A drive through the park searching for photo ops…Staffing issues throughout the world…

For a moment, my heart skipped a beat when I thought this was Little. But the tusks were too big and the body too small. We’ll keep watching for him.

Yesterday afternoon after uploading the post, we headed out to drive through the park for the first time since we arrived two weeks ago, searching for photos for our posts. After driving on the pot-hole-ridden, uneven dirt roads, we decided to head back to the house, bouncing in the little rental car for 90 minutes.

We didn’t take a single photo when we didn’t encounter any wildlife except for a few impalas and zebras at too far a distance. In the same manner that visiting Kruger National Park can be a bust, we returned, accepting that sometimes sightings are limited. We weren’t disappointed. We’ve learned to accept such an occurrence. After all, it’s nature that can be unpredictable at times.

Big Daddy gracefully jumped over the fence.

Next week, we’ll head to Kruger to purchase our one-year pass to the park at SanPark‘s business office at the Crocodile Gate entrance, the closest entry point to our location.. At this point, staffing is an issue due to the pandemic, and we’ll get faster results if we apply in person rather than online.

This is the case with many businesses in South Africa and as we’d observed in the US. Many shops and restaurants either went out of business or are operating on a short-staffed basis. It’s sad to see how people haven’t gone back to work and there are hiring signs everywhere. While in the US we were shocked to see that some of our favorite restaurants were no longer in business.

It’s great to see Stringy here. He now stops by each day as he did at the old house.

This is the case worldwide, not just in South Africa and the US. On top of that, many customers become angry and frustrated when service is slow due to staffing shortages. While we were sick in Minneapolis and ordered unwiches, the delicious bread-free sandwiches from the chain Jimmy John’s. As ill as Tom was, we drove to a nearby location a few times to order.

No longer could we go inside the shop and place an order.  We had to go back out to the car, place and pay for the order online on my phone, and wait for the designated time to enter the shop to pick up the two unwiches. A sign at the shop said, “Please be kind to our staff. Due to staffing issues resulting from the pandemic, we are grateful for the staff we have.”

Chipotle, another fast food restaurant from which we ordered food while sick with Covid (we tested negative before entering the US), had a similar situation. No longer could a patron stand at the glass-covered counter and point to the ingredients they wanted in the order. All orders had to be completed and paid online. Ready orders were placed on a shelf with the customer’s name.

A female kudu and young bushbuck, we’ve yet to name.

It would be the same scenario here in many cases, especially if travelers wanted to apply online for visa extensions. There is such a backlog of applications it’s unlikely an approval would come on time. Subsequently, there is the necessity to use a law firm to process the application.

Also, we’re hearing about backlogs on driver’s licenses and other licenses for locals, which has been the case for over two years since the onset of the pandemic. Nothing will ever be the same. The world deals with the long-term impact of this pandemic, let alone the massive numbers of people who’ve lost their jobs, income, and sources of income and financial security. For the poor, this has only exacerbated an already impossible situation.

Yes, we appreciate the ease with which we continue to live our lives. Yes, we’ve had to be ultra-aware of increased costs and lack of services. But we remain grateful and humbled by the quality of our lives and our renewed good health.

Be well.

Photo from one year ago today, June 7, 2021:

An elephant was drinking and playing in the river. For more photos, please click here.

One day and counting…Tom is on the mend…Maybe seeing family today…

Last July out to dinner on Camille’s birthday with my son Greg, wife Camille, and three grandchildren, Madighan, Miles, and Maisie. I wish we could have done something like this while we were here this time.

Tomorrow afternoon at 3:45, our flight from Minneapolis to Las Vegas takes off. Hauling all of our bags at the confusing and overly busy airport in Las Vegas is daunting. It’s not as simple as deboarding the plane and making our way to baggage claim.

We have to take a train with our bags to a waiting area to take a shuttle to the car rental area. The last time we arrived in Las Vegas, we had to stand in line for almost an hour to board the shuttle to get to the rental car area and then wait another 30 minutes to get the car.

At this point in our Covid-19 recovery, I can’t imagine either of us standing for so long, especially while handing the bags without a trolley which isn’t allowed in the queue. Yesterday, we discussed the possibility of leaving me at the pickup level with all of the bags while Tom does this part on his own.

I wish I could do this for him, but the rental car is in his name as the only driver, and they’d never turn the car over to me. It’s the nature of the beast. But, it will be a whole lot easier for him without the bags in tow. Once he gets the car, he’ll drive to the area where I’ll be waiting for him. He’ll call me when he arrives. I’ll have the bags with me on the trolley.

