. He is a painter and showed us hisportfolio. He had some excellent pieces and we ohhed and ahhed over his work. Over the course of his four days, he mentioned that the kitchen felt 'set apart' from the rest of the flat due to the change of colors on the wall from the hallway. He continued to say that though it was a common space for guests, it did not feel inviting. His suggestion was to do a large mural on one wall. We liked his idea, but his US rates are $650. a day and the wall would take two and 1/2 days to complete. He offered to do it in exchange for 10 more nights of living. We took him up on the offer. Since he has 10 days, he has been a bit slower to finish than expected, but the basic mural was completed in one and a 1/2 days. The rest of the time, he spent studying it and adding final touches here and there. It is amazing and makes the room look so different. He is putting the absolute finishing touches on it today.
His goal is to trade his work for stays in as many countries in Europe as possible. There is a commission waiting for him in Croatia and he was offered a commission here for a new Turkish towel shop that is opening up in a couple of weeks. Once he is finished and has the time to sit down with me, I will be adding a page to our website of his work and a link to his e-mail. We would like to assist him in fulfilling his goal.

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First Snow


Today is the first snow we have had this season. It is not sticking, but it looks so pretty as the flakes prance through the air.

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Wednesday, January 24, 2007

School is Around the Corner


I am feverishly trying to get ready for the university to start on February 6th. Scanning readings, burning CDs, it never seems to get caught up. However, I love the students I get to teach, so it all works out for the best.

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Saturday, January 20, 2007

The Feasts Continue


Again tonight, we have a feast and say until we meet again. Kate, the Fulbrighter who was here for one semester doing choreography, is leaving Monday morning to return to the States. She has become a warm cozy comfort here in Budapest and we will miss her dearly. Lynn, Nicole (Fulbrighters), and Paulina (wife of a Fulbrighter) joined us in the celebration and Ron made a wonderful South African dish. Lynn and Nicole both had visitors from the States over the holidays, so they had things from my Wish List that they gave me for my birthday. Yahooo!!!

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Friday, January 19, 2007

Return to Budapest


Once home again, it was difficult making the transition from sun and sweat to cold and heavy coats again. We had heard that the temperatures had been quite mild while we were gone, eliminating the possibility of snow. Now it is our time to give until we meet again feasts. My former TA and adopted nephew was home from the States over the holidays. Now that we are back, he is leaving for the States again for another semester at Trinity College in CT. We had he and his partner in addition to my current TA and all around guardian angel, Balazs over for dinner. The nephew and his partner were pushing through dinner to make a movie at 10:15. So much for "I missed you guys so much, I cannot wait to see you." Just another example of the fickleness of youth.

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Monday, January 15, 2007

Good-Bye Feast


This was our last evening in Cape Town. As it is Patricia's ritual with us, we had a going away feast. It is not a good-bye feast as that implies we will not see each other again. Being the gracious person she is, she had invited Omo and Jean to join us. It was a magnificent way to celebrate a stupendous vacation. We are anxiously waiting for the publication of Patricia's latest novel, scheming on how we can get her back to Budapest to do a launch of it and readings. After all, our apartment is featured in it.

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Sunday, January 14, 2007

Jewish Museum - Cape Town


Romaney works part time in a craft and paper store. Her store is competing for the J & B Horse Race competition for displays. If they win, they will get tickets to the famous race and other prizes. We have our fingers crossed for you Romaney.

Later today, Ron and I went to the South African Jewish Museum, which has a Holocaust Center, synagogue, and museum all on the same grounds.

Later in the evening, Patricia and Don asked us to join them to see the movie
The Queen, with they and their friends. We were walking to the movie from the car when I heard a car honking and my name being yelled out. Jean and Omo were driving by and jumped out of the car to hug us. They had planned on going to Mozambique from Johannesburg, but changed their minds. It was so good to see them. Patricia was planning our going away feast for the night before we left and invited them.

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Saturday, January 13, 2007

A Woman from Delft


We went to an art exhibit "A Woman From Delft" at the museum off of Green Market Square. The artist was from Delft, The Netherlands, but immigrated to South Africa and married a local. Her art was varied, but all of it was excellent.

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Friday, January 12, 2007

Cape Town Laughs


We are getting to know the locals and having a laugh with them.

