Getting there

Since Delta doesn’t have any direct flights from Denver to Europe, Road Scholar routed me through the Minneapolis airport. It was snowing heavily when I got there, and during my 5.5-hour layover, I had doubts we’d be leaving that night.

Fortunately, MSP knows what to do with snow, and we boarded the plane otime. But two mechanical issues kept us on the ground another 35 minutes, which cut into my already short connection in Amsterdam. And I had to clear customs before I could go to the gate. AMS is prepared for that, or at least that was so on the day I was there. There were people asking when your flight was, and getting you into a quick line if you didn’t have much time.

The customs agent advised me to run, which I did. I just made it. My luggage did not! But I filled out a claim with KLM and they kept me up to date with emails: Your bag did ont arrive, please go to the baggage counter and fill out a claim. Your bag is on a plane. Your bag is in Prague. Your bag will be delivered to the address you provided. And it was, so I only went one night without. I had stuff in my carry-on to get me through at least that long, so no problem. Though I was glad to be able to change clothes!

There are around 25 people in the Road Scholar group, mostly women, from all over the US. Only a few people were traveling with each other, the rest of us are on our own. The hotel is Hotel Petr, which is in a pretty quiet area and conveniently located near a tram stop.

The first night, we had a group dinner, then piled into a bus to go on a nighttime tour of the city. Too dark to take pix, and besides I was prety blotto. I have a hard time sleeping on planes. But it was good to be out and about, seeing some of the sights.

I was glad to hit the bed that night, though.

Prague, Czech Republic: Art and Architecture with Road Scholar

I’ve never been to Prague before, but everyone I know who’s been there has loved it. And since this tour is arranged by Road Scholar (www.roadscholar.org), there’s built-in education. We have lectures and tours, plus lots of free time to explore on our own.

I’ve got tickets to three very interesting-sounding things: the National Marionette theater, doing Mozart’s opera “Don Giovanni”, an opera by Leos Janacek called “The Excursions of Mr. Broucek” at the National Theater, and a concert featuring works by composers from Puccini and Verdi to Leonard Cohen and Queen. How can I resist a night that “Bohemian Rhapsody”–in Bohemia!

I’m looking forward to being there, though not to getting there. Three plane rides. I like flying less and less each time I do it. I keep wanting someone to finally invent the Transporter!

The Hats

Confession: I wore another hat on the photo safari game drives. It’s a Tilly that I got in Canada years ago. This was its first safari outing, and it performed quite well. But THE Hat is not at all sure it is doing its job, and has been trying to give it tips, which it does not appreciate, as you can see from its expression below.

And THE Hat is not all that happy with me either, I have to say. I have tried to explain that the Tilly hat has straps that keep in on my head in the African bush. And that I didn’t want to mar THE Hat’s magnificence by poking holes in it to add straps. THE Hat was slightly mollified, but still grumpy, though now that I am home and wearing it again, its mood is improving. Slowly.

Criminy. Kids these days…

Some final game drive photos

Sunset with elephants

Sunset over the bush.

Sunset from the lodge.

A kingfisher.

Zebras gathering at the water hole.

Sizwe in his element.

I think this is a gnu. We didn’t see many, so I’m not sure.

Evening at the water hole.

Hippo family.

Elephants take up a lot of room. And it’s no good to argue with them.

Giraffes are often silhouetted against the horizon.

Originator of the African massage!

South Africa flag. I love the colors and the simplicity.

Zulu Nyala

I haven’t mentoned where we were in Africa because I wasn’t sure I should mention which game preserve we were in. Animal poaching in Africa is a big problem, so I didn’t want to publish something I shouldn’t, without confirming that it was OK to do so.

Zulu Nyala is great operation. The guy who owns it started his working life as a diamond polisher, and ended up owning his own diamond company. When the opportunities came up, he bought land, a lodge, other properties, and started a game preserve. He sells photo safari weeks through charities in the US, England and a few other countries.

Zulu Nyala is in an area that used to be called Zululand. The events after Nelson Mandela became president of South Africa in 1994 led to a lot of changes in the country, including combing areas into different provinces. This one is called KwaZulu-Natal, Place of the Zulu combined with the former area of Natal. Nyala are antelope-like animals more prevalent here than anywhere else in Africa, hence the name Zulu Nyala.

Everyone who goes there has bought the trip through a charity auction, for quite a bit cheaper than trips to the other game preserves in the area. The trip includes lodging, three quite nice meals a day and two trips into the savanna with the same group and the same ranger for the week.

We had the great good fortune to have some really interesting women in our group, and a wonderful, heartful ranger named Sizwe (pronounced approximately seez-way). I cannot say enough about him. We asked lots of questions (lots), and he answered each of them with deep knowledge, and really listened. He made sure that he looked for the animals we wanted to see.

