Sunset game drive in Kruger Park…Dining in the bush…The Big 5 hovering…First loves…

With mating season essentially ended, our guide said these 2 males were “practicing” dominance for next season.

A phenomenon has occurred in our world travels, first loves, a syndrome hard to avoid when on a path of many new experiences.

Sitting back several rows in the huge open game drive vehicle, it was difficult to take photos of this Kudu as he crossed the road so I took this one through the blue tinted windshield.

On January 3, 2013, Tom and I embarked on our first cruise on the Celebrity Century, an older renovated ship, reminiscent of the “old Hollywood days,” a style we both found appealing. The maximum number of passengers was 1770 with a crew of 858, a fact we especially enjoyed as a smaller ship than most. 

These warthogs appeared to be of a different species than those that have previously visited.

The ship was headed through the Panama Canal, a dream of Tom’s on which I gladly ‘tagged along” knowing he’d be “tagging along” with me in my dreams of Africa. Little did we know at the time, that we’d end up loving each other’s  dreams as well as our own, as we sit on the veranda again this morning after two batches of visitors have already come and gone, leaving us smiling and grateful.

Impala families hanging out in Kruger National Park.

That cruise on the Celebrity Century was extraordinary, although neither of us had a frame of reference, until, as we moved into the New Year, we sailed on seven more cruises. In the end, our first experience was the best, perhaps never to be outdone.

Bird watching enthusiasts went wild with the many sightings in Kruger Park at sunset including viewing this eagle at quite a distance.

This isn’t saying that the cruises that followed were inferior in any way. They were just different. Maybe it is tied to some romantic notion of that first feeling of excitement and adventure. Maybe is comparable to our own memories of our first loves. 

This vulture was high atop a distant tree, one of several we sighted along the drive in
Kruger Park.

Appropriately, we have now named this phenomenon, “The Celebrity Century Syndrome.” As we find ourselves enthralled each day living in Marloth Park, we imagine we’ll never again, find an experience such as this.  Where, I ask you, in the world would one have wildlife, to this degree, to this frequency, wandering around their house?

Another Vulture sighting, again far from the road.

Last night, once again, we fell prey to our “syndrome” in the game drive into Kruger Park, one of the largest game reserves in the world. The ‘first love” in this case, was our safari in the Masai Mara in Kenya, beginning on October 5, 2013, a mere 60 days ago, a tough act to follow.

More impalas.

Kruger Park is huge at over 2 million hectares, 7722 square miles, literally filled with wildlife. It has a rich ancient history and a geological history shared with us by our knowledgeable guide on the over-sized open game vehicle in which we traveled for approximately four hours with sixteen other guests.

Yes, there were power lines running through Kruger Park, a necessary reality due to its enormous size and requirement for safety, security and maintenance.

As explained to us during the sunset drive, Kruger Park doesn’t allow off-road, travel into the bush. Thus, we were subject to seeing only the wildlife that appeared within view along the road. For us, this was a limitation we’d hadn’t experienced in the Masai Mara.

As we entered the bush brill site, Danie is on the left with a raised arm and Louise is on the right. They worked so hard to host this event, cooking, setup, and cleanup in their hands. Everything was to perfections. To top if off, they appeared in our driveway this morning to inquire as to anything we may need.  Their hard work and dedication are evidenced in every activity they host and property they manage. This photo and the next were taken before I realized I needed to clean the camera lens.

When Anderson, our guide in the Masai Mara, saw a point of interest with his eagle eye and powerful binoculars, he took off expertly maneuvering the sturdy open sided Land Cruiser across the rough terrain of the bush, while the maximum of six of us, held on squealing in joyful anticipation of what was yet to come.

The candlelight place settings were befitting an elegant dinner. No paper plates here! All prepared for our group of 17 to perfection. The camera lens was humid resulting in these blotchy photos.

Last night, with the sun setting on a cloudy evening, the requirement that we couldn’t use a flash, with the limitations of the camera I am able to manage with the bad shoulder and the limitation of staying on the road, we were disappointed in our photos. For those having never been on safari, this may have been enough to fulfill their expectations. For us, the Celebrity Century Syndrome kicked in.

In any case, we did have a wonderful time last night, the guide was over-the-top expert on not only the wildlife but the history and geological aspects of the park, the group of guests were lively and animated and we enjoyed it all.

Not quite the jumbo sized beer in Kenya, Tom had a few of these during dinner.

Louise and Danie, our “hosts extraordinaire” were busy setting up the phenomenal meal, beautifully presented, truly in the bush and not at a campground. The linen napkins, lovely dinnerware and the beautifully set tables created a venue befitting an elegant dinner.

Unfortunately, our new friends from the UK, Lynne and Mick, are returning home on Tuesday. Had they stayed longer we certainly would have shared many more evenings with them.

Much to my delight, there was plenty of items I could eat. They’d made a special point of ensuring that there were several items befitting my way of eating. I so appreciated their delicious efforts.

More new friends from the UK at our table, also seasoned world travelers with considerable experience in many countries in Africa.

But, what they had made that worked for me was flavorful, well seasoned, and cooked to perfection. My plate was piled high with wonderful meats and veggies, some of the likes I’d never seen but hope to see again.I’d expected that the food had been catered by a local restaurant only to discover that Louise and Danie have made everything themselves.

Arriving at the bush dinner, we were surprised and grateful to find a restroom facility roughly put together. This particular site is frequently used as a “bush braai” location. The gate around the toilet area was smashed.  Louise explained that the rhinos were responsible. We laughed.

The entire bush braai dinner was unlike anything we’d ever experienced before, surely putting “bush braai” into the first love category. Seated with the lovely couple we’d met at Jabula Lodge on Wednesday night and good friends of theirs, all of whom were from Jersey, UK, our table of six had an excellent dinner, laughing, talking and educating us on the numerous insects wandering about on our drinks and plates. 

Seasoned travelers to many countries in Africa and as homeowners in Marloth Park, they gave nary a thought to the multitude of walking and flying insects, making every effort to educate us on their purpose and benefit. This did put help us by reframing some of our thoughts about certain insects, putting us more at ease.

Appetizers of grilled prawns (they don’t call them shrimp outside the US) and Boerewors, a frequently served sausage of South Africa. Notice the dinner plates are upside down to keep the bugs off of them. I failed to take more food photos.  We were too busy having fun!

However, during dinner, we notice a crowd gathered around one of the other tables for six to discover they were looking down at the ground at a scorpion. One of the diners had open toe shoes and Louise and Danie gave her two empty wine boxes to cover her feet. Oh, dear.

Several times during dinner, I used my LED flashlight to check the ground beneath me. Of course, the others chuckled over my frequent inspections. I suppose in time, I will become as fearless as they seem to be.

As we dined there were several armed guards with spotlights perusing the area around us. They had used torch lights to set up a perimeter in which we were required to stay. Oddly, busy chatting with everyone, we didn’t give the prospect of any intrusions by wildlife a thought.

The only wildlife we’d seen thus far, nearby the braai area, was a hippo. Hippos have proven to be the most dangerous animal to humans with the highest incidence of fatalities worldwide. He seemed disinterested in us and took off.

To all of our delight, coupled with a bit of trepidation, and with rifles aimed and readied by the guards, a herd of elephants walked past our braai, as many as a dozen. We all held our breath in the excitement of seeing them within 30 meters of our table, never turning our way or looking at us.

It appeared the largest female, the matriarch, held up the rear of the line while the moms and babies stayed cocooned in the middle. Unable to take photos with the flash restrictions (rightfully so), it was impossible to get a photo. But, the sight and sounds of the graceful steps of the Elephants in the bush will be emblazoned in our minds forever.

The crescent moon in South Africa is positioned differently than we’d seem in Kenya.  How interesting!

It was an amazing evening, in itself responsible for several “Celebrity Century Syndrome” first love moments that we’ll add to our repertoire of memories of adventures that we’ll carry with us wherever we may be.