Patricia and Don invited us for dinner again. They were having some friend over who we had met last year. Note: none of the mentioned people are pictured here.

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Thursday, January 11, 2007

Table Mountain


We were determined to get to Table Mountain this year. Last year, each day the weather was good to get up there, we had a day tour booked. The days we were free, the wind or cloud cover was too bad and they were not allowing anyone up. Today was the day and we decided we would use the Red Hop On – Hop Off tour bus for transport. For 100 Rand, you get a full day ticket and they take you directly to the cable car station.

Romaney informed us that her parents called this morning. They were on their way home and even though it will be a 10-hour drive, they are expecting us to have a dinner feast with them. She gave us a ride to the first stop of the tour bus. This truck was sitting there and I thought it was funny. We caught the first bus of the morning and listened to the tour until we reached the cable station.

It was not that busy, so the line moved quickly and we were riding the cable car soon after we arrived. As the cable car ascends and descends, it rotates 360 degrees giving a full view to everyone in the car.

As soon as you exit the car, there is a sign that if you hear an alert horn, return immediately to the cable station as weather conditions are making it dangerous to be on the mountain. With that in mind, we did not wander far, but my leg problems were another concern. Nevertheless, the views from around the cable station on the top were magnificent.

We spent an hour up there and then went back down for the tour bus once again and went to the Victoria and Albert Waterfront for some browsing before heading home again.

That evening, Patricia and Don had returned. Patricia made a lovely feast and we shared it with them, Romaney, her boyfriend, Brent, and their son Gayelen. It was good to be back.

When I told Don of my problem with the computer, he suggested I try his power pack as he also had a Toshiba. I did and it worked. Relief!!

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Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Cape Town Hightlights


I did not journal our week in Cape Town. Much of what we did was too mundane to write about. Our first day, however, we did return to the National Art Museum, which is a real treasure. There was a new exhibit outside the museum, which was fun and reminiscent of our recent tour. Many of the exhibits from last year have been changed, so it was like seeing it for the first time again. One permanent exhibit fascinates me though. There was also a special exhibit based on the impact of AIDS in South Africa, which was heart wrenching.

We also went back to the Museum of Natural History. They had a poster in the gift shop that I was ready to purchase, but it was $50. an outrageous sum for a poster.

Our favorite mode of transport are the Rikki taxis. They are set fees based on the district you are in and where you want to go. Since last year, they have added three London taxis to the force. They are economical and less expensive than a regular taxi since they are not metered.

When we returned home again, there was a lovely note on the kitchen table from Romaney inviting us to dinner with she and her boyfriend Brent. Later that evening, we had a great dinner and chat getting to know these wonderful young people all the better. It was such a warm and welcoming touch.

I had brought my laptop computer with me and left it here while we were on tour. I was anxious to download my pictures and start transcribing my journal. I just finished downloading all of my photos and a little voice told me to burn them to disc immediately, so for once I did what the little voice told me to do. The computer was still on when Romaney called us to dinner, but when I returned, I thought it had gone into hibernation mode, but it would not start at all. I checked the adapter, I checked the plug, but nothing. I switched adapters and plugs, but still nothing. The computer starts up and then shuts off immediately. This computer is only nine months old and I have had to replace the power pack once already. I was in anguish.

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Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Zambia Back to Cape Town


My lousy genetic coding awoke me at 6:30 again, but I lazed in bed until 7:00. Ron showered, and then went wandering the grounds in search of photo opportunities. I showered and got ready for breakfast. It occurred to me more than once how many meals we have eaten on this trip that we do not eat at home. Rarely do we eat much for breakfast and other than a snack during the day, we hardly ever eat a real meal for lunch other. During this vacation, we have been programmed like Pavlov’s dogs to eat at mealtimes.

Breakfast was a buffet with a wide variety of choices. First you gave your room number to the host, who gave a slip of paper to us, then we turned in the slip to the woman behind the buffet table. We whiled away the time over breakfast postponing our 10:00 am check out to 11:00 with our transport due at 11:45.

The shuttle was early; there were other guests going to the airport also. One woman in the shuttle with us was from Berlin and had completed an almost identical tour to ours, but in tents. She was older than I, so I thought more power to her. She said she most likely would never do it again as it was exhausting after a long day to set up the tent and then take it down again in the morning. This reinforced that we had made the correct decision with our tour.

