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By this Author: Where2FromHere

Safari plus Stary, Stary Night Spectacle

Game Drive, Kapama Private Reserve, South Africa


View Around the World! - Part 3 on Where2FromHere's travel map.

Just when you think you've seen it all! Each time we venture out from our lodging and believe there couldn't possibly be yet another "great find," another game drive provides even more fascination with the wonders of Africa and the animals that are so unique to this environment. Our final evening game drive did not disappoint. Here are but four of our amazing "finds:"

  • Nyla: This is a close relative of the busbuck and found in thickets and dense woodlands, generally near water. It browses on leaves, feed on pods, fruits, herbs and also green grass. The color of the male coat differs considerably from that of the female, and becomes darker as it matures. The dominance of the male was spectacular as it struted with mane erect and neck arched, making it seem large to its rivals. It's tail is raised over the rump and the white hairs fan out, with head lowered and horns pointed forward.

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  • Giraffe Reflection: The majestic giraffe never fails to captivate us with its graceful stride and regal bearing. In this enchanting scene, two giraffes are depicted - one standing tall in its natural habitat, while the other is perfectly mirrored in the still waters of the nearby pond, creating a breathtaking display of symmetry and serenity.

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  • African Hornbill: You might recognize this charismatic bird as Zazu from the beloved movie "The Lion King." One of the most striking features of these birds is their large, curved, and vividly colored beaks. In fact, our guide and Jeff affectionately referred to the hornbill as the "flying banana" due to its bright yellow beak. However, these impressive beaks serve a much greater purpose than mere aesthetics. As omnivores, hornbills have a diverse diet that includes both plants and animals. Their powerful beaks are perfectly adapted to crack open tough fruits, nuts, and even small creatures like insects and lizards, allowing them to thrive in their African habitat.

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  • Honey Badger: Based on the distinctive black and white coloring and the elongated snout visible in this image captured during a game drive, this animal is a honey badger, also known as a ratel. They're skilled hunters and foragers known for their tenacity and tough, loose skin that helps protect them when confronting predators or prey. They have strong jaws and claws to dig for and consume a wide omnivorous diet including rodents, reptiles, insects, berries and of course honey. While honey badgers are not among the famous "Big Five" African animals that are a top draw for safaris, spotting one is still an exciting and relatively rare experience for a tracker, since honey badgers are typically solitary and often nocturnal. This sighting provided a great opportunity to observe this bold and fascinating member of the weasel family in its natural habitat.

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While these incredible animal sightings were undoubtedly a highlight, the evening offered so much more. Our guide, Justice, astounded us with his vast knowledge not only of the wildlife that roamed the earth beneath our feet but also of the stars, constellations, and galaxies that illuminated the heavens above. We found ourselves utterly captivated by his discussions, our minds expanding to embrace the wonders of both the terrestrial and celestial realms. Oh, what a stary, stary night under the spectacle of the African skies!

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Posted by Where2FromHere 04:45 Archived in South Africa Comments (0)

Uncovering Africa's Beauty on Foot

Bush Walk, Kapama Private Game Reserve, South Africa


View Around the World! - Part 3 on Where2FromHere's travel map.

We've completed six amazing game drives in an open-air vehicle, but today was even more thrilling as we took a walk at ground level with the animals in the game preserve. Our guides loaded their rifles as soon as we stepped out of the truck, ensuring our safety. We were made aware of the fact that we were now more noticeable to the animals since we walk on two feet rather than four. They often determine a foreign presence based not only on sight but also on sound or smell. We were instructed to proceed quietly through the bush in single file and only speak and snap photos when given permission. We not only learned a great deal about the plants and the behaviors of the wildlife but had a great time during the process.

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It's not every day that you see one of the incredible, hard-working insects found in the African Savannah - during our hike, we had the unique opportunity to observe the fascinating dung beetle. These small but mighty insects, found near animal droppings, play a crucial role in the ecosystem. Dung beetles come in various shapes, sizes, and colors, and employ different strategies to utilize dung. "Rollers" shape the dung into balls and roll them away to bury for later use, while "tunnelers" create underground chambers beneath the dung pile for storage. With remarkable strength, some species can move dung balls up to 50 times their body weight. Their keen sense of smell allows them to detect dung from a distance. By burying and consuming dung, they recycle nutrients back into the soil, promoting plant growth and reducing the spread of harmful parasites and flies. Maybe we could use a few of them in the horse pasture back home!

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During the afternoon, we not only observed minute animals but also came across a pair of zebras. They seemed to stare at us from a distance, vigilantly watching for danger in all directions, perhaps wondering who these strange creatures were that gazed upon them with such curiosity.

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Our guide cautiously ventured ahead to check who might be visiting the nearby waterhole. Upon his return, he wore a big smile on his face. He explained that he was happy because we had the opportunity to see one of the typically more dangerous animals that require vigilance from all individuals who approach them. However, he brought good news: this particular African Buffalo was resting on an island on the other side of the pond, not downwind from where we walked along the water's edge. Although the buffalo raised its head, it apparently had no intention of moving from its resting place.

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We hesitated momentarily at a number of plants, in particular, one tree that had fruit that could cause lockjaw and sap that could cause blindness. Mother nature certainly has an interesting way of protecting itself from the animals and invaders such as ourselves. But we had a little fun with some other plants as our guides demonstrated how we could survive if our clothing was ruined and we found ourselves naked in the bush. Here is the garment they constructed, nicely modeled by our fellow traveller on the bush walk:

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We not only survived our walk but learned quite a bit in the process and, needless to say, a good time was had by all in the African bushveld!

Posted by Where2FromHere 11:01 Archived in South Africa Comments (0)

The Big Ugly Five

Kapama Private Game Reserve, South Africa


View Around the World! - Part 3 on Where2FromHere's travel map.

Today's drive was about another fascinating group of animals known as the "Big Ugly Five." We've been fortunate to have already seen the famous Big Five - lion, leopard, rhino, buffalo and elephant. Well, the Big Ugly Five are sort of the opposite - they may not win any beauty contests, but they are equally intriguing creatures that play important roles in the African ecosystem.