Once we load the bags, we’ll be on our way to the Green Valley Ranch Resort in Henderson, about a 20-minute drive from the airport. Then, we’ll begin to focus on our recovery. We haven’t made plans with Richard yet, but we probably won’t see him and his girlfriend until Monday night for dinner.

There are numerous restaurants in the resort. We are never happy with room service food, preferring to have more control over what we’ll have for dinner. On Monday morning, for the first time in almost four weeks, we’ll have breakfast in a restaurant, the lovely Lucky Penny restaurant in the casino. It will be easy for us to do another night of takeaway, which we’ll have in our room.

Tom is feeling well enough he doesn’t see any benefit to returning to Urgent Care. Once we return to Marloth Park in 10 days, we’ll book appointments with Dr. Theo to be checked for any residual symptoms we may be experiencing at that time. We’re hoping by that time, we’ll be fully recovered but based on how slow improvement has been,

I’m not entirely sure we’ll be free of symptoms. We will be very grateful if we are free of the annoying and uncomfortable symptoms that have lingered for 3½ weeks since we initially tested positive on April 20 while still on the ship.

This morning, I am doing our final loads of laundry. It’s taking everything I have in me to manage these two loads of laundry. This may be the last time we’ll do laundry until we arrive in South Africa on May 24. Everything we do is in slow motion right now.

This afternoon, we plan to drive over to Greg and Camille’s house and see everyone from the car. No kissing. No hugging. Just quick hellos and goodbyes from the vehicle with our masks on. With us still coughing, it’s too risky for them to be too close to us, and with Miles’ recent positive tests, any of them could be asymptomatic, carrying a variant different from our recent infection.

Too much is still unknown about Covid. With conflicting opinions online on the length of contagion while still experiencing active symptoms, it’s vague about the potential of us infecting anyone else. We are most likely safe, but we are also concerned about getting reinfected by others.

So there it is folks. We are very grateful that getting Covid wasn’t worse than it was, requiring hospitalization. Our two weeks in Minnesota were spent in isolation in a hotel room once again.  We are anxious to get on with our lives, hopefully soon.

Be well.

Photo from one year ago today, May 14, 2021:

Three wildebeests were lying in the driveway shortly before Dawn and Leon arrived for sundowners. For more photos, please click here.

One day and counting…On the move…A new drug for Covid-19 treatment…

Another piece of art was offered for sale at the ship’s auctions.

I can’t tell you how many readers have written about the new drug treatment for Covid-19, Paxlovid. At first, my sister Julie wrote and suggested we get our hands on this drug. Since then, countless readers have written with the same suggestion.

But, that isn’t as easy to do as you’d think in the UK. First, we’d have to find a doctor willing to prescribe it, and secondly, we’d have had to be seen in person by a doctor.

Here’s some information about this drug from a reliable site:

1. How does Paxlovid work?

Paxlovid is an antiviral therapy that consists of two separate medications packaged together. When you take your three-pill dose, two of those pills will be nirmatrelvir, the drug that inhibits the SARS-CoV-2 protein from replicating. The other is ritonavir, a drug that was once used to treat HIV/AIDS but is now used to boost levels of antiviral medicines. 

As a COVID-19 treatment, ritonavir essentially shuts down nirmatrelvir’s metabolism in the liver so that it doesn’t move out of your body as quickly, which means it can work longer—giving it a boost to help fight the infection.

2. When should I take Paxlovid?

You have to take Paxlovid within five days of developing symptoms.

Like all antivirals, Paxlovid works best early in an illness—in this case, within the first five days of symptom onset, says Jeffrey Topal, MD, a Yale Medicine infectious diseases specialist who is involved in determining COVID-19 treatment protocols for Yale-New Haven Hospital patients.

“Once you’ve been ill with the virus for more than a week, the damage done to the body in a severe case can’t be undone by the antiviral,” he says.

3. How often do I take Paxlovid?

You take three Paxlovid pills twice a day for five days for a full course that adds up to 30 pills. It helps that the pills are packaged in a “dose card,” basically a medication blister pack that allows you to punch out the pills as needed.

4. Is Paxlovid similar to Tamiflu?

“I think it’s a good comparison,” says Dr. Roberts. Tamiflu is an antiviral drug that reduces flu symptoms. Both are prescription-only oral antiviral pills given early in illness.

Tamiflu is taken twice a day for five days, and it must be started within 48 hours of flu onset. “When you give a patient Tamiflu beyond that, it doesn’t really change the course of their flu,” Dr. Roberts says.

