Out Discovering India

When we started out on our trip around the world, the country I was the most excited about and the most nervous about was India.  It was the one region where I had no idea what to expect, which is scary and exhilarating at the same time.  During my advance research I came across a quote that states, “There are two types of travelers, those who have been to India and those who have not.”  I heard wild stories about the crazy roads, spicy food, huge piles of garbage, terrible smells, raw sewage running down the streets, immense amounts of people and alarming cultural differences.  I have to say…they were all true!

Along with all of that though, I discovered insane amounts of beauty, abundant colors, delicious food, opulent palaces, ancient temples, an enthralling culture, and warm, welcoming people.  This was the only part of our RTW that we decided to have an organized tour and I am so incredibly glad we made this decision.  We were able to constantly ask questions about the things we experienced and saw while in India.  This gave us a much better understanding of the culture and what everyday life is like there, as well as providing opportunities for experiences we wouldn’t have been able to get on our own.  Also, the roads are absolutely insane and it was nice that someone else, who was experienced, had to deal with driving while we all just held on for dear life!

This van, and our amazing driver, took us safely around India!
I didn’t know much about India before we arrived and it was a joy to discover many aspects of India throughout our travels.  One thing that made this section of our journey even more exciting was that my two sisters flew all of the way to India to discover it with us!  Each of them had unique perspectives coming into the trip.   Julie, my older sister, had just finished becoming certified as a Yoga instructor and in the process learned quite a bit about Indian culture, lifestyle, and traditions.  Chrissy, my younger sister, has been fascinated by India and it’s culture her whole life.  We arrived in India about a week before they did and there were many times when one of the boys would say, “Chrissy would love this store!” or “We have to bring Chrissy and Julie back here!”  We couldn’t wait for them to come and were so excited to share our adventures, and India, with them.

My beautiful sisters are here!
Within minutes of meeting up with my sisters we hopped on camels and had a ride at sunset.  What a welcome to India!
India is a huge country and while we were able to see a lot, I know we barely scratched the surface.  While we were there we spent the first two weeks in Rajasthan (Udaipur, Narlai, Jodhpur, and Jaipur) and then were in what is thought of as the “Golden Triangle” (Delhi, Ranthambore, Agra, and Jaipur).  This was the part we did as a tour.  The last week, we flew down to the southwest coast on the Arabian Sea to Goa.

India is a shock to the senses and I couldn’t possibly share all that we experienced, but here are a few things we discovered while we had the privilege to to travel through India. 

Discovering (Or Should I Say Surviving) the Roads

Anarchy is the first word that comes to mind when I think of the roads in India, but although it seems like utter chaos, there is actually an underlying order that emerges as you really pay attention.  There are no lanes or attention to traffic laws in general but certain rules do apply.

  • If you are a pedestrian, it is your job to get out of the way.
  • Cows always have the right of way.
  • Other animals are to be avoided as much as possible.
  • Scooters don’t follow any rules at all.
  • Honk to let the person know you are passing.
  • As many people as you can cram inside, on top of, and/or hanging off of a vehicle is the passenger limit (this also applies to chickens, goats, etc.)

One day our guide heard about an ATM that actually had money, so we raced across town to make our way to it before it was out.  In an effort to get us there more quickly, our driver crossed the median to the other side of a divided 4 lane road, driving head on into traffic.  The crazy thing was the only people freaking out in the situation was us!  Even the people coming from the other direction just calmly moved out of his way!

We had more close calls than I care to remember, but in the end, we made it out safe and I guess that’s all you can ask for in India!

Discovering the Bureaucracy

The first obstacle we hit when we arrived in India was that they were going through a period of demonitization.  After talking to many people about it, here is a simple explanation of how I understand the issue.  

There was an epidemic of counterfeit money in circulation and also only 2-5% of people in India paid taxes.  Many people (especially politicians and business owners) had large stockpiles of cash they did not pay taxes on or, “black money.”  So the government, in an effort to force people to pay taxes and remove counterfeit money from circulation  decided to invalidate all existing 500 and 1000 Rupee bills, opting to redesign and circulate new bills.  

If people had the old bills, they were allowed to go to a bank and deposit them only, otherwise they were worthless.  This is a fine idea to fight corruption; however, what this did was pull 85% of their cash out of circulation without having replacement currency ready to put into circulation. The people did not want to bring their old bills into the bank because they hadn’t paid taxes on it and were concerned about repucusssions for this crime.  

This caused a crazy cash shortage because the new bills hadn’t been printed at appropriate levels.  Most ATM’s were completely empty and when you were able to withdraw cash, the limit was only 2000 Rupees a day, equivalent to about $30.  If we ever happened to drive by an ATM that had money, there was a line of 25-50 men waiting with 4-5 cards each.   

My sisters who were coming from the US were not even able to withdraw any Indian money in the three weeks they were there.  Fortunately, during our time in Rajasthan our guide, Banwhar, told us that women were allowed to go to the front of the line.  So in the rare event that we found an ATM that had cash, he would go up to the long line of men waiting and talk to them.  Eventually, they would let me go to the front and get money.  

