Tuesday, 29 November 2016

VISITING MANDELA’S LAND- PART II– WHALE-WATCHING & CAPETOWN

In the first part of this series, I narrated my encounter with the free and the wild inhabitants of Madique Game Resort.  I sat motionless in a Jeep, with 5 other companions, with a lion 10 feet away. I used all my might to avoid looking at his powerful open jaws hoping that he would just pardon my puny presence in his territory.  Since he did, I am able to write the second part of this series.

From Johannesburg, we flew to Cape Town in South Africa and Daryn, our driver, drove us to Hermanus, one and a half hour van ride.  We checked into a very nice hotel – Quarters, right on the waterfront.

I ventured onto the built up waterfront and saw the picturesque coastline of Atlantic ocean.  A few dussie animals (they are like large rabbits) were scurrying around looking for handouts from tourists. Couples were taking pictures with the scenic backdrop.  I picked out an ostrich leather belt and a few other souvenirs in the local shops.

FRIDAY NOVEMBER 29, 2013 – On the sea

We drove 45 minutes to Gaansbaai (goose bay).  From here we divided into two groups.  One group had opted for diving with the Great White Sharks.  We dropped this group at Kleinsbaai harbor. Since the water temperature was a few degrees above freezing, this group put on wet suits and went for shark cage diving and sightings of the great white sharks.  

Having faced lions at close range a few days prior, I was not about to face yet another set of jaws and freeze my booty in the process.  So I went with the other group for the less daunting sport of whale watching.  We piled onto a fast boat and felt the cold piercing wind as the boat sped along.  We spotted a mother and a calf Southern Right Whales in the distance of about 100 yards.  They were just having a good old time in the shallow waters.  

The skin of these whales is dark grey or black.  The adults are up to 60 feet and may weigh 65 tons, compared to our 15 ton boat, which they could flip with the flick of a tail.  The male has the biggest testes of any animal on the planet – up to 1160 lbs each.  The penis can be up to 10 feet. 

At night, we went to a seafood restaurant for dinner.I ordered the catch of the day - yellow tail fish. We came back to the hotel and had a little party.  Legal disclaimer – I only drink non-alcoholic beverages!

SATURDAY November 30 – TRAVEL TO CAPE TOWN

After breakfast, we left the Quarters hotel.  We stopped at the Cheetah Outreach Park. Cheetahs are bred here in captivity on the grounds of Speir wine estate.  You can pat an adult Cheetah or play with a cub.  This park is there to grow awareness of wildlife in general.  

The park is home to many other animals as well as the impressive Anatolian Shepherd dog which is bred and placed with farmers to stop Cheetah attacks on the farmers’ flocks.

We checked into Commodore hotel on waterfront in Cape Town.  Situated on a peninsula, Cape Town is one of the most beautiful cities in the world.  It was established as the first garden in Africa for ships restocking en route to India. Cape Town lies on a narrow peninsula that curves southward into the icy Atlantic ocean.  A spinal ridge of mountains divides the eastern and western shores of the peninsula.   

The rugged mountain range with twelve peaks is known as “twelve apostles”.  The massive sandstone bulk of Table Mountain is the most dramatic landmark.  The “lion’s head” and “devil’s head” are other peaks in the geography.  In Cape Town, the whites, the “colored” and the blacks live in fairly distinct neighborhoods because of economic reality, even though Apartheid came to an end in 1994.  There are many “townships” in Cape Town, where the poor live in shacks made from corrugated tin sheets.  These lack basic amenities like running water.

At night, we went to a unique African restaurant called Gold. The 14 item setmenu includeddishes from various African countries (Morocco, Ethiopia, Namibia etc.) as well as Cape Malay.  Springbok, the national animal, was also on the menu.  True to my Indian background, I chose lentils in lieu of Springbok.  During the meal, African performers entertained with drums, dancing and singing in their colorful costumes.  Tall Mali puppets danced around us.  It was a festive and enjoyable evening with audience participation.

SUNDAY December 1 – Cape Peninsula Tour

We departed the city along the picturesque Atlantic seaboard and stopped on the beach in Camps Bay for a beautiful view of the white surf in turquoise waters in the golden sunshine. We passed the fishing village of Hout Bay.  We drove through the Cape of Good Hope nature reserve.