First up, we have the Marabou Stork. The name Marabou Stork means ‘Ugly Old Man’. It’s a very common bird in the area, and is also one of the biggest flying birds. It weighs about 9,5 kg and its wingspan is about 2.9 metres. The Marabou Stork is a familiar scavenger at a kill. Their bills are not adapted to eat meat, so they shadow the vultures and steal pieces of meat that the vultures have torn off. They are known to wash off their meat before they swallow it. These birds are gregarious and commonly roost in trees at night. Marabou Storks will eat just about any kind of animal, dead or alive.

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Next is the Warthog - you might recognize these fellas as Pumbaa from the Lion King! With their large, flat heads, protruding facial warts, and tusks jutting out from their snouts, warthogs have a face only a mother could love. But they are tough, resilient animals well adapted to the savanna.

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Third, there's the Vulture. With their featherless heads and necks, vultures certainly look rather displeasing, especially when neck-deep scavenging a carcass as we saw today after the lions had taken their share of the fallen giraffe. But these magnificent birds are perfectly adapted to their role, with their bald heads helping keep them clean. It seemed as though every tree in the vacinity of the dead carcuss had a vulure on each branch. Truly ugly, yet vultures are essential for rapidly disposing of rotting remains and recycling nutrients back into the ecosystem.

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Fourth, we have the Hyena. With their hunched posture, mangy fur and unsettling laughs, hyenas often get an ugly, sinister reputation. As a fellow safari goer mentioned, they look like they've been put together with spare parts! But these intelligent predators and scavengers play an important role in cleaning up carcasses and keeping populations in check. They patiently waited along the road while the vulture took what they could of the giraffe remains.

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Finally, is the Wildebeest, also known as a Gnu. These antelope have long, skinny legs, straggly beards, and sloping backs that make them look rather silly and disproportionate. But don't let their comical appearance fool you - wildebeest migrate in massive herds and their numbers form a key part of the food chain. Unfortunately, it is one of the few critters we didn't see during the African Safari.

So there you have it - the Big Ugly Five! They may be funny looking, but these creatures are all integral, fascinating parts of the rich collection of African wildlife. Never judge an animal by its looks alone!

Before our morning Bush coffee break we did see a few "Repeat customers" - no matter how often we see these incredible animals out in the wild it never ceases to amaze!

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These purple-crested Turaco birds were a common sight during our journey. Their feathers, primarily green, would shimmer with an iridescent blue or purple hue when the sunlight hit them at just the right angle, creating a mesmerizing color-changing effect. The bird's most remarkable feature was its piercing bright red eyes, which provided a stunning contrast against its vibrant plumage.

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During our safari drive, we shared many moments of laughter and joy. Our knowledgeable guide had a fantastic sense of humor and regaled us with an amusing tale. He pointed out a hippo emerging from the water's surface, its mouth wide open as it let out a thunderous, resounding guffaw.

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The guide joked, "You see, when a hippo comes up like that and lets out such a hearty laugh, it's because a clever cod fish just shared a hilarious joke with it while they were both submerged beneath the water's surface. The hippo simply had to come up for air to express its amusement properly!"
Our guide's jokes and stories kept us entertained, but the hippo didn't have the last laugh. The guide introduced us to a game reminiscent of watermelon seed spitting, but with a twist – instead of seeds, they used antelope droppings! Apparently, these droppings are safe to put into your mouth, as they are simply "processed grasses." A few courageous individuals participated in the contest, perhaps emboldened by the Amarula liqueur in their morning coffee. We, however, opted to sit this one out!

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Posted by Where2FromHere 11:35 Archived in South Africa Comments (0)

Extending the Thrill

Kapama Karula Private Game Reserve, South Africa


View Around the World! - Part 3 on Where2FromHere's travel map.

As we settle into our African adventure, we find ourselves embracing a pattern filled with extraordinary moments. The attentive staff has considered even the smallest details to ensure our experience is not only exciting but also comfortable. In the early dawn, when a slight chill still lingers in the air, we approach our open safari vehicle. To our delight, we discover that the guides have thoughtfully placed hot water bottles wrapped in blankets on our seats. As we climb aboard, it feels as though we are sinking into heated seats, allowing us to snuggle into our respective spots. Covered with warm blankets, we eagerly anticipate the revelations that the early morning hours will bring.

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Our first task of the day was to return to the location where we had witnessed the previous evening's feast. The guides explained that by this time, vultures and hyenas might have arrived to claim their share of the leftover carcass.

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One beast lazily blocked the roadway as its fellow carnivores continued to bury their heads into the carcass of the giraffe. It really didn't matter that we couldn't get any closer, the stench was over-whelming and as a result we were willing to move on to other discoveries. It didn't take long for us to find the next critter - the black-backed Jackal. The saddle of black and silver hair is very characteristic of this shy and seldom seen creature. Interestingly, a jackal pair forms a partner bond for life and an individual will only find another mate should one partner die. Both sexes mark and defend a territory and help to raise the young.
We also delighted in the sighting of a leopard turtle, as well as an African Fish Eagle. This large species of eagle is skilled hunters, primarily preying on fish (as their name suggests), but they will also feed on waterfowl, small mammals, and even carrion. We also spotted an African Jacana, known for their extremely long toes and claws which enable them to walk on floating vegetation.

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Our guides had informed us that due to the fact that it was mating season, we might see animals fighting while we're in their habitat. Such was the case with a pair of male giraffes, who appeared at first to be playing until they became a litle more aggressive over time.

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Next in line were the Hippos. We stopped briefly at a pond covered with hyacinth and enjoyed some bush coffee under a hut while the bushveld thrived under a light mist. Here's a preview of these submerged animals that we observed from afar. Keep in mind that Hippos kill more people than lions or crocodiles do, even though they are only dangerous when they're threatened or feel their space is invaded. Suprisingly, they can outrun a human being. Hippos spend a significant portion of their day in the water to cool off, as they don't have sweat glands. They typically leave the water at night to graze on vegetation. When in the water, they often walk or stand on the bottom of riverbeds and can hold their breath submrged anywhere from 5 to 30 minutes. Not far away, in the same pond, we observed a crocodile concealed with most of its body underwater. Their speed over short distances make them effective opportunistic hunters of larger prey, although they seem to co-exist nicely with the hippos just a few feet away.