Tonight, we’re going out on yet another sunset drive, right here in Marloth Park, as guests of Vic, Executive Director of Royal Kruger Lodge followed up by their popular Boma Dinner.

Of course, we’ll be back tomorrow with more photos and stories to tell.

Plus, we’ve had seven sets of visitors so far this morning. Can’t wait to share

The wonder in South Africa continues…

This giraffe didn’t seem to mind be included in the photo with us.  This photo was taken in our neighborhood. Louise explained that the giraffes will soon come to our house.
The warning regarding the monkeys is posted on the refrigerator door.
There’s so much to do here, it’s astounding. With safaris in Kruger Park to be arranged at any time we choose, game walks, bush dinners, trips to other areas, cultural experiences, and more, we’re absorbing the fact that we have three full months to plan and experience those we find most appealing.
For the moment, continuing to be thrilled with the bush around us and getting our equipment and supplies in order, we’re at peace with the decision to stay in this particular private home that has almost everything we need. 
A portion of the dirt road from the main road to our house. We’re isolated, but don’t mind.
With its two large bedrooms with two en suite baths, two living rooms, each on its own floor, and an open kitchen with almost every amenities (Louise is bringing us an electric coffee pot), including Tupperware, quality stainless steel pots and pans, dinnerware, we are more well equipped than we’ve been in a very long time.
This shot from our veranda reminded us of a scene in the movie, Out of Africa. But, this is the real deal, not a movie set in England.
Sleeping in a cool room with the covers over us in itself is an amazing treat. To take advantage of the two bedrooms, Tom and I each picked a bedroom and bath as our own, although we sleep together on the main floor. This way, we were able to unpack in our own chosen room and have the option to clutter our respective bathrooms. I picked the upstairs bedroom with the soaking tub. It was nice not to have to share a small cupboard space with our remaining sparse supply of clothing.
Our new home in the bush, a mile from the nearest house.  The house has a security system and all windows and doors have steel accordion-type safety gates to keep out any intruders, animals, or human.
Unfortunately, there was no hot water this morning so I opted for the shower in my bathroom, albeit with cold water. As of now, noon, there’s hot water again, which hopefully lasts until Tom shower’s before dinner. 
This large dirt driveway is befitting the property and easy to navigate including wildlife visitors and, human visitors, each of which we’ve had several.
Our new houseman is Zeff. This morning he and Louise appeared at our door at 8:30 so he could clean and, she could see if we needed anything. The price of our rental includes two weekly visits from Zeff, all of our laundry, towels, and changing the linen. If we want him for addition visits, we pay ZAR $50, US $4.90 per visit. We’re tidy and doubt we’ll need additional visits.
The braai is the South African word for a barbeque. This is in our massive yard, only feet from the veranda and the pool.
Having already used one large bottle of water, Louise took to the bottle to be refilled at the local water store, Credence Clear Water Revival, returning it refilled a short time later. The cost of this is included in our rent. 
The service is unbelievable.  Louise is unbelievable.
Another view of our 2 story house.
She brought us a jar of organic coconut oil as yet another welcome gift. Also, she explained how we can save money booking our own events since the company she represents requires they charge an “upcharge” for organizing safaris and tours. Giving us phone numbers of their preferred tour guides, we have begun contacting them on our own.
There are three verandas in this house.  We are free to move any of the outdoor furniture to fit our needs.  This second main floor veranda doesn’t provide as good a view for watching for wildlife, so I doubt we’ll use it.
Last night, Dillon, a suggested local safari guide, stopped by offering (without any prompting from us)  to contact us when he has two open spots for safaris, enabling us to get a discounted price. The last minute is fine for us. By throwing on the BugsAway clothing, hats, socks, and boots, we can be ready in five minutes, camera, and binoculars in tow.  After all, we don’t have much of a schedule to follow. Yet.
Yet to find the name of these birds, we were excited to get this shot of mom or dad feeding a baby. Look at those yellow eyes!
After all of our whining in Kenya about the heat and bugs, we continue to sit outside all day, fearful of missing  “visitors.” However, if we get hot or the bugs are annoying, which are present in abundance, we need only go inside the house to park ourselves in either of our two living rooms, one of which has a TV. We doubt we’ll ever watch it. Yesterday, I suggested that we watch the news. But, Tom said, “Why bother? It’s only frustrating.” I agreed.
Mom or Dad and baby looking out for food sources.  The baby is well protected by her parent. These birds kept flying about, but I waited patiently to get these shots.
Last night, we dined in the house. Tonight, we’ll dine outside paying special attention to never leave food on the table when we go indoors. It’s a necessary precaution with the monkeys we’ve seen watching us.
“I’ve got a bug for you, darling.  Come and get it!”
Our dining out routine begins tomorrow with the hope of dining out three nights per week. There are three restaurants in Marloth Park but a 40 minute drive each way to others. I’ve already begun contacting some of the all-inclusive resorts nearby to see if they’ll allow us to dine at their lodges with their guests. 
By explaining that we’ll post reviews and photos of their properties, the response has been very good. With our worldwide readership, this option for “free advertising” has been a benefit to us, getting some ‘extras,” not expected but none the less appreciated.
Tomorrow, we’ll post more wildlife photos of visitors to our property and photos of the interior of the house. Every day in Marloth Park is a new day. 

From there, it all went to hell in a handbasket!

Seated over the wing, some of our views were obstructed.  But the Heavens offered up this cloudy view.

We finally made it to Marloth Park. At the moment we’re situated on a comfy sofa, inside the house. The overhead fan is sufficient to keep us comfortable, although we’ll turn on the AC in the bedroom before going to bed tonight, the sooner, the better, that is, the going to bed part, I mean. To say we’re pooped is an understatement.

From the enthusiasm we expressed in yesterday’s post, everything went downhill from there.When Tom and I had lunch in the airport café in Nairobi we were giddy with excitement at how smoothly everything had gone thus far.

How foolish we were! I remember thinking to myself, “Slow down, girl! This could change on a dime!” (Excuse the cliques spinning through my head).

Our flight to Johannesburg was scheduled to depart at a 4:00 pm. A few hours earlier we were told the flight was late due to “equipment issues.” Oh, that’s comforting.

As you read yesterday, the takeoff time continued to change, hour after hour. Until finally, we were told we’d be taking off at 8:35 pm, a four and a half hour wait beyond the already over four hours layover from our arrival in Nairobi from Mombasa for a total of eight and a half hours of waiting time.

The chairs in the waiting areas were uncomfortable rigid plastic. Our “old age flat butts” caused us to squirm constantly as the bony parts made contact with the unforgiving plastic. Getting up and walking around every 15 minutes seemed to be the available relief.

Thank goodness, we’d parked ourselves next to the complimentary digital charging station, allowing us to keep our computers and phones charged. There was no possible place to play Gin.

A gate/waiting area was set up with complimentary beverages and cakes, as we waited with other frustrated passengers, many of whom had missed their connecting flights. We were grateful that we’d booked a hotel room for the night, a short drive from the airport with a short upcoming flight scheduled at 11:10 am today.

At 9:00 pm, we were buckled into our seats on the plane with profuse apologies from the captain over the lengthy delays offering no further explanation for the delays. Quickly, the engines were started as the plane began to maneuver onto the tarmac in order to head to the runway.

All of a sudden, all the lights went down, the engine died and all electrical ceased to work. Oh. This made my heart pound as I grabbed Tom’s hand, saying, “Gee, good thing this didn’t happen five minutes after takeoff!”

Taking photos from an airplane creates a hazy view through the thick, often dirty, and damaged windows.

At that point, we assumed (foolish us) that we’d be getting off this malfunctioning plane while having to wait many more hours for a replacement.  Actually, I was hoping this would be the case, “My head was screaming, get us out of here!” My mouth stayed shut, waiting to see what transpired, albeit with nerves affray.