But there are also differences between the two, starting with the way they were studied, Dr. Topal adds. Researchers showed that Paxlovid can prevent hospitalization and death. But since influenza causes fewer severe cases, clinical trials focused on whether Tamiflu could shorten the length of flu illness—which it did, he says.

5. Can anyone get a Paxlovid prescription?

The FDA authorized Paxlovid for people ages 12 and older who weigh at least 88 pounds. But in order to qualify for a prescription, you must also have had a positive COVID-19 test result and be at high risk for developing severe COVID-19. 

That means you must either have certain underlying conditions (including cancer, diabetes, obesity, or others) or be an older adult (more than 81% of COVID-19 deaths occur in people over age 65). The more underlying medical conditions a person has, the higher their risk for developing a severe case of COVID-19, according to the CDC.

The hope is that the restrictions will be relaxed over time. The FDA granted the EUA in December, just as a staggering number of people were infected with Omicron and the need for care skyrocketed, leading to supply issues.

However, the supply has improved so that patients who meet the criteria for Paxlovid can now easily receive it, adds Dr. Topal.

6. How well does Paxlovid work?

When it applied for FDA authorization, Pfizer presented data from a clinical trial conducted between mid-July and early December in 2021. The data showed that participants (all of whom were vaccinated) who were given Paxlovid were 89% less likely to develop severe illness and death compared to trial participants who received a placebo. (While the recommendation is to take Paxlovid within five days of symptom onset, participants in the clinical trial took the drug within three days.)

Scientists will continue to study the drug’s effectiveness as it is used to treat patients in the real world.

7. What do we know about how Paxlovid works in kids?

Pfizer launched a clinical trial in March to study the safety and efficacy of Paxlovid in children and teenagers ages 6 to 17 who have COVID-19 symptoms and test positive for the virus, and who are neither hospitalized nor at risk for severe disease.

While Paxlovid is authorized for use in adolescents and teenagers ages 12 and up, and weighing at least 88 pounds, that age group wasn’t tested in the original clinical trial. But because many children reach 88 pounds—considered to be an adult weight—the FDA has allowed extensions of EUAs for medications such as monoclonal antibodies and remdesivir in younger age groups, adds Dr. Topal.

“Based on the pharmacokinetics of the drugs in Paxlovid, the differences in metabolism and excretion—liver and kidney function specifically—of these drugs in this age group are thought to be similar to that of adults,” Dr. Topal says.

8. Does Paxlovid work against Omicron?

Paxlovid’s clinical trials took place before Omicron became predominant, but Pfizer says the drug works against the highly contagious variant. So far at least three laboratory-based studies claim to back this up—two of those studies were conducted by Pfizer, while the third was done by Pfizer in partnership with the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. These studies have not yet been published in peer-reviewed medical journals.

9. What are the side effects of Paxlovid?

Most people who take Paxlovid should not experience serious side effects, explains Dr. Roberts. “Paxlovid is usually very well-tolerated,” he says. Common side effects, which are usually mild, include:

  • Altered or impaired sense of taste
  • Diarrhea
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Muscle aches

Since Paxlovid is cleared by the kidneys, dose adjustments may be required for patients with mild-to-moderate kidney disease, explains Dr. Topal. “For patients with severe kidney disease—or who are on dialysis—or those with severe liver disease, Paxlovid is not recommended; the levels of the drug can become too high and could cause increased side effects,” he says. “For these patients, molnupiravir may be another oral option for treatment.”

It’s worth noting that Paxlovid is still being studied, so it is possible that all of the risks are not yet known. (The FDA has provided a fact sheet on Paxlovid with a full list of known side effects.)

10. Can I take Paxlovid if I’m taking other medications?

There is a long list of medications Paxlovid may interact with, and in some cases, doctors may not prescribe Paxlovid because these interactions may cause serious complications.

The list of drugs that Paxlovid interacts with includes some organ anti-rejection drugs that transplant patients take, as well as more common drugs like some used to treat heart arrhythmias. Paxlovid also decreases the metabolism of anticoagulants, or blood thinners, that many older adults depend on, driving up levels of those medications in the body to a point where they are unsafe, Dr. Topal explains.

It also interacts with cholesterol-lowering medications like Lipitor, but that’s less challenging for patients to overcome. “If you stop taking your Lipitor for five days, nothing bad is going to happen,” he adds.

If you are pregnant or breastfeeding, the FDA recommends discussing your options and specific situation with your health care provider, since there is no experience using the drug in these populations. If you could become pregnant, it’s recommended that you use effective barrier contraception or do not have sexual activity while taking Paxlovid. 

