Camp Olonana Sanctuary Retreat…Our final review…

For interior and exterior photos of our tents, veranda, and the grounds, please see our post from October 10, 2013.
It was hard to say goodbye to the staff at Camp Olonana Sanctuary Retreat after the extraordinary stay and safari.

The lodge was an invited place for us to sit, sip beverages and post our photos and stories. With no Internet access in the tents but available at no charge in the lodge, we spent most of our limited spare time in here.

The library in the lodge also had a fire going each night creating a warm environment.

The dining room’s ambiance was easy going and welcoming.

The lounge area in the lodge was a short distance from the dining room provided a homey feel, eased us into a relaxed state after a busy day on safari.  Notice the beaded plate decorations, most likely handmade by the local Maasia.

One evening, as we were busy posting after dinner, the staff and guests began dancing around the lodge to celebrate a couple’s anniversary. It was an intimate group with no more than 16 guests on-site while we were there. (The camp holds a maximum of 28 guests). With a little prodding from the staff, we joined in the line.

The singing and laughter filled the air as all of the diners stood up to dance.

The tables were always set with the local flair.

When the cost to dine in a restaurant, stay in a hotel, resort, or, in this case, a safari camp exceeds one’s preferences and budget, there’s an expectation of perfection that is rarely achieved in the finest of establishments.

After all, the unexpected is to be expected, whether it’s dust on a window sill, a lack of fresh towels, or an inexperienced server fumbling a food order, perfection is unrealistic.

 Windblown, with hat hair, at dinner each evening we wore our daytime safari clothes, feeling too tired to change. Also, arriving from safari between 6:30 and 7:00 pm, food was more important than fresh clothing.
And yet, us humans lie in wait, with the best of intentions, to observe wrongdoing that may potentially burst that bubble of expectation. Then we think or say, “Ah, that wasn’t worth it, for the extra money we paid.”
When we began our travels almost one year ago, we mutually agreed that we’d temper our expectations in order to have the best possible outcome without whining, complaining, or looking for compensation to offset an infraction, except in the rarest of cases. 
The gift shop had a wide array of souvenirs and gifts, none of which we purchased with no room in our bags as we continue on our world travels.
More gifts and souvenirs in the gift shop.

There were jackets, hats, and clothing in the shop.

Outside the gift shop was a Maasai shopping area, displaying the many well made and colorful items typical of the Maasai.
For example, when we had little to no running water during our first week in Belize, giving us no alternative but to leave, we did ask and expect a refund for the unused portion of time that we’d paid in advance. It never came.
Again in Belize at our new location, a lovely oceanfront resort, the steps collapsed under our feet causing us both to fall resulting in injuries taking weeks to heal, we asked for nothing. 
On the second night at camp as we were finishing up yet another safari, Anderson took what appeared to be a new route back over unpaved bush areas.  Bouncing about, we all giggled over the new route wondering why we were taking this route. With the gates to the reserve locking at 6:30 pm, we were late getting out. We’d assumed this new route was a way around going through the gates. Instead, suddenly we saw this campfire, to be surprised by everyone at camp, all guests and most staff were awaiting our arrival that tonight was the ritual “dinner in the bush” a total surprise for the 6 of us.