The pilot announced that there was an electrical problem (duh) and that he was going to have the ground crew pull the plane back onto the tarmac to work on it.  “No,” I thought, “just get us off this plane.” As a recovering “fear of flying” traveler, all my old fears kicked in. But, with Tom’s continued assurances, I managed to hold it together. 

After the ground crew worked on the plane for 20 minutes, with no explanation, the flight attendants began the manual emergency instructions since the drop-down video screens wouldn’t drop down in order to display the usually recorded safety video. That was comforting, huh?

We waited and then, waited some more. Finally, the engine fired up, the lights came back on and the plane was prepared for takeoff.  It was evident by the hushed tones in the cabin that most of the passengers were anxious. Once in the air, I sat back, exhausted, unable to focus on reading one of my Kindle books. It was after 10:00 pm.

Dinner was served with nothing I could have except for a small dish of tomato, onions, and cucumber chunks swimming in an oily base and a wrapped slice of processed cheese. Tom shared his chunks and slices with me while I shifted everything else on my tray to him.

The clouds were ominous on our flight from Mombasa to Nairobi Kenya.  Surprisingly, there was little turbulence on that otherwise easy flight.

There was a two or three years old child in the seat directly behind me who either kicked the back of my seat in rapid succession or burst into a round of hysterical crying. Certainly, this wasn’t a pleasant experience for such a youngster nor did it make it possible for either of us to nap.

Four hours later, we reached Johannesburg. However, we continued to wait for no less than 20 minutes after landing before they finally opened the doors to allow us to deplane.  

Tom and I, as usual, were the last passengers to leave. Our carry on baggage is too bulky to freely move through the aisles with passengers shoving and pushing with their own carry on bags in tow. We’ve found it less stressful to simply wait until all of the other passengers have cleared the aisles.

If a passenger had no purchases to declare they were allowed to bypass customs without even an inspection. At immigration, we merely asked for a 90-day visa and it was stamped on both of our passports as requested. His next task was to find an ATM so we could find a taxi and get to our hotel.

As we wheeled the two complimentary large luggage carts loaded with our stuff to the ATM machine, we were approached by two well-outfitted security guards who proceeded to explain the late-night dangers at the airport. They stated that their attendance was required for us to use the ATM and to accompany us to the curb to find a taxi. 

For a moment we were suspicious of them, but, when they stood back on the lookout as we received our cash in South African Rands (hereinafter referred to as “ZAR”), we felt more at ease.

The guards did in fact find us a taxi. Giving each of them a tip we proceeded on our way to the Protea Airport Hotel, a 10-minute ride. We paid the driver the required ZAR $150, US $14.70 plus a tip for ZAR $50, US $4.90, a much deserved small token of appreciation for his help with loading and unloading our bags onto the hotel’s large rolling cart.

This photo, although slightly lopsided, illustrates how far the work has come on the rebuilding of the Nairobi Airport after a recent fire.

Having prepaid the room checking into the hotel was quick. We were more than anxious to get to bed.  By the time we were situated and under the covers in a comfy cool air-conditioned room, it was 3:30 am to us, actually, 2:30 am Johannesburg time due to a one hour time change during the flight. It took us an hour to fall asleep.

From the time we left Diani Beach, Kenya at 8:00 am on Saturday with Alfred to head to Mombasa (1.5 hour taxi ride) until we arrived at the hotel it was 19.5 hours. Total flying time for both flights: 4 hours 50 minutes.

By 8:30 am Sunday morning we were having the buffet in the hotel’s restaurant. Good food. Great coffee. And, hoping that the upcoming third of the three flights would be smooth.

All moved along with ease until we reached the security check-in at Johannesburg after we’d checked our four bags, (without any excess baggage fees). As we loaded the laptop bags, my handbag, the duffel bag, and the pill bag into the scanner, two things transpired. 

One, I got frisked. Two, they made us completely empty my laptop bag that contains all of our required paperwork, second passports, power cords, ancillary digital equipment, portable scanner, and portable printer.  They were looking for something “round” that continued to appear on their screen, even after the contents were removed. 

No less than six times, they removed items from the bag running it through the scanner over and over. They’d remove an item, scan the bag again, put the item back, remove another item, and on and on. We thought we were going to miss our flight.

Too exhausted to argue with them that there wasn’t a dangerous or prohibited item hidden in the bag, I finally pointed to a round insignia on the outside of the bag with the brand name engraved. Apparently, the insignia was the problem, they explained, trying to convince us they were “just doing their job,” leaving us to repack the computer bag to be on our way. 

The South African Air Links fight was leaving for Nelspruit/Mpumalanga/Kruger Park Airport in 20 minutes. We had to hustle to get to the gate on time to take a bus to the tarmac, climb a skinny steep stairway to the plane and take our seats for the final 40-minute flight.

Ah, the flight was a flawless smooth takeoff with a relatively gentle landing and overall incident-free.  If our bags had arrived with us, our driver was awaiting us and we could be on our way for the 161 km, 100-mile drive to Marloth Park, we’d be grateful. 

Yes, we certainly are grateful to finally have arrived. As we write this now at 8:00 pm Sunday we’re still stuffed from breakfast deciding to skip dinner tonight. Instead, we’re lounging, writing for our readers, anticipating a much needed cool night’s sleep and tomorrow morning’s coffee on the veranda

And yes, we’ve already had visitors! And yes, the AC works and the house are much more than our expectations. Stop back tomorrow for photos and the happy stories since our arrival at one of Mother Nature’s magical wonderlands, Marloth Park, South Africa, our new home.

For now…

A pleasant respite from the heat…The moon over the Indian Ocean on a windy night…Dinner cost how much?

A “house” dog is commonly seen at beachfront restaurants to warn of unwelcomed visitors entering the property from the beach and to chase off animals and rodents.

With the seasons reversed south of the equator, it’s spring in Kenya, comparable to warm May in many other parts of the world.  In many tropical regions throughout the world the temperature differences from spring to summer are usually only few degrees.

The beachfront restaurant is simple and unassuming. Sand  crabs are constantly scurrying across the floor.  It’s very dark inside in an effort to conserve on power.

When we arrive in South Africa on December 1st, it will be comparable to June in countries north of the equator with temperatures ranging from 70F to 105F, 21C  to 40C.  Cooler at night as it is here, we’re prepared for the heat in South Africa, hoping the humidity will be less than Diani Beach on the sea.

We’re keeping our fingers crossed that the AC (although not central air) will work well for those extremely hot nights.  We’ve managed the low 90F’s, 32C’s in Kenya without AC but there’s a huge difference at 105F, 40C.

I caught Tom off guard here.  You can see his hair blowing and his shirt blowing open.

Yesterday, with both of us feeling the full effect of the weather at 90F’s, 32C’s, day, we were pleased we’d made our third dinner reservation at the Blue Marlin.  By far, this entirely outdoor restaurant is the coolest thus far and we’ve found the food to be consistently excellent.

The moment we arrived to the Blue Marlin we knew we’d come to the right place.  Situated on the beach with no shades obstructing the ocean breezes (as done in many other restaurants, last night the wind was powerful. We didn’t care.  The cool breeze sucked the humidity off of our skin and clothing in minutes, leaving us refreshed and relaxed. 

I hadn’t felt this cool since we’d spent three nights at the Sands on our mini holiday over our travel anniversary with the air conditioner on all night enabling us to sleep with a blanket on.  In our bed here we have only a seldom used sheet.  I’ve always enjoyed the feel of heavy weight covers.  Ha!  Not here.

The Blue Marlin’s namesake.  It almost doesn’t look real although it is.

It had been two weeks since we’d last dined at Blue Marlin, during a pelting rain storm.  The long walk, including up and down steep stone steps with no handrails, was treacherous during that storm but less so last night in dry weather.