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While I've been captivated by the incredible wildlife, I can't forget to show the stunning landscapes we've had the privilege of traversing each day. The pristine wilderness and breathtaking vistas of South Africa have left an indelible impression, serving as a reminder of the awe-inspiring beauty this country has to offer.

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Posted by Where2FromHere 16:40 Archived in South Africa Comments (0)

The Circle of Life

Kapama Karula, Krueger National Park Area


View Around the World! - Part 3 on Where2FromHere's travel map.

As I stepped into the safari vehicle for our evening game drive, I had no idea that we were about to witness something truly extraordinary. Little did I know that by the end of this adventure, I would have a story that would leave me in awe of the raw power and primal instincts that govern life in the African wilderness. At the beginning of our journey, our expert trackers, with their keen eyes and deep understanding of the bush, spotted a peculiar marking on the sandy side of the road. The telltale signs were unmistakable: something had been dragged off the path and into the dense brush.

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Without the expertise of our skilled trackers, we might have missed out on the incredible diversity of wildlife thriving alongside the larger animals we had already encountered. The bushveld is home to a fascinating array of smaller creatures, such as the speckled guinea fowl, well-camouflaged lizards perched on branches, the lethal puff adder, timid scrub hares, and the African wild cat, a close relative of the domestic tabby.

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Our previous excursions into the wilderness had already blessed us with sightings of four out of the Big Five, leaving only the elusive leopard to complete our "bucket" list. Despite their abundance in the park, leopards are notorious for their secretive nature and nocturnal habits, making them a rare sight. However, this evening proved to be exceptional as we came face to face with a magnificent leopard, its powerful and stealthy form moving directly toward us. Having encountered so many vicious predators prior to this, I now feel slightly more at ease when we are approaching the wild's top killers.

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The leopard is actually the most widespread of all predators since it has the broadest habitat tolerance of all. It's method of hunting is stalking and then pouncing on to the prey, taking it by surprise. The large head and neck are essential for holding and subduing the kill, which is often hoisted up a tree to get it out of the reach of other predators.

During our drives through the breathtaking African savannah, we would take a moment to pause and enjoy a short break. Our guides swiftly arranged a beverage table, allowing us to break the essential silence of the game drive and savor each other's company over a delightful glass of Shiraz wine.

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In the heart of the African wilderness, the Circle of Life is a profound and awe-inspiring phenomenon that highlights the intricate balance and interconnectedness of all living beings. From the majestic elephants to the tiny termites, every creature plays a vital role in maintaining the delicate equilibrium of the ecosystem. As we have seen, the African jungle teems with life, and the Circle of Life is a testament to the continuous cycle of birth, growth, death, and renewal. The lush vegetation provides sustenance for the herbivores, such as the graceful giraffes, while the carnivores, like the elusive leopards and the powerful lions, keep the populations in check.

After witnessng the lion deep in slumber on our first game drive, I thought we'd seen it all! But this evening,our guides led us to a ravine where an extraordinary scene unfolded before our eyes. At least ten lions surrounded the carcass of a recently hunted giraffe, some deep in a food coma while others tore at the flesh, grunting and growling as they consumed their meal. The pungent odor of the decaying carcass filled the air, and I was grateful for my Buff to shield my nose. Although the dim light and the ravine's depth made capturing high-quality photos challenging, the sight of the lions feasting and sleeping, undisturbed by our close proximity, was an unforgettable experience. On this occasion,the giant killers were so busy eating or sleeping that there was no need to fear our close proximity.

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It's been said that the African jungle is a place where life and death dance in a mesmerizing rhythm, each dependent on the other. I've found It's a humbling reminder that every being, no matter how small or significant, is an essential thread in the grand scheme of existence. Witnessing the Circle of Life in this raw and untamed wilderness was truly an unforgettable experience that leaves an indelible mark on the soul, reminding us of our own place within the grand picture of life.

Posted by Where2FromHere 07:05 Archived in South Africa Comments (0)

Into the Wild

Kapama Private Game Reserve, South Aftica


View Around the World! - Part 3 on Where2FromHere's travel map.

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From dawn until dusk, our African Safari days were filled with activities but, you wouldn't want it any other way. The jam-packed schedule ensured that we woulld experience the full spectrum of wonders this remarkable private game reserve in the African Bushveld had to offer. Our days went as follows: Wake up call 5 AM, Tea & Coffee 5:30AM, Morning Safari 6AM, Breakfast 10AM, Lunch 1PM, Afternoon-Evening Safari 4PM, Dinner 8PM. So on our first full day in camp we found ourselves in the heart of the African wilderness, surrounded by the iconic Bushveld landscape. The Bushveld is a vast, untamed region characterized by its unique mix of rolling grasslands, dense thickets, and towering trees. The air is filled with the distant calls of birds and the mating calls of the Impala, creating a symphony of nature that was uniquely Africa. And it's the wildlife that truly sets the Bushveld apart. This region is a haven for some of Africa's most iconic species, including the Big Five: lions, leopards, elephants, rhinos, and buffalo.

As we embarked on our first full day of exploration during the early morning drive at 6 AM, we were vigilant and attentive, eagerly anticipating the wonders that lay ahead. Our expert rangers amazed us with their keen abilities to spot and uncover the hidden treasures of the wilderness, making our experience truly captivating and memorable. Sightings of wild dogs, also known as painted or African hunting dogs are rare and cherished moments. So it wasn't surprising when our guides raced to the first reported location of these endangered canines. Wild dogs promarily hunt impalas. These skilled hunters work together to chase down prey, reaching speeds of up to 45 mph. Their coordinated hunting style and stamina allow them to pursue prey to exhaustion. They require large territories to support their hunting needs and as a result of habitat loss and diseases they are decreasing in numbers. Kruger national part is one of th few remaining strongholds and the park is home to approximately 250-300 individuals, distributed in several packs. We consider ourselves really fortunate to have not only seen these wild dogs but to have had a chance to observe the pack as they hunted a group of impalas.