11. If I’m not eligible for Paxlovid, is there something else I can take?

For those who are unable to receive Paxlovid—perhaps because it would interact with another medication—there are other alternative therapies, such as molnupiravir, the other oral medication, as well as sotrovimab and remdesivir, which are IV medications.

The NIH recommends the following treatments, in order, for people at risk for severe disease:

  • Paxlovid
  • sotrovimab (Xevudy)
  • remdesivir (Veklury)
  • molnupiravir

But comparisons or rankings such as these are tricky, adds Dr. Topal. “None of these drugs were studied head-to-head or with the same variants,” he says.

And then there is the matter of availability and resources. “Remdesivir, for example, requires three days of IV therapy in the outpatient setting, which is very resource-intensive. Thus, some hospitals won’t offer it,” says Dr. Topal. “But sotrovimab, which is a single injection, is readily available.”

12. Do I still need to be “up to date” on vaccination if Paxlovid is available?

Vaccination remains a key part of prevention, even as more drugs become available, says Dr. Topal. He pictures prevention as an upside-down pyramid. Vaccination, mitigation efforts, such as masking, and testing would be at the base—and medications at the top point.

“Early testing is key to making these drugs work,” he says. “It’s always been the Achilles’ heel of these antiviral drugs that most people don’t get tested—or they don’t have access to testing.

He encourages taking a test even if you think you only have a cold or allergies—and if you can get one. “Home testing is a huge part of the way to really ‘operationalize’ these medications,” he says, adding that while home tests may not be as highly sensitive as the laboratory-based polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests, they are still very helpful in making a diagnosis.

Dr. Topal says people also should remember that Paxlovid, even with its high efficacy, is not perfect, and even if it were, viruses can mutate and develop resistance to antiviral medications. “Will some people still be hospitalized? Yes—no medication is perfect,” he says. “But for many high-risk patients, this medication can really reduce that risk.”

If you are experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 and think you are eligible for a treatment, you can visit the government Test-to-Treat Locater. You can use the site to search for the places near you where you can fill a COVID-19 prescription, or identify sites that provide testing, medical care, and COVID-19 medications. 

Information provided in Yale Medicine articles is for general informational purposes only. No content in the articles should ever be used as a substitute for medical advice from your doctor or other qualified clinicians. Always seek the individual advice of your health care provider with any questions you have regarding a medical condition.”

As always, we state emphatically to contact your health care professional to access your personal medical situation.

 With over 100,000 new cases in the UK each week, getting an appointment through the NHS would have been impossible. When we were here in 2019 and needed a prescription refill, it took me days of phone calls and frustration to finally get an appointment. It is the same for citizens of the UK and the national health system.

As it turned out, this drug must be taken within three days of a positive test, and by the time I heard about this, this three-day window had passed. By the time we would have been able to secure an appointment, five or more days would have passed. Besides, at the time, we were too sick to be making calls all day and eventually heading out for an appointment. It just didn’t work out.

We are on the mend. Only the tiredness and cough remain, each improving a little each day. There is nothing more we can do at this point.

We would love to be able to return to South Africa with a supply of Paxlovid but based on restrictions in prescribing this drug. There is no way this will be possible.

However, I would like to get another booster before we leave the US, preferably not another J & J but a different brand. I am not entirely confident about J & J providing the protection we need.

Are we hesitant about cruising after this experience? Sure. It would be hard not to be. But that doesn’t mean we will cancel all of our remaining cruises. However, we do ask ourselves what we could have done differently.

We know the answer. It was too close contact with many groups of passengers. How do we avoid that? Did we stay up too late on most nights when we had such fun? We are very social. Surely, that’s what caused us to catch the virus. Then again, that’s a significant factor in us enjoying cruises. How do we work around that?

There is no easy answer. We’ve been safe in South Africa for the past 14 months. We’ve flown on several occasions. We visited the US and Zambia for visa stamps without issue. Certainly, our exposure resulted from being aboard a cruise ship of 1288 passengers.

Tomorrow morning the driver will pick us up to take us to London. If we have time, I will post before we leave or in the hotel once we arrive.

Note: We are working on getting the automatic emails working again. You may get two exact posts today since I sent one manually and our hosting company sent another. So sorry for this inconvenience.

Be well.

Photo from one year ago today, April 27, 2021:

This is One Wart. He only has one wart on the left side of his face and none on the right. Hence, his name. For more photos, please click here.