The usual uncomfortable beach chairs at the tables prompted me to ask for a chair with a sturdy back, readily available at other tables.  Our server graciously made the switch and, I was in heaven, never wanting to leave. 

Ah, the simple things.  I don’t recall ever moaning with pleasure over a breeze in our old lives.  From time to time, a cool ocean breezes wafts over us during the day in our outdoor living room.  It never lasts. On each occasion, we both mention it, often wishing it would last longer.  It never does.

Every day, local fisherman bring their catch to the restaurants for sale.  To our surprise there
was never any fresh fish for sale at the Nakumatt grocery store.

Last night, the breeze didn’t stop for a moment.  Had my exquisite piece of fish not been so huge, it may have flown off of my plate.  I held onto the delectable huge portion for dear life. Tom indulged in “chips’ (French fries) and Swahili fish.  I giggled when I saw his “chips” quivering in the wind on his plate.  There was no way he was letting one of those fly off, I assure you!

Snapping a few mindless photos shown here today, having shown similar photos of the Blue Marlin in a previous post, I found myself doing so with a greater attachment to the place.

Arriving at 7:00 pm, we both lolly gagged after eating, wanting to extend the relaxing time a little longer.  By 9:00 pm, knowing that most likely Alfred was waiting in the parking area, we called him to say we were ready to go.  We had warned him we’d be two hours. This time he didn’t call us to ask if we were ready to go.

Our entire bill for dinner including Tom’s two bottles of beer and ice tea for me, including the tax and tip came to a grand total of KES $3200.00, US $37.52.  The taxi was KES $1100, US $12.90, a fixed fee we negotiated with Alfred on our first day in Kenya which covers anywhere we decide to go in Diani Beach.  Of course, in 10 days when we go to the airport in Mombasa, we’ll pay him KES $5000, US $58.62 for the hour long drive and ferry ride.

Tom’s dinner consisted of Swahili, a coconut flavored sauce over the catch of the day. He actually ate a few bites of his veggies.  I always tell him that fried potatoes (referred to here as “chips”) don’t count as a vegetable!

A short drive down the main road and we’d returned to our neighborhood. The guards unlocked the main gate to let us in (they now recognize us and Alfred’s car), with Jeremiah unlocking the gates to our two house compound and we were home.  No breeze.  Too early for bed. Mosquitoes promptly gathering around us.

Rather than complain, we dressed in our BugsAway clothing (our best travel investment to date), hauled out my laptop and watched another episode of Downton Abbey, Season 4, Episode 6. (It won’t be released in the US until January 2014 but has been available for download, one episode at a time, from Graboid every Monday after it’s been shown on TV in the UK on Sunday nights).

Mindless drivel. We loved every moment as we always do.  Afterward, I called it a night while Tom stayed up with his laptop.  With a good ebook to read on my phone, the respite under the mosquito netting is always comforting.


Look at the size of my fresh caught rainbow fish.  Not a single bone, perfectly cooked in garlic butter with grilled vegetables and a side of homemade mayo.  Superb!

However, changing for bed is not a pleasant experience for me.  The bugs are amped up at night and I often find something on or near my skimpy cotton night clothes.  Last night, after I’d washed my face I used my hanging towel to dry off.  I felt something crunchy on my cheek.  It was a large brown beetle, the same color of the towel, easy to miss. 

This time I did scream and Tom came running.  The beetle had run off.  Gross.  Very gross.  I got that squeamish look on my face, perhaps lasting through the night. 

Yes, I always shake out my clothing and shoes before putting them on and also, my bath towel before drying after a shower.  But now, I’ve added shaking out my bath towel before using it to wipe my hands or face.


The fierce winds moved the dark cloud across the moon.  It was fun to watch the constantly changing appearance.

After that incident, I did my usual “flash light check” of the entire bedroom; corners, walls, ceilings, and under the bed, before climbing in.  One might assume that a full-round mosquito netting protects during the night.  Not the case. “Whatever” may crawl up the legs to the bed, the frame and the headboard to work their way in. Oddly, we are somehow able to sleep through the night.

Don’t think for a moment that these reactions to this huge scary looking insects is exclusively mine.  Tom, too, although braver than I, cringes and gets the freaked out look on his face as well.  Our fear is not the sight of the insect as the potential for a serious injury as a result from a sting or bite with our mutual allergies.

We anxiously waited for the moon’s full reveal as the clouds quickly moved. Notice
a slight reflection on the ocean below.

Then, one may ask, why did we come to Kenya?  We knew about the many risks.  It was all about challenging ourselves. And, as we prepare to leave in 10 days, we don’t have one regret.  The varied experiences, by far, outweigh the bad.  We’ve seen and done that which we’d never have done had we stayed in the US, as “normal” retired folks, moving to a condo in a warm climate.

This morning, Hans stopped by to explain why the security alarms were blaring  at 8:00 am.  Apparently, the neighbors were burning garbage (illegal here but hard to control) and the fire had gotten out of hand.  Luckily, it was promptly put out.  This entire compound had burned to the ground several years ago due to an out-of-control garbage fire.  These thatch roofs rapidly ignite. 


The final review or, as much as we saw in the 2 hours at the Blue Marlin.
Whether it’s concerns over safety, security, insect bites, malaria (we take pills), illness, food poisoning from local restaurants (we only dine at resorts), potential fires, auto accidents (no highway patrol), the risks are many.


Keeping safe has been our primary concern and yes, we may obsess about it from time to time. But 90% of our time, our lives have been enriched by this time in Kenya and…we leave here with great stories to tell and memories we’ll relive over and over again in years to come.

 
 

Scary incident while out last night….Four guys, a driver and us…

Tom likes Tusker beer, a local brew, usually at KES $300, US $3.52, per liter when ordered at a bar or in a restaurant. What’s with that look on his face?

Dining out on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays have been an excellent balance for us. Overall, the food has been good, the service consistently good and the ambiance in most cases, ideal with most resorts located on the Indian Ocean.

The cool ocean breezes with fewer mosquitoes with the strong breezes (in most cases) and with someone else doing the cooking and cleanup dining out has been a welcomed relief, spaced out for these specific days of the week.

Last night, before the power, went out at The Cave.

Yesterday, we’d decided to give Ali Barbour’s The Cave Restaurant another try after a first mediocre meal in September, shortly after we’d arrived at Diani Beach. Last night’s meal was hardly disappointing, pleasantly surprising both of us with well seasoned, beautifully presented, and delicious meals. 

My dinner ranked in the top three on my list of favorite meals in Kenya. Tom, “Mr. Meat and Potatoes” was also pleased with his meal. Definitely requiring one more return to The Cave in our remaining 17 days before leaving on November 30th. 

The Cave, after the power went out which came back on promptly after the generators were started.

True to our expectations as described in yesterday’s post, we didn’t receive our drinks until 15 minutes after being seated and we waited no less than 30 minutes after requesting our bill. The restaurant was busy. We waited patiently. 

The power had gone out twice during our dinner to be restored within a few minutes by the use of a generator. It’s not unusual for the power to go out in Kenya. We didn’t flinch.

Our bill after tipping the server came to a total of KES $4600, US $54.51 with a remaining tip to pay for the shuttle driver that had picked us up (20 minutes earlier than planned) and would be returning us home.

The fresh flowers at the base of the lantern at our table.

Walking up the uneven stone steps to the reception area, we found four other patrons awaiting a ride, a group of male 20 somethings who’d apparently had a good time based on their loud banter and pushy behavior. 

Speaking in a language we didn’t understand, it was obvious they were annoyed with having to wait for a few minutes for the shuttle driver to return from another drop-off. Tom and I had seen these four guys only minutes earlier in the dining area. They couldn’t have been waiting for more than five minutes.

Sitting in the living-room-like reception area, all facing one another, Tom and I were prepared for a wait. The Maasai restaurant greeter also sat in this area trying to appease the four impatient guests as they obviously grumbled over a potentially short wait. 