We saw baboons, ostriches and the majestic Eland, the largest antelope on the planet.  Finally, we arrived at the Two Oceans hotel for lunch.  I had delicious shrimp curry.  The name Two Oceans is a misnomer, because the only ocean here is Atlantic ocean.  The true southernmost point in Africa is Cape Agulhas, 105 miles southeast of Cape of Good Hope.  That is where the Atlantic and Indian oceans actually meet. There was a Flying Dutchman funicular ride available up to the Cape Point lighthouse.  I decided to run up and down a couple of times on the 20 minute walkway.  We took pictures of the magical ocean vistas 600 feet below, at this, the south westernmost point of Africa.  

We drove down to the cape itself and took pictures in front of the sign that says “Cape of Good Hope”.  I felt like I was Vasco de Gama or something!

On the way back, we visited an ostrich farm and fed the ostriches by hand.  The female ostrich lays a lot of eggs that are hatched artificially.  At about one year of age, the ostriches are slaughtered for their meat and skin.


We headed along the False Bay coast to Boulders Beach near Simonstown to see a colony of adorable African Penguins.  They are smaller than the emperor penguins of Antarctica.  Hundreds of them frolicking on the beach presented a heartwarming sight.  Last year, I saw penguins in Galapagos islands, that is the farthest north they go.  (Question – why does a polar bear not eat penguins? answer – they live on different poles)

MONDAY December 2 – Seal Island and Wine tasting

After breakfast, we headed to Hout Bay to catch a cruise to the seal island.  It was a tremendous sight to see thousands of seals perched on the rocks and also splashing around in the water.  The antics of young babies are always so cute.

South Africa has more than a dozen designated wine routes. Stellenbosch route is one of the best known ones.  On this route are many wineries and estates.  We went to Boschendal manor house of 1812.  It has beautiful grounds and great wines that we tasted.  Stellenbosch has the second oldest university in SA.  The language of instruction is both Afrikaans and English.

Next we went to Fairview vineyards in Paarl and tasted more wines.  I bought some Gouda cheese with cumin here.  

We had lunch at a rustic restaurant with African theme, drums, music and festivities.  I got my face painted like a native African.

Third we went to spectacular Spier wine estates.  I had a feeling that some people were doing more than just tasting!  At each winery, we tasted 5 different wines.

In the evening, we went to Camps bay area for dinner.  The sunset was beautiful in the Atlantic ocean, dipping toes in 45 degrees water is all I could do.

TUESDAY December 3  Cape Town tour

We departed the city for the Lower Cableway Station at the bottom of the Table mountain.  Here we boarded the cable car for a 5 minute ride to the top.  The car itself rotates as it ascends, thereby providing spectacular views of the city.  Once on top, we were able to walk around the summit for more views of the city and the peninsula.  We could see the Twelve Apostles and the Lion’s head.

We returned to the city via the old cape Malay quarter.  The city center of Cape Town lies in the City Bowl, surrounded by Atlantic ocean and Table mountain.  The buildings are a combination of Cape Dutch, Victorian, Georgian and 20-th century architecture.  We walked through the Company Gardens, the fresh produce gardens for the ships and the locals from the mid 17th century and today.  Now it is home to SA museum, Cultural History museum, Houses of Parliament, National Gallery and St. Georges Cathedral.  We strolled through the city to Greenmarket square to purchase some African mementos such as a painted ostrich egg.  I ate some fish and chips for lunch.  It set me back $5.

We drove to the Castle, the oldest building in SA and took in the grand parade where Nelson Mandela addressed the nation on his release in 1990.

In the evening, I spent time at the V & A (Victoria and Alfred) waterfront.  This immensely built up area has a Ferris wheel, shops, museums, restaurants, boat rides and family entertainment for everybody.  I saw the Puff Adder and Mamba among other snakes in the Reptile center.  One could buy African artifacts here.

WEDNESDAY December 4  -Kirstenbosch and Hiking Table Mountain.

I asked the hotel to hire me a guide to hike up the Table Mountain today.  Lauren, a young fit hiker (she is married, btw) showed up at the hotel at 730 am.  We went to internationally acclaimed Kirstenbosch (bosch=bush).  This is the flagship botanical garden, established in 1923, of the South Africa National Biodiversity Institute, which conserves and promotes the indigenous flora of South Africa.

We walked thru different parts including Fynbos (fine bush) garden, fragrance garden, Protea garden etc.  King protea is the national flower of SA.  I saw many plants of king and pincushion protea on this trip.  We saw remains of the wild almond hedge, that was planted in 1660 to demarcate the colony from indigenous Khoi. 

