Monday, November 28, 2011

sawubona recap

Durban week was fantastic, definitely the more "unusual" part of the trip. This was mostly by design, since we wanted a more easy-going, relaxing week to start the trip and we had the luxury of the house, though I think the regions inherently suggest this type of itinerary. Cape Town was definitely as advertised, a ridiculously beautiful setting, incredible flora, and Boulder's Beach is one of the nicest beaches I've seen, even without the penguins. I would have loved more time there (like forever!) and it seems like a fantastic place to live year-round.

In the Durban area we focused on what we missed in Cape Town, exploring the indigenous African culture and seeing big game. We spent a night at the Simunye Lodge north of Eshowe, where you head into the hillside to meet Zulus, learn about Zulu culture, and sleep in a tourist version of a Zulu hut. Some of it was clearly for our benefit, but it also felt quite authentic and didn't have the Shakaland vibe at all. We spent a day at Umfolozi and had great luck for a single outing (including male and female lions just off the road), before finishing in St Lucia where we saw hippos and crocs. St Lucia seemed like a great place but we had pretty bad weather (cold and rainy) so we didn't really get a chance to experience it.

I was intrigued about Durban because of the mixture of Indian and African influences, but downtown was too big and messy to be easily accessible and we only spent an hour or so exploring it. That might have been the only time we felt insecure at all, very slight though and more "uncomfortable" than anything else. I don't have much to compare it to since we didn't tour Johannesburg at all and haven't spent any time in other African cities, but it definitely wasn't like the harassment you can get in Egypt or India.

Friday, November 18, 2011


Hi guys! Just wanted to quickly check in... Today we went to wine country, about an hour out of town into the valley, mostly since one of the vineyards has a cheetah outreach program that breeds and raises cheetahs you can pet. Turns out you basically just stroke the back of a sleeping cheetah, which I guess is about as close as you want your kids to get to a cheetah but didn't really qualify as the "cheetah encounter" they advertise. It was hot and Nate and Aya were not at their finest, and Davi just preferred watching the cheetahs roam around ("more cat, more cat"). All was not lost though, the vineyard restaurant was in a beautiful setting with a nice, small playground that we all enjoyed, and for some reason the PR rep at the vineyard decided we should be in her photo shoot so she asked if she could bring us lunch and wine and take our picture. Uh, yes, you can do that.

En route we passed the first real shanty town we've seen, Khayelitsha, it is absolutely insane that these things are real, permanent electrified tin roofed huts for hundreds of thousands of people going on and on as far as you can see. You basically just drive by the setting of District 9 on your way to the lovely vineyard with the restaurant that sources its own produce and livestock. Kids didn't seem to notice it.

Anyhow, we had to have a second look at the penguins and now we're in a rush to get the kids to bed, so... over and out. We leave tomorrow for the northeastern, more "African" part of the country, we hope to meet some Zulu descendants and have a brief safari. Not sure how easy internet access will be so if you don't hear from us, assume we haven't been eaten by lions and we'll see you next week!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

penguins, baboons, and golfers, oh my

We've been unofficially judging Cape Town's road signs and today's "Look for penguins under your car" narrowly nudged out "Baboons!" for front-runner (also in the running: "Watch for golfers"). The penguins are a colony of African penguins that really shouldn't be here, apparently 25 years ago two of them made landfall and there's over 2,000 of them packed in now (I guess including under your car). There's a viewing platform on one section of the beach with a platform full of tourists, but there's also an area further down that hardly anyone was at where on a good day you can swim with a penguin. We didn't get quite that lucky but we did get one random penguin who waddled right down the footpath, across the beach, and up to his nest, all while being chased by Nate and Aya... It's just a really funny experience to be lounging at the beach and then say "There goes a penguin!".

The baboons inhabit a few parks in the interior mountains, including the national park at the tip of the cape where we saw a family of them. We were told to keep the windows rolled up and that they will actually open your car door if you leave it unlocked. Yes, these baboons will carjack you. We also spotted some zebra later on and got out of the car to make sure Davi could see and to photograph them, then thought that maybe the baboons send the zebra to lure tourists out of the cars so they can carjack them. Fortunately or unfortunately the image of the baboons driving away in our car, giving us the finger, was only in our imagination and made us all laugh quite a bit. Aya added that our car would have been particularly good for them since the baby baboon could have sat in Davi's car seat!