 The Maasai villagers were in attendance to sing and dance before or dinner as we all sat in a half-moon of comfortable chairs, enjoying appetizers and beverages, sharing our various safari stories. 
The well built and maintained property had wooden steps to our unit that had deteriorated due to the close proximity to the ocean with the raging heat and humidity, unnoticeable to the eye under normal inspection.  Management was very concerned about our injuries and asked what they could do for us. We asked only that the steps be repaired immediately, which was completed the next day. 
In the US, this may have resulted in an ambulance ride and a potential lawsuit. In Belize at our remote location, a treacherous four-hour car ride to a medical facility prevented us from seeking medical care when we knew we had no broken bones.  We’d decided to wait and see how we felt in a few days. It wasn’t easy but in time with self-care, we healed.
Look at my plate at the “bush dinner!” It was exciting to know that most of the meat and vegetables were within my dietary constraints, all prepared to perfection, seasoned with local spices. Once again, great job Chef Ambrose!
Taking these experiences with us, confirmed our notion that optimism and a pleasant attitude would serve us well, even if the servers do not. (No pun intended).
When booking our expensive ($5000 for two, all-inclusive) three day stay and safari at Camp Olonana Sanctuary Retreat, once again, we tempered our expectations. If our tent was clean and comfortable, if the WiFi was working, if the meals complied with my restrictive diet (which information I’d sent in advance by email), if the staff was friendly and helpful and, if we saw most of The Big Five, we’d be happy.
After the bush dinner, we posed for a photo, although after a day on safari, I hardly felt photo-ready. Tom’s face was sunburned from the almost 8 hours we spent on safari that day, exposed to the elements, loving every minute.  We couldn’t wait to put our clothing in the dirty laundry hamper to be washed, dried, and folded to perfection that was returned to our tent the same evening.  This service was included in the all-inclusive pricing.
Little did we know that literally every aspect of this safari experience at Camp Olonana Sanctuary Retreats including activities, meals, and accommodations far surpassing even our wildest dreams of perfection. 
They had it down to a science to not only include the systematic flow for each guest from event to event, location to location, but they excelled by adding a unique personal touch never to be found in any facility of any type thus far in our travels, if not in our lives.
In minutes upon our arrival, every staff member knew our names. Within an hour they knew our preferences, our preferred drinks, our unique needs, and special requirements.
My salad at dinner on the second night was drizzled with an olive oil balsamic dressing Chef Ambrose made for me.  It was divine.
Knowing we were writers with considerable electronic equipment, they’d set up a power source in our tent available around the clock, although outlets, normally were turned off most of the time, only leaving lights working. This consideration meant the world to us, especially with the necessity of recharging our cameras and computers.
The staff seamlessly and discretely observed ours and the other guest’s actions and comments with the hope of discovering a way to further enhance our stay.  This was unique. From William, the booking rep; Joseph, our tent attendant; Ambrose, the chef;  Conscientious Concierge Christine; restaurant server, Philip. and of course, our guide Anderson, the service was impeccable.
Tom’s appetizer was a creamy mushroom sauce atop a slice of buttery toasted homemade
French bread, topped with an over-medium free-range egg. He moaned while eating it. Yeah, I know, an occasional piece of bread crosses his lips when dining out, never at “home.” The next morning at breakfast on our last day, Chef Ambrose explained when making our omelets, that I could top my omelet with this creamy mushroom sauce which was made with real cream, not flour. Then, I knew why Tom was moaning over this appetizer!
With no phones in the luxuriously designed and spacious tents, a personal visit from staff informed us of any events or event changes. Communication was imminent and well-spoken, always friendly, and warm.
The grounds were spotless, the vegetation prolific. An eco-friendly environment with multiple systems in place to save energy costs and wastefulness, Camp Olonana Sanctuary Retreat had a few bugs, few mosquitoes, and no refuse or clutter to attract them. 
On the first night, we both had the same entrée, a grilled sirloin steak atop a medley of sautéed vegetables. Tender, cooked exactly as requested, this steak required only a butter knife to cut it. Neither of us had appetizers or dessert that evening after having had lunch earlier in the day upon arrival.
At night, there were guards to escort us to our tents, a fairly long but refreshing walk from the lodge.  Holding flashlights, they led the way, expressing interest in the quality of our stay.  Never for one moment, did we feel unsafe, not at the camp or on safari. The utmost precaution was exercised at all times, leaving enough freedom for creativity and challenge.
The food? As fine as any upscale restaurant, but made fresh each meal using produce from their garden, grass-fed meats, and freshly caught fish. Nothing was spared in the careful and creative presentation as was in the finest use of local spices to enhance flavors. 
This was Tom’s dinner on the last night, pork chops piled high atop a pile of sautéed vegetables, fresh green beans, and baby corn.
Chef Ambrose went overboard in ensuring my meals were safely within the range of my restricted diet while ensuring that I never felt my meal was inferior in any manner to that being served to Tom or other guests. (He splurges when we’re out, eats as I do when we’re cooking).
As for the safari itself, what more can I say that we haven’t already said in these many prior posts?  Anderson? A gift from the safari Gods! If we’d have made a list of what we’d expect in a perfect safari, we’d have short-changed ourselves. We got so much more.
My dinner was a cheese stuffed chicken breast, atop a bed of sautéed vegetables with fresh green beans with a chicken-based flour-less reduction sauce to die for. I removed the baby corn to a separate unused plate. I had forgotten to tell Chef Ambrose that I can’t eat corn, knowing it wouldn’t cause a problem for me having been on the plate to be removed.  Had it been a gluten-based item, I would have required an entirely new plate of food. With gluten intolerance, the smallest spec on a plate can result in a serious reaction which Chef Ambrose was well aware.
From the fluffy pillows and soft blankets on our seats in the Land Cruiser to the ice-cold cooler always filled to the brim with our preferred beverages, nothing could have been more to our liking. 
To Conscientious Concierge Christine greeting us each time, on time, as we returned from safari, handing each of us an iced cold, tightly rolled washcloth to wipe the dust from our hands and faces, to Anderson, not only providing a mind-blowing safari twice a day but to his obvious joy to take us out one more time.
My nightly dessert of fine cheese and Kenya is grown cashews and macadamia nuts. The night of the “bush dinner” Chef Ambrose had remembered to bring these items for my dessert, as the only guest in camp unable to eat the traditional desserts. Wow!

At night the sound of the hippos outside our tent as they languished in the Mara River was music to our ears.  The cool nights at 5000 feet above sea level, left us warmly wrapped in the finest of down comforters encased in high count Egyptian cotton sheets. 

The over-sized fluffy bath towels, the robes, and the organic toiletries for our use only added more luxury to our stay. The glass bottles of an ample supply of purified water was always at our fingertips. Joseph delivered fresh coffee to our tent early each morning to also serve as a subtle wake-up call for our 6:30 am safari time.

Tom’s homemade brownie dessert topped with a caramel sauce and dollop of real whipped cream. He said it was fabulous!