Arriving at the Livingstone Airport was similar to arriving at a small factory. There was nothing outside to distinguish it as an airport and at first, I had thought we were just making another stop on the way. When the driver climbed out of the van and started removing luggage for attendants to take, we knew we had arrived. The porters are not the type that force themselves on you for a tip, but regular employees of the airport.

Once inside this non-descript building, the attendants take the luggage directly to security, while directing the travelers to pay their “EXIT” fee. This something I do not remember being told about. The fee is US $25.00, or 15 British Pounds, or 20 Euros. Considering the exchange rates, we received a better deal paying in dollars and fortunately, I still had cash on me.

We received two receipts, and then we went through security with our luggage. Only then were we able to get to the airline counter to check in for our flight with Nationwide Airlines. There are only three airline counters here, so there is no confusion or long walk to check in. Within the same room is the lounge and the ONE gate. Strangely, there is a British Airlines lounge, which is $10.00 per person to enter and is the only place where you can smoke.

As we were walking to a seat in the lounge, we spotted Markus and Bettina from our tour. We were excited by this as we were going through separation anxiety. We had an hour to chat before their South African Airlines flight was ready to board. Only one plane at a time lands, deposits passengers, and then fills, and takes off yet again. Our flight was two flights after theirs.

The flight was pleasant and we would fly this airline again. The captain was really talkative and kept pointing out scenes below when we approached Johannesburg, but they were all on the left side of the plane and we were seated on the right.

I hate Passport Control in Johannesburg as I have mentioned earlier; it is the most inefficient one we have experienced. Shockingly, there were no lines at all. We must have hit it at a perfect time. We were third and fourth in our line. When we heard familiar voices in the next line, it turned out to be Omo and Jean. Beyond the controllers already were Vicky and Rob. It was like a mini reunion.

Omo and Jean were going to look for an accommodation in Jo’Burg, Vicky and Rob had to stay at the International terminal for their next flight, and we went to the Domestic one for our flight to Cape Town.

We checked in for our next flight within minutes of arriving at the check-in desk and then spent our free time at the Diners Club lounge, our favorite oasis in airports. We had free Internet service, drinks, snacks, and CNN on the television. Ron goes through news withdrawal while we are on vacations. Again, we are flying Nationwide with their comfortable leather seats.

Once in Cape Town, we will find our own shuttle. Go2Africa’s work is done and they did a splendid job thanks to Gellé and her hard work. We are staying with Patricia and Don again in their separated apartment for a week. They are on a vacation/work assignment for Don, so they will not be back until the 11th. Their lovely daughter Romaney will be there to let us in.

When we arrived in Cape Town, we arranged the shuttle and an employee took us outside to show us where to wait for it. Cape Town was COLD and we had put on our coats that we had been dragging around since leaving Budapest. It took the shuttle thirty minutes to return from a run, but we were at the Pinnock’s by 9:30 PM. Romaney thoughtfully had pasta for us since she did not believe we would have had dinner during our travels. While we settled in, she cooked it up for us in their place. It was good to be back here.

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Monday, January 08, 2007

Victoria Falls to Zambia


It must be the genes on my mother’s side of the family that forces me to continually wake before any alarm goes off. Again, I could have slept for another hour, but it was not to happen this morning. Did the monkeys outside awaken me, I was not sure. We were at breakfast by 7:00 to meet the others, but we arrived first, then Hans and Suzy followed us in. The waitress said she was not expecting our group and the kitchen had not been told a group was coming. She had to call and verify our tour was paying the bill for our breakfast. Regardless, she trusted us with a menu and took off to the kitchen.

When we attempted to order ham and eggs, the waitress said “No, we are out of ham.” Okay, how about … “No, we are out of …” Alright this is turning into a game of 20 Questions, so we finally had her tell us the options on the menu that they did have. Finally, I settled on a cheese omelet. I have to say the omelet was surprisingly excellent.

Bruce, Bettina, Markus, and Thomas wandered in and joined us. Jean and Omo who had moved to a different hotel last night, came back to meet us for the Falls. Others from our group came in for breakfast sitting at other tables since none could accommodate all of us. When we were ready to leave, we went around saying our good-byes to everyone. Endings are always difficult and especially when you have really enjoyed all of the people like we have, it is worse.