Tom’s dinner of Beef Stroganoff (no noodles), fries, and ketchup.  Yep, he ate the bread in the basket to which I made no comment or facial expression.

Within two minutes of sitting down, they instructed the Maasai greeter to call them a taxi. He made the call explaining the taxi would arrive in five minutes Apparently, they spoke English. They had chosen to forgo the complimentary shuttle to bring them back to their hotel.

We both thought, “Oh, good. When the driver returns, he can take us.” In less than a minute, the shuttle driver returned and the Maasai greeter explained in Swahili that the four guys had requested a taxi. The shuttle driver motioned to us to get into the awaiting van, as he opened the sliding door. We complied.

Bolting out of the parking lot in an obvious hurry, we flew down the long bumpy road from the ocean to the highway, as we heard the driver talking on his cell phone. Almost at the highway on the narrow road, with no place to turn around, the driver, not saying a word to us, began driving backward to return to the restaurant. 

This is the protein portion of my dinner, a shrimp cocktail on a bed of crisp cabbage. It was the best shrimp cocktail I’ve had in years.  The veggie portion of my dinner is in the below photo.

I must admit, he drove well going backward such a long distance on the bumpy narrow road.  Had it been me in such a hurry, I’d have been all over the road driving backward. Tom would have done as well as him.

We assumed that the driver was called to return to the restaurant to pick up other guests when, in fact, the four guys had decided they didn’t want to wait a couple more minutes for the “already on its way” taxi. This obviously infuriated the driver, who began apologizing to us to which we both said, “hakuna matata” which translates to “no problem or no worry” in English.

The four guys piled into the van requiring Tom to get out to let them in the back seats. I stayed put, suddenly feeling a need to put my seat belt on. The driver was speaking to the four guys in both Swahili and English explaining that “you can’t cancel a taxi after it’s on its way. You still have to pay.”

This grilled veggie platter was heavenly, cooked to perfection, seasoned with local spice, and grilled with a light glaze of olive oil and butter.  The white rectangles are slices of imported Parmesan cheese.  What a meal!  I ate every morsel of both dishes.

The four guys didn’t respond well to his comments as the driver continued to explain that they’d still have to pay the taxi, giving him the money to bring back to the taxi driver in the amount of KES $500, US $5.86. They refused. They all became very irritated.

At this point the driver turned around, as he’s driving down the unlit main road at a high speed, asking us if it was OK if he dropped the four guys off first and then head to our house. Again, we said, “hakuna matata.”  Again, he thanked us profusely.

The chatter back and forth escalated during the 10-minute drive to the hostel (not hotel) where the four guys were staying. Once arriving at the hostel, the van driver insisted they pay the 500 schillings, and again, they refused, saying they’d pay KES $300, US $3.52. They exited the van, loudly grumbling with tempers flaring. 

The van driver explained that he’d have to pay the taxi driver for him taking his fare by van, instead of using the ordered taxi. We didn’t blame him for his frustration. What a bunch of jerks!

This is Tom’s foot next to the largest semi-poisonous millipede we’ve seen since arriving in Kenya. Tom with his frequent verbal slips continually refers to these common creatures as “minipedes.” Not so mini, Tom Lyman. He scooped it into the dustpan placing it back into the yard. It will be back. Can you imagine stepping on that in bare feet during the night? Is it any wonder that I put my moccasins in the bed with me?

During this period, with the multiple language barriers and Tom’s hard of hearing issues (after 42 years on the railroad), he had a hard time determining what was transpiring, other than the visual on the angry driver and the four guys. 

It was clear enough to me. My concern escalated along with their tempers. Was a fight about to break out? Was someone going to pull a knife or a gun? We were trapped in the vehicle. I recalled that after we’d arrived at the restaurant, that the door to the van could only be opened from the outside after we tried to open it several times from the inside. 

Again, in a flash, the driver turned to us apologizing. This time, we didn’t say “hakuna matata.”  Instead, Tom said, “Let’s go,” in a non-threatening manner. Hesitating for a moment, the driver weighed his options, either stay and turn this into a nightmare or, leave. We waited for his decision. He looked from the guys, to us in the back seat and made a decision. 

He left, speeding crazily down the bumpy dirt road back to the main road.

Sighing a sigh of relief, we were ecstatic to be on our way, although his angry driving made us wonder if we’d make it back in one piece. Again, a sigh of relief, escaped my breath, as we approached our first security gate and then our second where Jeremiah, our guard, waited for us unlocking the gate and letting us in.

Finally back in our outdoor living room at 10:00 pm, Jessie and Gucci at our sides, I decided to go to bed. With the days of rain last week, the mosquito population was over the top and I hardly felt like changing into my BugsAway clothing. Then, Tom spotted this giant “minipede” (actually a millipede), scooping it up, placing it back in the yard. (See above photo).

The comfort and safety of the mosquito netting around the bed, the overhead fan, and a new book downloaded to my smartphone, I was content to call it a day. Tom, on the other hand, quickly changed into his BugsAway clothing, grabbed his laptop to stay outside for another hour.

My last thought before tucking my phone and my flashlight under my pillow and nodding off, “Whew!

Dinner in a cave?…Yep!…Last night we dined in a cave…

I thought Tom looked great in this photo, but I reminded myself of Morticia wearing all black or, of the day in Abu Dhabi when we entered the famed White Mosque, requiring that I wore the black abaya in the 100+ degree weather while I was sick. I’ll never forget that day or, that photo which my sister Julie gets hysterical over every time she looks at it! (See the post in the archives for May 30, 2013).

As we continue on our mission of trying a different Diani Beach restaurant each Saturday night, we enjoyed on our second outing at the locally acclaimed Ali Barbour’s Cave Restaurant


The ambiance, in a natural cave, was formed by the sea over 400,000 years ago while the restaurant itself is thought to be between 120 to 180 years old, renovated in the 1980s with the intent of maintaining its original integrity.

Standing at the top of the stairway leading down to the natural cave, we were able to look down at the bar below. Every effort was made to maintain the original integrity of this environment when it became a restaurant over 100 years ago, renovated in the 1980s

This was accomplished with the most finite details, using only a minimum of modern-day amenities such as; candles as opposed electricity; few electric wires discretely placed to allow for small fans for movement of the humid air as opposed to air conditioning; an open ceiling as nature had created allowing a view of the stars in the night sky while dining.

During dinner, Tom mentioned that it reminded him of a “man-made attraction one might find at Disneyland where the walls we made of molded resin as opposed to the natural stone.” 

The lounge in the bar where we had our drinks while waiting for our table. The restaurant didn’t open until 7:30 pm with most diners not appearing until 8:30 or later. I guess us folks from the US are early diners.  We’ve found that dinner is typically served at 8:00, often 9:00 pm as we travel the world.

Adding to the ease of making online reservations for dinner, Ali Barbour Cave Restaurant provides complimentary driver service to and from the restaurant. At promptly 7:00 pm, the driver arrived as we waited with the guard at the main gate to our complex.

As the older van pulled up, I asked, “Where are you from?” as a safety precaution. When Joseph replied, “Ali Barbour Cave Restaurant” my mind was at ease.

Another view the seating areas in the bar, depicting somewhat of a Moroccan theme, of which we’ll see plenty when we live in Marrakesh Morocco, a mere six months from now.  My, how the time is flying by!

Based on the restaurant’s proximity to our home on Google Maps, I’d anticipated a short two or three-minute drive. Once on the dark, narrow, bumpy unlit road, as cars drive on the left side, I began to worry after more than 10 minutes had elapsed. 

Joseph reassured me it was down the road a short distance. As we pulled into a narrower rocky unpaved, unmarked road, Tom and I squeezed each other’s hand, wondering why there was no sign on the road and where we were going.

View of the walls in the bar. All lighting in the walls and at the table was a result of candles, creating a warm atmosphere, romantic to say the least.

