Tuesday, January 25, 2011

An African Honeymoon Part Two

You're on honeymoon in Africa - Cape Town to be exact, and you're having a wonderful, romantic time, apart from that little incident where you appeared naked at your hotel window in front of several dozen people innocently enjoying their breakfast.  The police were very good about it all in the end.  Quite understanding, and you were released on a good behaviour bond.

Next stop is Victoria Falls - "The Smoke That Thunders."  There are few more romantic places in the entire world.  An early flight from Cape Town, a quick change of planes in Johannesburg and before you know it you're descending into Victoria Falls airport, the spray from the falls themselves easily visible in the hazy middle distance.  It does indeed look like grey smoke against the blue sky.  You check into your room at the Victoria Falls Safari Lodge which has great views across the bush to the waterhole and beyond.  You've arrived in time for a sunset cruise on the Zambezi River yet another highlight.  Once again on the boat you toast each other with a glass of wine while you watch a small herd of elephants bathing in the shallows on one side of the river and a pod of hippos grunting and yawning threat displays on the other.  Meanwhile the entire scene is washed by a blood orange sunset, and again, closer this time there is a tower of spray from the falls.

That night back at the lodge you dine at the Boma - an African themed restaurant attached to the Victoria Falls Safari Lodge.  There's a great buffet meal and some wonderful cultural entertainment with African dancers and some superb drummers.  There's also a little market, a traditional story teller who roams from table to table and a fortune teller  You even pluck up the courage to eat a mopani worm which is a little like a witchety grub.  They give you a certificate for doing this and you deserve it.

The next day is busy.  You start off with an early elephant back safari.  You have an early transfer to the venue where you meet your elephant and your mahout.  There's plenty of time to interact with your ellie before you set off on a very scenic ride through the bush.  More romance as you share an elephant.  When you return you get to give your elephant his breakfast before sitting down to consume your own - cooked out there in the bush.  It's a lovely thing to do.

In the late afternoon as the sun is dropping and the heat of the day is waning you are again collected from the lodge and taken to the Lion Encounter venue.  This is really special.  You walk through the bush with a couple of half grown lion cubs and several men who are there to control them if they become too playful.  You can stroke them (the lions, not the men) as much as you like and they (the men, not the lions) will take some wonderful photos for you.  It is a tremendous thrill and is soooo much better than Thailand's tiger temples.  For one thing these lions are being rehabilitated for being returned to the wild.  Human contact is gradually reduced until they are ready to go their own way.  The Lion Encounter programme helps to fund this work.

The following morning you a have a guided tour of Victoria Falls.  You stroll around the formed paths holding hands while your guide points out the many interesting features, though at times you can hardly hear him for the thunder of the water crashing over the falls.  It's a dizzying sight peering down into the gorge and you find the sheer scale absolutely breathtaking.  Something else you find breathtaking is the stupidity of the lunatics throwing themselves off the Victoria Falls bridge attached to a rubber band.  You stand and watch several of these fruitcakes do their thing and wonder how much they are being paid to do it.

That evening you take a helicopter flight over the falls - "Flight of Angels" as it is known.  This is truly incredible.  You're hundreds of feet above the great falls with the Zambezi River stretching away into the distance and "The Smoke That Thunders" boiling into the gorge far below.  You can clearly see well into four countries from here.  Zimbabwe, Zambia, Botswana and Namibia and this makes you keen for more African adventures.  Later that morning you fly to Johannesburg to begin the last week of your African honeymoon.

To be continued.

Monday, January 17, 2011

An African Honeymoon Part One

Is there a more romantic destination for a honeymoon than Africa?  I seriously doubt that there is.  Imagine this.  The wedding ceremony is over.  Those embarrassing speeches by the Best Man and the Father of the Bride are just a memory.  A painful memory perhaps, but at least they are behind you now.  At last you are together, alone.  The feeling is a combination of euphoria and exhausted relief. 

Mad Uncle Bernie has volunteered to stay sober throughout the reception so that he can drive you to the airport.  This, you feel is a mixed blessing because while it saves you the cost of a taxi, Uncle Bernie's driving is so dire that he is one of the few people on earth whose driving actually improves when he is drunk.  As you cram yourselves and your four large pieces of luggage into the back of his FIAT 500 you are glad that you decided to take the travel insurance you had procrastinated over for so long.

Then, before you know it and somewhat to your surprise you arrive safely at the airport.  You're soon checked in, through passport control and security and are sitting in your aircraft seat thirty-nine thousand feet above the Indian Ocean with a glass of pretty reasonable chardonnay in one hand and your spouses hand in the other.  Suddenly life is looking not too bad at all.  A quick transit through Johannesburg's impressive new airport, but it's dark by the time you reach Cape Town and all you want to do is go to bed.  After all it is your honeymoon.  You check into your hotel - The Victoria & Alfred at the Waterfront and trot off to bed for a good night's sleep...........or something.