I later learned when we switched guides that this isn’t true.  So I think Banwhar, somehow just talked the people into letting me go to front in some way.  I am very thankful to him or we would not have been able to get any money while we were there!

One of many long lines for the ATM
The other major problem we ran into that had to do with the bureaucracy was at the airports.  We had to have our tickets checked at least 5 times as we traveled through the airport.  This, along with other inefficiencies, caused us to barely make connecting flights even with 2 1/2 hours in between.  In fact, when Julie and Chrissy were on their flight home, their connecting flight was delayed prior to their final flight home.  Because it takes so long to get from one part of the airport to the next, they missed their flight home and had to buy new tickets to get home by Christmas!

Discovering Their Many Talents

The people of India are incredibly talented and while we were there we were able to be the beneficiaries of these varied talents.  Whether it was live music, dancing, puppet shoes, or their incredible skills at making hand-crafted goods, we were able to witness so much.  One really fun thing about having my sisters there was that although we don’t buy souvenirs (no room in our backpacks!) they had no such limitations!  It was exciting to encourage them to buy lots of fun things to bring home with them.  How could you not with all the amazing deals that we saw everyday!

Pottery
Jewelry Making
Textiles
Snake Charming

Precious Stone Polishing
Henna
Parker Block Printing!
Puppet show!
Julie bought a beautiful rug!
Tyler helping in the rug making!
Inlaid Marble

Discovering The Food

I was pretty nervous about the food before we arrived in India.  Not only the safety (we had heard terrible stories of Delhi belly), but if we would like the taste of it at all.  We thought the bright side was that we would maybe at least lose some weight while we were there, either from sickness or not eating anything!  Despite our hesitation at first, we were pleasantly surprised by how much we loved the food!  Luke was his regular self and mostly just ate naan and rice, but at least he was eating, and the rest of us really liked it!  The boys also loved that they were free to, even encouraged to, eat with their hands!  

The best part was that besides one or two days of little stomach upset for me, everyone else stayed perfectly healthy!

We didn’t just eat the food, we also really enjoyed seeing the spice market in Delhi.  It was unreal walking through these crowded narrow passageways thinking that these spices in a few weeks or months would be packaged up and sent away to grocery stores in America.

Julie and Chrissy stocking up on spices and tea to bring home.

 

Just walking through made our throats and eyes burn because of the particulates in the air from all the spices. We would have to pull our shirts over our mouths to help us breathe normally (see Luke above).

Discovering Their Many Belief Systems

Perhaps my greatest take away from my time in India was a greater understanding of the different religious and cultural traditions there.  It is difficult to sum up a whole religion in just a few words, but we were able to have positive experiences learning about and gaining a greater understanding of these beliefs while visiting their temples, talking with believers, and doing our own reading and research.  I am happy that we had the opportunity to teach our boys and ourselves more about how a huge portion of our world lives.

Hindu

It was explained to us while we were in India that Hinduism is not a religion per se, but a way of life or a culture.  There is no founder and it pre-dates any recorded history, but if it were considered a religion it would be the third largest in the world.  As there are many different varieties of Hindu traditions there is a freedom of belief and practices that is commonly accepted.  One misconception we had coming in was that they believed in many gods as evidenced by the many different statues of gods you can find in their temples and literature.  We learned that Hindus actually only believe in one single deity while all other gods and goddesses are actually just manifestations or aspects of the one supreme God.

Hindu Temple in Narlai

 

Location where Ghandi was cremated.  A memorial has been erected here to honor him.

Buddhist

Buddhism is a religion based on the teachings of Siddhartha Gautama who was a Hindu living about 2500 years ago in what is now Nepal and Northern India.  He became known as “The Buddha,” which means enlightened one.  He didn’t teach people what to believe, he taught them how to become enlightened themselves.  Buddha is not considered a God, in fact Buddhism is non-theistic, The Buddha taught that believing in gods was not useful to enlightenment.  There are approximately 350 Million Buddhists in the world, although the number is hard to judge because there are many practicing Buddhists in communist countries like China that can’t openly adhere to the teachings.

Jain

Jainism dates back to the 6th century BC, about the same time as Buddhism.  There are only about 3 million Jain in the world.  Jains believe in a strict policy of non-violence so they are vegetarian and they aren’t even involved in farming because insects could be injured in the plowing. Besides non-violence the other Five Vows are truth, non stealing, chastity, and non possession.  We were able to go to one of the largest Jain temples in India.  When the faithful Jain come to the temple they are provided with a place to sleep and food to eat during the stay.  It was very beautiful and interesting to learn about their beliefs.

Sikh

Sihkism is the fifth largest religion in the world with almost 30 million members worldwide with the largest concentration of them being in the Punjab region in India.  Sikhism was founded in the 15th century and broke from Hinduism in part because of its rejection of the caste system.  There are 5 things that a Sikh will always wear.

  1. Kesh, or uncut long hair covered by a turban.  Some women do not cover there hair.
  2. A kangha.  A small wooden comb to comb their hair twice a day.
  3. A kara.  An iron bangle worn on the dominant hand.
  4. A kacherais. A specific undergarment for men and women.
  5. A kirpan.  A short dagger.