There's also a city here, we visited the main downtown area on Sunday, some nice mid-1800s British buildings and churches but nothing quite so exciting as baboons and penguins. Tomorrow we'll take the cable car up to the top of Table Mountain and visit "The World of Birds", which is famous for its squirrel monkeys and should consider a new name.

Our house is in a beach town about 20 miles from the downtown area towards the tip of the cape, in a really, amazingly beautiful setting, a 270 degree bay surrounded by huge mountains. Having a house has really blurred the transition from real life to vacation in a weird way, almost like we're in some alternate reality where you drive on the wrong side of the road and you say "Yees" instead of "Yes", but very familiar like we never left home. Somehow we avoided jet lag and sleeping hasn't been an issue, Nate and Aya have their own room (and similarly spend their only hour of the day with no arguing after lights-out) and Davi has her own room, so that's helped. Davi's having a great time and seems to enjoy the traveling experience as much as the rest of us.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

ma salam shucran, shalom toda!

plane ride over was only rough for a few hours, and everything else has fallen into place as it always does. we just left jordan this morning and picked up the rental car to begin the israel part of the trip.

jordan was fantastic; amman is a sprawling mess (i'd give "a good place to recover from jetlag" stars), but petra was amazing. the buildings carved out from the mountains really are something, and the surrounding hills have that old lake basin, weathered, arizona look. the whole experience has an easy, kind of dutchess county fair-like fun about it as you go from site to site, and the bedoins have officially surplanted the japanese in the "people most kind to our children" contest we didn't know we were running. it was a bit ridiculous actually. we have like 14 beaded bracelets, wooden carved camels, (consumed) chocolates, and one serious man-crush on our donkey driver, fajad. nate loves him so much he can't even remember his name. at the very mention of jordan today, it was, "oh, jordan makes me think of ... that guy". "fajad?" "yeah, fajad". fajad took us to his village (upgraded to cement houses when they moved the bedoins out of petra 20 years ago) and we had tea with his mother and 15 brothers and sisters. i think the man-crush started when fajad took nate under his wing when nate was having a hard time sharing the bedoin scimitar. story for another time. our second day we did a 5 mile, pretty off-the-beaten path hike through an unused canyon around the outskirts of the main sites (that nate managed to walk the whole way by himself!).

today we crossed over to eilat and had a dip in the red sea before heading up to masada. we got there just before it closed, so we pretty much had the place and the sunset to ourselves (for the brief time we got them). ruins haven't lost any of their allure, and nate is already looking forward to the theatre in beit shean that he saw a poster of (he performed peter pan to the delight of the amman roman theatre crowd, who knows what will be next!?!?!?, although this afternoon we did unleash the joseph soundtrack so that might be the front-runner). tomorrow we'll finish up here with some dead sea mud and then on to jerusalem.

aya's been doing great, like nate on the australia trip she seems to be becoming a person at a faster rate. she was equally fascinated with the bedoins ("i know that guy!" when we saw fajad on the second day and the subtle differences of horse, camel, and donkey poop "donkey poop", "more donkey poop!" were the highlights), and hiking ruins ("i do self") are no sweat. sleeping was a bit of an issue at first, but now we've got her going to sleep side-by-side with nate and that's done the trick. she's already pushing for an annie production at the next roman theatre...

rachel and baby are feeling very well too, growing happily as ever in the middle eastern sun.

hope all is all well at home, if we don't have a chance to write again, see you very soon!

Saturday, December 27, 2008

hola de nuevo

so although new yorkers are very much vacationing here, hanukah is not, which is just as well since it turns out that after digging and sitting in sand holes aya's next favorite thing is manger scenes. Hi! Hi! Hi! she's become a real person on this trip, really participating in every activity and exploring such intricacies as the ice bucket and remote control at each stop.

we really lucked out with the weather, getting perfect beach days and only getting rained on once. we've had a tough go though each time we've strayed off the path (i.e. didn't go to a beach, pool, or pirate fort), but our expectations weren't particularly high for the Science Museum and it still managed to disappoint. apparently in PR you don't touch things at science museums. the big caves were closed at the camuy cave park, and though the dry forest and beach in the south coast were great, the bioluminescent bay was teeming with neither bio nor luminescence (although for that I was expecting little green aliens swimming next to the boat, so that might have been my bad). but one big plus to traveling with kids this age is that it just doesn't matter! not to say that we haven't had a few moments of glory - tops is definitely stumbling on to the world's best ice cream shop in the middle of nowhere, with such unexpected flavors as bread fruit, rice and beans, corn, and plantains. mmmm, bread fruit.

