Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Namibia: Bikes and Boats

Other Posts: Trip Overview, Little Kulala Lodge, Sossusvlei and Deadvlei, Sesriem Canyon And Scenic Flight, Swakopmund Sandboarding, Walvis Bay Dune & Sea Tour, Doro Nawas Camp, Damarland Sites, Damaraland Living Village Song, Hoanib Skeleton Coast Camp, The Skeleton Coast, Hoanib Game Drive and Lions, Serra Cafema Camp and Scenic Drive, The Himba

While at Serra Cafema Camp we spent a morning riding quad bikes. The last time we rode ATVs was 18 years ago at Dave's aunt's house, but that was just a short trip. This time we were going to be riding for a few hours in the desert.

The night before our excursion we noticed a teen/young adult in camp with a heavily bandaged arm. And yes, he did injure it on his quad excursion. Albert, our guide, said he didn't follow the rules and that is why he busted his arm. We would definitely follow the rules because we knew the nearest town was some 200 miles away.

It would be just the two of us with our guide that morning. Tony and Val departed for their next camp just before we took to the bikes (hooray). We had to pass a driving test before we could go out into the desert. After helmets and gloves were distributed, we walked to the ATV parking area and circular track. Albert taught us how to shift (of course they were manual) and watched us go around the track several times. After 3 laps he was confident we could handle the trip. Unfortunately the fist few moments were the hardest. We had to go up a pretty steep hill with loose rocks and a deep edge of a cliff on one side. Holly wasn't feeling too confident in this section. Fortunately it did not last too long and were were onto sand and dirt terrain.

Albert said if we got stuck In sand not to worry. He would eventually turn around and get us unstuck. Dave took advantage of his generosity 3 times. We covered about 50km alternating between long straightaways and small dune climbs. We had a few scenic stops including the sighting of the second Himba village. The only wildlife we encountered were a few oryx and springboks.

Later that afternoon we had our final activity of the trip, the scenic boat ride. We were joined by another couple from England (younger than us) tonight. Our trip would not be that long given that many sections of the river were too shallow this time of year. We started with a slow tour of camp from the water and then went to an area where the crocodiles usually hung out. We saw a few of them pretty close-up.

Sundowners tonight would be on the other side of the river, which was the country of Angola. We walked inland for a few minutes (sandals not the right choice of footwear for areas frequented by livestock) and watched a Chimba family bring their herd in for the evening.

After the trip we had enough time to enjoy our last few waking hours in camp watching the river go by and dining on the deck. The next morning we would take three different airplanes to get us back to Windhoek. Being conservative travelers we did not want to push our luck of missing the flight to Joburg that night. With lots of little planes involved we thought the logistics may be too aggressive. Instead, we relaxed in Windhoek with a trip to Joe's Beerhouse and another great dinner at the Olive Grove.

Our flight On Saturday to Johannesburg was in the afternoon, leaving us time to lounge around the inn for the morning and catch up on Facebook and such. In Joburg we had a marathon duty free shopping spree (great airport for souvenirs and nougat) that wore us out. We were looking forward to a few hours in the British Airways Lounge. As luck would have it, the attendant asked if we would take the same seats on the earlier flight, with the only real difference to us being time spent in JNB vs. Heatrhow. We agreed to the swap, leaving us only about a 30 minute rest before boarding our flight. We were glad we switched because the lounge in Heathrow was much nicer than the one in Joburg. We treated ourselves to showers, some really good high-end champagne they were serving, and Dave tried every scotch over 18yrs old. The rest of the trip back to Chicago was uneventful and we made it home in time to prepare to go back to work the next day.

 

Monday, June 6, 2016

Namibia: The Himba

Other Posts: Trip Overview, Little Kulala Lodge, Sossusvlei and Deadvlei, Sesriem Canyon And Scenic Flight, Swakopmund Sandboarding, Walvis Bay Dune & Sea Tour, Doro Nawas Camp, Damarland Sites, Damaraland Living Village Song, Hoanib Skeleton Coast Camp, The Skeleton Coast, Hoanib Game Drive and Lions, Serra Cafema Camp and Scenic Drive

One of the activities offered at Serra Cafema Camp is an opportunity to tour a Himba village. The Himba are a tribe that live primarily in Northwest Namibia / Southern Angola. They are nomadic herders moving their cattle, goats, donkeys, and sheep where the grazing is best. Since it hasn't rained here in three years we had no idea how they were feeding their animals.