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Our next encounter was with nature's top tree trimmers, the majestic giraffes, found primarily browsing on the leaves of trees. Their long necks allow them to reach foliage that other herbivores cannot access, giving them a unique advantage in their ecosystem. Before reaching the herd of these magnificent creatures, our guide held up a huge giraffe skull, showcasing its molars that had been ground down over the years by ruminating on the foliage.

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Interestingly, giraffes and I share a common trait: high blood pressure. For giraffes, this is a necessity to ensure that blood reaches their brains, given their impressive height. To facilitate this, their hearts are massive, weighing up to 22 pounds, enabling them to pump blood effectively throughout their bodies. Despite their size, giraffes have the same number of vertebrae as humans: seven. As we observed these gentle giants, I couldn't help but admire their graceful gait as they strolled through the preserve, their movements exuding a sense of elegance and poise.

During our morning safari, we happened upon the striking white rhinos, one of the two rhino species found on the continent, the other being the black rhino. Despite their names, both species are actually gray in color. The term "white" is believed to have originated from a misinterpretation of the Dutch word "wijd," meaning "wide," which refers to the white rhino's wide, square upper lip. These impressive animals weigh between 3,750 and 5,070 pounds, and as grazers, they primarily feed on grasses. Rhinos have relatively small eyes compared to their large body size, and their eyesight is not particularly strong. Instead, they rely more on their excellent hearing and sense of smell to navigate their surroundings. Interestingly, their eyes are positioned on the sides of their head, providing a wide field of vision that helps them detect potential threats.

One of the most distinctive features of a rhino is its elongated nose, which supports its horn. Made of keratin, the same protein found in human hair and nails, the horn grows continuously throughout the rhino's life and lacks a bony core, unlike other horned animals. Rhinos use their horns for defense, establishing dominance, and foraging for food. Unfortunately, they are threatened by poaching due to the high value placed on their horns in some cultures for supposed medicinal properties and as status symbols.

Rhinos have thick, durable skin that appears wrinkled and folded, especially around their legs and shoulders. In some areas, the skin can be up to 2 inches thick, offering protection against thorns, sharp vegetation, and even some predators. Despite its thickness, the skin is sensitive and prone to sunburn, which explains why rhinos often wallow in mud or seek shade during the hottest parts of the day. We were lucky to see two of these magnificent creatures strolling down a dirt path early in the morning.

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Amidst the excitement of encountering large creatures, we also had the pleasure of observing a diverse array of smaller wildlife. Among them was the majestic Marabou Stork, one of the largest stork species, standing tall at an impressive 5 feet with an expansive wingspan reaching up to 12 feet. We spotted this remarkable bird perched atop a tree, utilizing its elevated vantage point to survey the surroundings for potential prey. The park's rich avian diversity also included a sighting of the iconic African Fish Eagle, along with a myriad of other fascinating bird species, making it a veritable paradise for ornithology enthusiasts.

In addition to the avian wonders, we had the delightful chance encounter with a family of dwarf mongooses. These small carnivores, known to be among the most prevalent in Africa, had made their home atop an abandoned termite hill. We observed their morning ritual of socializing and basking in the warm sun before they ventured out to begin their daily foraging adventures.

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Next, we came upon some of the more quick-tempered and dangerous animals in the reserve. The African Buffalo, which are bovids, have horns they use to protect themselves. Females often employ these horns to defend not only themselves but also their offspring against predators. We found a herd and even came upon a mother and her youngster. These buffalo have a symbiotic relationship with birds that perch on their backs to eat the bugs residing on them. Not to be outdone, within minutes, we came upon a zebra family. Interestingly, no two zebras have exactly the same stripe pattern. We learned that this is their defense mechanism, as the stripes "bedazzle" lions when they attempt to attack, ultimately confusing the predators.

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By the end of the morning safari, we had checked off two more of the Big Five before heading back to camp for breakfast. At the local watering hole, we observed an amazing sight: a herd of at least 75 African Savanna Elephants. These elephants are strict vegetarians and use their trunks to feed on bark, leaves, soft branches, and water. Due to their sheer size, they can be very intimidating. In fact, I was a little worried when I watched this "big guy" approaching Jeff.

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We sat quietly with our vehicle engine turned off, watching them devour trees branches, drink from the water hole and observe two youngsters going head to head.

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But the most extraordinary discovery was still to come—a newborn elephant calf, barely four days old, nestled beneath the protective presence of the adult females in the herd. The tiny calf, [visible on the far right of the bottom photograph] seemed dwarfed by the massive, nurturing bodies of its guardians. Witnessing this awe-inspiring display of maternal care and the tender beginnings of a new life, all on Mother's Day, made for an unforgettable spectacle that will forever be etched in our memories. It was, without a doubt, a day that will be cherished for a lifetime!

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This wild, untouched landscape is a testament to the enduring power and resilience of the natural world, and a visit to the Bushveld is an unforgettable experience that left us with a newfound appreciation for the wonders of the African wilderness. AND, this was only the morning of our first drive in the reserve.

Posted by Where2FromHere 18:40 Archived in South Africa Comments (1)

Glamping while the Lion Sleeps Tonight!

Kapama Karula Private Game Reserve, Krueger National Park


View Around the World! - Part 3 on Where2FromHere's travel map.

Nestled within the vast expanse of Kruger National Park lies a sanctuary of unparalleled beauty—the Kapama Private Game Reserve. Spanning over 32,000 acres of untamed African wilderness, this reserve offers an unbelieveable, immersive escape into the heart of nature. Our journey began with a flight on a small bush plane, landing at Hoedspruit Airport where open safari vehicles awaited our arrival.

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As we embarked on the 10-mile journey to reach our final destination, the Kapama Karula, the excitement mounted with each passing moment. Along the way, we were granted our first tantalizing glimpses of the reserve's incredible wildlife. Majestic giraffes gracefully roamed the plains, their long necks stretching towards the sky. A pair of water buffalo, with their imposing horns and powerful stature, gazed peacefully alongside a pond. The striking patterns of zebras caught our eyes as they moved in unison, their stripes creating a mesmerizing display. And, to our amazement, we even spotted the elusive rhinos, their prehistoric presence reminding us of the untamed beauty that awaited us at Kapama Karula.