To simply say that we recommend Camp Olonana Sanctuary Retreat, does a disservice to those seeking this life-changing adventure. For many, a safari is a once in a lifetime experience with memories that will last forever. 

One must not take the risk of choosing anything less than an opportunity to fulfill that dream with the utmost of expectation, the utmost of amenities, the utmost of service, and to our surprise, the utmost of perfection.

One last photo as we drove away.  Goodbye Camp Olonana Sanctuary Retreat.
Thank you, Camp Olonana Sanctuary Retreat. Thank you for making this dream a reality. We still can’t wipe the smile off of our faces.
Note: Tomorrow, we’ll be wrapping up our final safari post with new photos, our return flight in yet a smaller single-engine plane, and some amazing scenery photos that Tom took using the little camera.
In the interim, more photos and stories are backed up as life continues on while living in Diani Beach, Kenya.  We’re looking forward to sharing these with you beginning on Saturday, October 19, 2013, at which time we’ll have exactly six weeks until we pack once again and make our way to Mpumalanga, South Africa.

We’re back in Diani Beach… The safari photos and stories continu…

One of the Big Five, the Leopard, was one of our early sightings.  They are nocturnal.  This photo was taken midday, a rare treat.  During early evening we had several other sightings
which we’ll post as we move along.

Upon arriving at the landing strip (no building) in the village of Kichwa, Kenya, we were greeted by our guide Anderson, a native of the area, a man of great character and knowledge. 

The photos presented today were all taken in the first 90 minutes as Anderson, our amazing guide, took us on safari while we waited for a flight to arrive at the landing strip to pick up another couple.

He kept apologizing for the inconvenience of us having to wait for 90 minutes insisting that he takes us out to get a glimpse of what was yet to come.

Warthogs are funny creatures always on the run, snorting along the way. They seem as if they are rushing to “get to work.” They were oblivious to our vehicles, stares, and photo-taking, other than occasionally stopping for a decent pose.
Warthog babies running behind their mother. Watching their little legs rapidly scurrying along beside her was quite the laughter evoking experience. 

Those first 90 minutes alone with Anderson set the pace for what proved to be the most awe-inspiring days in our travels, if not in our lives.

The only time we exited the Toyota Land Cruiser vehicle in the entire three days on safari was with Anderson that morning during those 90 minutes, as he often held my hand, as we quietly and quickly searched on foot for many of the following sightings. Never again, after the others had joined us, did we exit the vehicle other than to “check the tire pressure” and for two, picnic breakfasts, once with four of us, another time with six.

Whatever inspired Anderson to feel comfortable taking us out of the vehicle during those first 90 minutes escapes us. But, we couldn’t have been more thrilled about this private experience that we’ll never forget.

Somehow, we managed to keep up the pace with him on the fast trek over often rocky and steep terrain as we maneuvered around a massive beehive, quietly watching within a short distance of hungry crocodiles. 

“WOW,” Tom continues to say. And, of course, I continue to agree.

We were up on a hill when we looked down to see these crocodiles.  How exciting it was to be so close.

Often travelers post all of their photos on one of those sites giving others access able to peruse them at their leisure or, not.

The Topi is indigenous only to the Masai Mara. The locals refer to them as wearing “blue jeans” on the back legs and yellow socks on their feet. These graceful animals often fall prey to the alligators, lions, and cheetahs, all carnivorous. Most animals are herbivores or carnivores and will fight to the death if threatened, leaving the remains for vultures. Most animals in the “cat” family only eat fresh kill.
Topi, full-on. There are numerous animals in the deer/antelope family in the Masai Mara.

When we began writing this blog in March 2012, our intent was to share a “blow by blow” journal with photos, rather than posting hundreds of photos at once.

This is a different angle of photo already shown, but one we saw in our first 90-minute drive, along with Anderson, as we waited for Cindy and David’s flight to arrive. This huge 15-foot croc had captured an impala. With Anderson’s walkie talkie, he was alerted when their plane landed. 
While on safari we had hoped to post photos in real-time using our MiFi or Hotspot and laptops while in the vehicle.
Unfortunately, after attempting to do so, we discovered that in the Masai Mara, contrary to what we’d heard, the signal is either non-existent or too poor for uploading photos.
Hippos are huge, dangerous, and fun to watch. At night, with our tent only a few feet from the river, we could hear their funny sounds.We found ourselves laughing in the middle of the night when a loud series of snorts wafted through the air. This hippo was sniffing the ground while the other hippos were napping on the shore.
We were in the vehicle taking this photo. This hippo wasn’t happy with an injury on her left shoulder. See the photo below for a closer shot of her injury.
It appears to be healing well.  The Masai Mara has veterinarians that will treat certain animal injuries but not all. Many, huge in numbers, are left as food for the scavengers. We observed thoroughly picked clean carcasses. The rangers gather the largest skulls returning them to the entrance gate placing them in a neat pile for visitors to see.  The Masai Mara is uncluttered. There’s no trash to be seen anywhere. The reverence the locals and visitors have for the wildlife, the vegetation, and the surroundings are astounding.

Please note that our intent has always been to take great photos.  The glare of the sun, the bouncy conditions, the fleeting animals, the distances from animals at times made it difficult to get a good photo.

