Thursday, October 28, 2010

Japan, here we come!

I have barely adjusted to the time difference with Africa and am now off to Japan in two days. Okay, I'll stop whining. The trip sounds fantastic and I am lucky to visit two such very different continents in a matter of weeks. The first three nights are in Tokyo, then to Hakone, Osaka, and on to Fukuoaka. I lecture in Osaka and Fukuoka. When the last lecture is finished, I head back to Tokyo to meet Hunter, my stepson, when he flys in. We'll divide our time between Tokyo and Nikko. Stay tuned for reports on sake, Kobe beef, puffer fish (Fugu), sushi, a traditional kaiseki dinner, and whatever else we can find to eat or drink. Although I might hit the gym once or twice, there is probably no need to check the site if you're looking for tips on exercise or moderation. Oh, and don't hope that they prepare the puffer fish improperly. I have already purchased a round-trip ticket.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Farewell to Africa and on to Japan

Our trip ended with a spectacular meal, our last night in London, at L'Anima restaurant where we enjoyed pasta dishes with shaved white truffle.  We all agreed that this is a difficult trip to bring to an end.  We saw so much, experienced visions of nature we never thought we'd see, and met incredible people all along the way.

Linda and I spent our last day in London by enjoying a delightful lunch near Covent Garden with relatives of mine.  Although we met late in life and see each other rarely, we enjoy each  others' company and shared several laughs.  Afterwards, Linda and I strolled back to St. James Place, stopping at shops and pubs along the way.  Our favorite pubs were Sherlock Holmes, replete with memorabilia of all of the books and movies, and The Red Lion, in St. James, with its stunning polished wooden bar and mirrored walls.  We agreed that London is a city we could live in. 

We may paste some more photos of Africa when time permits, and will maintain this blog as our travels continue.  Next week, I'm off to Japan for a week of business followed by a week of sightseeing with my stepson, Hunter.  We'll be visiting several cities as part of the journey, including Tokyo, Hakone, Osaka, and Nikko.  Tune in when you can for some more random thoughts and photographs.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Cape Town and the Cape of Good Hope

Our afternoon tour through the City included The Company's Garden, which initially was a communal vegetable garden for the Dutch settler's. Today, it is a central park and garden that is very popular with tourists and locals alike. Adjacent to the gardens are several government buildings and museums. Following our visit downtown, we headed to the Victoria & Albert waterfront, a very upscale mall housing numerous restaurants and stores. It is one of the largest and cleanest malls we've ever seen and, as it is positioned on the bay with sweeping glass walls facing the ocean, one of the prettiest.

After a great dinner at the waterfront, including a taste of kingklip, a cod-like fish, we adjourned for dessert to the Ellerman House. By the way, I neglected to mention earlier that the Ellerman not only makes a great martini, but has a well-stocked bar, of dark wood and brass fixtures, that opens onto a balcony overlooking the crashing waves of the bay far below.

The next day, we toured the Cape of Good Hope, including a stop at Cape Point. The Cape Point lighthouse, reached after a funicular ride and a hike up stone steps, offers amazing views of the junction of the Indian and Atlantic oceans. On the day of our visit, the winds were incredible and the sea roiled as though the two oceans fought the idea of merging as one. The howling winds, the crashing waves, and the dramatic vistas made it quite a dramatic moment.

Interestingly, signs warned against foraging baboons and dangerous cobras. Fortunately, all we saw of the latter were the signs.

We lunched at a boutique hotel not far from Boulders Beach, where we enjoyed viewing a rare mainland colony of African penguins. There was something whimsically incongruous about watching penguins frolic in the sand. At lunch, Marc and I had loin of springbok, which was delicious, and I enjoyed a glass of pinotage, a varietal I'm not familiar with. I thought that it paired beautifully with the springbok and will write more about it when we tour the wine district.

We dined at the Lord Nelson Hotel, a venerable establishment built early in the century

Monday, October 18, 2010

Reflections on Africa

We are back in London and, over a tapas dinner last evening, were asked: what was the most memorable happening of the trip? We all mulled this over for a moment and concluded that there was no single event. Instead, we reflected on several memories that will remain with us for a lifetime. These vignettes are unforgettable:

Our first sunset in Zambia as the soft glow of light illuminated the still waters of the wide Zambezi River and hippos bellowed in the background. We sat, quiet, sipping our drinks until darkness enveloped us and only the unfamiliar sounds of the African night remained.

The massive elephant who strood through our camp in Botswana as though we didn't exist until he stood before his favorite palm tree. When he braced his mammoth forehead against the trunk, his gray body rippling with strength beyond comprehension, we were awed when he rocked the tree liKe a twig to shake loose the fruit. I stood just feet away and have never felt so insignificant.