Morning.  A sliver of light is squeezing through the gap in the curtains.  It plays with your eyes and wakes you.  Your partner is still asleep, breathing softly with a gentle smile on his/her lips.  You pad over to the window and throw back the curtain.  Oh..........My...........God!  Is that Table Mountain?  It is.  It feels a little surreal to actually be here in Cape Town.  Seeing Table Mountain for real for the first time is a bit like seeing a familiar TV star in the flesh, only much less disappointing.  It is much, much bigger than you expect.  1086 metres tall.  That's well over 3500 feet.  It's great grey buttresses tower over the city, crowding it towards the ocean.  There's not a single cloud and the clear blue sky is reflected in the water of the harbour where boats are already coming and going and seals are lounging on a large buoy.

You are so stunned by the majesty of this scene that you forget that you are standing naked in front of a second floor window, providing a fine morning's entertainment for the people eating their breakfast in the cafe down below.  You hurriedly close the curtains and leap back into bed.

The romantic highlight of your Cape Town visit came during a tour of the winelands and the town of Franschhoek where the scenery is straight out of a Wilbur Smith novel.  You eat a sumptuous lunch and drink a superb bottle of shiraz while gazing out across a green valley at a series of craggy, fairy tale mountains under a blue African sky with just a scattering of fluffy sheep clouds.  You hold hands, you drink a toast to eternal love and you swear that you'd never forget that moment no matter what.  You don't want the honeymoon to end, but you know it must and already you feel a little sad about having to leave Africa.  Between that magical moment and the flight home though, there are many more exciting and romantic moments to be savoured.

To be continued.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Climb Mount Kilimanjaro

Wow!  The TV show "Shamwari - A Wild Life" was pretty good on Monday night.  Did you see the vet giving that big lion a vasectomy?  It certainly brought a tear to my eye I can tell you.  I'm glad the sedation lasted long enough.  The lion might have been slightly irritable if he'd woken up to find the vet doing unspeakable things to his nether regions.  Great series.  Don't forget to watch it. 6.30pm on ABC weeknights.

This coming October 5th I will be leading a group on a climb of Mount Kilimanjaro.  If you are interested in joining please contact either myself or Ucango Travel.  The basic details are below.  Contact me for more detailed information.  What an experience it promises to be.  It will be nothing short of life-changing for all of us.  Why not get a few sponsors together and make some money for your favourite charity by making it to the top.

There are numerous theories on how Mount Kilimanjaro got it's name but one of my favourites is that it means "The Mountain that defeats the bird."  Another favourite of mine is that it is derived from a local joke and that it means "Little Hill."  A little hill it most certainly is not.  It's height is 5895 metres.  That's 19,341 feet.  It is the world's tallest free standing mountain.  In other words not part of a range.  The best thing about it is that there is no technical climbing involved in reaching the summit - just a long uphill walk.  Sounds easy doesn't it.  Actually it is a very climbable mountain.  The youngest to complete the climb was only 7 years old and the oldest was an octogenarian.

Our group will be professionally guided, safety is paramount and porters are provided.  It is a camping tour.  I've chosen to camp because the mountain huts can be noisy, so you lose much needed sleep.  Mount Kilimanjaro is situated in  northern Tanzania and is easily accessed through either Nairobi or Dar Es Salaam.  There are two local airports - Arusha and Kilimanjaro.  After the climb why not relax on a beach at Zanzibar or go on safari.  The Serengeti and Ngorongoro Crater or nearby and should not be missed.

So, please join me in Tanzania on 5 October 2011.  I'll look really silly standing on the roof of Africa on my own.

Queensland registered travel agent licence number 3181 385
Phone 1300 822 646
or 07 5451 8600.

Alternatively call me – Peter Emery 0449 689 447
Email peter.emery@ucango.com.au

8 Day Mount Kilimanjaro
Small Group Camping Adventure
6 Participants max.
From $1889 per person
Twin share – Land only.
Departs 05 October 2011

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Fabulous Fez

Anyone watching ABC television last night at 6.30pm would have seen the start of a series of programmes called Shamwari - A Wild Life.  Set at Shamwari games reserve in the Eastern Cape region of South Africa, it gives the viewer a bit of an idea of what goes on behind the scenes at a private game reserve.  Certainly last night's episode would have dispelled any thoughts of game reserves being like zoos or safari parks.  Those lions killing the warthog would have seen to that.