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As we approached our accommodations within the Kapama Private Game Reserve, I had anticipated a pleasant lodge experience. However, I was utterly unprepared for the level of luxury that awaited us. We soon discovered that we would be "glamping" (glamorous camping) in exquisite suites that seamlessly blended into the breathtaking surroundings. The elegance and attention to detail were simply astounding.The lobby and dining area, pictured below, exuded a sense of sophistication and warmth. The interior design harmoniously combined natural elements with modern comforts, creating an inviting atmosphere. But the true gem of our stay was our private suite. Nestled amidst the lush greenery, our suite was a spot of tranquility and indulgence. The spacious interior was adorned with plush furnishings, luxurious bedding, and tasteful decor that echoed the African wilderness. Step outside, and we were greeted by our very own private pool, an oasis of refreshment and relaxation. The expansive outdoor deck provided the perfect spot to unwind, soak in the stunning views, and immerse ourselves in the sights and sounds of the surrounding nature. It was an experience that exceeded all expectations—a perfect blend of adventure and extravagance. The photos below offer a glimpse into the extraordinary accommodations at Kapama Karula. Simply amazing!

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After savoring a delectable lunch of Dover sole and settling into our opulent accommodations, we took a refreshing dip in the pool, allowing ourselves a moment of leisure before embarking on the much-anticipated evening game drive. Just as the extraordinary luxury of our lodging had surpassed all expectations, nothing could have adequately prepared me for the awe-inspiring experience that awaited us on the game drive.

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Can you believe it?! To say I was a bit frightened is an understatement. My heart raced as we encountered a sight that seemed to belong only in a zoo within the constraints of an enclosure. There, just a mere breath away from our open safari vehicle, lay a majestic male lion, his powerful form stretched out in a state of deep slumber. The proximity was both thrilling and scary! It was suggested that he had recently indulged in a substantial feast on some unfortunate animal. It was as if the weight of his meal had lulled him into a profound food coma, making him totally oblivious to our presence. The scene before us was a testament to the raw beauty and untamed essence of the African wilderness. And yes, it's true - "in the jungle, the mighty jungle, the Lion Sleeps Tonight!"

Posted by Where2FromHere 09:44 Archived in South Africa Comments (1)

Fly Better

Dubai to Johannesburg


View Around the World! - Part 3 on Where2FromHere's travel map.

I've often said that everyone should experience Delta One at least once in their lifetime. However, Air Emirates has just raised the bar with their Business Class service from Dubai, UAE, to Johannesburg, South Africa. The exceptional experience began with a warm greeting and chauffeur service upon arrival, followed by access to the luxurious lounge, and continued until we boarded the plane.

The real surprise came when we had to climb a set of stairs to reach the upper deck of the aircraft, which would serve as our "home" for the next eight hours as we journeyed to the start of our African Safari in South Africa. The service, comfort, and attention to detail throughout the flight truly embodied their slogan, "Fly Better."

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Perhaps you've seen their commercial - if not, prepare to be amazed!

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If you didn't notice, she's on top of the highest building in the world ... and here's another you might enjoy, as much as we enjoyed our trip from Dubi to Johannesburg on Air Emerites!

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[Just a note to my loyal followers: While out in the bush, we may not be able to communicate as frequently. But, not to worry, I'll be back in touch as soon as possible to share my adventures with you ..
Also, I'd like to take a moment to wish my Sister-in-law, Linda, Happy Birthday ... and, to all the incredible moms out there "Happy Mother's Day!"]

Stay tuned for more updates from my journey!

Posted by Where2FromHere 10:52 Archived in United Arab Emirates Comments (1)

Architectural Marvels, Adrenaline, and Enchantment

Dubai, United Arab Emirates


View Around the World! - Part 3 & Around the World! - Part 2 on Where2FromHere's travel map.

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is a federation of seven emirates situated in the southeastern region of the Arabian Peninsula, sharing borders with Oman and Saudi Arabia. The seven emirates comprise Abu Dhabi (the capital), Dubai, Sharjah, Ajman, Umm Al Quwain, Ras Al Khaimah, and Fujairah. Formed in 1971 following the British withdrawal from the Persian Gulf, the UAE has since emerged as a significant regional player, renowned for its modern infrastructure and oil wealth. Interestingly, while Abu Dhabi possesses the majority of the country's oil reserves, Dubai has transformed into a global hub for business and tourism. As an Islamic nation, the UAE boasts a rich cultural heritage that draws influence from Arab, Persian, and Bedouin traditions, with Arabic serving as the official language, although English is widely spoken. The country has become a popular tourist destination, offering luxury hotels, expansive shopping malls, thrilling desert adventures, and unique attractions such as the Palm Jumeirah, where we were fortunate enough to spend the night.

Dubai is renowned for its modern, innovative, and architectural designs that often push the boundaries of engineering and aesthetics. The city's skyline is dominated by towering skyscrapers, many of which feature unique and unconventional shapes, making them appear as though they belong to a future era.

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Some iconic examples of Dubai's futuristic architecture that were my favorites include:

  • Burj Khalifa - The world's tallest building, with a sleek, neo-futuristic design. The Burj Khalifa is not only an architectural marvel but also a symbol of Dubai's ambition, innovation, and vision for the future. It has become an iconic landmark. Jeff and I had watched a You-tube video on its construction which showed what an amazing feat it was to build.

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  • Dubai Frame - A giant, gold-plated picture frame structure offering panoramic views of the city. The Dubai Frame offers visitors a journey through time, with its three main sections representing Dubai's past, present, and future. At the ground level, there's an exhibition gallery showcasing Dubai's transformation from a small fishing village to a modern metropolis. The sky bridge features a glass-floored walkway, providing a chance to look down to the ground 150 meters below. On the other side of the sky bridge, there's a virtual reality exhibition that showcases Dubai's vision for the future, including cutting-edge technology and ambitious projects.

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Museum of the Future - A striking, doughnut-shaped building covered in Arabic calligraphy, showcasing cutting-edge technology and innovation. While in Dubai, we learned what a visionary Shiekh Mohammad was and what it's meant to this country. Below are photos of the museum as well as the words of wisdom of his highness Sheikh Mohammed.