This amateur photographer using a lightweight, although reliable camera is unable to carry a professional-type camera with multiple lenses, due to a bad shoulder and the airline weight restrictions, did the very best possible.Tom also managed to take some good shots.

Hippos, vegetarians, aren’t interested in the crocs and crocs apparently aren’t interested in attempting to eat a hippo. In the wild, it’s interesting witnessing first hand, how animals are able to determine which animals are too massive for them to kill for food. In this case, they hang out together never giving it a second thought. We were standing on this ridge as shown. This photo is not zoomed in. I had to cover my mouth with my hand to keep from squealing.
Here’s a better shot of the above, sniffing hippo. We were so excited, we could hardly hold our two cameras steady.

Posting almost daily, we do not edit or improve our photos other than to remove power lines when obstructing a good scene,  (We saw no power lines in the Masai Mara).

Otherwise, you see our photos exactly as we see them the moment they’re uploaded from the camera to my laptop. If we didn’t post almost every day, there would be more time to edit photos. 

So, we continue…

The black and white stripes on the backside of this dainty impalas are an indication of the impala. They daintily leap through the air as they run. There are dozens of species in the deer/antelope family in the Masai Mara.
Anderson was angry to see these visitors being taken out on horseback, a rare occurrence in the Masai Mara. With the number of dangerous animals often frightened of horses, one could easily charge a horse putting the rider and horse in a life-threatening situation. Anderson explained that all recent tourist deaths in the Maasai Mara are a result of uncontrollable visitors taking unnecessary risks, resulting in serious injury and death.There’s no nearby hospital.
The Red-Billed Bird is this bird’s actual name. In-flight it’s wingspan is exquisite. Unfortunately, I wasn’t quick enough to catch it in flight.
The Secretary Bird, fairly common in the Masai Mara got its name from the use of its quills used as writing instruments in times past.

Anderson’s warmth and desire for us to have a fulfilling experience were more than we could ever have expected, never to disappoint. Instead, he proved himself as the true “animal whisperer” helping us find and photograph The Big Five as shared in yesterday’s post in the first 10 hours on safari, a feat few guides can accomplish. 

His eagle eye and innate sense of what was in the distance inspired him to step on the gas and safely maneuver to the scene of the next incredible find. Driving with gusto he was totally in control over the bumpy terrain. We held on with our hearts pounding over what we’d see next. Anderson’s determination to get us up close and personal made it possible for us to have the time of our lives.

It was difficult to wrap our brains around being so close to these massive animals. Although relatively gentle, they seldom attack humans in the wild unless provoked or if their babies are at risk. At times, they walked right in front of our vehicle in order to cross the road. We were never afraid as we sat motionlessly and waited quietly for them to pass. This is their home. We’re the intruders.

Please keep in mind that I am saving already posted photos in a separate folder. However, when on safari one may take several variations of a shot. My hope is that I don’t duplicate any photos, but at times, I may, in order to reiterate an important aspect of the safari. 

Vultures travel in packs, anxious to spot the remains of any carcasses left by the carnivorous animals.
The Mara River, 245 miles long, winds through the Maasai Mara in Kenya continuing on to Tanzania when it dumps into  Lake Victoria in Zimbabwe. Over 2 million wildebeest cross the river at various points during The Great Migration from the Serengeti in Tanzania to the Masai Mara in Kenya and then back when the rains end.  We missed the big event with little disappointment when we had the opportunity to see the wide array of animals that live in the Maasai Mara year-round. Anderson, aware that we had originally hoped to see the Great Migration, drove us to Tanzania to see the tail end over the rockiest roads on the planet, through water-filled creeks and washed out roads. What an adventure!  We’ll also share this story with photos as we progress over the next several days.
The Cape Buffalo, in this case, “A Retired General,” often resided in groups with other such banished males. More photos and details in a later post.

If I know a photo is a repeat I will tell you in the captions. Although, with over 600 photos taken in three days, I could easily make an error. Please slough it off. I have to do just that or I’d make myself crazy, impinging upon the inordinate amount of fun I have writing here.
What we witnessed in that 90 minutes set the pace for the remaining 20 hours we spent riding in that open-sided Toyota Land Cruiser. At no point, did we ever feel we’d seen any particular animal too many times?  At each viewing, our eyes widened in wonder. Tom kept commenting on how I never wiped the smile off of my face. Then again, nor did he.

Tomorrow, we’ll continue on with our story as to our welcomed arrival at Olonana Sanctuary Retreats with photos of our accommodations, the grounds, the lodge, and more.

If you get a minute, please stop back…

Our safari to the Maasai Mara is booked!…Photos, rates and information today!…

The lodge at Sanctuary Olonana where we’ll experience our first safari.

Possessing the knowledge that we’ve finally booked a safari not only puts our minds at ease, but creates a sense of excitement that is indescribable. After all, this was the reason we came to Kenya.

Our hope is to see The Great Migration.  If it has moved on and no longer in the area by October 5th, we’ll accept this and enjoy our safari of the abundant wildlife in the revered Maasai Mara.

