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.