Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Namibia: Swakopmund Sandboarding

Other Posts: Trip Overview, Little Kulala Lodge, Sossusvlei and Deadvlei, Sesriem Canyon And Scenic Flight

Our flight along the coast to Swakopmund (see this post) was beautiful. We landed mid-morning which gave us a chance to find a place for lunch and explore town a bit.

Swakopmund is a small beachside town that centers around tourism. Town is a mixture of old German colonial-era buildings along with many modern day styles. The main center of town was around 5 square blocks and easily walkable. There were plenty of shops, cafes, and other sites. This was the type of town we could see ourselves living in. We had lunch at a small cafe - sandwiches and beers for under $10. We bought some groceries and windowshopped the craft stores before heading back to our hotel: The Swakopmund Hotel and Entertainment Center/Casino. The hotel was the old train station built in 1901. The room was a standard hotel room but we lucked out and got one of the few balcony rooms.

We were scheduled to be picked up at 2:30 for sandboarding, which is kinda like sledding, and at this point they were ten minutes late. We weren't worried but the bellman was since they are never late. After a call to the tour operator we discovered their mixup (we had a flight change a few weeks earlier and she still had us down for our original booking the next day) and they rectified it. We were picked up by a tour company (Hata Angu) van by a driver and lead guide and drove a few blocks to the supermarket. That's where we'd meet our boarding guides and pick up snacks. A few minutes later two kids came in the car and introduced themselves. By kids, we don't think they were 18 yet. This trip was thrown together very quickly.
 
We drove no more than 5-7 miles out of the city. To our right, the ocean. To our left, mountains of sand. We pulled in a parking area and were told step one was to climb the mountain. UGH! Somewhere in the back of Dave's head he imagined a 4x4 doing all the uphill work for us. Not today. This time we didn't have the aid of the spine of the dune. It was just straight up.
That was not fun! We were half-way exhausted and we didn't even do the activity yet. Sandboarding is done on a sheet of wood paneling with floor wax applied to the bottom. You need to pull up on the front corners to prevent plowing it straight into the sand. Dave forgets this step later. We "mastered" the bunny hill and then moved over to the big hill. The uphill climbs were killing us. Our guides were patient and encouraging us to keep going.
Dave's crash looked worse than it felt. As he was going down the roller coaster hill, trying to remember feet for breaks and steering and pull-up on corners, he sorta forgot everything as the shrubbery at the bottom got closer. He may have loosened up his grips on the corners and plowed the board into the ground. Sand was EVERYWHERE. He yelled up an "I'm ok".
 
We probably didn't get our money's worth because the climbing up all these hills was killing us and we didn't do as many runs as typical. It was fine by us because being in that environment was worth it and it was fun talking with our two guides.
We slid down the first hill we climbed to get back to the van. Awaiting us were sodas and chips. This was the cultural exchange part of the excursion where we just sit and learn about each other. We found out Namibian's adopted American Thanksgiving and Black Friday because they liked the concept and Romulus' favorite musician is Ed Sheeran. The popular music in Namibia right now is South African House. Our guides lived in the Swakopmund Township, a concept still held over from Apartheid and South Africa's rule of Namibia. The average Namibian earns $1800 Namibian Dollars a month, or at the time of our trip $130 USD.
 
First thing we did when we arrived back at our hotel was to get beers. Two beers were $50 ND and we tipped $10ND - not even a buck. The bartender thanks us profusely, like tips are a rarity. When we said we'd be back he said "Hallelujah". On our return later in the evening he jumped into action when he saw us and started opening beers. We almost had to yell stop from across the room since we wanted cocktails instead. We spent some time talking with him, mostly American sports since it's really the only reference they have of the U.S.
 

We walked to town for dinner and decided on a pizzeria. Their pie sizes were in metric which meant we had no idea how big they were so we ordered two. We easily could have split one. They were fantastic. Two pies, two big beers and tip cost us about $27 USD. After dinner we visited the hotel casino and played some slots. We decided we'd tolerate losing $200ND each, or about $14 U.S. Holly didn't fair so well, but early on Dave hit big on a bonus game rings. Our net profits were $60 U.S.


We had a relatively early evening since we had an all-day excursion planned the next day in Walvis Bay.