we've had good luck with Nate too, it wasn't until beach day #4 that he was the first one ready to go and we only almost left him in the car once. at our mountain retreat stop he just couldn't get over how close our room and the restaurant where you got to pick your own bananas were, and he made a "friend" and cried for a long time when she left but never quite learned her name then or now. for the first ten days he watched the first 20 minutes of Peter Pan at least ten times a day on the iPhone and somehow managed to warp a digital movie (literally, it won't play anymore). he learned to tread water completely by himself (with a life jacket) and is so proud that he makes each random person at the pool watch him: "i'm swimmmmmmmmming!".

our last few days have been in the spanish virgin island of culebra, a bit of a hike and a messy boat ride to get to, and almost completely devoid of algo puertoricano, but incredibly beautiful and pretty deserted. we're now at our last stop, a resort-style place with minigolf and a playground; needless to say it's a big hit!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

canaelo, the one-eyed dog wonder

greetings from san juan! all is well and so far, so good, except that our dueno's dog is missing an eye. ooops! where did my eye go? my eye is gone! somehow nate was not freaked out by it, surprising considering that the troll on a Disney show really got to him this morning.

also happily surprising is that nate is a fort (pirate castle) junkie, mostly for the great performing spaces, but also for the cannonballs, and he's really gotten his fix here.

so far we've lucked out on the weather and it's been as advertised: super-easy in and around, all the comforts of home (real highways and drinkable tap water! 3g wireless!), just foreign enough to make it interesting.

today aya had her first real beach day, best part for her was the under-the-palm-tree nap, best part for nate was the naked car ride home.

at night we cede the apt to the kids and we get the rental car. yes, we've considered sleeping in here, but no, we haven't yet, although next stop we're all in one room together and it's very likely to happen...

all our love,

Saturday, April 14, 2007

final japan

hi again! finally found our way out of kyoto -- we got serious temple-fever (thankfully, my actual fever had subsided by then, two fevers would have been unacceptable) and probably would have stayed there forever trying not to miss anything. kyoto was just absolutely amazing. the cherries are everywhere, bursting different shades of red and white almost wherever you look. the temples are all preserved and in various states of restoration going back to their 750AD inception, and each is still an active, important shrine. each of the different buddhist sects has a major complex in kyoto, and each has something interesting to see -- dry rock or floral garden, giant buddha statue, bamboo forest, etc. we were just blown away. we ended up mostly on our own since it was fairly difficult coordinating schedules, but everyone was all together for a great group dinner (with nate and baby echo, yes, echo, sleeping next to each other) and we had a nice zen temple lunch with adam and akiko the next day. the one full day we spent with janis and maxene kind of summed up kyoto: in the morning, we visited wild monkeys that live in the outlying hills, and in the afternoon we shopped for baby clothes at fancy dept store takayama. sometimes it's more like nepal here than anything else, but then when you're done with the fun you get to drink the tap water and ride 250km/hr trains. goodbye third world, hello japan. so by the end of the week a three-story pagoda didn't even get a second glance, and luckily it was time to move on.

backtracking a bit -- the wedding event in kanazawa was quiet, nice, japanese, about 40 guests at a U shaped table eating various courses of fish, soba, and more fish and more soba. oh yeah, and fish for dessert. it was a bit overwhelming. truth is you really wouldn't have guessed it was a celebration, it was really just a nice lunch. two geisha (entertainers) sang songs and played the drums and japanese guitar-like instrument. it sounded like the orient, no surprise i guess. nate got a shot at the drums, as did adam and akiko and others. there were long introductions of everyone present including full resume and education credentials, although we were introduced only as "the cousins", still not sure how insulted we should be.

we also took a day trip to osaka, japan's 3rd biggest city, where there's an impt castle we all know from Shogun (or at least marc and i do, reading that while here is lots of fun) and a nice acquarium.

we've pretty much got the food thing down now, there are a bunch of vegetarian options once you know what to look for and some vegetarian restaurants we've enjoyed. milk, yogurt, and bread are in steady supply, but cheese is virtually non-existant. and there's always KFC where you need it...

rachel is feeling great, quite a bit better than before we left actually and there was really only one day with any nausea. my cold has subsided and is now alive and well with akiko, damn those western germs.

anyhow, now we're up the foothills of the japanese alps where tomorrow we'll do a big hike on the old postal route between two small, very picturesque towns. then it's on to nagano further up in the mountains for some more mountain scenery and an old volcano, finally back to tokyo on tuesday for a couple of days of bright lights big city.

if we don't get to write again, see you next week!