Shamwari and other Eastern Cape game reserves are malaria free, like Madikwe and Pilanesberg.  This means you don't have to worry about some of the unpleasant side effects that some anti-malaria tablets have.  The game reserves around Kruger still have malaria, though I must admit I can barely remember seeing a mosquito there during my very many visits.  Still, better safe than sorry.  Take your doxycycline or whatever your GP advises and wear long sleeves and trousers in the evenings.  Personally I think you're more at risk of catching something nasty from a mozzie here in Australia, especially if you happen to live in the tropical or sub-tropical regions and more so if you are in one of the current flooded areas of Queensland.  There's dengue fever, Ross river virus and Barmah forest virus to name a few.  In other words - go to Africa, it's safer.

The afore mentioned TV show showed an unfortunate vet being chased by a cape buffalo calf after he had darted a big adult male.  It was a good illustration of just how dangerous these animals are.  In his book "Whatever You Do Don't Run."  Aussie game ranger Peter Allison who worked in Botswana's Okavango Delta admitted that he was scared of buffaloes, but that he was somewhat ashamed of being frightened of a "cow".  However he was right to be wary of them, at least if you are on foot they can be deadly.  Old lone males will charge without warning.  No mock charges with them.  If they catch you on foot without a tree to scuttle up they will kill you.  By the way, have you read his book?  I thought he had some funny stories but I was rather annoyed by his rather disrespectful attitude to his guests who were after all the reason he had such a fantastic job.  Anyway, maybe it's just me.

Alright enough TV and book reviews.  I want to recommend that you visit Fez.  Yes that's rights Fez in Morocco.  Yes, it's still Africa.  Granted there's not much wildlife there apart from the taxi drivers of course, but it is a wonderful city nevertheless.  In fact I don't just recommend that you go - I insist.  Fez has North Africa's largest undercover souk and it is fascinating.  Just make sure that you employ a local licensed guide if you're not there as part of a group tour because on your own you will get very lost.  When I was there a couple of yours ago I met a pair of Greek tourists who'd been looking for a way out since March 1973.  Boy did they need a shave!  And they were women.  Seriously, take a guide.  It's worth the money.  The souk is an incredible labyrinth of crowded alleys.  It's a journey back a thousand years.  The shops and stalls aren't there for the tourists - well mostly anyway.  There are one or two touristy shops but on the whole they cater for local needs.  There are tanneries and spice shops, carpet sellers and butchers advertising their wares by sticking camel heads on a spike above they shop and shoving some sort of green herb up their nostrils - the camel's nostrils that is, not the butchers.  That would just be silly, not to mention uncomfortable.

Seen from outside the old city is a sea of flat roofs and minarets scrambling up a low hill towards what is usually a beautiful clear blue sky.  Nearby is are the roman ruins of Volubilis.  Here you will find some of the finest mosaics in northern Africa and the location is quite spectacular with a backdrop of muscular rolling hills like a great ocean swell. Don't miss it.

Geckos Backroads of Morocco 11 days Tour  From $1295 per person twin share.

Morocco is considered one of the most romantic countries in the world. It boasts a heady mix of European, African, Moslem and Berber cultures along with legendary cities, ancient mud-brick kasbahs, rolling sand dunes, snow-capped mountains and an extensive and largely undeveloped coastline.

It is so colourful that first-time visitors might be excused for thinking they have walked into the middle of a Hollywood movie set. Indeed, Morocco has long been a favoured location for the film industry, due in part to an accommodating local bureaucracy. As we travel through this amazing country we are hit with an overwhelming sense of unreality. Is it really possible that a place can be both so exotic and so improbably picturesque? This, then, is the secret of Morocco, a destination that bombards the senses as we take the backroads from Casablanca to Marrakech.

From Casablanca we travel by train to Meknes, to explore the beautiful old medina. A little further on we reach Fes, where time seems to have overlooked the ancient streets and alleyways of the old quarter. We spend two days here, immersing ourselves in this splendid medieval city, and then travel south to explore the great sand dunes on the western edge of the Sahara.

A dramatic change of landscape finds us in Todra Gorge and nearby we explore the picturesque Dades Valley. We then travel along the fabled 'road of 1000 kasbahs', visiting an amazing family home at Skoura and the outstanding mud-brick town of Ait Benhaddou. Our final destination is Marrakech, where we spend our last evening in the great square - Jemaa el Fna - the heart and soul of this fine old city.

For more information call me - Peter Emery on 0449 689 447 or email me at peter.emery@ucango.com.au
Alternatively call the friendly staff at Ucango Travel - 1300 822 646