Part 1…You can run, but you can’t hide…We couldn’t escape it!…

The chef was generous with my lobster portions, considering that’s all I ate, no starters, no salad, no starchy sides, and no dessert. It was delicious.

No, we didn’t wear a mask while aboard the ship. But, we never went into an elevator with more than a few people. We never attended the nightly entertainment shows or daily seminars. We sat at the dining tables for two. However, we did converse with other passengers nearby.

We made many friends and sat next to them at night in the bars, often deep in conversation. We danced, laughed, and engaged in fascinating and often lengthy discussions. We had a fantastic time. We were about to classify this cruise on Celebrity Silhouette from Fort Lauderdale to Southampton as one of our most socially fun and memorable cruises in the past 9½ years since we began our world travels.

It was cruise #25, indeed a worthy milestone, but now, with great disappointment, we’ll remember it as our first cruise as the pandemic was losing ground. Would you believe that we tested positive for Covid on the final day at sea yesterday?

We had a few warning signs but dismissed them, thinking, “Oh no, we don’t have Covid.” First, Tom was eating a lot of bread and often gets acid reflux when eating any foods with gluten. At night, his coughing would stop when he took an antacid, so we never associated it with Covid. He quit eating bread and seemed to improve significantly. We never gave it another thought.

We both often get allergy symptoms with repeated sneezing and occasional runny noses. Again, we thought nothing of it. We felt fine otherwise, especially when it would stop after a few minutes, as it often did.

After dancing at the silent disco on Monday night, we headed to our cabin around 1:00 am. I felt shaky, as if I had high blood pressure. Most people don’t get symptoms when their blood pressure is high, but I do. Plus, recently, Dr. Theo in Komatipoort, South Africa, put me on a newer medication that didn’t keep it as low as my prior medication, which I’d taken for 20 years.

I shouldn’t have switched to the new drug until after we returned. I started it about a month before we left, and all seemed fine, but I was experiencing occasional spikes and planned to discuss this with him upon our return. When I checked my blood pressure on Monday night, it was through the roof, and my pulse was very high.

I tried to relax to get the numbers down, but they were too high for comfort, even after a few hours. Luckily, I’d packed my old medication and took my old dose. Everything was normal again a few hours later, but I didn’t feel like myself. I barely slept a wink that night.

Of course, I was anxious about this weird event and attributed it to an excess of dancing and the two glasses of red wine I’d had that night. In South Africa, I only drink very-low alcohol wine produced in South Africa, none of which they had on the ship. But I’d spaced myself and hoped it would be ok. Apparently not, I surmised. Later, I read that Covid can cause a spike in blood pressure and pulse rate in those with cardiovascular diseases, such as me.

Tom’s Baked Alaska made my mouth water, but I didn’t taste it. He enjoyed every morsel. I am always content to “look at it,” so Tom calls me a “food voyeur.”

I awoke early after the awful night, feeling exhausted from not sleeping, attributing my lackluster demeanor to sleep deprivation. On Tuesday evening, I only drank Sprite Zero, and we headed straight to our cabin after enjoying dinner with a lovely couple at the following table, three feet (one meter) from us.

My Fitbit indicated I slept for eight hours on Tuesday night which generally would be sufficient to make me feel great. Wednesday morning, I awoke with a horrific sore throat. It was then that I told Tom I needed to get tested for Covid since the sore throat was a red flag. I headed to the doctor’s clinic on deck 2 wearing my mask.  When the nurse spotted me and asked what my issue was, I explained I needed a Covid test. She sent me back to our cabin and told me to wait until the doctor contacted me by phone.

A short time later, Tom arrived, and I explained we both needed to be tested. Shortly after, the doctor called, asking how we were feeling and our vaccination and booster status. Since July, we’d had both when we returned to the US for a month to see family and be vaccinated.

A few months ago, we were able to get boosted in Komatipoort at the booster station outside the Spar Market. We both felt at ease that we were well protected. But were we?

The doctor arrived at our cabin, fully decked out in PPE, and took the painful swabs of our nasal passages. Tom had the antigen test, and I had the PCR test. At this point, Tom had no symptoms, but I was feeling quite unwell. The doctor called to tell us we were both positive and stay in the cabin an hour later. Guest relations would contact us next with instructions.

They called, telling us to pack everything in our cabin within the hour. We were moved to quarantine level six with all the other Covid patients. I was feeling awful. Packing wasn’t easy, but I muddled my way through it, and an hour later, three fully protected attendants arrived and moved us to another balcony cabin. We walked through the “bowels” of the ship to avoid being near any passengers. It felt weird.