Three weeks from today we’ll be heading 10 minutes down the road to the Diani Beach Airport to board a prop plane holding anywhere from 18 to 40 passengers for the 2 1/2 hour flight to the Maasai Mara where upon arrival, we’ll be greeted by a representative from our chosen safari camp, Sanctuary Olonana. We’ll be escorted to our tented quarters for a wealth of experiences during a short action-packed three days.

Of course, we’d have loved a longer stay. Unfortunately, the cost is more than we ever imagined we’d be willing to pay, slightly over US $5000, all-inclusive including airfare. We’d hesitantly budgeted US $4000 only to discover the options were very clear: either “rough it” sleeping in cots in tents or go, first-class, in a luxury “tent” that is comprised of all the amenities one could possibly desire.

We’ll go on 2 game drives each day, one in the morning from 6:30 am until lunchtime and another in the early evening from 4:00 pm to 6:30 pm.  Often, meals will be served in the bush, as we and the other guests feast our eyes on the surrounding wildlife.

We chose the latter, not with the intent that we “deserved it,” but more so, based on a desire for more creature (us creatures) comforts that we so willingly forfeited in many ways in order to accommodate our new lives traveling the world. Now, almost a year later, we’re looking forward to this treat, so befitting our love of nature. 

Many people have flinched when we’ve mentioned our limited interests in old buildings and ruins. We’ve seen our share in this past year and, rightfully so, enjoyed it all.  My gosh, the Panama Canal and Petra were life-changing experiences for us.

Most of these photos were from the Sanctuary Olonana website. For more information click the link.

But now, we’re getting closer to the core of our passion to travel the world, as so clearly illustrated in many of our posts.  We love Life; animals, people, and vegetation, most assuredly, a mutual obsession consisting of the perpetual reveling in the Life that God (or your chosen belief system) placed on this earth for us to nurture and to respect. 

For us, dear readers, this passion is the basis for our sense of ease living a life without roots or a home to call our own. 

We are truly residents of this earth surrounding ourselves in an environment that amid nature, creates a sense of “home” wherever we may be.

In the event of rain or if we simply want to be inside air-conditioned comfort, the lodge at the camp provides indoor activities, a bar, and a restaurant.  Our living quarters will be lavish private tents on the banks of the Mara River, overlooking families of hippos splashing and snorting in the water.

Thus, a safari epitomizes the essence of why we are here in Kenya and why in less than 3 months, we’ll be living on the edge of one of the largest animal sanctuaries in the world, Kruger Park,  South Africa, again exposed to the elements, scary bugs included, seeking to satisfy this endless quest to savor Life to the fullest. We’re infinitely grateful that we’ve found a way to incorporate these experiences into our lives before advanced aging prevents it.

As mentioned in yesterday’s post, all of our criteria have been met by booking at Sanctuary Olonana. By reading the above, perhaps it makes sense as to why we willingly paid this substantial amount for this leg of our journey.

This is a typical interior of one of the permanent tents, outfitted with full bathrooms, electricity, free WiFi, and mosquito nets.  We always share one bed when there’s two, using the other for our “stuff.”  Of course, we’ll be bringing our laptops, two cameras, binoculars, and other digital equipment, writing here each day with many photos.

Now, with the full amount paid in advance, we are able to let go of thoughts of the cost, resting assured that we’ve absolutely made the right decision.

In reviewing the details of our upcoming stay at Sanctuary Olonana we’ll be ensconced in our private well-appointed tent along the banks of the Mara River in the Maasai Mara (various ways of spelling) where the 2 million wildebeest travel to feed before their journey back to the Serengeti in Tanzania. From the veranda in our tent overlooking the river, we’ll be witness to the hippos living and playing, a prospect that in itself, takes my breath away. This fact alone was a huge draw for us. 

Hopefully, we’ll meet (but not too close) Mr. or Ms. Rhino while in the Maasai Mara.

Sitting on verandas has provided us with some profound viewing this past year, as we sit on one today, in awe of the endless flow of wildlife and vegetation on which we feast our eyes hour by hour, day by day.

Hopefully, The Great Migration is positioned in a location enabling us to witness their masses. If not, we’ll certainly be excited to see the famous Big Five: elephants, hippos, lions, tigers, and water buffalo (which may be a different 5 animals, based on varying opinions) and other wildlife indigenous to the area.

Neither of us is into spa treatments.  Tom is too ticklish to relax long enough to enjoy it and I don’t want to turn my brain off in order to stay acutely aware of every moment of our surroundings.  Just not our thing.
A short time ago, Tom announced a baboon walking gingerly on the security glass shards atop the stone wall in our yard.  Grabbing the camera to turn it on wasn’t quick enough to get a shot. Going forward, there will be many more photos to follow.

New camera on its way!…

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX30V Digital Camera 32GB Package 3 by Sony, priced at $349.