Albert our guide would give us (including our favorite couple Tony and Val) a tour around the village and aid in communications. A younger camp staffer took off ahead of us on a quad bike - likely to make sure everyone was show-ready. Most portions of this experience were authentic while other aspects were for the tourists. One thing we learned was the camp, as part of their concession grant, maintains a store for the local tribes. The himba can buy grains, textiles, and hair extensions among other things. Yes hair extensions. Nomadic people engaged in trade so why not setup by a place where trade can be conducted easily? The camp has a relation with the village - some people in the village work for the camp, the village relies on the camp store, The camp relies on the tribe to draw tourists, and the camp provides tourists to buy crafts so they have money for the store.

What made this experience different from the Damaraland Living Museum is the fact that this is actually how these people live today.

Albert gave us the rundown on etiquette. We were to meet with one of the women and say hello "Moro Moro" and introduce ourselves "o a me Name". We all did so without fail, including Val. The villager had a tough time saying "David" because V sounds are not part of their language so the translation became "Dawid". Albert told us about her customary clothing and the activities occurring in the village. All the men were gone taking care of the herd so we could only interact with women and children.

The women coat their skin with a paste made from ochre trees and other herbs and flowers, giving their skin an orange-red tint. This acts as a sunscreen, cleanser, insect repellant, and perfume. Their hair is actually cut short and what you see on top is a headpiece. Women won't wear one until they have given birth. In traditional times the long decorations were made from animal skin and tails. Now they are made from hair extensions bought at the camp store.

Albert took us to meet two other ladies and gave us some more insight on daily life. Women do most of the heavy lifting - cooking, cleaning, building the homes, fetching water, etc. This village was about 3 miles from the river where our camp was. The villagers that work in our camp choose to walk to-and-from the village each day rather than stay in the camp staff quarters. The villages are not fenced in because the only animal threat in this part of the region is crocodiles, and they don't move too far from the river. The Himba use a variety of materials to craft their shelters depending on what they can find or trade for with the camp store or other settlements.

Another interesting fact is they do have a sense of patriotism for Namibia despite seeming "off the grid". Across the river in Angola are the Chimba - a similar tribe that differentiates itself with its name to signify where they are from. Modern society does pull the Himba youth to want to experience the world outside the tribe, much like we in America would compare the Amish Rumspringa. Public schools are available to the Himba but many don't send their children fearing they will leave the traditional life for good. The boom in tourism and the regular exposure to Europeans and North Americans is likely expanding their curiosity.

We walked around for a bit, asked Albert more questions, and watched the children play a game of "kick the cricket". Another guide whom arrived after we did called out "store-o" and everyone scattered. Within a few moments a semi-circualar bazaar was open for our shopping pleasure. Albert would do all the translations for us and there was no haggling. We had a mix of Namibian Dollar, Rand, and U.S. Dollar. The exchange rate at the time was $1 for 14 ZAR or ND (both currencies share the same exchange rate) but in Himba camp it was $1 to 10 ZAR because the concept of ten was understandable to them.

Being cultural ambassadors we Browsed each person's offerings before we made purchases from several "shops". We picked up some bracelets made from PVC pipe that were carved with patterns, some nuts with carvings we can use as Christmas ornaments, and a woven plate with colored plastic wrapped around the strands to decorate it. Tony and Val didn't buy anything.

When we left the village Albert took us to an abandoned Himba village. Being nomadic, the Himba up-and-leave their villages and move along. The frames of the buildings remain. If the grazing areas are better another day they may return to this village. We asked if others would come in and squat and he said no because it doesn't belong to the squatters. Noticeable differences between this camp and the living camp were the presence of the boma (animal corral) and the sacred fire area.

More proof that Tony is oblivious to the outside world.

The day after our visit we had a quad bike trip (future post) and passed the village. Over the ridge was A SECOND VILLAGE! There was a boma here! So this is where the livestock was kept and we saw some men as we circled the area. We do believe that some folks did live in the homes we visited, but it was hard to accept that we got a truly authentic experience. It's understandable that people don't want to be on display for tourists. They just could have been a little more upfront about it.

To get a better feel for our experience we'll once again direct you to CNN's Inside Africa episode filmed while we were at camp. The crew visited the village the same day we did. Of course things were a bit more lively for the CNN team. If you look real hard you can see us having breakfast at the 2:42 mark. Holly is wearing the purple shirt.