While in Delhi we had a chance to visit a Sikh temple.  Anyone can go in if you wash your feet and hands first and cover your head.  It was explained that Sikh’s consider themselves protectors.  Half the space was used for a temple and the other half was used to feed thousands of people who needed food everyday.  There was a huge kitchen with pots cooking food and a large room where we saw hundreds receiving a much needed free meal.

Julie washing her hands before going in.

We were asked to cover our heads while in the temple area.  The water behind us is considered Holy Water.
Feeding thousands  every day.

 

Muslim

Islam is the second largest religion in the world having 1.5 billion followers.  We did have a fundamental understanding of Islam before going to India, but what we didn’t know was that there was such a large portion of Muslims living in India.  They make up about 15% of the population and there are over 184 million Muslims who live in the country.  We were able to attend part of the celebration of a Muslim wedding while we were there, which was an incredible opportunity.

Jama Masjid, one of the largest mosques in India, was built in 1656 and still stands today.  It can accomadate over 25,000 people at one time.
We were given these lovely gowns to cover while we were visiting the mosque.

Discovering Tigers?

We were all very excited to go on our first safari to find a tiger in the wild!  Unfortunatly, wild animals don’t always do what we want them to, and we didn’t see any while we spent a few days in Ranthambore.  We did, however, get to see a recent kill and a variety of other animals as we drove through Ranthambore Tiger Reserve.

While the lack of tigers was somewhat disappointing, we were comforted by the fact that we got to go back and spend the day relaxing at our gorgeous hotel.  It was so beautiful and we all felt like, tigers or not, this was a fabulous place to stop for a couple days to relax.

Discovering Their Pastimes

During our time in India, if we were in a restaurant or building and the TV was on, you can bet they were watching cricket.  We really didn’t know anything about the sport, but over the weeks there (and in South Africa) we started to pick up on some of the rules.  While we were staying in Narlai, the kids made friends with a family from Singapore whose guide had previously played cricket for the Indian National team and was willing to teach them.  So the boys had a lesson in cricket and we finally (sort of) understand what is going on.

Friends from Singapore

 

Another favorite sport in India is polo.  There was a large tournament going on while we were in Jodhpur and we were able to go to a game.  Although we only caught the end of it, it was very exciting and fast paced to watch!

Discovering Their Beautiful Homes

When we were in Jodhpur, often called “The Blue City” we were able to go on a tour through the local neighborhoods.  There is no crime in the area so all the homes are open and we were able to go in to see how the people live.  I loved seeing all the bright colors, beautiful doors and homes as we walked through.

Discovering Their Palaces and Forts

When India became a democracy, the royal families were “asked” to give up half their palaces for hotels and museums and they were able to keep the other half.  Their loss was our gain, as we were able to stay in a palace for a few nights and also were able to tour through them and see how the royals lived.

Umaid Bhawan Palace in Jodhpur
Agra Fort
Mehrangarh Fort in Jodhpur

The pool in one of the palaces we stayed in!
Udaipur City Palace

City Palace Jaipur
Jaipur Lake Palace
Agra Fort
The most exciting fort we went to had to be Amber Fort in Jaipur because we got to ride the painted elephants up to the top!

Discovering Indian Weddings

On our first full night in India we were driving home from dinner and asked about Indian weddings because we had seen tents set up for a few as we drove by.  Our guide asked if we would like to stop in and see.  We didn’t want to feel like wedding crashers, but he assured us it would be fine as there are usually 3000-5000 people invited to weddings there.  We were so excited and loved having that opportunity.

Banwhar, our guide, showing us around

We were fortunate another night while we were in Agra because our guide was planning on attending a wedding in the evening after the tour and invited us to attend with him.  We pulled up right as the groom arrived on a white horse for the groom’s procession.  It was magical and felt like we were in another world, which, I guess we kind of were.  As the groom performed some of the rituals, we were pushed towards the front to watch.  It was a privilege to witness the ceremony performed between the groom and priest, and to spend time celebrating with the other guests afterwards.

It takes a lot of naan to feed all those people!

Discovering The Taj Mahal

Last but certainly not least is discovering The Taj Mahal, or as the people who have been there call it, “The Taj.” It is truly an engineering masterpiece.  Not only is it beautiful, but when you go, you get to see the many optical illusions that are present when you see it in person.  Also, in the pictures it makes it look like the Taj Mahal is white.  It is made of white marble, but there are beautifully colored inlaid precious stones all over the outside that glitter when the sun shines as well.

India is a huge country and I know we just scratched the surface with the things we were able to see, experience, and discover.  Of all the places we have been, this is the country that I am most excited to return to so I can continue to explore and discover all that India has to offer.

Out Practicing Yoga in India

When we decided that we were going to India, I knew I had to ask my sister Chrissy to meet us there.  She has loved India and everything about it her whole life.  When my sister Julie heard that Chrissy was coming, she wasn’t going to be left out of the fun!  She has been practicing Yoga for the past 10 years and recently received her Yoga teacher certification, so it was the ideal vacation for her as well.  Yay!  Both of my sisters were coming to India and we were heading to a Yoga retreat to cap off the trip!  I was ecstatic at the time, and I had no idea how much their presence would mean to me, many months later after 5 months of traveling.