The definitive travel camera from Sony has to be the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX30V and it might just be the whole package for you. With an incredible, 20x optical zoom Sony G lens and compact body the HX30V can cover all your photographic needs with its 25-500mm focal range. Everything from portraits to landscape is a breeze with this versatile, high-quality lens. The high-speed autofocus and Optical Active SteadyShot image stabilization make for a blur-free pleasing shot and smooth handheld Full HD 1080p video. The high resolution 18.2 megapixel back-illuminated Exmor R CMOS sensor is purpose-built for mind-blowing low light performance, making the HX30V a trooper in varying light conditions. The HX30 also includes Wi-Fi connectivity, 3D shooting, and GPS functionality, making it one smooth little package.
Movie Feature – captures Full High Definition video* with audio up to 1920 x 1080 resolution at 50p frames per second for smooth action footage. Optical zoom functions whilst filming.
* We recommend using Class 4 or higher memory cards for recording Full HD video. SDHC and SDXC memory cards are only compatible with their respective devices.

Product Description

Package Contents:

1- Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX30V Digital Camera w/ All Supplied Accessories
1- 32GB SDHC Class 10 Memory Card
1- Rapid External AC/DC Charger Kit
1- USB Memory Card Reader
1- Rechargeable Lithium-Ion Replacement Battery
1- Weather Resistant Carrying Case w/Strap
1- Pack of LCD Screen Protectors
1- Camera & Lens Cleaning Kit System
1- Mini Flexible Table Top Tripod
1- Memory Card Wallet

In our “old lives” taking photos was a constant source of frustration.  As digitally adept as I have always been setting up and running electronics devices, my mind always blanked out when trying to figure out a camera.

Never owning an SLR camera, the photos I took as my kids grew up were all Polaroid, popular in the day.  When the first digital camera hit the market years ago, I was one of their first customers.  The online software, although clunky and cumbersome was a breeze.  Getting a good shot was not.

When we planned our worldwide travels and began this blog in March 2012, I used my Droid X smartphone to take photos with the dumb idea that the phone itself would suffice in our travels. Ha! It was purely my method of denial, I’d have to learn to use a real camera.

We left the US on January 3, 2013, with no camera on hand and with only the Droid X. Each time a photo “op” presented itself, I groaned in my frustration for my lack of interest in buying a camera and learning to use it.  It nagged at me several times a day. 

Need I say that Tom’s interest in learning to use a camera was not only less than mine, but his picture taking skills lagged far behind mine, a fact hard to believe. I can’t even show you any of his photos. In most cases, they end up in the recycle bin.

On our first cruise on the Celebrity Century through the Panama Canal resulted in a “port day” in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.  Awakening early that morning, a thought pulsed through my mind as a lay there contemplating our day.  It was the day to get off the ship and buy a camera. 

Posing these thoughts to Tom, he tentatively agreed but expressed concern as to where we’d find a store to buy a camera.  The ship had docked early in the morning.  Jumping out of bed we looked out the window. Alas, there was a Wal-Mart in plain sight, across and down the street from the pier!

We’d never shopped at a Wal-Mart store in Minnesota. With the closest location a half-hour drive, it didn’t seem worth the gas to drive there.  Thus, we stayed away. Once or twice in the past many years, I had stopped in for cleaning supplies or the like when I was in the area. That was the extent of our Walmart experience. 

The story of the walk to the Wal-Mart store in Puerto Vallarta and the subsequent purchase of the camera in a store where no English was spoken, is available in our ARCHIVES listed on the right side of our homepage for January 7, 2013. 

The photos we’ve posted since January 7, 2013, have been with the new camera an inexpensive Samsung valued around $100 in the US for which we paid slightly more in Mexico.  Up to this point it has served us well.  It’s lightweight, takes reasonably good photos but has limitations, the major being poor night photos and another is the necessity of plugging the camera into my laptop. 

In addition, Samsung has no memory card to slip into the laptop, an oddity in this day and age.  We knew this when we purchased it in Mexico.   At that point we were desperate.  If we didn’t purchase a camera that day, we might lose the desire to purchase one at all.  This fleeting thought had a grip on me while Tom joined in on the fanfare.

On Thursday night while the moon rose high in the sky in its glory, we anguished over our inability to get a good shot, continually running back inside to plug in the camera to review the photo.  We couldn’t, no matter the setting, get a decent shot.  The decision was made.  We need to purchase a higher quality camera.

I have been in love with Bluetooth technology, wanted a camera that was highly rated, affordable, easy to use and was WiFi-enabled. This would allow us to take a photo, immediately sending it to this blog, to Facebook or other social media or to either of our computers, without cords or cards, along with the ability to send it by email to anyone as long as we have an Internet connection.

Now one might ask…how does one have access to the Internet when we’re walking the winding roads of Tuscany with no Internet connection or, while on safari in Kenya?  Ah, we’ve got that covered. With our XCOM Global MiFi device in our pocket, we’ll be online at most times (based on the connectivity of a general area).

Taking a photo, we’ll immediately be able to send it via email anywhere we choose.  Wow!  I love technology. A WiFi-enabled camera is a fairly new technology, although there have been many attempts by a variety of manufactures to fulfill this consumer desired feature.   

There’s no doubt that we may be making this purchase a year or so too early, as advancement in this feature will grow exponentially.  Willing to take the risk along with a commitment to fully learn the new camera’s nuances, we’re anxious to get started.

On Thursday, after hours of research, we made the purchase at Amazon for the WiFi-enabled camera.  How will we receive it?  We’ve got that covered.