 

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Charities of the Month: The Humane Society and St. Jude Children's Hospital

Charity of the Month is a way Team Tizzel is helping to support some very worthy organizations. As part of this program, we will dedicate a post to a charity that we will sponsor through the month by donating Holly's training run money.

May: In May we supported our friend Amanda in her fundraising efforts for The Children's Hospital at Montefiore in New York. The hospital is a leader in cutting-edge technology and provides excellent service to what would traditionally be an underserved area of the city. We will donate $125 to help fund research efforts.

June's Charities of the Month:

The Humane Society of the United States / St. Jude Children's Research Hospital

For the first time we are doing a double charity month to honor the memory of a woman whom recently passed away after a long battle with breast cancer. Michelle Roe was the wife of Dave's friend (and former boss) Jim. They bravely tried everything to beat the disease and never gave up. She passed away several days before her eldest daughter's college graduation. Their other daughter is still in high school.

Michelle requested memorial donations to for St Jude's and/or The Humane Society. St. Jude has been a Charity of the Month several times so we assume you are familiar with their great work. The Humane Society is a first-timer on our list. From their website:

Founded in 1954, The Humane Society of the United States celebrates animals and confronts cruelty—to all animals, not just dogs and cats. We take on the biggest transformational fights to stop large-scale cruelties, such as animal fighting, puppy mills, factory farming, and the wildlife trade. We will pass anti-cruelty laws in every nation, end extreme confinement of farm animals in cages, stop cosmetic testing on animals, halt cruelty to wildlife, and transform the landscape for pets in poverty. We and our affiliates also care for more than 100,000 animals each year, through our rescue teams, sanctuaries and wildlife centers, free veterinary care for low-income pet owners, and other life-saving programs. The HSUS is approved by the Better Business Bureau's Wise Giving Alliance for all 20 standards for charity accountability, and was named by Worth Magazine as one of the 10 most fiscally responsible charities.

We invite everyone to make a donation to either organization in her honor by using the links below:

The Humane Society

St. Jude

 

Saturday, May 28, 2016

May 2016 Walt Disney World Trip Highlights

Every few years we'll take a long trip to Walt Disney World in Florida. This was our first long trip in three years. The long trips allow us to actually take advantage of other things to do on property without feeling we are sacrificing park time. We'll just hit some highlights vs. a full blown daily report.

Logistics: We flew into Orlando early Thursday evening and rented a car for the entire trip. We spent 6 nights at Bay Lake Tower in a Magic Kingdom View room followed by 5 nights in a Boardwalk View room at The Boardwalk. We used our DVC (Disney timeshare) points for booking our rooms in the 11 month booking window. We used Uber a few times to make traveling easier, especially for dinners at other resorts or to-from Disney Springs.

Top of the World flatbreads

Magic Kingdom After Hours: WDW started a new add-on event that keeps the Magic Kingdom open for three extra hours to guests willing to pay. For $150pp guest get 3 hours more in the park with most rides open (no shows with performers) with virtually no waits. Also included were ice cream bars and bottled beverages. The event wasn't selling well at that hefty price tag so Disney has offered discounts. We took the bait at half-price. Since we booked this for the day we arrived we unpacked quickly, grabbed a beer at The Wave, ate dinner and had drinks at Top of the World Lounge, and made it in the park in time for an attraction or two and nighttime spectaculars.

At the $75pp price-point this was a worthwhile event. We believe we hit 18 rides during that time including a 2 minute wait to meet Anna and Elsa. We had our own Splash Mountain boat and were asked if we wanted to stay on for a second ride. Peter Pan, Mine Cars, Space Mountain all walk-ons. Having our own boat on Pirates allowed us to really hear the attraction without other people talking over the track. We walked out with a couple bottles of Coke to drink later in the trip and had a few ice cream bars.

Signature Dining: Usually on a long trip we'll have 14+ ADRs (dining reservations) booked. This trip we decided to scale it back to allow for more relaxed-pace grazing and impromptu moments. Our first dining event at The California Grill was a disaster. We had a horrible server - served our wine and appetizers while Holly was not at the table, all within 3 minutes of taking the order. We didn't get to test the wine first. We both ordered filets and when they came out it looked like Disney had changed the quality of meat we were used to. What we think actually happened is we were served the bison filet because the filet mignons at the pass were good looking. The menu lists traditional filet and bison on the same line so we guess she entered it wrong in the system. Even after complaining to a manager no guest recovery was attempted. The soup was good though.