After eating, Thomas, Hans, Suzy, Omo, Jean, Ron and I went trekking down the road to the Falls entrance. It looked so much shorter a distance when we passed it on the truck and Bruce said it was a “15 minute walk”. That should have been our clue that it was more like a half day’s hike. We needed to be back here by 11:00 for our transport to Zambia.

My leg was giving me real troubles today, so I was walking extra slowly and limping. Ron wanted to take the shortcut Bruce had pointed out, but forgot the admonition Bruce added to the it that is could sometimes be dangerous. Even if we were in a group, why risk it? I insisted on the long way to be safe. It was that lame giraffe mentality kicking in again. With the heat, I was not sure if I was going to make it at all, but eventually, we arrived at the gate to the park. Admission is $20.00 per person on the Zimbabwe side, but only $10.00 on the Zambia side.

The Victoria Falls or Mosi-oa-Tunya are situated on the Zambezi River, on the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe, and are roughly 1.7 km (1 mile) wide and 128 m (420 ft) high. They are considered a remarkable spectacle because of the peculiar narrow slot-like chasm into which the water falls, so one can view the falls face-on.

David Livingstone, a Scottish explorer, visited the falls in 1855 and renamed them after Queen Victoria, though they were known locally as Mosi-oa-Tunya, the "smoke that thunders". The falls are part of two national parks, Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park in Zambia and Victoria Falls National Park in Zimbabwe. They are one of Southern Africa's major tourist attractions. They are also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Vastly larger than North America's Niagara Falls, Victoria is only rivaled by South America's Iguazu Falls (excluding large rapid like falls such as Livingston de Chutes). While Iguazu is divided into over 270 (relatively) 'small' falls and cataracts, Victoria is the largest single sheet of water in the world , over 100 meters tall, and over one mile wide.

The woman asked our country of nationality and I said USA. She said $20.00 please. I said I live in Hungary, how much is it now? She said $20.00. So I asked where I could be from to get it cheaper, but she just laughed at me.

After she collected all of our fees, she took us over to a map on the wall and pointed out the paths explaining where to walk, which were look out points and which were dead ends. Along the first path was a side path down 73 steps. Ron and the others went, but I knew that would have been the quota of exercise my leg would take for the day, so I stayed at the top and waited.

We walked the other paths; saw the falls from various sides, angles, and heights. There is a large stature of Livingstone who “discovered” the falls. These types of commemorations really irritate me since the falls did have a native name prior to his arrival, so he did not “discover” them. They had been discovered already, just not by imperialists.

The falls are magnificent as are all falls, but my favorite is still Iguazu Falls in Argentina and Brazil. The heat and the humidity negatively affected my mood, and leg pain did not help any. It was like walking in a hot sauna and my clothes were pasted to my body. After suffering in a lousy place last night, I was disgruntled to say the least. I only lasted a bit over an hour, when I pushed to get back to the hotel for our 11:00 transport. We left Hans and Suzy behind, they did not have transportation coming until 12:00.

Ron wanted to stop at the open air market on the way back, but I could not walk there or from there. Omo, Jean, Ron and I took a taxi back dropping the three of them at the market and I at the lodge.

As I was sitting with my leg stretched, Ron came in a half hour later, impressing me that he was cognoscente of time, with his new acquisitions. For the little Zimbabwean currency we had exchanged, he managed to buy a bowl, a hippo statue, and a kudu mask. Very impressive!

With our bags in tow, we went to reception where our ride was waiting for us. Bruce had stopped by and said Germine wanted to say good-bye and to wait for her. We said more good-byes with great people, who we do hope we will see again in the future. There was some confusion as to who was supposed to honor our vouchers for transportation to the Zambia hotel, pay for the hotel, and then transport to the airport the next day. Bruce made some phone calls and then gave us cash in US dollars to cover all of the expenses. He asked for the hotel to send him a fax receipt for the total.

A van with driver and a young woman was waiting for us. The woman explained that the van would drop us off at the Zimbabwe border, and then she would walk us through the border control. On the other side, there was another van waiting with a Zambian driver. When he drove us to the Zambian border control, he took our passports and the waiver for the Visa and went in alone. Within minutes, he was out and we were on our way.