Once situated in the new cabin, which was sparse with the usual toiletries and items we enjoyed using in our prior cabin, the challenge of food and beverages began. It was a total fiasco. They said they didn’t have any Sprite Zero left on the ship. We even had trouble getting sufficient water bottles and ice to get us through the night.

This morning, the coffee and food orders were wrong. Room service couldn’t get our food orders right, and we were sorely disappointed. I wasn’t hungry but knew I needed to eat. Tom was feeling fine. His food order was also a mess. We were ready to get off the ship and to our hotel in Southampton.

Tomorrow in Part 2, we’ll share what we plan to do if we still test positive on Saturday, the day we’re required to take a Covid test before boarding the Queen Mary 2. If that’s the case, it will be quite the challenge to see if and how we can change everything. Oh, dear. This situation is indeed a challenge.

We plan to spend the next few days in our hotel room in Southampton (hmmm…sound familiar?) while working on our recovery, eating good food, drinking lots of water, resting, and staying in touch with all of you. We are sitting in the hotel lobby waiting for a possible four hours to get checked into our room. Almost two hours have passed so far. But, as always, we are hopeful.

I am looking forward to lying down. But I put the time to good use, writing today’s post.

We avoided Covid for over two years. Considering the amount of travel we’ve done, we’re lucky it didn’t get us when it was the Delta variant. Now, with Omicron, whichever variant we may have, we hope to recover soon.

Be safe. Be well.

Photo from one year ago today, April 21, 2021:

Many zebra butts were facing us this morning as they clamored over the pellets Tom tossed into the garden. For more photos, please click here.

Hello, Monday morning…Tom’s birthday week and Christmas…

The elephant on the left is resting his trunk on his tusk.  

Tom’s birthday couldn’t be at a more inconvenient time. In this life, it’s less of an issue that his birthday is on December 23. We don’t have a lot going on right now. However, in our old lives, it wasn’t easy to figure out how to celebrate his birthday with anyone other than ourselves when everyone was so busy getting ready for Christmas.

Two giant elephants in Kruger National Park.

In the early years, when our adult kids were younger and didn’t have families of their own, they’d join us for his birthday celebration, whether it was out to dinner or a full-blown party. Over the years, as their families grew along with work responsibilities, it wasn’t always possible for them to join us on the day of his birthday, so close to Christmas.

This could be a mom and two calves from different birthing seasons or other scenarios.

Ironically, out of five houses on our peninsula, the men in every other house also had a birthday on December 23, our dear friends and neighbors Doug and Chip, and then, of course, Tom. Doug and Jamie have a large family, so we couldn’t celebrate with him.

A mom and baby were moving along in the bush.

For many years we celebrated with Chip and Sue, who over the years, we’d become very close. Our dear Chip passed away shortly before we left for our travels in 2012, but surely we’ll send Doug a birthday greeting as we’ve done each year since we’ve been gone. There are many great memories of those days.

Elephants don’t hesitate to be close to one another.

In Marloth Park, South Africa, we have celebrated three of Tom’s birthdays in the bush. With most of our friends gone during the hot summer months, it made no sense to plan a get-together to celebrate his 69th birthday. Thus, we made a reservation for Thursday, the 23rd, for the two of us, and we’ll celebrate at the bar at Jabula. There’s no doubt that whoever joins us at the bar will celebrate with us, Dawn, Leon, Lyn, and their new assistant David.

Tom is delighted with this plan, especially when he knows upon our return on Thursday night, his favorite dessert, a homemade German Chocolate Cake, will be waiting for him. I plan to bake it from scratch on Thursday morning. Since he’ll be the only one eating it, it may last him through Christmas, even if he cuts the three-layer cake into six huge portions, which I am sure he’ll do. He may even eat more than one piece per day!

A mom and a youngster.

Now will be the first time I have baked this cake for him since we left the US. In most countries, the ingredients weren’t available to make the cake. Oddly, this time, at the Spar Market, I was able to find everything I needed for the recipe.

Grazing in the dense vegetation.

It may seem weird to be so enthused about a cake. But, after being gone from the US for over nine years, I can surely understand why it’s so appealing to him. Besides, it’s the best birthday gift I can give him since we never have room in our luggage for gifts from each other.

We hope all of you who celebrate Christmas are enjoying activities, socializing, and preparations for the upcoming Christmas and New Year’s week with your friends and loved ones. Although most of our friends and family are far away, we’ve been staying in close touch with everyone via text and WhatsApp. Doing so never makes us feel as if we are too far away.