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" The secret to the renewal of life, the evolution of civilizations, and the development of humanity is simple: innovation"

and

"The future belongs to those who can imagine it, design it, and execute it. It isn't something you await, but rather create."

and, my favorite ...

" We many not live for hundreds of years, but the products of our creativity leave a legacy long after we're gone."

We had the pleasure of making a few notable stops before heading to our hotel, which was conveniently located on the iconic Palm Jumeirah. We began by visiting the Sheikh's palace, an impressive structure that showcased the opulence and grandeur of the UAE's royal family. Just across the street, we took a moment to admire the beautiful mosque, its architecture a testament to the country's deep-rooted Islamic heritage. Next stop was at the renowned Atlantis Dubai. While there we witnessed the new Atlantis Royal, a sister property that promises to elevate the already high standards set by its two predecessors.

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Our evening was filled with exciting new experiences and sensations. As we explored the area, we came across herds of camels being readied for the upcoming camel races. The real excitement, however, began just before sunset when we ventured into the desert to visit the sand dunes. Our guide first had to deflate our vehicle's tires to 18 psi to prepare for the thrilling ride ahead. Jeff and I had the "fortune" of being seated in the back, which made for an incredibly jolting and exhilarating experience, [far more intense than any bumpy ride in the dunes of Michigan, Jason!]

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As dusk settled over the desert, we found ourselves in a secluded spot, completely captivated by the incredible performance of a trained Peregrine Falcon. The falconer commanded the bird to soar at breathtaking speeds, pursuing a decoy prey. After a brief chase, the falcon was allowed to capture its target and was rewarded with a treat weighing approximately 10% of its body weight. This awe-inspiring display of the falcon's agility and the falconer's skill left us in awe of the ancient art of falconry. [Jeff may be more convinced than ever to become proficient at this!]

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To close out the day, we were taken to another camp for dinner and entertainment which included more camels,Arabian dancers as well a fire act.

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Overall, the United Arab Emirates was a fascinating country to visit. It's hard to image that within just a matter of several decades this country has transformed itself from a desert region into a modern, thriving nation known for its innovation, tourism, and economic opportunities.

Posted by Where2FromHere 09:56 Archived in United Arab Emirates Comments (0)

In the Footsteps of Sheikhs and Falcons

Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates

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Few countries have undergone such a supercharged transformation as the seven emirates of the UAE (United Arab Emirates). Until oil was discovered in the late 1950s, this was a sparsely populated Gulf backwater, with Dubai and Abu Dhabi being simple fishing settlements. In less than a century, extraordinary oil wealth allowed the Emirati ruling families to remodel the UAE into a multiculteral business hub, with about 80% of the population now made up of immigrants.

Stepping ashore in Abu Dhabi, we were met by the searing heat of the Middle Eastern sun, a familiar welcome where the desert sands meet the shimmering sea. The capital of the UAE is known for its scorching summers, with daytime temperatures soaring to an average of 106° F from May to September, while even the nights offer little reprieve, hovering around 84° F. With a packed itinerary ahead and the heat of midday, our exploration of Abu Dhabi was brief yet memorable. We managed to find some unique gifts for family. [As Jeff mentioned, it's unlikely any one of them, other than perhaps our granddaughter Beka, will ever venture this far from home.] However, we encountered some fascinating sights along the way, from the striking presence of sheikhs in their traditional white attire, to a skilled scribe and a majestic gyrfalcon.

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Based on the falcon's distinctive appearance - its mostly white plumage with some brown speckling - it appears to be a gyrfalcon, which are prized in falconry, especially white or light-colored morphs as seen here. Falconry has a long tradition in this region, and its likely this light-colored gyrfalcon is not only beautiful but also a valuable bird for sport. We alo learned about the term "morph" refering to distinct color variations within a single species of bird. The three primary morphs are:

  • White morph: These birds are almost entirely white with few, if any, markings. They are highly sought-after in falconry due to their rarity and striking appearance. [It appears that this was indeed a white morph].
  • Silver morph: Also known as the intermediate morph, these gyrfalcons have a a mix of white and grey feathers, resulting in a silver-like appearance. They may have some dark barring or streaking on their plumage.
  • Dark morph: These birds have predominantly dark brown or grey plumage with white speckling or barring. They are the most common gyrfalcon morph in the wild.

In falconry, the color morph of a bird does not necessarily indicate its hunting abilities, but lighter morphs are often more highly valued due to their aesthetic appeal and relative scarcity. Nevertheless, I think you'll agree it was a beautiful falcon!

On a final note, we couldn't leave port without Jeff securing a glimpse of a four-legged critter. The closest he could find to a horse, as seen below:

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Abu Dhabi is a destination that offers a unique blend of luxury, culture, and adventure, making it an unforgettable experience.

Posted by Where2FromHere 12:19 Archived in United Arab Emirates Comments (0)

A momentous Occasion!

24.07463 N / 60.52852 E en route to Abu Dhabi

Never in my wildest dreams did I think we'd be traveling within 615 miles of Iran and 830 miles of Afganistan! Yet that's exactly where we are today, May 7, 2024, in the Gulf of Oman.

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It's a momentous occasion ... and if you refer to a decision, event, or change as momentous, you mean that it is very important, often because of the effects that it will have in the future.

For us it's a momentous occasion .. not because of our location, but because on this date 13 years ago. our grandson Jason Liberto was born!

Here's a short poem about this person who has brought so much happiness into our lives:

Jason, the welder, a creative mind,
Engines and speed, his passions aligned.
From Caymen Islands to Rome, he's traveled far,
Also, with us in Yellowstone, a real superstar!
In Tennessee, he forged a knife with glee,
A grandson so clever, a joy to see!

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HAPPY 13th BIRTHDAY JASON!

You mean the WORLD to us!!!