Twenty minutes later, we were at our hotel, the Waterfront, which sits right on the Zambezi River. It is a beautiful place with a rustic looking lodge, bar, and restaurant. There is an Internet Café upstairs in the lodge as well as a travel agency. The pool was sparkling clean and inviting. Our room is downstairs in a two-floor building with all entrances from outside amongst lush greenery with slate paths leading to the rooms. The room is spacious with two beds, a lovely dark wood armoire along one wall, sliding glass doors to the patio which overlooks the river’s tributary and a full bath with attractive tiles. The porter brought our bags to the room and warned us to keep the sliding glass door closed when we were not around as monkeys would get in and destroy things.

Transportation to the airport for tomorrow was our concern as it was pre-paid, but now we had the cash instead. When we asked at reception, they directed us upstairs to the travel agency and the manager came with us. He explained to the agent what we needed and she collected our money for the transport to the hotel and to the airport tomorrow and gave us another voucher. We paid the balance to reception for the hotel and the amount was exactly what Bruce had given me.

We spent a lazy day swimming, napping in the sun, reading, and writing. While I was sitting by the pool having a gin and tonic, a monkey jumped onto the railing. The place is so relaxing and a fitting end to an energetic trip. This is the type of place where we should have spent our last night a group. Though they have an Internet café, I am able to resist. On the entire trip, I have only spent twenty-four minutes on the Internet checking e-mails. However, once we get to Cape Town that will change, so I am appreciating the relaxation now.

The evening is spent by the pool, still reading and relaxing, watching the other guests. There is a group of college students here from a university in the States. They are enjoying themselves without the usual loud raucousness associated with US Americans.

The sounds of nature around us are hypnotic. The service here is exceptional adding to the attraction of the place. Feeling incredibly mellow, we went to bed and were sleeping within seconds.

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Sunday, January 07, 2007

Zimbabwe - The Final Day as a Group


Our cabin was still flooded this morning. Last night when we went to bed, there was the most orchestrated sound of frogs we have ever heard. There must have been a bullfrog right out side our door and we will swear he was hooked up to an electric amplifier. If the cabin were equipped with a phone, I am certain people in Namibia would have called to complain about the noise these frogs were making. Regardless, we slept well; it had a lulling effect one would not expect. Though this was not the common consensus of the group. Many had difficulties sleeping through it. When the sun broke through in the morning, the sounds stopped again like someone pulled the power cord and cut it off.

Breakfast was set out for those of us who were staying behind while the rest went on the river cruise yet again, but under better weather conditions than last night. We started out later this morning so we could pick up the others directly at the pier and then we are driving to Zimbabwe.

Some of the group needed to get more cash. We were not informed we had to pay US cash at the Zimbabwe border. As we approached the Botswana border, we were leaving the country for the last time. As far as I was concerned our stay was entirely too short; I could have stayed much longer.

At the Zimbabwe Border Control, we had our filled in forms ready. We lined up and handed our form, passport, and cash over to the officer. For Europeans and US Americans, the fee was $30.00 in US currency only. The Brits had to pay $35.00 and the Canadians $65.00, which no one could figure out why. As the officer took our passports, he put the money in his shirt pocket, which was suspect in itself. They held everyone’s passport and we had to wait in the parking lot for about thirty minutes before getting them back.

We had heard rumors that the money paid at the border goes directly into Mugabe’s Swiss bank account and that his first wife is the number one customer of Herrod’s in London. Others told us that commercial airline flights are cancelled if Mugabe or his wife want to fly off somewhere to go shopping. It gave me and others in the group the creeps to be here. It would have been much better if the tour had ended in Zambia rather than here.

Within the hour, we were in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe. We stopped at the lodge, but the rooms were not ready yet. Bruce took us to the Outdoor Adventure provider for a presentation for those who wanted to book something while we were here. The options were bungee jumping, elephant rides, helicopter rides, microlight rides, and so on.