Later, when we left the restaurant, we noticed a glaring sign on the opposite side of the highway that we missed when turning in. Perhaps, we were foolish to give it a thought.  But, living in Kenya one cannot be too cautious.

The seating across from us as we lounged on the love seat in the bar.

For the first time in our travels, with all the bumpy and scary roads we’ve traveled, last night was the first time I felt a little carsick. The weaving back and forth along the busy highway, the lack of air conditioning, the smell of toxic fires in the air, my stomach revolted in queasiness. Luckily, once we arrived, the feeling quickly passed.

To our surprise, no security was in place at the entrance to the restaurant, although a Maasai guard/greeter wearing traditional African red robes warmly welcomed us, graciously opening the car door and offering a hand to assist us out of the back seat.

The story about the cave.  Excuse the flash.  In the dark cave, it was unavoidable.

Upon entering the unique space, we both were instantly in awe of yet another of nature’s creations that humans had so carefully maintained.

The air, thick and humid, cooled by numerous quiet, well-hidden fans, took a few minutes to become adapted. After all, we were in a cave.  I’d expected to find a few bats flying about or perhaps evidence of guano. There was no evidence of either.

In Kenya, living, and dining all of our meals outdoors, I feel sticky and grimy at all times. Also, the necessity of re-applying mosquito repellent (DEET free is working well, but requires reapplication every few hours) during all waking hours (we’re protected by the mosquito netting in bed) invariably attracts the soot and sand in the area at all times, only adding to the feeling of being dirty.

Showering every morning leaves me at my worst by the end of the day. With the water restrictions, we choose to only shower once a day. Having to dress in more “evening out” clothing as is typical in finer restaurants in the area (no shorts allowed), it’s difficult to make myself change into other clothing, as the mosquitoes are in a full frenzy around 6:30 pm each night. 

Diners began to filter in around 8:00 pm, filling all tables by the time we were ready to leave around 9:45 pm.  We’d be warned not to rush the servers for the check-in our travels. Many countries’ servers are accustomed to taking their time in delivering the bill. Most often, as is the case here in Kenya, tips are only allowed to be paid in cash, not added to the credit card slip.  Of course, this requires us to keep adequate change on hand.

When staying in, we both change into our BugsAway clothing provided considerable protection from the mosquitoes except for exposed skin. Each night before dinner, I lather my arms, hands, and ankles with the stinky lotion.

Going out to dinner changes the entire scenario.  With no BugsAway clothing acceptable for dining in finer restaurants to protect me, I have no alternative but to fully coat myself with the lotion before putting on the evening clothes. 

Talk about feeling hot and sticky! Of course, I bring the lotion with us, often requiring an additional application during dinner, as the mosquitoes swarm around me. 

This is the natural opening in the ceiling, allowing a view of the night sky. It would interesting to visit during the day to look down into the hole in the main dining area.

Perusing the dinner menu, we were at a loss as to what we’d order. With their chef familiar with gluten-free cooking, I felt reasonably at ease, especially after explaining that he need also consider my avoidance of sugar, grain, and starches.

Twice, the waitress came to our table graciously inquiring as to our readiness to order, and twice we still hadn’t decided. Tom, beef lover than he is, coupled with his finicky taste buds, ended up choosing double Fillet Mignon once again, one of which was veal with Bearnaise sauce and the other regular beef with a peppercorn sauce. 

Only a few tables had guests when we entered the dining room around 7:45 pm. Within an hour, it was fully booked, mostly with non-English speaking tourists.

He didn’t find either of the sauces offensive in any manner but said the steak was less tender than he’d had the prior Saturday night at the Sails Restaurant at the Almanara Resort. 

Compliments of the chef, we were both served this tangy GF marinated salad.  Tom took one bite turning his serving over to me, both of which I thoroughly enjoyed.

My dinner was similar to a pesto cheesy chicken recipe I’d concocted while living in Italy using the fresh herbs from our patio garden. The portion at The Cave was small leaving me hungry after dinner. Upon returning home, I ate a large handful of Macadamia nuts, which took care of that issue.

The dining room extending beyond where we were seated.
Most likely, we were the oldest diners in the restaurant all evening.  We noticed that the majority of the diners were younger couples, mostly in the late ’20s and ’30s. As we’d also observed in Italy when out and about, we seldom encountered any “old-timers” like us, causing us to wonder where all the retirees have gone for vacations or “ex-pat” living.
With the cost of living escalating in Kenya over the past several years and, with tourism down considerably, few retirees are making Kenya their home.  Also, the negative press regarding the crime rate in Kenya has deterred many travelers from coming this way.
This was the view to my right as we sat at a cozy, not too small table against one of the walls. We always prefer a wall, table as opposed to one positioned in the center of the room.
Candlelight accentuates the natural holes in the cave, adding to the ambiance.

For my dinner, as shown, I ordered the Cheesy Chicken atop a pesto sauce, all gluten-free, with a side of sautéed vegetables. Tom, as always, scooted his vegetables onto my plate, a common occurrence due to his distaste for “green things.”

My dinner, Cheesy Chicken atop a pesto sauce was well seasoned and pleasing to the palate, although the serving size was small. Rather than a chicken breast, this serving was a small single thigh. 
Realizing that my dinner may not satisfy my now ravenous appetite I’d considered a side salad.  Unfortunately, they didn’t have a salad dressing befitting my way of eating (low or no sugar and gluten-free) plus, we assumed that the raw vegetables weren’t washed in purified water, adding to the risk of disease or illness.
Tom’s dinner of two small Filet Mignon, each with a different sauce.  He was disappointed in his meal, having higher expectations after reading many five star reviews.

Would we recommend the Ali Barbour’s Cave Restaurant? Yes. The interesting and unusual atmosphere is well worth the visit, although we’d consider the food to be average. The service was flawless. Over the top!

Overall, including VAT tax, Tom’s two huge bottles of beer, my full liter of sparkling water, the service charge, tips for the servers, and the shuttle driver, we spent a total of US $68.09.

The stairway going up and out of Ali Barbour’s Cave Restaurant. Gee, we’ve gone up and down a number of stone stairs in these past months!

Currently, with taxes, we’re spending approximately US $40 per day for groceries. It’s certainly worth spending an extra US $28 for us to get out of our outdoor living room for an evening and to dine at the hands of a local chef.

Part 1…Internet solutions…Photos of our neighborhood…

In

Here we are in Africa, hot and sweaty as we embark on our first walk outside the gated complex, onto the main road, definitely a daytime event only.

I know. We’re always discussing Internet issues.  For those of you with little interest in Internet issues, I apologize. We realize that many users pay little to no attention to the means by which they are connected. They send and read email, Facebook, a few blogs and occasionally search for information. This constitutes the “average” user.

The dirt road in our gated community.
As we began our walk within the gated complex, we saw and heard many local workers working on the house that had been destroyed by a fire in 2009. Hans told us that the insurance companies didn’t want to pay fair claims for the losses so many homeowners haverebuilt, piece by piece over this extended period.

Then, there are Internet devotees such as us, who use the Internet as their connection to the world, not only to family and friends, but for resources to enhance their everyday lives. In a typical day, when staying “home,” we may each easily spend five or six hours online, downloading, reading, watching shows, managing banking and financial, searching for our future travels.

This wall was on our right as we walked along the dirt road within the gated community.  Most houses were tucked away behind large stone walls making it difficult to see the homes in the neighborhood.

Suddenly, a few days ago we’re cut off at the knees by XCOM Global warning us that we’re using too much data based on regulations over which they have no control. With restricted data use, we were faced with a tough decision.

An entrance to a neighboring home.

Do we find a local provider? Nice idea. But there are no home wireless providers in Kenya.  ToDo we rent another MiFi for another $395 a month?  Too costly.Or, worst of all, do we change our habits? You may say, “Get a grip! Find something else to do!” 