Posted by Where2FromHere 06:35 Comments (0)

Sailing the Arabian Sea

20.32647 N / 68.344758333333 E en route to Abu Dhabi, UAE

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Our ship is presently navigating the waters of the Arabian Sea, a body of water surrounded by several nations, including India, Pakistan, Iran, Oman, Yemen, and Somalia. This region is renowned for its abundant offshore oil and natural gas reserves, with many of the bordering countries actively engaged in drilling operations. The Arabian Sea holds significant economic value as it serves as a crucial shipping route, linking the Indian Ocean to the Persian Gulf and the Red Sea. However, due to the current political instability and unrest in the Red Sea area, our itinerary for the forthcoming Part Three of the Ultimate World Cruise has been modified. Rather than traversing the Suez Canal to reach the Mediterranean Sea as originally planned, our vessel will now circumnavigate the African continent.

As we approach the conclusion of Part Two - The Asia Pacific, we reflect on the incredible journey we've undertaken. This phase of the trip will have spanned 87 nights, during which we've explored 40 captivating destinations and had the privilege of witnessing three world wonders. It began on February 11th, as we set sail from Los Angeles, traversing the sparkling waters of the North Pacific before reaching our current location in the Arabian Sea.

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With only two ports remaining on this leg of the journey - Abu Dhabi and Dubai in the United Arab Emirates - we can't help but reminisce about the unforgettable experiences we've had along the way. From immersing ourselves near the marine waters of Australia's Great Barrier Reef to marveling at the man-made splendor of the Great Wall of China, every moment has been truly awe-inspiring. We've also had the opportunity to uncover some hidden gems of the South Pacific, such as the vibrant city-state of Singapore, the lush landscapes of Bali, Indonesia, and the captivating culture of Vietnam. As we prepare for Part three of the Ultimate World Cruise, we carry with us a wealth of memories and a deepened appreciation for the diverse beauty of the world around us.

During the next two days at sea, we will prepare for the thrilling adventures that await us on the African continent. The shore excursions team is providing us with additional information to help us make the most of our upcoming experiences, particularly the African Safari that will commence once we arrive in Dubai. We'll be gaining valuable insights into the planned itinerary, the unique landscapes we'll traverse, and the rich cultural heritage of the regions we'll be visiting. In addition to travel preparation, we're also taking care of important practical matters. We've already had our Yellow Fever vaccinations but we'll also be visiting the onboard clinic to secure the recommended malaria medications and mosquito repellent, ensuring we're well-protected during excursions.

With the next leg of our journey taking us to cooler climates, we're carefully considering what to pack. It's a pleasant surprise to learn that May, being the last month of fall in South Africa, brings with it an average temperature of around 68 degrees. This news comes as a delightful relief, especially after the intense heat we encountered during our time in India. We're focusing on packing lightweight layers and comfortable hiking shoes to ensure we're well-prepared for the African experience while still not over-packing. [This is more of a challenge for me than it is for Jeff.]

As the ship gently navigates the Arabian Sea, we are continuing to bond with our fellow passengers that have been onboard with us for the previous 5 months. In fact, tonight we're attending a private birthday party arranged for one of our friends. Its nice to have these two days to regroup, refresh, and plan ahead, as we sail towards the Middle East and the African continent.

Posted by Where2FromHere 07:28 Comments (0)

Hot, Hot, Hot = One and Done

Mumbai (formerly Bombay), India


View Around the World! - Part 2 on Where2FromHere's travel map.

Known as Bombay in colonial times, Mumbai today is India's most cosmopolitan city. It's a financial center as well as India's largest city with 22 million people living here. We were to spend two days in this Indian west coast city and had been forewarned that the temperature would be in the upper 90's with 90% humidity - in other words, excessive heat.

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We were still recovering from our exhausting travels to the northern sector of India with very little opportunity to sleep, so we opted not to go on a tour the first day in Mumbai. This was a good decision for two reasons:

  • So, picture this: I'm all set to work on my blog post about the Taj Mahal, brimming with excitement, and then BAM! My laptop greets me with the infamous "black screen of doom" - totally frozen, not a pixel in sight! But wait, lucky me! I contacted Dell support. And guess what? More often than not, their support team is typically right here in India - HEY .. just like me! Within minutes they had me up and running again.
  • And it gets even better ... I spent the later half of the day as the pseudo RCCL in-house photographer. It was such a special occasion today because many of the hardworking crew members on board, who are from India, had their families visiting for family day. So when their families arrived in the Vortex lounge on the ship's top deck to take a look around, I asked if they'd like a family photo. They were all very appreciative. Can you imagine what it must be like for these dedicated individuals, being away from home for months on end, and finally getting the opportunity to show their family members where they work? It was an absolute joy to witness the thrill and excitement and be a part of their day together.

However, we had vowed to get off the ship in every port while on this journey so even though it was beastly hot, we left the ship early on the second day in this port. The immigration process was grueling - having to show our documentation on multiple occasions. I mentioned to Jeff - "you have to wonder why they're so worried about us slipping into their country permanently - what's two more when you have 1.4 billion to start with?" Even applying for the visit visa for India was horrendous. They even wanted to know our parents names, nationalities and religion on the form! All I can say is they're a lot more concerned about their border than we are about ours (but you've heard me harp on that too many times).

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First stop on today's tour was the Gateway of India, an arch monument at Apollo Bunder on the Arabian Sea in Mumbai. It was built to commemorate the December 2, 1911, landing of King George V and Queen Mary. Opposite the arch was the statue of Shivaji Maharaj, a highly revered figure in Maharashtra and is considered a symbol of Maratha pride and valor. Of course, Jeff was happy to see the stone statue has Shivaji sitting on a horse in a conquering pose. Also, overlooking the Arabian Sea is the iconic Taj Mahal Palace hotel. The building features a striking blend of Islamic and Renaissance architectural styles, with its iconic red domes and grand facade.

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On this Sunday in Mumbai, locals were engaged in sailing, cricket (although field hockey is more popular), and shopping. Cricket players rehydrate with sugarcane post-match, with canes piled high near the field. Traveling through a Muslim area, women wore traditional clothing despite the oppresive heat. [I thought our granddaughter Beka might enjoy seeing the man trying on shoes at a local shoe store pictured here]. And workers diligently complete projects, using bamboo as scaffolding, before their work halts due to the approaching monsoon season.