Spending about an hour in the garden, we headed on to the Skeleton Gorge Hiking trail.  I did not find any skeletons there nor did I leave any behind!  The trail requires good fitness level without being an extreme adventure.  It leads quite steeply up the back of Table mountain.  It is shaded by forest of trees but the muscles and lungs get quite a workout.  Magnificent Yellow- and Ironwoods surrounded us.  Fynbos and Protea were everywhere.  We had to negotiate loose river stones and several ladders.  

We came across a dam, the water too cold for swimming.  We hiked up to McClear’s point, where a cairn marks the top of Table mountain at 1085 meters (3500 feet).  So I was not a mile high (like in Denver, CO) but a kilometer high.

We sat down for lunch.  After this, Lauren lent me one hiking pole so I could follow her down the Platteklip gorge.  The going was slow, steep and arduous.  It would have been a killer on a sunny day but this day was overcast and cool for most part.

We saw wonderful wildflowers on the descent.  The hike up and down took a total of six hours.  It was a great icing on the cake of my 10 day trip.

We all had a wonderful dinner at Beluga restaurant.  I had Norwegian Salmon, which was out of this world.  Around 10 PM, we were taken to the international airport.  On December 5, I flew from Cape Town to Amsterdam, then to Atlanta and then to Charlotte.  Only 32 hours of travel time.

When I came back, I heard the news of Mandela passing away that very day.  I pay my homage to the great man.  

I dedicate my South African trip to our guide Chris and my hiking guide Lauren.  And to many others who helped making this a memorable trip.  I hope that I return some day to the wonderful African animals and Cape Town!  So long, Lauren!

P.S.  Kindly see my own struggles for justice at www.novantracism.com and sign my petition for fairness and justice.

Ron Virmani : Visit online Resource to know more about other travel destination by Dr Ron Virmani.


Thursday, 24 November 2016

VISITING MANDELA’S LAND- PART I -THE AFRICAN SAFARI

It must have been fortuitous that I booked a vacation trip to South Africa on November 23 and spent about two weeks there, the last two weeks in the life of Nelson Mandela.

Since I went to Ecuador last year with STI (Singles Travel International) and had a good time, I chose the same company again.  I flew from Charlotte to Atlanta and took a 15 hour Delta flight to Johannesburg (also known as Joberg), the largest city in the nation of South Africa.

South Africa, a.k.a. Mzansi, is one big country, stretching 1200 miles N-S and 1000 miles E-W. South Africa is a country of 50 million people and is fascinating on many different levels.

South Africa contains some of the oldest archaeological and human fossil sites in the world – some 4 million years old.  Some thousand years ago, Bantu speaking people conqueredand absorbed the Khoi Khoi and San people.  The Portuguese explorer Bartolomeu Diasdiscovered the Cape point in 1488. In 1652, Dutch East India Company established a stopover in the Cape of Good Hope on their way to trading with the East – India, China and Indonesia.

The British, the Dutch and the French colonized the country and defeated the native Bantu speaking population - Xhosa and the Zulu.  Many wars and conflicts took place.  The Dutch imported slaves. The Europeans instituted the policy of Apartheid.  Nelson Mandela (a Xhosa) was jailed for 27 years because of this.  But in 1994, the apartheid finally ended and he became the first President of South Africa.  Now back to Johannesburg!

DAY 1 – Arrival in Johannesburg

After reaching Joberg on November 24, I checked into the Hotel and met up with fellow STI travelers and the tour guide, Chris, a white young man of obvious Dutch heritage.  He spoke English and Afrikaans, a language of Dutch extraction. We were at Emperor’s palace.This was an upscale Roman theme complex of several hotels, a shopping mall, a casino and many restaurants.  We mingled, ate dinner and went to bed.  

Day 2 – Madikwe Safari Lodge

Next morning after breakfast, we took a 50 minute charter flight on a puddle jumper to Madikwe game reserve, named after the Madiqwe river.  As we got to the reserve, two huge Safari jeeps pulled upby the side of the commuter plane on the airstrip.  Billy and Daniel were driving these jeeps.  They were going to be our safari guides for the next 3 days.  We drove to the Madikwe safari lodge, about 10 minutes away and saw giraffes and impalas on the way.  The lodge was surrounded by an electric fence to keep big game out of the lodge area.


At the lodge, we were greeted most cheerfully and offered welcome drinks.  Then we were taken to our huts.  The huts were spacious, with a small dipping pool on the back porch of each hut.  Huts also had outdoor showers on the back porch looking over the vast game reserve and the giraffes walking by.