A baby elephant was sleeping in the grass.

Today is a quiet day. It’s started warming up again, but it’s still not as hot as a few weeks ago. We’re enjoying this cooler period, although it will begin to heat up again in a few days. We’re prepared for whatever may come our way. As long as we have each other and good health, we can handle any inconveniences that come our way.

Enjoy the season!

Photo from one year ago today, December 20, 2020:

This photo was posted one year ago while in lockdown in a hotel in Mumbai, India, on day #272. We were thrilled to be able to watch the nightly Hindu ceremony on the Ganges River in Varanasi, India. Smoke from the fire rituals wafted through the air. For more, please click here.

Omicron…We can’t ignore what’s happening in South Africa and the world…More Kruger photos…

Open mouth crocodile on the bank of the Sabie River. Crocs don’t have sweat glands. Instead, they open their mouths to cool off.

It would be easy for us to ignore what is happening with Omicron throughout the world and for us here in South Africa. Sure, we could write about “travel” and travel-related topics or continue with the mindless drivel of our day-to-day activities while living in the bush.

But, we can’t possibly ignore what’s going on in South Africa and throughout the world in many countries as Omicron spreads like wildfire, doubling every two days. We have no doubt you’ve seen endless news reports on this topic and most likely would prefer not to read it here.

But, over these past nine years of writing these posts, we always promised to “tell it like it is,” and we have diligently done so since the first post we uploaded in March 2012, only three months short of ten years ago. Please, dear readers, understand that sharing what we know, if doing so saves one life or one serious case of the virus, it will have been worth it. It is from that perspective that we write this today.

Another photo of a hippo mom and baby.

No politicization is included or intended here. This is entirely from our perspective, based on the research we’re conducting now and how and when it may impact our lives in the future. After all, in only 113 days, we hope to board a ship from Fort4 Lauderdale, Florida, to sail across the Atlantic Ocean for a two-month stay in and around the UK until the next cruise on June 29, 2022, sailing out of Istanbul.

At this point, Omicron is infecting the world so rapidly that everything could change in the next 30 days. But, in 38 days, we have to figure out what we’ll be doing about extending our visas. Do we dare fly to another country in Africa for a visa stamp and risk becoming infected if President Cyril Pamaphosa doesn’t extend visas for foreign nationals?

Baby elephant resting in the grass.

Based on the fact the borders are still open, in light of the rapid increase of Omicron, we seriously doubt he’ll be extending visas for foreign nationals. He’s getting a lot of pressure about new lockdowns after the already developing country has suffered so much loss over the past two years of the pandemic.

We have some tough decisions ahead of us. Returning now to the US is not on the table when we see the number of cases escalating there daily. This chart from the stats presented on the website, Worldometer, certainly impacts our plans. See the stats on the screenshot I made with yesterday’s numbers:

Please zoom in to see these numbers in detail. I removed some of the columns to fit on the page for this chart.

Some scientists and immunologists are predicting there will be 1,000,000 cases per day in the UK by January. The US will follow shortly behind. And, as far as South Africa is concerned, 35% of all Covid-19 tests are positive for Omicron, and 90% of all cases of Covid-19 are Omicron cases, even in the fully vaccinated. There are claims that contracting Omicron results in a less severe illness with fewer hospitalizations and deaths.

But, uncertainty about that immunity provided by Omicron, when science isn’t definitive, about whether or not the variant is less severe or that those getting it may already have some protection from prior exposure and vaccines.

Elephants were grazing in the park.

There are many theories that Omicron could be the end of the pandemic when most of the world’s population becomes infected, which may provide herd immunity? Is this variant the magic bullet that may give the herd immunity, the world so desperately needs to end the pandemic?. Not enough is known at this time to answer all of these questions.

But, as world travelers anxious to get back “out there,” we wait in anticipation of more definitive science and what travel restrictions may impact us.

Rapids on the Sabie River in Kruger National Park.

This has been a tough couple of years for all of us. We are saddened by the loss of life and lingering illness many have experienced. My sister has been suffering from long-haul Covid for the past 16 months, along with one in four patients undergoing the same worldwide. We are saddened by the financial strife experienced by business owners and workers during extensive lockdown and restrictions, including our friends here in South Africa, the US, and the world.

For now, what can we do? Avoid crowds? Wear masks? Maintain social distancing, which is now more confusing than ever, when the fully vaccinated spread Omicron? There’s no easy answer, but we’ve decided to remain vigilant in doing everything possible. But, we have no desire to stay in lockdown, totally isolated from other people.