The elephant herd we encountered that swung into protective formation, shielding the calves, as we approached. I don't know if there is a more intimidating vision than bull elephants, ears flared, standing shoulder to shoulder with their wide eyes fixed on you.

A male lion, its face and mane streaked with blood, crunching through the bones of an impala carcass. The dark yellow of the lion's eyes were transfixing, at once both beautiful and frightening.

The powerful stride of the rhinos, their huge bodies like ambulatory plates of armor, as they powered across the savanna. Their tall horns, so often poached, bobbed like the prows of ships as they plodded through the bush.

The leopards, every one we saw, were prowling creatures of grace and beauty. Their mating was a thing of primal sensuality that was miraculous to behold. That stunning fur rippling in the sunshine as the cats circled, then joined, their growls and roars shattering the quiet was something impossible to forget.

And the people. We will not forget how gracious were our hosts. Every day was a delight as they shared their smiles and their knowledge. We are mindful off the crises that confront Africa at every level--socially, economically, politically. Our glimpses of abject poverty in Zimbabwe, the fleeting glances of impoverished townships on the outskirts of Cape Town, were haunting images. One can only hope that this situation will improve in a meaningful way for people who must struggle to survive on a daily basis.

We'll do another entry soon with our closing thoughts on this trip and post several more photos. Marc and I will enjoy our last cigar of the trip tonight and we'll all muse, once again, about our spectacular experience.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Rhinos, Leopards, and farewell to Africa

The Singita Boulders Lodge has been fantastic. The lodge itself is stunning with great food, all you could possibly want to drink, and complimentary cigars, including Cubans. But everything pales when compared to the game viewing. We saw lions, including some guarding a recently slaughtered Cape buffalo, giraffes, and zebras warily watching circling hyenas. Marc and I went fishing, with Patti coming along for fun. We didn't catch anything, but in the span of one hour saw hippos, crocs, and elephants. It seems unbelievable when you are watching it all unfold.

The evening viewing was unbelievable. We arrived at a pond to find that the Singita folks had set up a cognac tasting for us and, across the pond, loomed three magnificent rhinos. We watched them as they watched us, sipping cognac and enjoying the setting sun in the background. The scene was surreal, and I expect that the rhinos felt the same way.

Hyena and babies

Warthog, they eat on their knees.

Marc fishing, didn't catch anything tho.

This lion pulled down the Wildebeest and ate all night.  Tough to tell which was alive and which was dead.

The next morning we set off again and the highlight was a young bull elephant who apparently felt we were encroaching upon his space and took off after us. Our excellent guide, Nikki, explained that it was a mock charge designed only to scare us off. It worked.

Rhinos joined us for Sundowners.

What did Shad find??


Nicky and Shad.

Rare to see a hippo out of water.

Young bull charged us.

Leopard kill in the tree.

Leopards mating.

Bad monkey.

This guys was under our deck during breakfast.

That evening, we watched two giraffes fight. They actually do it by smacking their necks into each other until one gives up. Sometimes, this fight can take three days. There was an odd grace to the process, as the animals stand calmly side by side between swings until one of them decides to smack the other.

As we headed back to the lodge, Nikki received word on her radio that two leopards were spotted in the mating game that leads to sex. She tracked them down and we watched for an hour as she navigated the jeep through the thick growth, rolling over saplings and shrubs, and the leopards engaged in their dating game. They rubbed against each other, slapped each other, climbed a tree together, and left their marks all over the place. In the midst of it all, along came three big hyenas. The leopards paid them little heed, and our guide explained that the hyenas would never challenge leopards. The hyenas would, however, hope that the leopards had made a kill so that they could steal some meat or pick at the carcass when the leopards were done. We watched the game for a while and finally called it a day.

The next morning, our final drive, we saw more rhinos and, incredibly, found the amorous leopards. This time, they were busy consummating their relationship. Sex lasts for about 45 seconds and the guide says is actually painful for the female. Accordingly, the process involves a lot of roaring as the male pins the female to the ground and then enjoys his few moments of pleasure. Here's the kicker: they repeat the process every couple of minutes and can keep at it for two or three days. Marc says that the male must be a French leopard. As we were watching the leopards, we turned to find that a rhino had sauntered up and was watching us. Absolutely incredible.

We are now packed and, after lunch, will head to the small airfield here for the flight to Jo Berg and on to London. I will write more from England as we all reflect on what has been a truly phenomenal trip. Now it is time to contemplate what we've seen as I enjoy a fine cigar.

Please note that I'm making this entry on my I-Pad and can't go back to review the content. Please forgive any errors--I am off for that cigar!