We looked at a variety of options for yoga retreats and settled on Little Cove Yoga Retreat.  We could not have found a better place.  At the point we decided to do this, I had never done yoga before (except for a couple of videos) so I signed up for a class and started learning all I could to prepare.  I was still very much a beginner when we arrived, and my sister Julie was very experienced, but we both were able to grow and learn throughout our stay.

Before we went to the retreat we traveled through northern India together (see this post for more on that part of our trip), practicing a little yoga along the way!

Julie led us in a sun salutation at the Amber Fort in Jaipur, in the same room where the queen practiced yoga.

Not bad boys, but you may want to keep practicing!
My big sister, my yoga guru!

After spending two weeks in the over-stimulation that is northern India, we flew down to the Goa region and split off from Jeromy and the boys.  They went to the Marriott in Goa for a week of school, swimming, and kids club.  These are the two pictures I have during their time there.  You can tell who the photographer in the family is because I probably had hundreds of pictures to choose from in my week without them.

Yummy breakfast buffet
School time!


While they spent the week at the Marriott, Julie, Chrissy, and I headed south to Little Cola Beach in southern Goa for a week of yoga, meditation, and relaxation.  One big facilitator of my relaxation was that we didn’t have wifi.  This exit from the digital world was much needed and a quick way to get us to slow down the constant stimulation in our minds as we sought to find peace and enlightenment.


The retreat was located in southern Goa down a long dirt road on Little Cola Beach.  We were dropped off at an upper road and then hiked through the palm trees to get to our retreat.


We had simple cabins right on the ocean.  There was no hot water and the walls opened to the outside.  It was a bit rustic, but that just added to the simplicity of the experience.


The beach itself was idyllic. It is the type of place you think of when someone says, “Close your eyes and think of the most relaxing place you can.” Golden sand, warm blue water, palm trees, huts on the beach, a fisherman fishing off the rocks, dolphins swimming in the distance…perfection.

There were about 10-15 other people who were staying there at the same time as us, depending on the day.  It was fun to get to know people who traveled there from all over the world in search of peace and relaxation.

Our days followed a simple schedule…

  • 7:00  Tea or coffee brought to your room to wake you up
  • 8:00-10:00 Yoga
  • Tea, fruit, relaxation
  • 11:45 Ayurvedic lunch.  The ayurvedic diet is one based on overall mind-body wellness with a focus on digestion.  All of our food was prepared according to these principles and served to us.  It was all vegetarian and all delicious.  I was nervous about being hungry but I didn’t need to be.
  • Free time to swim, nap, go to the local town, read, get henna from Chrissy, swim in the ocean, meditate, or go for walks along the beach.
    We met these other sisters from the U.K. And Chrissy was able to give them a beautiful henna
    Local bus ride to Agonda
    Shopping!

    Cold coconut water and fresh fruit smoothies
  • 3:00  Just when you thought you might be a little hungry, someone would arrive with more tea and fresh local fruit.
  • 5:00 Afternoon Yoga or Meditation on the rocks at sunset.
  • 7:30 Ayurvedic Dinner.  One night we had a local group come and perform a traditional ceremonial fire dance.
  • After dinner it was dark and we were on a tiny beach without anything else around so the only thing to do was go to sleep or stay up late talking to your sisters.

The next day we would repeat the same thing again.  One morning we woke up early and rowed out to watch the sun rise over the mountains and search for dolphins.  We weren’t disappointed!  We saw dozens of dolphins swimming and jumping in the ocean and a beautiful sunrise.

The first day as I was walking down the beach I was enchanted by these beautiful fishing boats.  Little did I know that a few mornings later I would be riding in one out into the ocean in search of dolphins!


The week was a much needed break from my family because although I love to be with them, being together 24 hours a day 7 days a week can wear on a person after a while.  It was nice to be able to clear my mind and do nothing for a while with no responsibilities.  It was also so wonderful having my sisters there with me to experience it all with them.  I love them so much and will forever treasure the time in India we were able to spend together.

Out Among The People of India

If ever you are feeling bad about yourself and you want a little attention, a good idea would be to go to a rural area in India.  While we visited the country we were constantly stared at, pointed at, and had pictures taken of us.  It reminded me of when we were in China and a group of kids came up to us and asked for our autographs.  A Chinese -American happened to be walking by and he said, “Are they just getting your autograph because you’re white?” Yep, there is nothing special about us.

To be fair, this happened the most when we were in rural areas or in tourist areas where people from the country were visiting.  They really probably had mostly only seen white people on TV so we were exotic to them.

The reality was, I felt the same way about them.  I was constantly taking pictures of people just going about their daily lives.  Taking care of their kids, doing laundry, bringing water back from the well, getting haircuts and even just driving down the road.  While it seemed weird to me that people would want our picture, I took my fair share of pictures as well and they probably were wondering why.


There were a few reasons we drew extra attention.