 

Monday, February 8, 2016

2016 Star Wars Race Weekend Disneyland 5/10K

We have successfully avoided the lure of RunDisney events since 2014 Disneyland Dumbo Double Dare Weekend. It took the lure of Star Wars to bring us back. Holly registered for the Rebel Challenge Race Series (10k, half marathon) in anticipation RunDisney would have a companion series in Disney World that would partner with these races via special medal. She was right. in April Disneyworld will host the Dark Side Challenge Series and link the two together via the Kessel Run Challenge that comes with a Millennium Falcon medal.

The photo of the medal we stole from the internet was taken by our good friend Laura. Check out her in-depth race report (something you won't get from us) at her great blog on AllEars.net: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.

Getting to Disneyland was half the battle. Originally we had a round-trip on American booked Chicago-John Wayne/Santa Ana that landed in California at a perfect time to accomplish a lot on Thursday and left Monday at a later-afternoon hour. Two months before the trip American rearranged the whole schedule, cancelled our flight, causing us to book a one-way to LAX, then a return to Chicago on United via LAX. The flight into Cali was later than originally scheduled and we were worried we'd be wasting a day of park ticket. We landed a little early, good news, but navigating a rental car pickup at rush hour in LAX took an hour. Compounding our bad luck was the 105 closed due to a car fire. Siri diverted us through an unsavory neighborhood (Imperial Highway). We'd be lucky to arrive on time to get our bibs for the 5K race the next morning.

We pulled into the Disneyland Hotel (our home for a few nights and location of the race expo) around 7:10. Our grand plan: Run into the expo and pick up our stuff, put it back in the car, and then run to Disneyland to catch the new night time parade and fireworks starting at 8pm. We are happy to report we made it.

Main Street is where the first chant of "I hate Disneyland" occurs (we prefer the FL parks and believe DL has some of the worst processes and procedures). While waiting by the train station for the parade Dave really wanted a Diet Coke. They don't have food/drink stands every 30 ft like Disney World. He had to go to the other side of the circle and wait in a horrendous line at the churro cart, where the cast member was delighting guests with his cinnamon sugar coating techniques. The lights dimmed signaling the parade's arrival so he went back to meet Holly, defeated and bitter.

At least the new Paint the Night Parade was awesome. It had all the fun of SpectroMagic with a good mix of Disney and Pixar floats. After the parade we moved up Main Street for a better view of Disneyland Forever Fireworks. Great show, mostly due to the projections all along Main Street.

As soon as the fireworks ended we bee-lined to the Main Street Starbucks and got Dinner Part 1: breakfast sandwiches. We walked back to the hotel, grabbed our bags, checked in, then met friends at Trader Sam's for Dinner Part 2: flat bread pizza.

5K: We barely had 4 hours of sleep when the alarm went off at 3:50am. By 4:30 we were at the Runner's Village near our hotel parking lot. Lots of people in Star Wars clothes/costumes. We were both in Corral A this morning which is a good thing if you want any chance of character photos since the lines build quickly. We were staying together this race - something we are not good at because of Our separate pace / interval preferences. We did ok this day. Mile 1 was mostly boring surface streets and backstage. We skipped the first character line, Chewbacca, since he's in the park daily. Mile 2 was mostly Disneyland. We stopped for a picture with Ezra and Sabine from Rebels, but the castmember moved the camera and blurred the pic. Luckily, our friend Laura read someone's blog and found that someone took our picture and posted it. Very random. Mile 3 covered California Adventure Park and Downtown Disney. In the corner of Hollywood was a BB-8 photo opp. The line wasn't so bad at this point since we chose to skip other photo opps along the way. Getting this photo totally made Holly's day. We skipped the C-3PO / R2-D2 stop since we've snapped photos with them separately before. Our splits were something like 12+minutes mile 1, 18+ mile 2, 27+ mile 3. We spent the rest of the day enjoying the parks and time with friends while we added another 12+ miles of walking during the day.

10K: Here we go again. 3:50 alarm, 4:30 Runners Village, in the corral by 5:00. We were in Corral B today and we had separate plans for the race. Holly would run it with our friend Stan and Dave would just finish at his own pace. They tried to cram most of the course within the Disneyland property. This meant we took about 13 hairpin turns on the course as it repeated on itself many times. Still a lot of backstage areas incorporated on the course. In Disneyland Dave found Stan and Holly on line for the Ezra/Sabine photo opp and joined them. That was the last time we saw each other. Stan and Holly kept running through and Dave took it a bit slower and stopped for some photos.

Overall both races were fun. People were really into the theme and the weather wasn't horrible. They incorporated a lot of park time, albeit a lot of that is backstage. The rest of our Saturday was spent touring the parks, which actually means sitting at Pacific Wharf for hours with friends drinking beers. Most of us still had another long race the next day.
 