This statue was in the entryway of the neighboring home.

Yes, we get that.  But consider this…we have no car, no stuff of our own other than our now meager amount of clothing and supplies. We have no house to fix or maintain, no trips to Home Depot, no health club and no family and friends to visit. We have no TV, no radio, no sports news, no recipe books to peruse for making dinner. With Hesborn’s daily help, the only housework we do is wash our dishes (Tom does this) after a meal and to pick up after ourselves.

This massive home was burned out, sold and yet to be repaired, now almost 4 years later.

Take all those aspects of daily life away for a moment, what would one do? We can’t go sightseeing everyday. We didn’t do that in our old lives. Do you sightsee every week? Hardly. If one has young children, they may embark on sightseeing type adventures each weekend. But, we don’t have young children. We don’t have a dog to take for a walk.

Another angle of the above burned out home, yet to be rebuilt. Eighteen homes were destroyed in the fire that swept through the community in minutes.  The thatched roof and high winds caused the almost instantaneous burn.

In Kenya, one doesn’t just walk on the streets, along the beach, to and from their favorite activities especially at night. There are safety concerns in the numbers. We’re not foolish.

The water tower belonging to the above  burned out private residence.

Thus, the Internet is not only our mode of entertainment but our source of information.  (Soon, we’ll get out to visit a local travel agency recommended by Hans with the hope of booking a safari since we can’t currently do it online with the limited use of the MiFi).

The dense thatched rooftops, typical in Africa, can easily be seen as a fire hazard.
These would never be allowed in the US or many other countries.

Soon, we’ll start dining out once or twice a week to the local restaurants, of which there are many for a short cab ride. Soon, we’ll visit a shopping mall to get the flavor of products sold in the area.

Yesterday, with Hans’ help we solved our Internet issues. He went to the Safaricom store in town and purchased an 8 gigabyte SIM card for us, loaning us his portable Hot Spot. It takes 1/2 of 1 gig to download an hour long TV show. We’ll be able to get approximately 16 shows on one SIM card at the cost of US $45 for the entire card. Each show we download and watch will cost us approximately US $2.81. 

Our two devices, a Hot Spot, loaned to us by Hans and our XCOM Global MiFi. Most likely we’ll be purchasing one of these Hot Spots (under $100) plus SIM cards while we’re in Africa, as an adjunct to our XCOM Global device.  Both of these provide us with  an ample  amount of data to be able to conduct our days and download shows for evening.

SIM cards such as these, may be reloaded by purchasing a “scratch off” card for the desired amount with the PIN code beneath the scratch off. Loading it is a little tricky. Hans will help us the first time as he did yesterday. We’ll be fine from there. Another US $180 per month added to our already US $395 a month for XCOM Global for a grand total of US $575 a month. 

With spring yet to arrive, the flowers will only increase, especially with some much desired rains.  Based on reviewing online weather sites ,it appears the heat won’t increase each day as the spring season is upon us.  Today at a high of 84F, the humidity is high at 62%, creating a sweaty but not unbearable environment.

In our old lives we paid US $235 a month for all channel Hi Def cable TV and wireless Internet plus another US $200 a month for our two cell phones.  Now, with the US $575 we’ll be paying, it is necessary to adjust our budget accordingly, a task I’ll soon accomplish as we fine tune our usage over the next several days.

At first glance, this water tower appeared to be a lookout.

With the combined use of the Hot Spot and  the MiFi, we now have access to enough data to do almost as much aswe please online. With an app we downloaded on each of our laptops, for each of the devices, we can freely monitor our usage, checking frequently. First we’ll use the MiFi’s 150 megs, then we’ll roll over to the Hot Spot. It makes sense to us. If there are any other suggestions out there, please comment.

Oh, this looks refreshing.  We’ll have our own pool in the next house in South Africa, where we’ll be in 3 months.

Oh, we live and learn. Unexpected expenses, conditions and challenges. But so far, there nothing that we can’t handle. As long as we are healthy and safe and have Internet access, we’re content. In this case, we’re back to our smiley selves again after a 24 -hour period of wondering what to do to solve the issue.

A wall hanging in the shape of the continent of Africa.

This morning, I refilled our vitamin and pill cases (mostly used by us seniors), a time consuming task.But, once done, it need not be repeated until 2 more weeks. Previously, we had ample cases to fill to last us each a month but we tossed the extras when attempting to reduce our load.

Interesting views of the thatched rooftops of various homes in the area.
When we left Tuscany, I left my newer Easy Spirit workout shoes behind, hoping Lisa would find someone who wanted them if she didn’t. Now I have none. Even so, we ended up paying an extra Euros $1000, US $1350 (approx.) for our overweight bags. 
This is the security gate from the street side. Tomorrow, we’ll share photos of our walk along the road.
This hanging plants produces these long burgundy stringy things.  I’ll research these and other unusual plants while we’re here.
These plants flourish in the hot humid weather requiring little water.  Hans explained that some of the vegetation such as this have their own “bladders” in which to store water.

This morning as I gathered all the vitamin pill bottles and bags, I placed them in the duffle bag for use over the next three months, noticing the heaviness of the bag. We’ll be leaving them behind this time. We’re finally accepting the reality. 

Tomorrow, we’ll be back with Part 2 of our first outing onto the road beyond the gates where we found a wonderful surprise.

Today we met Nancy, one of the daytime support staff at our guarded gate.  She was so sweet, holding my hand the entire time we chatted with her.  She kindly took the photo of Tom and I.  We’re loving being able to talk to the locals.

Wrapping it up…Tom’s packing…

The final “towel, pet” in our cabin aboard Royal Caribbean’s Mariner of the Seas.  Tomorrow morning we disembark.
The Gulf of Aden behind us as we head full speed toDubai, we are grateful for the incident free transit through these dangerous waters. 

Impressed with the manner in which the security of the ship and the safety of its passengers was handled, overall, we’ve been pleased with Royal Caribbean.

Without a doubt, we’d consider cruising with them in the future. Our favorite remains Celebrity which many passengers have also freely expressed in our endless discussions about the quality of various cruise lines. 

On CruiseCritic, there were a number of comments that this ship, Mariner of the Seas, is old and worn. We saw little evidence of that other than peeling paint on a metal brace on our balcony and a few signs of wear and tear in the Windjammer Cafe. Nothing major.

The service in the Windjammer Cafe each morning was exemplary, the dining room at night, a mish mash, sometimes great, sometimes not, depending upon the annoyance by the waiter of my “special order.” 

It appeared they were all overworked and overwhelmed by the number of guests that they had to serve each night, rushing our food to the table, attempting to clear our plates too soon and failing to take our drink orders.

I’d order two glasses of iced tea each night, knowing it would be impossible to get refills during dinner. Going to dinner at 7:00 pm most nights, we seldom stopped at the bar before dinner.

Tom hoped to order a cocktail during dinner. All in all, he was able to order a drink only 4 of the past 14 nights, unable to get a bar server to the table which is an offered service. 

Our cabin steward, Jing, was always friendly, warm and quick to respond to our requests, however few we had: ice twice a day, extra hangers when we moved in, handling our two bags of laundry.  Twice each day our cabin was cleaned and restocked with fresh towels.

Oddly, the only toiletries supplied by RC were the small bar soaps and body wash in a dispenser in the shower. Carnival had toothpaste, shavers, nail and sewing kits. Norwegian had few amenities, other than body wash in the shower plus we had to ask for bar soap. Celebrity supplied shampoo, conditioner, body lotion, plus all of the above. It speaks for itself.

None the less, sickness, service and food inconsistencies aside, we had a great time on this cruise, meeting many interesting travelers from all over the world, picking up some valuable tips and now, as we become more travel savvy (with much more to learn!), offering a few tips of our own. 