First, we have some pretty cute kids.  Luke especially caused a lot of excitement and people were forever rubbing his head and trying to get him to smile.  This, unfortunately, caused Luke to just shut down most of the time, but when kids were around, he almost always had a smile for them.

Second, I have two beautiful sisters that would draw attention in any room, but particularly when people have only seen white women in the movies.  The time this happened the most was when we went to the wedding, we were constantly followed around by a group of people, “secretly” taking pictures of us.



Third, Jeromy is a big guy.  He’s very tall and very strong, especially compared to almost anyone we came in contact with in India.  We had more than one person look at him, point, and say “WWE!”  Or, “You look like the Undertaker.”  Apparently these are professional wrestling terms and Indians are fans of the sport.  Jeromy even had people ask him for workout tips so they could look like him!  You can see how being in India would start to make you feel pretty good about yourself.

It must be tough being so popular. 😉

If you look at this series of pictures it’s a good example of what would happen sometimes.  We would be taking a picture of ourselves in front of something, in this case, The Taj Mahal.


A group of people would gather around and stare at us while trying to take pictures without us noticing, at which point, we would tell them to come join us for a picture if they wanted.  First, the boldest would come up.

Then slowly but surely they would all come over smiling and snap tons of pictures to take home, and I guess, show their friends that they saw a real American.  At times, we would also get our own pictures with the people of India who, as you can tell from my pictures are incredibly beautiful.

While it was fun for a couple weeks, to see the joy it brought to people’s faces just to take a picture with us, I am certainly glad I am not actually famous.  I do not thrive on all that attention.  I will be happy to be back in the US and fade into the crowd as opposed to being the one causing a crowd to gather around me.

Out in The Cape

It says something about Cape Town that despite the fact that Jeromy chipped his tooth (surfing), had his phone stolen (at a soccer game), got in a minor car accident (with the guy across the street) and our dryer, hot water heater, wifi, and alarm were all out at different times, we still loved Cape Town!  We consider it one of our favorite places we’ve visited so far.  Oh, and we had cockroaches…

We had heard great things about Cape Town, which is why we decided to make it one of our longer stays.  We stayed a month there, but we never could have anticipated the beautiful city and surrounding region that we encountered.

To add to our enjoyment of the area, we were also able to get a great deal on a beautiful home on AirBNB with 4 bedrooms, so we had plenty of room to spread out and find some personal space! It also had a great pool which was fun!
My parents spent the first week of our time in Cape Town with us and then they headed back to the USA and their lives there.  We were so sad to see them go, but grateful for the time we had to spend with them and for the opportunity to share what our life is like on the road with people we love.

It only took a couple days of being in Cape Town to realize that although we had a month to visit, it was still going to be difficult to fit everything in that we wanted to do.  I made a calendar and we started adding in all of the activities we wanted to do before we left.  As I went back through the pictures to write this blog post, I couldn’t believe everything we were able to fit in.  Not only that, but we had a list of things we didn’t have a chance to do that we put on our list for “next time” as well.  The Cape is an incredible place to visit and as you look through our (long) list, I’m sure you will see why we loved it so much.

Big Bay

We didn’t actually stay in Cape Town itself, we stayed in a neighboring town near Big Bay in the Parklands area.  It was great because it was in a neighborhood with stores and restaurants nearby and it was only a few miles from the beach at Big Bay.  We had lots of fun there, taking surf lessons one day, watching the amazing kitesurfers, and we even rented a bike and taught Luke how to ride!  There were also the most amazing views of Table Mountain from that area.


Cape Town

While we didn’t stay in Cape Town proper, we did make it in to Cape Town on a regular basis.   The following are some of the things we did in the city of Cape Town.

Victoria and Alfred Waterfront

This was a beautiful waterfront area with a fun playground area for the kids, tons of shopping and restaurants, and a picturesque harbor looking out toward Robben Island.

Robben Island

This is the island where Nelson Mandela was held prisoner for 18 of his 27 years in prison.  Many other political prisoners were held here as well, and after closing the prison the government decided to re-open it to tourists in rememberance of the sacrifices made to end apartheid.  I was really looking forward to going here and we were disappointed when, because of strong winds, the tours were cancelled day after day.  We were finally able to go towards the end of our time in Cape Town and I am so happy we had the opportunity.  Our tour guide had been a prisoner on Robben Island and gave us insight into what life was like there.  We were also able to see the cell where Nelson Mandela spent most his time there and on our bus tour around the island, his former guard spoke to us about him.  His gaurd wrote a book about his experience called Nelson Mandela, My Prisoner, My Friend.  All the pictures we took are forever gone on Jeromy’s stolen phone, but it’s an experience I won’t soon forget.

Greenpoint Park

While the kids were playing at the playground at the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront, they made friends with a family from Ireland that was traveling as well.  I had a chance to get to know their mother, who is a travel writer, and we compared notes on what to do in Cape Town.  She gave us some great ideas, one of which was going to Greenpoint Park!  The kids had so much fun at the playground and then we continued to walk along the water until we came across one fun thing to do after another.  At the end of the day, we watched a beautiful sunset over the Atlantic Ocean.