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The buildings, once likely stunning in their prime, now stood in various states of deterioration. While some underwent much-needed renovations, others were not, thereby allowing their decay to advance unabated. The housing in the area was diverse, showcasing a wide array of architectural styles and sizes. Apparently, Sunday was laundry day, as evidenced by the ubiquitous sight of clothes hanging outside to dry, their presence a colorful and lively contrast to the weathered facades of the buildings.

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The Lalbagh Spice market is a must visit when you are in Mumbai. What's unique about this market is people don't just come here to buy pre-packaged spices. They buy spices depending on their own recipe handed down from generation to generation. First they dry the ingredients in sacks or spread on cloth on the ground.

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Each order (recipe) is in an container waiting for the next step.

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Then they heat the special combination of ingredients to bring out the flavors.

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Then it is pounded into a fine powder. This was previously done by hand but now by noisy machinery.

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A multitude of smells fill the air as well as the sound of spices being cooked and pounded. Families visit the market to buy and prepare spices, sometimes to purchase as much to last up to 6 months, and each blend is unique for every family recipe.

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Although it was a fascinating day in Mumbai, we didn't have observe two things I had hoped to see: the laundry service and food delivery. Mumbai, India, is known for both of these systems which are integral parts of the city's culture and daily life.

Laundry Service:
Mumbai's famous "dhobi ghats" are large open-air laundromats. The most well-known of these is the Mahalaxmi Dhobi Ghat, which has been in operation for over 140 years. Here, washermen known as "dhobis" collect dirty laundry from households and businesses across the city, wash the clothes by hand in large concrete wash pens, and then dry them on long lines in the open air. The clothes are then pressed, folded, and delivered back to their owners. This traditional laundry service is an essential part of life in Mumbai, with thousands of people relying on the dhobi ghats for their laundry needs.

Food Delivery System:
Mumbai's unique food delivery system is known as the "dabbawalas" or "tiffin wallahs." This system involves a complex network of people who collect home-cooked meals in lunch boxes (called "dabbas" or "tiffins") from customers' homes and deliver them to offices and workplaces across the city. The dabbawalas, who are mostly illiterate, use a color-coded system to ensure that each lunch box reaches its intended recipient. After lunch, the empty boxes are collected and returned to the customers' homes. This system is incredibly efficient, with very few errors, and have been operating in Mumbai for over 130 years.

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Both the dhobi ghats and the dabbawala system are examples of how Mumbai's residents have developed unique solutions to the challenges of daily life in a densely populated and fast-paced city. I'd like to say - maybe next time, but it's doubtful we'll return to India. It;s what Jeff calls "one and done." Just far to many people and way too hot for these Wyomingites.

Posted by Where2FromHere 02:24 Archived in India Comments (0)

Home Sweet Home - aka Serenade of the Seas

Agra, Delhli, and Goa, India


View Around the World! - Part 2 on Where2FromHere's travel map.

Following one final [i]Nameste,/i]we departed the hotel in Agra and headed back to the airport in Delhli, India. Many Americans first encountered the word 'namaste' when reading about the newly independent India during the mid-20th century. The Sanskrit phrase namaste is formed from namaḥ, meaning “bow, obeisance, adoration,” and the enclitic pronoun te, meaning “to you.” The noun namaḥ, in turn, is a derivative of the verb namati, which means “(she or he) bends, bows.”

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The 4-hour ride back to Delhli was entertaining, to say the least. Attempting to sleep on the bus was futile due to the number of horns beeping on the congested roads. However, we saw some unbelieveable sights along the way and, of course, as always Jeff found some horses.

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Check out the detailed artwork on this truck we photographed while at a rest area stop. It was only one of many similarly painted trucks that we observed on the highway but I especially like the mustache on this one. At the same rest area, we were amazed to observe a clever monkey who retrieved a bottled beverage from a trash can, unscrewed the cap, and enjoyed a drink - quite an unusual sight!

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After some travel challenges, I was relieved that our suitcase was waiting for us when we arrived at the Delhi airport. I was more than ready to change out of the clothes I had been wearing for three days straight. I also happily added to my starbucks collection with a souvenir INDIA mug! We took a chartered flight from Delhi to Goa, enjoying another delicious and spicy Indian meal during the journey. It was a welcome sight to see the Serenade of the Seas, which felt like home, docked in the Goa port. However, our time in Goa was short-lived, as we soon set sail for Mumbai, the final stop on our incredible Indian adventure.

Posted by Where2FromHere 02:25 Archived in India Comments (1)

A memorial to a devoted wife

The Taj Mahal


View Around the World! - Part 2 on Where2FromHere's travel map.

The Taj Mahal is an iconic mausoleum located in Agra, India. It was commissioned by the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his beloved wife, Mumtaz Mahal, who died in her 30's during the birth of their 14th child in 1631. The construction of the Taj Mahal began in 1632 and was completed around 1653. It's considered a masterpiece of Islamic and Mughal architecture, featuring a combination of Indian, Persian, and Islamic styles. The white marble mausoleum is the centerpiece of a 42-acre complex, which includes a mosque, a guest house, and formal gardens.

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Here are just a few of some notable features of the Taj Mahal we observed today:

1. The central dome, which rises 115 feet, is surrounded by four smaller domes.

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2. The minarets, four slender towers standing at each corner of the marble platform.

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3. The intricate decorations, including calligraphy, inlaid precious stones, and carved marble flowers and vines.

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4. The reflecting pool in front of the mausoleum, which creates a stunning reflection of the monument. [although not filled with water during our visit - stil

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We were fortunate to witness sunset at this remarkable architectural structure as well as to meet the son of a local rice farmer who decided to cozy up to a "cowboy" from the states ..

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Here's an interesting video that recaps the history behind the monument and other facts about one of the world's most beautiful buildings.
https://youtu.be/I6i8cLXPGQE?feature=shared

During our visit to the Taj Mahal, we learned that the iconic monument is facing structural issues caused by the nearby polluted Yamuna River. The fluctuating water levels and pollution have led to the deterioration of the wooden foundation, resulting in cracks in the marble base. Later, we had the opportunity to observe skilled local artisans who are dedicated to repairing the damage and preserving the Taj Mahal for generations to come.

Posted by Where2FromHere 16:28 Archived in India Comments (1)

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