 

Monday, February 1, 2016

Charity of the Month: German Sheperd Rescue Inc.

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.

This month is the second anniversary of Charity of the Month.

January: In December we sponsored UNICEF Kid Power - a supported charity of Force for Change (the Star Wars Charity Awareness Organization). Kids learn the importance of living an active life via wearable fitness tracker, then turn points they earn into charitable donations to help starving children. ThIs was a fun way to celebrate the new era of Star Wars films to come. We will donate $125 to Kid Power via their website.


February's Charity:

German Sheperd Dog Rescue, Inc

Several of our charities have been selected based on our experiences in everyday life. This month's charity selection is to honor our buddy Dakota, a 9yr old German Sheperd, whom suddenly developed some inoperable tumors and her owners had to make the hard decision of when to say goodbye. Since Rufus, our westie, died we haven't seen much of "Kodi" the last two years, but when we did we were always greeted with enthusiasm. We were grateful to visit with her a few times last week. She even came over one day (with her owner) to visit and looked all over the house for Rufus. We will miss "Miss Miss".

 

Every Halloween Rufus had to show off his costume

To honor Dakota we have chosen a local shepard rescue as this month's charity. If Datoka is common for the breed, everyone should have a shepard. She was gentle, loving, playful, and trainable (not a westie trait).

From their website:

German Shepherd Rescue, Inc. is a growing group of volunteers committed to creating a second chance for German Shepherd dogs that, for many reasons, are in need of new homes.

GSR, Inc. is a state licensed, NO KILL animal shelter based in the Chicagoland area.

We are a 501(c)3, non-profit organization. Our income is derived from adoption fees, private donations and fund raising activities, all of which go to care for the dogs.

Learn more and donate at: gsrescue1.org

 

Friday, January 22, 2016

Namibia: Sesriem Canyon and Coastal Flight to Swakopmund

Other Posts: Trip Overview, Little Kulala Lodge, Sossusvlei and Deadvlei

Our days were typically spent doing a morning activity and evening activity. The trip to Sossusvlei to see the dunes was our morning excursion and our afternoon trip was a visit to Sesriem Canyon. Our guide Eddie said we'd hike the canyon. We were thinking Grand Canyon hiking and could not conceive going through all that effort in this heat. Sesriem Canyon is actually not very daunting. The canyon's name means "six belts" in Afrikaans, a reference to how many belts were tied together to dip a bucket in to fetch water (a long time ago). Nowadays the canyon is pretty dry with a small patch of stagnant water tucked in a corner.

Our trip took us back to the the small asphalt road that led to the dunes earlier today, except we turned the other direction. In our car was Judith (from Portugal) and now Sabrina, an employee of Wilderness Safaris from Cape Town. We arrived at the canyon at 5pm and the temperature was tolerable. The canyon was deep, but nothing that would strike you with awe.

"Does anyone want to see the water?" was Eddie's question. He told us we have to climb and squeeze a bit between some rocks. Initially we declined, but then Sabrina shamed us into changing our minds. It wasn't much effort, but also not really worth it. Lots of flies and strange odors.

"Look up and take that picture. It's Africa." Dave was not impressed.

We ran into this snake. Someone asked if it was poisonous. Eddie's response: Slightly. We steered clear and moved along.

There's really not much to say about the canyon other than it was pretty and the late afternoon was a nice time to visit.

It took us about an hour to get to the canyon, but maybe only 30 minutes to get back to the general camp area. We could not imagine how this was possible. We had an extra long sundowner period this evening.

The next morning we had an early flight to our next destination. We were flying to the coastal city of Swakopmund where we'd be spending two nights at the Swakopmund Hotel and Entertainment Complex (and Casino). We were lucky to have excellent weather conditions for the scenic flight route with Wilderness Air. We flew mostly along the coast and could make out tiny dots of seals and large flocks of flamingos. We were able to see one shipwreck that was way beyond the current water line. What was most amazing was watching the sand turn from red to yellow-white and to see just pure cliffs of sand plunging into the water. Here are some dirty airplane window photos:

Remember when Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt had their baby in Namibia? She didn't deliver out in the bush. She gave birth in this swanky little high-end development just outside Walvis Bay.

Swakopmund was a cute little town and we had enough time for lunch and to explore a bit before our scheduled afternoon excursion: sandboarding.

Video Sossusvlei Area and Flight to Swakopmund