At 4 pm, we had “high tea” and got into our jeeps for our first safari adventure.  Soon we came upon a pride of lions that had made a kill of a wilderbeast and were feasting on it.  We spotted black-back jackals who were waiting patiently for any scraps that might be left.




Later, we saw elephants and a rhino.  Rhinos are either black or white.  We passed by a watering hole and saw several birds including egrets, herons and Egyptian geese.  Roadrunner birds were always crossing the road in front of us with their cute and clownish gate.



In the evening, we stopped the jeeps and got down for some cocktails.  Having a snack in the middle of African wilderness with a backdrop of multi-color sunset was very thrilling.  Coming back to the lodge, the guide spotted a chameleon and picked it up to show us.

We came back to our lodge by dusk.  We had to have a guide escort us to our rooms after 7 pm.  The footpath to the rooms was narrow and completely dark.  The guide had a flashlight, though.  All the bugs were out in full force.  Centipedes, dung beetles, millipedes, scorpions, etc. were in the way.  We also spotted a snake.  


The dinner was a “Boma” experience.  A bonfire was lit in the open under the stars.  Table was set up with candles for dinner.  A great number of termites with wings were flying around.  The native guides demonstrated how to catch them and roast them to snack on.  Some of us enjoyed that experience.  

Dinner included many meats including Impala.  We went to bed around 10 pm.

DAY 3 AND 4 – Two full days of safari

We would wake up at 5 AM, have coffee, juice or tea in the morning with light snack and set out for safari by 6.  It was summer time in Africa now.  Animals were more visible in the mornings and evenings.  We would see the animals from 6 am to 9 am.  Then we would stop in the jungle for a small snack, juice or something.  We would come back to lodge around 10 am. 

One of the aims of safari is to see the “Big 5” in their natural habitat.  These are the most dangerous animals to hunt.  They are lion, leopard, rhino, elephant and buffalo.  We were not able to see a leopard but saw all the other animals many many times.


Breakfast was served around 10 am in the lodge.  Then we would rest and have lunch around 1-2 pm.  At 4 pm, there was the high tea.  This would be followed by afternoon safari and then cocktails in the middle of jungle by the time of sunset.  Then we would return to the lodge and have dinner around 9 pm.

On day 3, we again saw a pride of lions with a fresh kill.  Two lions were seen mating.  As you may know, lions mate for 3-4 days at one stretch, every 30 minutes, a total of about 200 times.  We came across a herd of elephants drinking at a watering hole.  Baby elephants are the cutest things.  They stick to their mothers.

An elephant eats about 500 lbs of vegetation in a day and lives about 65 years.  They use their tusks to manipulate the branches of trees.  

In the evening, dark clouds came along with a bunch of rhinos, both white and black.  These names are confusing because both types are about the same dark color.  It started raining but cleared up.  We drove to see 4 cheetahs.  The jeeps were often within 20-30 feet of lions, elephants, cheetahs etc.  



We also saw giraffes, zebras and wilderbeasts.  The dinner this night was inside the lodge and less buggy.

On day 4, we set out to see a pack of wild dogs.  There were about 20 in number, mostly sleeping or resting and they totally insulted me by not taking much notice of the presence of our jeeps within about 20 feet.

We encountered a herd of elephants with several cute babies and adolescents.  About 6 lions were resting on the other side hoping to nab a baby elephant or something.  But the elephants charged at the lions and ran them off in different directions. 

Elephants came across the puddle of water in the middle of the road and used their trunks to spray themselves with the mud.  Coating of mud protects them from sun exposure and parasites.

We went to the watering hole and saw the birds again.  At one point, we spotted a lion who wanted to make a kill off a herd of wilderbeasts, but a Kudu, an antelope, saw him coming and started howling loudly so the wilderbeasts ran away from the scene.  We saw many mounds of termites in the jungle, each about 4-5 feet tall.  Most vegetation was thorny.

DAY 4 - THE BUSHWALK



Around noon on day 4, I went with the safari guide and Chris for a bushwalk.  This means not sitting in a jeep but being on foot.  I felt very vulnerable and scared.  I knew I could not outrun any animals. The safari guide had a ready loaded gun.  We set out single file in 90 degree scorching sun.

We spotted elephants about 75 yards away.  We spotted warthogs and rhinos.  Giraffes looked at us suspiciously.  The zebras ran away.  We picked up a tortoise.  Luckily, the animals were not terribly bothered by us and did not bother us.