When our mailing service in Nevada receives the camera (shipping was free from Amazon) in the next week, the mailing service will include it in the large box of supplies we’ll receive to be held at the UPS store in Miami Beach for our pickup on April 13, 2013, when our ship is in port for the day. 

If for any reason, it doesn’t arrive by the time the large box goes out from Las Vegas, Nevada to Miami Beach, Miami, we’ll be back in Miami Beach for yet another port day on April 20, 2013, when we prepare to leave on our journey across the ocean to Barcelona, Spain.

The idiom, “the devil is in the details” prevails in our lives.  We had no delusions that traveling the world would consist of lounging on a veranda, reading a book, looking up only to dreamily stare at the sea or to say hello to a passerby. 

Moving every two to three months and the journey to get there is daunting as well as learning a new location and its cultures, maintaining our financial health, paying bills (insurance and paying off credit cards every few weeks to keep them clear for future use to avoid paying exchange fees), keeping tax records, continually updating our budget by entering every dollar spent, printing tickets/boarding passes, registering for upcoming cruises, checking airfare, booking air travel and…the most dreaded task…packing and unpacking.

Life traveling the world is glorious but as we all know, there’s no “free lunch.” There’s always a price we must pay whether its in time, monetarily, emotionally, or physically.  We’ve chosen to “pay the price” with our time and our attention to detail, with a passionate desire to get the hard parts accomplished as painlessly, efficiently, and quickly as possible. 

With only eight days remaining until we get back on the scary Hummingbird Highway for the four-hour drive back to Belize City to board our ship, the Carnival Liberty (yikes, Carnival! Hope the toilets don’t overflow), today is the day we begin to pack.

The three large bags that we’ll send to my dear sister in Los Angeles, must be packed and ready to ship on April 13th. Today, we’ll begin to make the final decisions on clothes, shoes, and miscellaneous for which we’re willing to “say goodbye.”  

Photos (on the old camera) will follow as we weave through this process. Check back if you can.

We hope you had a memorable Easter. The recipe for the Zucchini casserole is not worth sharing after all. 

Socializing in the world…

Happy St. Patrick’s Day to those who celebrate!
Happy birthday, Richard!

The sunrise this morning, after several cloudy mornings.

Yesterday, while lounging at the pool as the blazing sun finally peeked out through the dark billowy clouds, it dawned on us that our social life at Laru Beya has been more than we could have imagined.
Not only have we enjoyed the company of various guests coming and going on their one to two-week vacations, but we’ve had the pleasure of making new friends we hope to see again in the future.  After another great evening together on Friday night, we’ve delighted in our remarkable good fortune in making such fine friends.

In the future, living in various vacation homes throughout the world, we’ll have less of an opportunity to make new friends.  In most cases, we’ll be living in single-family homes often in remote areas.

In the case of South Africa, we’ll be a mile from the next closest house, although many braais (South African barbecues) are planned frequently in Marloth and Kruger Parks, as well as safaris and night, walk with guests staying in other houses and lodges.

Are we intimidated by the potential isolation?  We discussed this yesterday by the pool, after having been spoiled by living here and on our past two cruises, a virtual plethora of endless social interactions.

After all, both Tom and I are social butterflies, flitting about, seeking the sweet nectar of friendship, always a vital element in our lives both as individuals and as a couple. As with many of you, we have friends over a span of decades, from our youth, our work, and our neighborhoods.

Many remain in our hearts as sorrowful losses, having left us and their loved ones, too soon for their time.  Others have moved away not staying in close touch, as often happens. Some experience life changes causing them to step back from close relationships, no matter how often we reach out. 

Hello, sunny morning at last!

And others, they become and remain a part of the foundation of our lives.  Time passing with nary a peep to suddenly appear filling the air with memories, love, and laughter.  Ah, friendship.  A gift.  A treasure.

Isolated we will be, in Tuscany, Italy, in Kenya, in South Africa, and on the island of Madeira, Portugal.  There will be no shared pool or communal dining rooms beckoning new friendships to blossom.  There will be no neighbors in close proximity, like us, visitors for a short time, borrowing their culture, their morays, and a glimpse into their lifestyle. 

As we recall our two months in Scottsdale, Arizona, from November 4, 2012, to January 1, 2013, in a lovely condo complex with snowbirds yet to arrive for their winter break, we made no new friends, although we had an opportunity on several occasions to visit with three of Tom’s sisters and two spouses, a mere 35 minutes drive. 

The weather in Scottsdale, too cool for the pool, we languished in walks, dining out, and busying ourselves in our continuing endless planning for the future. We had a fabulous time, as we will again, however remote we may be.

Staying on our veranda to avoid gawking or disturbing, we took this photo of a wedding through the trees taking place next door.

Knowing that many of our friends and family members are sharing this experience with us brings great comfort.  Many of them stay in touch via Facebook, email, and Skype. Recently, Tom received a Skype call with video while several of his retired Minnesota railroad friends met for their usual weekly breakfast. It was almost as if he were there, sitting in the big booth, sipping hot cups of coffee with laughter and idle chatter ringing through the air.  Ah, friendship.