Yellow-billed stork.

We have two outdoor parties we’re planning to attend; Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve. Are we prepared to discontinue our Friday night dinners at Jabula? No! It’s always a highlight of our week.

Take care of yourselves the best way you can as we watch how this variant rolls out.

Photo from one year ago today, December 16, 2020:

This photo was posted one year ago while in lockdown in a hotel in Mumbai, India, on day #268. A cave we spotted at Cape Horn on our way to Ushuaia, Argentina. For more photos, please click here.

A decision has been made…Photos from our trail cam…A special visitor…

Look to the right of this tree in the center, and you’ll see our occasional visitor, a porcupine.

It wasn’t an easy decision to make. We don’t want to be overly or foolishly cautious as we strive to continue our world journey, hopefully soon. There wasn’t a single factor that precipitated the decision to stay in South Africa, again, to get a visa extension, due by January 24, 2022.

Yesterday afternoon, I called my dear friend Karen and told her that sadly we wouldn’t be coming to her wedding in February. It was a huge disappointment for her and us and her fiance Rich, but they both fully understand our predicament with the world in an upheaval due to the latest Covid19 variant, Omicron.

The porcupine is easiest to see if you zoom in.

What was the most influential factor that resulted in making this decision? Most likely, more than any of the other factors we mentioned in yesterday’s post, it was due to uncertainty. With airports and borders preventing the entry of passengers from South Africa, we could be left in a precarious position if last-minute changes are made, giving us little time to make an alternate plan.

We know this from experience, not speculation. On March 20, 2020, we arrived at the Mumbai International Airport at 2:00 am to be turned away from our scheduled flight after waiting in line for over an hour. South Africa closed its borders from when we left our hotel for the airport until the moment we heard the bad news. From there, you all know what transpired over the next ten months.

We wish the camera got a better shot, but we are always excited to see these.

We can safely stay in South Africa to wait this out with the only obstacle, a mandatory renewal of our visas, every 90 days. From past experience, we feel confident we can work that out and come up with a solution by January 24, 2022, our visa expiration date.

Also, there is a possibility that President Ramaphosa will extend visas for foreign nationals if the pandemic worsens over the next few months. This has transpired several times since the onset of the pandemic and could easily happen again. If not, we’ll fly to another country in Africa for a short stay and return. In this situation, we may not be able to make plans until a week before our visas expire.

As we’ve mentioned, porcupines are nocturnal.

The process of applying for an extension is so labor-intensive, and invasive of our personal financial status deters us from choosing to apply for an extension. Plus, with fewer employees working at the immigration department now due to Covid-19, it’s possible, even if we did apply, it might never come through in time.

We had a fantastic time at Jabula last night, chatting with Dawn and Leon, Lyn, and other guests at the bar. By the end of the evening, we’d been invited to Christmas Day dinner at Sinndee and Bruce’s bush home, along with Dawn and Leon and others we may or may not know. We couldn’t have been more thrilled to have plans for Christmas Day!

The Christmas tree at Jabula was a delight to see.

Of course, this reminded us of Kathy and Don inviting us to their home on Christmas Eve when they had never even met us! But, this is Marloth Park, and people are so friendly and welcoming, it’s always been hard for us to believe! The beauty of the bush, the wildlife, and the easy lifestyle has been instrumental in locals being warm and friendly.  Then again, South Africans are known to be welcoming to foreign visitors.

As for today, Saturday, we’re staying in. It’s still sweltering and humid. At the moment, I have a floor fan blowing on me that helps. We were outside on the veranda all morning. But now, being indoors with the fan cooling our sticky skin feels a little better.

They never seem to get very close to the camera.

It usually cools down by evening, but the dew point remains high at 72. We best prepare ourselves since summer’s “real” heat and humidity in Africa is yet to come. December, January, February, and March are the hottest months. January is considered the hottest month, with an average temperature of 91F, 33C. Considering how much it cools off at night, you can easily imagine how it is during the day.

The record high temperature in Marloth Park was 118F, 48C, the date on which this occurred is not published. We sure hope it doesn’t get that hot this summer. In any case, whatever it will be, we’ll manage to get through it.

Every one of us, throughout the world, has ongoing challenges to face as the pandemic continues and impacts all of our lives. We pray for us all.

Photo from one year ago today, December 4, 2020:

This photo was posted one year ago while in lockdown in a hotel in Mumbai, India, on day #256. Here is an albatross chick shortly after hatching. The chick was hatched during the first week in February while in Princeville, Kauai, in 2015. For more photos, please click here.