And he shared some medical knowledge, showing us the leaves of the red spike thorn tree, used to stop diarrhea. He picked a leaf for each of us to chew–yes, it would certainly dry you up!

The grounds at the Heritage Lodge, where we stayed, were beautiful. Constantly tended and watered by the Zulu staff. Succulents, flowers, trees, grasses, very wide variety of foliage. Really beautiful, and very different from the surrounding savannah.

Lots of trees too, some of which are used by the weaver birds for their nests. They’re called weaver birds because the males weave their nests from materials such as shredded palm fronds. They are very busy and consequently very noisy. The birds are a bright yellow, but they move so fast it was hard to get a picture of one. They like to build in areas with crocodiles, preferably in trees hanging over the water the crocs are in!

The grounds are a great walk if you want to stretch your legs and be on solid ground–the trucks are not exactly luxury vehicles! You can be a bit stiff at the end of a day of having experienced what Sizwe called the “African massage”. But the beds were comfortable, the staff friendly and patient with our attempts to learn some Zulu words, and at meals we met people from all over the U.S. and several other countries. I’d recommend Zulu Nyala to anyone.

Zulu village

The name of the game reserve where we were is Zulu Nyala (more on that later). Zulu for the native peoples, and Nyala for the deer-like animal that is more prevalent here than anywhere else in South Africa.

On the property is a Zulu village. Some people live there, and it’s also a demonstration village. I know I didn’t pick up all the information, so am not going to get very detailed here, for fear of making too many mistakes.

This small structure is used for cooking and storage, and before you ask, I am not clear on exactly how it works. But it shows the wonderful sorts of roofs that are all around the area. Grasses that dry to hollow tubes are used, with a beautiful structure inside and out. Just gorgeous.

This is a mini-mockup of a Zulu village, with the corral for the community cattle in the middle. To the right in this photo, you can see a bit of a full-size structure. Why didn’t I take a picture of the whole thing? I have no idea, except it was bloody hot and I think my brain was fried.

A man needs 11 cows to get married, and if he gets divorced he loses them all. Polygamy is common, or at least it was. I am not sure how many modern Zulu women are delighted with that arrangement. I had an offer to be someone’s fourth wife. I declined. If I can’t be first wife, I am just not interested! (G)

The most fun part of it, though, was the music! The Zulu group does a demo of dancing and singing every night at the lodge, and I loved the drums, dancing, syncopation and harmonies, just wonderful. For the village tour, they play marimbas at the end, then invited us to play along. It was great. It’s a Western scale, which I wondered about. I asked if that was a Zulu scale, or if they had adapted their music to the scale of the instruments. Turns out it is the latter, but very energetic. The young men playing just came alive when they were doing it. There is something so very therapeutic about banging on something to make music!

So fun the play along! The marimbas were made in Zimbabwe (I asked) and were beautiful, very resonant and really nicely tuned. If you can tune a marimba…I know zip about that, except that I just plain liked the sound.

St Lucia

There are several excursions offered to places in the area. Besides the lions, we went to St Lucia, a seaside town on an estuary that mixes salt and fresh water. We went for birds, and that was a bust–too windy. We did see crocodiles and hippos, especially hippos.

The view from the boat moving out into the water. On both sides of the estuary, there are mangrove trees, and tall grasses. The dried grasses are are among the materials used to create the beautiful rounded roofs on many of the buildings here. I’ll have pix in a later post.

There were lots of hippos, lots.

This is a tusk from a male hippo. It’s heavy, about 18-20″ long. Amazing, they don’t look that long when in the hippo’s mouth.

A lazy crocodile on the shore. The boat driver moved the boat very close so everyone who wanted to could get up on the bow and get a picture. But he cautioned everyone that they can jump 1 meter. One guy just ignored him and kept getting closer and closer to the edge of the bow. He finally listened and moved away, but it could have gotten pretty exciting.

Our wonderful ranger/guide suggested a wonderful local restaurant for lunch. I had an African dish, bobotie. It was really good, spiced beef in a bowl with a layer of egg baked on top. Quite tasty, and I want to try it at home. Though I am not sure I can replicate the seasoning.

I actually wouldn’t recommend this excursion, unless you really want to see crocs and hippos. I’m glad we only went for a half day.

We did get to see the Indian Ocean, though! We waded a bit, though it was very windy.

The sand has dark sand mixed in with it, rising to the top. It’s from the local titanium mines.

This is a marvelous sand sculpture. It was above tide level, so I don’t know how long it’s been there. The plane is the lost Malaysia Air flight–now we know where it ended up!