Bruce had primed us that the Zimbabwe currency is no longer tradable with any other world currency, so we should be careful with how much we withdraw from a bank machine. He said there was an official exchange rate and a black market exchange rate with a wide gap between the two. He also warned that using ATMs or credit cards could be dangerous, with many finding shocking surprises on their statements once they were home again. He suggested using US dollars whenever possible. There are signs in stores stating that non-residents must show the receipt from the currency exchange before their Zimbabwean currency will be accepted. Jean found this to be true when she want to by batteries for her camera.

Jean, Omo, Ron, and I were going to take a thirteen-minute helicopter ride over the falls for $90.00 each. I have always wanted to take a helicopter ride and this was a great opportunity to do. This is the first time Ron has agreed to do it with me. The only time we could go was the next morning, but the company was booked solid. The guy found another company, but the timing was bad. It had to be that afternoon. It was disappointing. Everyone in the group signed up for a dinner river cruise for tonight at $45.00 per person, our last night together.

The truck took us back to the lodge and we got our keys. The t-shirt man was there to take our order for custom t-shirts that show our trip on it. When we settled this, we went to our rooms with the plan to meet at reception by 4:00 for the cruise. It did not turn out that way. We went to our room and I stormed back looking for Bruce. The cabin was four walls with two beds in it. There was no sink, no running water, no toilet, no shower, no towels, nothing. It was no better than a permanent tent. For our last night together after a wonderful trip with some exceptional accommodations, this was like a slap in the face. As I looked for Bruce, there were others who felt the same as I did, we were all furious over this.

When Bruce looked at the rooms, he agreed. He had not been to his yet. He spoke to reception and had us changed to lodges, where we were supposed to be four to a lodge. We anticipated sharing with Omo and Jean again, but when they saw the lodge, they made plans to find another place for the night. As you enter the lodge, you are entering a dining area. To the left and right, there is a bedroom with two beds in each. Beyond the dining area to the left is a kitchen and the right is the bathroom. The tub had no shower. When Bruce asked if it was okay, I was not going to make a scene over it. It was dark and dreary, but for one night, we did not really care as long as there were clean sheets and towels.

Our other concern was the Visa waiver we were supposed to have for Zambia. Supposedly, if you are staying one night in Zambia to travel on, you do not have to pay the fee for a Visa. Bruce did not know anything about this and he called the hotel where we would be tomorrow evening. They faxed the form that I turned into Go2Africa so we had it in hand.

Others on the other hand, still had major problems with the new rooms and spread out looking at other hotels and making other reservations spending upwards of $250.00. Some were able to negotiate lower fees, but then they found out that they had to have a residence card from an African country to get the rate. This really put a blemish on our last night as a group.

There is a sad hopeless feeling in the air and I was very uncomfortable being in the country, but anticipating going on to Zambia tomorrow. The bike rack at the lodge was a large metal pole with a series of hang man nooses going across it. It really threw me and I did not know what the reason for it was until people started to hang their bicycles seats from the nooses. Perhaps the message is if you steal this bike, you will hang for it. It was creepy to say the least, but it seemed apropos for this country and its government.

At 4:00 sharp, the vans were here to take us to the cruise, but we had to wait for some to return from other hotels. The pier was at a fancy hotel and in spite of our being a little late, the food was not ready or perhaps waiting for our arrival to stay hot.

Once aboard, we were given safety instructions and the bar was ready for happy hour. It was an open bar inclusive in the $45.00 fee for the cruise. We were floating above the falls. The crew included the captain, bartender, waiter, and two chefs. We had a choice of three salads, chicken, beef, macaroni and cheese, mixed vegetables, and two desserts. The food was delicious and we mingled about the boat, but when a crocodile was discovered floating along side us, everyone rushed to hang over the rail to get a better look.

As the boat trip progressed, we saw elephants, hippos, and a huge lizard on shore. The cruise was supposed to be two hours, but lasted closer to three. After we reached shore again, the captain allowed us to stay aboard for another hour. It was a fitting ending to our 20 days together.

Back at the lodge, we were again faced with the unpleasantness of a cheerless accommodation and people went in all directions for their place to sleep that night. It had the feelings of a family breaking up after the patriarch and matriarch are gone.

We went to our uninviting lodge, but after five gin and tonics on the cruise, it did not seen so bad after all. We filled out our feedback form for Nomad Tours giving them the complements and the negatives. Some of us are meeting at 7:00 for breakfast and those who are not going for the adrenalin rush, will go to the falls together.