Premier League Soccer Game

There is a huge stadium in Cape Town that was built for the FIFA World Cup and we were able to go to a South African Premier League soccer game there one evening.  We had a really fun time cheering on The Sundowners, with the night only slightly being spoiled by the fact that someone pick-pocketed Jeromy’s phone during halftime.  Fortunately, my sisters were coming to meet us in India just a few weeks later, so he didn’t have to go too long without a phone.  The bright side for him was that it was a good excuse to get the most recent iPhone!

The last known location of Jeromy’s phone before they wiped the memory. 

Annie

One of our last nights there, Jeromy bought tickets for the Broadway show Annie and we went on a date night to a wonderful dinner (the food in Cape Town was amazing) and the musical. It was a great performance and a fun night to spend together, just the two of us.

Church

A highlight I wasn’t anticipating while in Cape Town was having such a fabulous experience with the local congregation (ward) we attended for church every Sunday.  We were immediately welcomed with open arms by everyone.  Parker was brought in like a regular member of the quorum, passing the sacrament, attending weekly activities, and receiving assignments to work on at home.  He really enjoyed getting to know some of the youth his own age and they loved to ask him questions about the United States.

On our first Sunday, the Primary was practicing for their yearly presentation for the whole congregation.  They were quick to give Luke and Tyler a part and included them in the program.  The next week they got up in front of the whole congregation just like they belonged there all along!  They also made good friends with some of the other children there and were sad to say goodbye when we left.


Jeromy and I were both welcomed warmly as well and I was even given a beautiful bouquet of flowers to take home for our time in Cape Town.  While this may not seem like a huge deal, when you are traveling and don’t have a home or community, it is really nice to feel like you are a part of something for a while and that people care about you.  Thank you Milnerton Ward, you don’t know how much it meant to us!

Hiking

We love to hike and The Cape area has endless opportunities.  We just scratched the surface, but were able to have some pretty amazing experiences.

Elephant Eye

Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden

This is a beautiful botanical garden at the foot of Table Mountain in Cape Town.  We had a guided tour learning about the abundance of vegetation and wildlife that can only be found in The Cape.  My favorite was seeing the large variety of Proteas they had.  The kid’s favorite parts were the natural spring they could drink directly from, climbing the “spider trees,” and The Boomslang which was a wooden platform that let you walk in the tops of the trees.  It was named The Boomslang because that is a type of snake that is found in trees in the region and it winds around like a snake in the trees.

Photo credit to Tyler

Tyler loves taking pictures of flowers and birds
Photo credit Tyler!

Lion’s Head

We did this hike on Thanksgiving Day and had a great time!  It was a fun way to spend our time not thinking about all the delicious food and family we were missing at home.  There were no turkey dinners to be found here, so afterwards we headed to Italian food instead!

This is a view of Lion’s Head from the cable car up to Table Mountain.

Not quite turkey and pumpkin pie, but delicious none the less.

Extreme Adventures

My boys are so brave!  On each of these extreme activities we had multiple people say how incredible our kids are.  They are truly amazing and I love their sense of adventure.

Shark Cage Diving

This was not quite what you see on Discovery Channel, a bit safer, but still incredible.  We were in a cage attached to the boat on one side and when the sharks would come close, we would go under with a mask and watch them swim by.  Parker was on the end and was constantly being splashed by the fish on a line that they used to lure the sharks in.  Hopefully not too close!

The best view was actually looking down from above

Ziplining

A crazy drive up, a beautiful hike, 13 platfoms, 11 ziplines, and a suspension bridge in The Hotentot Mountains.  The longest zipline was over 300 yards long!  So fun!

Sandboarding

This was so much fun, sandboarding and sandsledding for me!  The 4X4 drive to get to the dune and riding back up the hill was almost as much fun as going down!

Table Mountain

Table Mountain deserves a section all it’s own because it is truly amazing!  It was recently named one of the New 7 Natural Wonders of the World and it deserves it.  There are stunning views from the top as well as hikes all over.  An interesting phenomenon locally named “The Tablecloth” is a layer of clouds that forms over Table Mountain covering it like, well, a table cloth.  It can spring up in minutes and our first time up we went from clear skies and amazing views to being in a dense fog within minutes.  We were able to go up twice, once at the beginning of our time in Capetown and once on one of our last days there.  Being a defining characteristic of Cape Town, it was the perfect way to start and end our trip to The Cape.

Towns Around The Cape

Simon Town

Simon Town was a cute little town on the other side of Table Mountain from Capetown.

We walked around and had a delicious lunch there, but the big draw to this area is the penguins!  Yes, you read that right, penguins in South Africa!  There was a huge colony in the area and we got to get up close and personal with them.  As we were exploring around the beach, there were hundreds of penguins swimming, sleeping, and just walking around.


There were so many that at one point I had to say to Luke, “Watch where you’re going Luke or you’ll step on a penguin!”  I never thought I would be saying that!