Brown Derby

Jiko did not disappoint. We both knew what we were ordering before arriving: wild boar appetizer and the filet mignon with the "secret" Mac and cheese side. Our sever was great and dinner was well-paced.

We had a lunch at Brown Derby mainly so we could have the seasonal soup. Zellwood corn is seasonal and usually available in May at Disney restaurants as ingredients. Brown Derby makes an incredible triple corn bisque with shrimp fritters. Our entrees were the Cobb Salad and Andouille-Crusted Chicken Sandwich.

In Disney Springs we experienced the new Morimoto Asia. The restaurant is beautiful and modern - has that big city dining feel. We got a great table and tasty meal. We shared baos and the hoisin rib appetizer. Entrees were Chicken Pad Thai and Ramen. All that and a beer each kept the bill pretty reasonable. Only complaint about the place is they have giant Connect 4 board games around the restaurant and it creates a bunch of noise that detracts from the atmosphere.

Other Dining: We have a ton of food photos we won't post. With Flower and Garden Festival at Epcot several lunches or dinners were provided by the food booths. At Disney Springs we had a fun lunch with friends at The Boat House (great food and atmosphere), sushi at Splitsville, and drinks at Jock Lindsey's. Of course we got a pie and calamari at Via Napoli in Epcot and had a some wines and light snack at Tutto Gusto a couple nights. We tried lunch at Magic Kingdom's Skipper's Cantina - worth the visit for the food and the amount of detail in the restaurant. We had appetizers for dinner one night at The Territory Lounge for dinner one night (Wilderness Lodge), another night we had mussels at Narcoosee's and then other appetizers at Trader Sam's (Grand Floridian/Polynesian). We split a sandwich at ESPN Grill at the Boardwalk, got a free preview of the new ice cream shop (Ample Hills), and did a character breakfast at Garden Grill in Epcot. Animal Kingdom lunches came from the Yak and Yeti counter service. On two occasions we split a sandwich in France for dinner.

As much as we love sitting down and having a great meal in a fantastic environment we actually enjoyed the pace of our dining this trip. It was a bit spontaneous and keeping to smaller meals allowed us to experience more options.

Entertainment: Epcot's Flower and Gardent Festival has headliner concerts on weekend evenings. The first weekend we watched a set from The Gin Blossoms - who we liked in the 90's - just forgot every song was slow except for "Hey Jealousy". The next weekend we watched Darlene Love. We did not know too much about her other than "(Christmas) Baby Please Come Home", and ended up enjoying her show. Great performer and easily wins the crowd over. Epcot ditched the Lumberjacks and has been adding temporary bands in Canada. We saw a set from Alberta Bound, and enjoyed their show. We went another day at a different time and found it was the same set - ok, they must rotate them per day and we'll get a new set in an hour for the next show. Nope - same set each show. This was disappointing, but we think it's by design so they don't recreate the fan frenzy that existed for Off-Kilter. While in Animal Kingdom we enjoyed many sets from the Harambe-based band Buradika (on Spotify as Wassalou) They vary their sets per day but always end with "Waka Waka". We watched Finding Nemo the Musical (still enjoy it) and Festival of the Lion King (still hate it).

Activities: We tried a few new things this trip. After a lunch from Captain Cook's at the Polynesian we each rented a water sprite. The little boats don't go too fast but they are a fun way to tool around the lakes. With our discount (annual pass or DVC) we paid around $55 for two boats for 35 minutes. Dave got his haircut at the Harmony Barber Shop in the Magic Kingdom, including Rip Taylor levels of glitter. In the Land Pavilion of Epcot we took the Behind the Seeds tour of the green house. Well worth the ~$18pp price except for the fact that Dave now wants a backyard hydroponics kit. We visited Typhoon Lagoon one day for a few hours. In our two visits to Animal Kingdom we completed the Wilderness Explorer badge game. Players perform tasks or answer questions to earn stickers. We got them all.

Photopass: Our Annual Pass included Memory Maker/Photopass. The photos taken by in-park photographers would be available to us almost immediately online. When we got home we could edit them and add special borders and stickers. This saved Dave the frustration of getting pictures with our own camera.

Overall, another great trip. A good mix of park time and relaxation.