Our total mileage as a group has been 5,090 km, a 45 minute plane ride, and a speedboat return.

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Saturday, January 06, 2007

Chobe National Park


We went through both Namibian and Botswana’s Border Control yet again. Near the Botswana side, Bruce pointed out a Baobab tree that was hollowed out. He said that at one time the border control had an office in the tree and it was once used as a church. I took a picture before he warned me that you can be arrested for taking photographs at border crossings.

A short drive later, we had a supermarket-ATM-Internet-café stop for an hour. The Internet place only had three computers, so it was a bit of disaster trying to get one. We managed to, but only spent four minutes and then relinquished it to Thomas for our remaining time.

Botswana has a land usage fee of $350. per person to cut down on tourism negatively effecting the environment. We paid this to Bruce as soon as we arrived in Botswana. All of the cash that I had been clutching to my chest was now starting to be distributed, lessening my anxiety of carrying it around. This steep fee is the reason we are only in the park one night, though I could easily spend much more time here.

The rush was on now; we had to get to our campsite, have lunch and then those of us who chose to were going on an optional safari drive in Chobe National Park. The ride was for two hours and cost $20.00 per person, but it was in an open truck, so well worth the money.

Again, we were in two trucks. In our truck was Markus, Bettina, Hans, Suzy, Thomas, Jean, Ron and I. The truck’s seats were on three levels so no one’s view was obstructed. Omo had decided not to go, but Jean had said she really wanted to see elephants. If you cannot find them here, then you will never find them. Chobe has the largest concentration of elephants of any place in the world.

We saw a small alligator in a pond that was created by the rain. It was fantastic seeing impalas, baboons, giraffes, and elephants so close and open. Jean was getting nervous about the elephants being SO close, but the guide said he could read their behavior. Later, he confided he had his truck overturned by a bull elephant and had to run for cover until the bull was out of the area. We saw dozens of hippos grazing on the shore. They are incredible creatures and we learned that they kill more people than any other animal. If you get between a hippo and the water, they will charge you.

I told Jean she had gotten her wish to see elephants, now what was her second wish. She replied she wanted to see a lion. The guide overheard this and took us off the road into brush and shrub. There was a lioness under a tree. The guide prompted us to take our pictures fast so we could leave the area. It was not until we left that we realized the lioness was within leaping distance. We were that close to her. The guide asked us not to share the experience with anyone who could identify him; he would get into a lot of trouble for doing what he did.

We were dropped off at a fancy hotel within the park where we were going to take a boat for a three hour river cruise. Our truck made it there first and boarded the boat, but there was not enough room for our entire group. Bruce argued with the people that he booked a boat for twenty. They finally agreed to give us a second boat, reluctantly, and the second group boarded that one. Our boat had a canopy over it, with a table in the center and moveable chairs. The other boat only had chairs bolted in place. Within minutes of getting settled on the boats, it started to rain. Our captain gave us ponchos to put on, but the other group did not have anything.

Fifteen minutes into the cruise, there was a torrential rainstorm with lightning and thunder that whipped out of nowhere. It only took minutes for us to be soaked regardless of the ponchos. The rain came down so hard, it poured through the canvas tarp roof. A few of us wanted to go back since we could barely see a thing, but the rest of us stayed quiet and hoped the proverbial storm would blow over. The captain was waiting for the final consensus and just kept going.

In the pouring rain, we saw hippos in the water, but they kept submerging before we could get a picture, though the rain was so fierce they would not show in a picture. After an hour into the ride, the storm ended. Then we saw elephants playing in the water and on the shore. We were soaked, but filled with excitement over our sightings.

When we returned to the dock, we were not sure if the others had returned or if they were still out on the river. We had someone from the hotel call our lodge to tell them we needed a ride. We waited in the bar area where some locals did a spontaneous performance in native costumes. An hour later, John came to fetch us back to camp.

The area outside our cabin was flooded and we had to wade in to get inside. Dinner would be served in an hour’s time by the pool. Bruce arranged for the second group to have a repeat cruise in the morning as their trip was aborted due to the weather; the rest of us can sleep in later. Tomorrow when we take off, we cross over into Zimbabwe for our last night.

We drove 250 km today. Our new total is 4990 km.

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