While they weren’t afraid of us, they weren’t exactly friendly either and my mom had a close call as she was climbing over the rocks back to our beach with a penguin nipping at her toes while she held herself up above him!  The boys and I had to scare the penguin off before she could get down.  I love these pictures because it is such a great example of how adventurous my parents were the whole time in South Africa.  They climbed over and under huge rocks to get to the other section of beach, just for a better view of the penguins!  Grandma and Grandpa didn’t slow us down at all!


Stellenbosch

While we aren’t wine drinkers, we still had to go check out the famous wine region around Cape Town.  It was incredibly beautiful and had delicious food.  We can’t speak for the wine, but the non-alcoholic sparkling grape juice was the best we’ve ever had.


Franschhoek

This is a small, high-end town out in the mountains known for its wine as well.  We stopped through here on our way back from ziplining, had a nice lunch and fun shopping in the shops, as well as going to the art galleries.

Cape of Good Hope

Many people have heard of the Cape of Good Hope as the place where the sailors knew they were rounding the African continent.  It was amazing standing here, looking south, and knowing the next piece of land was Antarctica!  We just couldn’t take a deep breath because a huge whale had washed up on the rocks and was rotting nearby.  While the smell was horrendous, it was pretty interesting to see a whale that close up.

Cape Agulhaus

While many people think the Cape of Good Hope is the most southern point in Africa, that distinction actually belongs to Cape Agulhaus.  It is also where The Indian and The Atlantic Oceans meet.  We had fun climbing out on the rocks and trying to guess where the two oceans come together.

Indian Ocean
Atlantic Ocean

Goodbye Cape Town! We love you, we miss you, and we can’t wait to come back!

Out On Safari

Going on an African safari is something that is near the top of many people’s bucket lists. If it’s not on yours and you like traveling at all, I recommend that you should add it.  There is simply nothing that can compare to seeing animals in their natural habitat.  We were within 10 feet or less of lions, elephants, rhinoceros, buffalos and many others.

We were able to go on safari excursions in Kasane and Maun, Botswana which I wrote about a couple posts ago, but in South Africa we were able to explore even more ecosystems and habitats via safari.

We spent an incredible 4 days having a true safari experience in Kapama Game reserve, self guided ourselves through Kruger National Park, and spent a few days exploring St. Lucia and iSimangaliso Wetland Park.

Kapama Game Reserve

When you think of going on safari, our experience at the Kapama Game Reserve is probably what you are thinking.  Living out in a safari lodge surrounded by animals, going on game drives, and experiencing Africa at its finest.  It was an incredible experience and worth every penny.


Each day we followed a similar schedule that maximized our time to see the animals, provided time for relaxation and  of course, lots of amazing food.

5:15 am Wake up call from our guide

Animals are most active in the early morning, especially at dusk because it is cooler, so that’s when the game drives were scheduled.  We would get up early, get ready for the day and have a light breakfast before we left the lodge on the game drive.

We had all of our meals except dinner in a beautiful open restaurant.  We all loved to watch the Vervet monkeys try to sneak in and steal food.  Well, all the guests did, the staff did their best to scare them away before they took too much food!  They were quick little guys and seemed to get away with a bounty of food every time we were there.  Tyler tried to follow one out one time and it threw an apple at him, so we learned to keep our distance!

6:00-9:00 Morning safari drive

There were 7 of us in our group (the 5 of us and my parents) so we had an entire jeep just for our group which was nice.


We were also assigned a guide, Francois, who took us on every game drive and even had dinner with us each evening.  Francois was so knowledgeable, there didn’t seem to be a question we asked that he didn’t have an answer at the ready.  We also had a tracker, Lassi, who assisted Francois and did a great job of tracking the animals so we could experience some spectacular sightings.


Each drive we were assigned a quadrant of the reserve to explore so there weren’t too many safari vehicles in one area and we didn’t disturb the animals too much.  This worked out as planned, which allowed us to see a large variety of animals and have fantastic experiences each time we went out.  Most of my good pictures were taken with our actual camera which is difficult to transfer to my blog, but here are a few of the animals we saw from iPhone pictures.



On each of our morning drives, about half way through, Francois would look for a safe area, free of animals, for us to to stretch our legs.  They would set a table up for hot chocolate and rusks (hard biscuits that were surprisingly good, especially when dipped in hot chocolate).  While on the drive, he would explain some of the smaller things that were harder to see while driving in the vehicle like dung beetles, weaver birds, spider condos, and more.


The most memorable thing Francois taught us though, had to be the fine art of dung spitting!  Yes, it is exactly what you think it is.  At first I thought he was joking and this was something similar to a snipe hunt in the USA, but no, this is for real.

Francois grew up in South Africa and as a child he would actually play this game with his friends.  The following is a direct quote from Francois as he demonstrated dung spitting to us, clarifying beforehand that this can only be done with “dung,” which is poop from an herbivore, not from feces from an omnivore or carnivore (that would be sure to make you sick).  He most often used impala dung, like he and the boys did while we were there, but had been known to use giraffe dung as well if that is what was available.