Tom is totally free of the illness. I’m still lingering, coughing, sore throat, hopefully turning the corner soon. Tom is currently packing with no help from me as I sit here hacking away.

Everyone at our table of six at dinner last night had been sick during this cruise with either Norovirus or this same respiratory illness.  I warned everyone that I was still ill. After five days, I doubt I am still contagious. No one at the table seemed concerned, they’d catch anything. After all, maybe as many as 40% of the passengers had some type of bug while on this cruise.

There’s nothing particular about cruising in itself that brings on illness. It’s the simple fact of lots of people in the same confined space, day after day, breathing the same recycled air conditioned air, touching handrails, elevator buttons, salt and pepper shakers, serving pieces, arm rests on seats in the theatre and on and on that creates a fertile breeding ground for contagions.

During each of our periods of illness, we’ve made every effort to be mindful of others, touching no common areas and washing our hands with soap and hot water many times each day. But as we ate our breakfast, the servers cleared our plates and with their bare hands clearing off our flatware and plates. Minutes later they were handing a guest a cup of coffee. No matter how hard one tries,there is no way to avoid transmitting illnesses.

The most annoying aspect of other sick passengers has been those coughing and sneezing into the air sending their toxins to everyone nearby. Certainly, carrying tissue, readily available in the cabin, is an easy alternative in addition to immediately washing one’s hands when coughing and sneezing into them or tissues.

Whatever precautions we may have implemented;  taking probiotics, vitamin C, staying healthy and active, and eating well, doesn’t seem to offer much insurance against our vulnerability. It’s the nature of the beast, much like being on an airplane, only to end up with a cold a day or two later.

Most likely in two days, I’ll feel well again, following the same course as Tom. In the interim, I’ve had little interest in taking photos, spending most of the past few days resting in our cabin, only leaving for breakfast to sit in our favorite comfy booth to eat and write our ongoing story and, for the few hours for dinner in the main dining room in the evenings.

Tonight, our bags will be placed outside our door for pickup between 7:00 and 11:00 pm. Breakfast will be served from 6:00 am to 9:00 am. Disembarking, a laborious process, will begin around 7:00 am. Again, we hope to be the last to disembark, resulting in less waiting time in Dubai to get into our condo at 2:00 pm.

Most likely, we won’t be writing tomorrow as we get situated in Dubai. But we’ll be back on
Wednesday with photos of our “home” for the next 13 nights, our trip to the market, views of the city and whatever other morsels we discover in our first 24 hours in the amazing city of Dubai.
Stay tuned, folks. 

Passage through the Suez Canal…A profound revelation…Tom speaks!

Early this morning we arrived in Safaga, south of the red star as indicated on this map. On Tuesday, we’ll be in Aqaba, southeast of the red star on this map.

It wasn’t merely an experience of real estate, of a narrow waterway, maintained through continuous dredging for over 144 years to provide access for ships from the Mediterranean Sea to the Red Sea.  For us, it was so much more. Beginning Sunday morning at 5:00 am, our eyes were transfixed on the long canal, brought to life so long ago. 

Our first early morning view of a town along the Suez Canal, all partially built apartments whereby renters must installs windows and door as floors from the bottom up are rented.
Haze is everywhere from both blowing sand and pollution.
Shortly after stepping out on the balcony at 5:00, we passed under the Friendship Bridge.

Standing on our balcony at precisely the correct moment, amid busily getting dressed for the day, we were enthralled when the massive Friendship Bridge passed over our heads, our camera clicking wildly to get a good shot, none nearly as good as this link.

Please check the link below for details on the relationship between Japan and Egypt in building this suspension bridge, vital to the management of the Suez Canal.

As we witnessed 7 plus hours of the 13 hour transit, whether on our balcony for a few hours or in our perfect placement by the windows in the Windjammer Café, we were reminded of the awe inspiring experience only four months ago of our passage through the Panama Canal. 

Tugboats accompany each ship as it makes its way through the canal as a precautionary measure in the event of an emergency.  Fifty ships per day transit through the canal.
There were 14 tugboats in our immediate area.
These ramps are used for unloading equipment.
These ramps continued to appear at various locations, although we didn’t see any in use.
Al-Firdan Bridge, the largest swing, double-cantilever bridge in the world.

We took this shot of the bridge as it opened for us while having breakfast in the Windjammer Café.

At this point, I can’t say which I enjoyed more. Tom emphatically states, he preferred seeing the Panama Canal, due in part to the better seminars leading up to it on the Celebrity Century and, in his own previous knowledge. 

We assumed this must be military housing along the Suez Canal.
It appears that with the immense population in Middle eastern countries, many live in apartment buildings as opposed to single family homes.  The cost of living is very high in Egypt.
Although these may appear as single family homes, upon closer inspection, we felt certain they were upscale multiple unit dwellings.
Mosques were abundant in all the villages we past along the passage through the canal.
Many areas appeared modern and well developed.

For me, I went into both of them with little knowledge or interest, with only the intent of embracing a whole “new world” in the discovery of their wonder and significance as many ships, over many years made the passage.

A ferry, taking off into the canal.

Yesterday, a new element entered the picture, the literally hundreds of soldiers staggered along the 110 miles of the canal, rifles and machine guns in hand, protecting the rights of passage on the canal, vigorously waving to us as we passed by. 

Slightly more than halfway through the canal, we encountered Great Bitter Lake, a salt water lake a part of the Suez Canal that leads to Small Bitter Lake.
This interesting building was under construction in the Great Bitter Lake area.

They whistled, (Tom whistled back), they cheered, they jumped up and down, mile after mile, expressing sheer joy in seeing a passenger ship as opposed to the hundreds of freighters passing through each year, cold, stark and unfriendly. Many of the passengers stood on our balconies cheering and waving, surprised by the continually enthusiastic reception, milepost after milepost.

The peninsulas in the Bitter Lakes area were intriguing with armed soldiers standing on the shore waving at us.
More soldiers and citizens waving as we sailed by.

As we traveled the streets of Alexandria and Cairo, we experienced the same warm reception from people on the streets, little children in front of rundown hollow houses, and teenagers sitting on a fence by the road as our air conditioned bus flashed by. We couldn’t resist waving back.

Cheerful, friendly teenagers, waving at our bus a few days ago.

Our perception of this part of the world; fraught with fear, prejudice and preconceived notions, perpetrated by the sensationalized 24/7 news, evaporates at the wave of a hand, a friendly smile and a welcoming cheer. 

From time to time, we’d see luxury homes along the shores.

No, this doesn’t make us careless about our safety. It was only two days ago that we wandered about in the area of the Pyramids feeling paranoid and overly cautious with Mohammad, our loyal Uzi armed security guard at our side most of the day. Even us, finding ourselves momentarily afraid of him.

A large mosque on a peninsula in Great Bitter Lake.

No, we won’t let our guard down, not for a moment. But we will, relish in the commonality of the human spirit, to embrace others, to find joy in a simple act of kindness or acceptance wherever we may be, if only in a wave, if only in a smile.

In the poorest of areas, well maintained mosques were easy to spot.

This, is why. This, is why we took this risk, this journey, leaving everything and everyone we knew and loved behind.  We have so much to learn, to understand, and to accept about the world around us, about ourselves and about others.

The barren shore along the Suez Canal.
And perhaps, in a way, we were meant to share a piece of it, however small, with all of our worldwide readers.
During our transit, two other cruise ships were making the transit, but most of the ships were well-packed freighters. Later in the afternoon, around 2:30, we stood on our balcony as we began the final exit of the Suez Canal, an experience we will always remember.

Tom’s take on the above.. “There is evil in the world.  But, overall, 99% of the world’s population are good and law abiding. For example;  anywhere in the world, you can be driving down a two-lane highway at 50 MPH with oncoming traffic and all that is separating life and death is a single dotted white line. That same 99% of the people abide by that line. We’re no more at risk traveling the world than we were on that two-lane highway.”