In the evening, we saw buffalos.  At another point, we saw two Impalas fight a duel, probably over a female.  Throughout these days, we kept seeing many elephants, Impalas, waterboks and other animals in the wild.  Scrub hares would always be scurrying around in the evenings.

In 3 days of safari, we learned a lot about animal,birds and plants.  We learned to recognize white rhino poop from elephant poop from buffalo poop.  We played with Impala poop pellets by holding a contest about who could spit them the farthest!  Alas, I lost!

Again, the dinner was “Boma”, ostrich as one of the meats offered. 

DAY 5 – MORNING SAFARI THEN TO JOBERG

We spotted Klipspringers on the slopes of a mountain.  In an open area, a bunch of wilderbeasts and baboons were roaming and feeding.  We saw Springboks, which are the national animal of South Africa.  Later in the tour, they were on dinner menu.  We headed back to the lodge.  I saw a large snake run into its hideout.  Probably a Mamba!  



Around 11 am, we finished our memorable Safari tour and took our charter flight back to Johannesburg.  Little did I know that thousands of dignitaries from different countries would soon be assembling here to pay homage to Nelson Mandela.  I am reminded of an incident in May of 1893 when Mahatma Gandhi boarded a train from Pretoria to Durban with a first class ticket but was thrown out of the first class coach by an Englishman. 

I feel grateful that people like Mandela and Gandhi have fought against discrimination and made this world a better place.  I have had to fight discrimination myself in the US.  Please see –
www.novantracism.com

I plan to write about the second part of my trip later.  Ubuntu!  (Which is Bantu for human kindness).

Ron Virmani : Visit online Resource to know more about other travel destination by Dr Ron Virmani .


Monday, 21 November 2016

Dr Ron Virmani - Trip to Munich

I am in Munich with Dr Ron Virmani— the third largest city in Germany, after Berlin and Hamburg, lies on the River Isar on the fringes of the Bavarian Alps. The city is a major centre of art, advanced technologies, finance, publishing, culture, innovation, education, business, and tourism in Germany and Europe and enjoys a very high standard and quality of living, reaching #1 in Germany and #4 worldwide according to the 2015 Mercer survey.

         



Ron Virmani suggested to visit one of the city's 36 major beer gardens (there are many others combined with restaurants) and sit at a sunny table under green and russet chestnut trees and spread out my maps and guidebooks.

    


Tuesday, 15 November 2016

Ron Virmani - Visiting the Pacific Northwest

Visiting the Pacific Northwest: 1 I love to travel all over the world, but for some reason I haven't visited as many places inside the United States. I usually think of far flung locations like Bal or Maasi Mara. I recently got some advice from Ron Virmani that I should take the time to look at the beauty that awaits me within the borders of the US and I have to say that I am glad that I did.

Dr Ron Virmani suggested that I give the Pacific Northwest a try, as I'm from Colorado and have been stuck with dry weather since I was a kid. I flew out, and spent the day in beautiful Seattle, taking in the sites of Pikes Place Market. The entire look of the place was intriguing, with fresh fish flying through the air and glass shops dotted among the stores. The people were a brush of fresh air, smiling and laughing through the drizzle of rain. I am pleased to say that I didn't encounter any of the notorious Seattle freeze that Ron Virmani warned me about before I went.

After I visited some tourist attractions like the Space Needle and the Fremont Troll around the area, I decided to drive North do some whale watching. Once I was clear of the cities, I found myself surrounded by lush trees and beautiful farmland. I drove through Skagit County, home of the famous Tulip Fields, and kept driving out to the quaint town of Anacortes. Set before a backdrop of chilly water, I tasted some of the best clam chowder that I have ever had and found myself eagerly awaiting the chance to jump on the ferry to see the whales that Dr Ron A Virmani has talked so much about.

I was lucky, and just caught the tail end of the season on my way out to the Islands. I was disappointing to realize that I probably wasn't going to see any whales because of the time of year, but the ride itself was worth it. The fresh air felt amazing on my face and the entire trip I was out on the bow of the ship to enjoy it. Washington natives aren't kidding when they say it's always wet here, even when it isn't full on raining you are going to accumulate some dew. I absolutely loved it even though I did not get a chance to see any pods of orca's. I am so happy that I took Ron's advice and gave it a shot; maybe I need to see some other locations in the U.S. before I set my sights overseas again.

Visit Online Resource to know more about – Dr Ron Virmani