“We are going to play a game which is called dung spitting, and you are going to choose a nice aerodynamic piece for yourself (picks up piece of impala poop from a big pile), get it in your mouth, get it all nice and wet (this is a bit mumbled as he is swishing the dung around in his mouth), nice and lubricated (more mumbled as mouth fills with spit and dung).  Put a line on the ground (then he spits it a surprising distance).”

Both Parker and Tyler gave it a try after him, the rest of us opted to watch and let Francois claim the victory of “best dung spitter.” That’s a title I would be happy never to claim!

First, pick a nice aerodynamic piece of dung…
Roll it around in your hands to make it nice and round…
Put it in your mouth…

Swish it around in your mouth to get it lubricated…
And…
SPIT!

It was entirely disgusting and entertaining at the same time!  After our breaks, we would head back out to see more animals before returning to the lodge to rest.

Relaxation and eating

After we returned to the lodge, we had some time in the middle of the day for relaxing by the pool, going to the spa, playing chess, taking a nap, etc.

Grandma always won!
They also provided a huge breakfast when we got back, lunch, and high tea right before we headed out for our evening game drive.

4:30-7:30  Evening game drive

After our relaxing afternoon, we’d hop back in the safari vehicle, head out to another quadrant of the park and search for animals.  While there, we saw all of the animals we saw in Botswana as well as hyenas and rhinceros.  We were also able to see lots of babies.  We saw baby black backed jackals, zebra, elephant, hyena, monkey, baboon, crocodile, and more.

The most exciting thing we saw though was a baby rhino only 2 weeks old!

This was so exciting because rhinoceros are under great risk of becoming extinct due to poaching.  Unfortunately, some cultures believe that rhino horns have great medicinal value and the going rate for a rhino horn is $1 Million per horn.  There is great effort put into anti-poaching, with the anti-poaching rangers  even able to shoot on sight if they find someone poaching.  Unfortunately, the reward is worth the risk for many, so the rhino is still in great danger.  Francois told the boys at the rate we are going, our boys will not be able to bring their children back and show them rhinos in the wild because they will be extinct.

At sunset we would stop for a “sundowner” or drink and snack and stretch our legs.  Francois and Lassi would set up a table and provided a variety of drinks, as well as biltong (sort of like jerky) and chips.  There is nothing like a sunset in Africa and we were able to experience some amazing ones!


After the sun went down we stayed out on the game drive for around an hour searching for nocturnal animals.  In Botswana, they didn’t allow you to be in the park at night at all for safety reasons so this was a little scary, but we put our complete trust in Francois and Lassi and they didn’t let us down.  You can imagine our surprise however, when driving down the safari road we came across a lion lying right in the middle of the road!  We weren’t able to see many animals at night, but we did see a bush baby, a Mozambique spitting cobra, a lion and some baby hyenas, which were all pretty amazing!

Baby hyena

8:00 Dinner

After getting back we would go get cleaned up and then head over to our delicious dinner, set under the stars with a fire and singing.


While we were there it was Tyler’s 11th birthday, so all the waiters came out singing and dancing and brought him a cupcake.  It was a really unforgetable experience.


After dinner we would head back exhausted and try to get to bed as quickly as possible to wake up the next day and repeat it all over again!

Kruger National Park

We had such an amazing experience at Kapama Game Reserve, but after three days of safari we were ready to venture out on our own to a new area in neighboring Kruger National Park.  As we drove throughout our travels in Africa, we  read the book, 101 True Tales from Kruger so we were excited to see what this amazing place had to offer.  It has been said that if you drive on every road in Kruger National Park and could see 100 yards on either side, you would still only see 2% of the park, so we had a lot of ground to cover and only a day to do it!


At first we didn’t see much, but as we continued through the park we saw elephants, hippos, impala, buffalo, and right before we left the park we were fortunate to be able to see two African wild dogs, which are endangered.  They are very rare, and Luke had been on the lookout especially since Botswana for them, so it was a great way to end our safari experience in Kruger.  I would have loved to have spent more time exploring the area, but we were heading south though Swaziland to St. Lucia, South Africa.

iSimangaliso Wetland Park

St. Lucia is a small beach town on the southeastern coast of South Africa on the Indian Ocean and at the tip of iSimangaliso Wetland Park.  This was our first time seeing and dipping our toes in the Indian Ocean so that was exciting!  It was pretty windy and cool so we didn’t swim, but it was beautiful.



Although the beaches are beautiful, iSimangaliso Wetland Park is best known for it’s biodiversity, having over 6,500 plant and animal species known to live there, and has been named a UNESCO world heritage site. We chose to come to this town because we heard hippos roamed the streets and even drank out of our pool!  We didn’t have the good luck to see that, but we did have some pretty great hippo sightings when we were on our boat tour of the St. Lucia Estuary.



They are also known for having a large amount of crocodiles in the area and while we were walking in the wetlands we did see two crocodiles!  These were the two animals we didn’t really have great sightings of before, so we were excited to have the chance to see them in iSimangaliso.

We saw two on this walk!
We left St. Lucia and headed to Durban to fly to Capetown.  Our safari days were over, but we would never forget the incomparable experience of seeing animals in the wild as we traveled through the parks of South Africa.  What an adventure!