The fortunate part of it all, my best friend will always be at my side wherever we may be nurturing, comforting, laughing, playing, and reveling in the wonders of today and that which is yet to come tomorrow. A gift. A treasure.

Smartphones may not be so smart for world travel…

Many months ago, while researching smart phones for world travel I discovered that no-contract unlocked phones were the way to go.  What is an unlocked phone you may ask?

An unlocked phone is a phone that doesn’t have its system locked to work only on a particular cell phone service’s network.  Thus, no contract.  However, on its own, a mobile phone won’t work.  It requires a method of receiving a signal from the towers and satellites all over the world.

That method, when one doesn’t have a mobile phone company such as Verizon, AT &T or T-Mobile, providing the signal directly to the locked phone, requires that the phone be unlocked (and set free from any service provider.) Then, it requires that a SIM card, a subscriber identity module, be installed enabling the phone to grab onto local cell signals.

In addition, each country operates their own signal on a specific band, not unlike radio signals, requiring the phone to be no less than a quad-band with frequencies that it can access bands of 850 and 1900 MHz commonly used in North America and 900 and 1800 MHz used in other parts of the world. A quad band phone can work in all of these situations.

Our plan was to buy the Nokia Lumia 920 when it hit the market this November.  Patiently, we waited.  We were sorely disappointed, last week, once we began the laborious process of searching for an unlocked version, to discover that finding it reliably unlocked was impossible. 

The only option was to buy it locked from AT & T, who has a monopoly on this model without a contract for $449 and try to find a way to unlock it ourselves since AT & T refused to unlock it for any price.

Unlocking a phone can be easy when given the proper code.  Unfortunately, due to AT & T’s pre-established criteria with Nokia, there was no readily available unlock code.  Many web sites, suspicious and otherwise, claimed that they had the code, offering to sell instructions to unlock it for prices ranging from $29.95 – $199.00. Very risky. 

Also, trying to unlock it under these questionable circumstances could result in damage to the phone rendering it useless and unable to be returned.  Very risky.  We gave up on the Nokia Lumia 920.

After no less than five visits to phone stores in the past three weeks both in Scottsdale and in Henderson, we were almost at a point of giving up being prepared to pay the horrific charges to keep the two Android phones we  currently have for international roaming charges which would be upwards of $500 a month.

Again, this morning we decided to try one more time.  We found our way to a Verizon store, saw another phone we liked that was supposedly unlocked, only available for full price (without a contract) by purchasing online from Verizon’s global department. (All along we were prepared to pay the “full price” for whatever unlocked phone we purchased.  The lower cost options are only available when one commits to a new 2 year contract with the carrier).

Returning home, we finally had an opportunity  spoke to a knowledgeable representative, who explained that the phone we in liked in the store, the LG Intuition, was CMDA, not GSM (GSM is Global System for Mobile, the international standard, required for use with SIM cards and global use). 

“Please,” I asked, “tell me which smart phones you have today that are GSM and unlocked, suitable for world travel. We are ready to purchase right now.”

With the sound of her fingers flying across her keyboard, I waited patiently, almost holding my breath.  Tom and I looked back and forth at one another, hopeful.

Moments later, she said, “Oh, you already have a GSM unlocked phone that works globally.”

WHAT???? My phone was on speaker.  Tom and I looked at each other and gasped at the same time.  We already had such a phone!  She confirmed that Tom’s 11 month old Motorola Droid Razer that  I had purchased for him last year for his birthday in December, was both CDMA and GSM, unlocked and ready for world travel.  My older Droid X was not compatible.

She proceeded to explain how to remove the Verizon SIM card and use the slot to install a micro SIM card in another country, without having a Verizon contract.  Buy one more of these, cancel our existing expired contracts before we leave the US and we’re good to go.

Moments later, we had purchased the Motorola Droid Maxx with the 8 MP camera we wanted, also unlocked, GSM, and ready to use internationally!  In two days we’ll have our new smart phone in hand, activated,  awaiting the installation of the SIM cards we are now going to find and purchase.

The day before we leave the US on January 2, 2013, we will terminate service to our phones and install our new SIM cards.  We won’t have to worry about “roaming” charges on the cruise since we won’t have a contract. 

Our smart phone technological issues are almost completely resolved. Now we begin the search for the most cost effective data and call worthy SIM card that will work seamlessly with our two phones.  Whew!

Why two smart phones when we are together 24/7?  Safety. 

If I leave Tom at home in Cajarc, France, while I walk to the health club down the road, tripping on a cobblestone street (possible) and spraining my ankle, I’ll want to be able to call Tom to come walk me home. 

Another less important reason, we both are in the habit of “playing” with our phones. When we have WiFi available, we’ll still want to play.  When WiFi is not available, we can read KINDLE or NOOK books on our phones while lounging in a lawn chair on the deck of the cruise ship neither of which require an Internet connection once the books are downloaded.

Oh, good grief!  How spoiled we are with our technology!  You may say, people traveled the world without technology for centuries.  But…were they able to upload a photo for you to see of a baby elephant walking behind its mother, holding its mother’s tail with its trunk, in a matter of seconds!