Meanwhile

I think the best part of taking a vacation around the Thanksgiving holiday is that you come home to all that is Christmas.

Unfortunately, Zach and I were both sick for quite a while right when we returned back to Utah.  I don’t know if it was the shock of the warm weather to bitter cold Utah temps or what, but we were pretty down and out.

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Even though he was incredibly sick, he still managed to surprise me with an early Christmas present:  boots I have been wanting for months!  I can’t begin to explain how thoughtful my husband is…

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Once we started to recover we spent lots of time with family and friends.  We attended a waffle party at our friend Chet’s place where we were all were adorned with paper crowns.

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There were work and family Christmas parties at the Layton Classic Skating, which is always a good time.

This year Zach and I didn’t send out Christmas cards.  I found out this week that Zach was pretty disappointed considering he wanted to write a little “blurb” about what we accomplished this year…

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Something that this wonderful narrative DOESN’T mention is how many Christmas carrot cakes I made with my grandfather over the last week.  I spent two days with him making his famous carrot cake and we completed 36 of them!  I finally learned how to bake them and managed to not mess everything up…too bad…

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I also put up all the Christmas decor and wrapped all of the gifts.

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My new favorite addition to our Christmas decor is a nativity set my mother-in-law bought for each family in Africa.  They were made by the Zulu women in their village outside of Johannesburg.  Surprisingly, it was the only black nativity we could find.  Most of them were white.  Besides, this one came with cool African animals instead of your regular barnyard friends.

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Christmas decor is not the only thing we put up, however…

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Our kudu horns arrived this week and it was less than 24 hours before they were hanging up in our bedroom.  I actually love them, even though I swore I would never EVER put up animal heads or parts of animal heads on the walls of my home.  Never say never, I guess.  Thanks Bieber.

Friday of this last week Zach realized he still had some time off for the year and decided to take the day off and spend with me.  First we hit up the Rail Gardens in Salt Lake.  I love to watch Zach mess around on his snowboard.  I hope our children are blessed with his incredible balance.

After our rail sesh we stopped at Lonestar for some fish tacos.

We spent the rest of our day running errands, picking up last minute Christmas gifts, and catching a late night movie.

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Even though it was the day before Christmas Eve, we got all our neighbor and friend gifts delivered.  I did several different gifts this year, but my favorite for my friends was the “Holiday Survival Kit”.  You know…cause the holidays are hard…

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And finally, because this deserves SO much suspense…

We had our farewell dinner for Candlestick Park.  The 49ers played their very last game at that stadium and Zach wanted to celebrate in his favorite way:  eating food and watching the game from 6″ away from the screen.  I promised him a Thanksgiving dinner and he decided this was the night to have it, because the 49ers deserved “the best of the best”.  There was the whole deal:  mashed potatoes and gravy, turkey, stuffing, rolls and jam, carrots, and egg nog in lieu of pumpkin pie.  There was also a salute (with his hand over his heart) during the game…

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They won, by the way.  It was a Christmas miracle!

We do the holidays pretty weird around here…

…but we ARE weird, so we wouldn’t have it any other way!

Green Market Square + Simons Town

Our last day in Cape Town we had planned to ride the tram up Table Mountain but the weather was really foggy.  Instead we made our way over to Green Market Square for some shopping.  We weaved in and out of the tents and came away with some pretty cool stuff.

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Zach found a Nelson Mandela shirt he fell in love with and I found a Zulu tribal necklace.  Mark bought a Zulu spear to display up at the Hendo cabin.  The weather still hadn’t cleared up by the time we were through so we decided to drive to Simon’s Town to see the Penguin Colony at Boulders Beach.  It took about an hour and we made our way through several beach towns until we arrived in the little city of Simon’s Town.  We walked down the board walk to see all the penguins.

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Zach loves penguins (his second favorite wild animal, he says) and Mark and Zach would have been entertained for hours if Jeanene and I wouldn’t have dragged them away.  We watched them waddle around on the beach and surf in the waves.

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Then we had lunch at a restaurant near the beach.  We drove back to Cape Town with a drive around Table Mountain to end our day.  We didn’t end up riding to the top, but had great views of the surroundings.

We left Cape Town late that evening to catch our flight to Amsterdam.  We flew from Amsterdam > Chicago and then Chicago > Salt Lake.  25 hours of flight time.  The only hard part about traveling to Africa is most definitely the long flight.  But with some stroke of good luck, Mark and Jeanene got Zach and I upgraded to first class on the way home!  It was both our first time flying first class and it was like heaven.  We ate ice cream and some fancy salmon stuff as we crossed home over the Atlantic.

South Africa is the most incredible place we have ever been.  We both have made memories that we will never forget.  The people have made a mark on my heart and I think about them every single day.  I am so grateful to Zach and my amazing in-laws for letting me share this experience with them.

Gansbaai

The next morning (bright and early, as usual) Zach and I were picked up at our hotel at 6:45 AM to go cage diving with the Great White Sharks in Gansbaai!

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It was a 1 hour 45 minute drive to the small shore town of Gansbaai, where their main jam is to take people cage diving, apparently.  It is a place full of shark tour companies.  We were fed breakfast, outfitted with a wetsuit, and on our way.  We were in a smaller group on a boat called Slashfin.

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We made friends with two brothers from Colorado (such a small world) and enjoyed our trip out to sea on the boat.  We didn’t have to go too far because during South Africa’s summer months the sharks like shallower waters.  Once our guides selected our spot they started chumming the water.  They used a mixture of fish parts and fish oils and poured it into the ocean around the boat so the sharks could follow a scent trail.  It didn’t take long for the sharks to start circling our boat.  It was like something out of a movie…

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They gave us all masks and booties for our feet and we took turns crawling into the cage.  The guides would attract the sharks near the cage by taking a rope with fish heads tied to the end and throw it into the water in front of the cage.  They also used a lure that looked like the silhouette of a baby seal.  The sharks seemed to liked that idea better than the fish heads, actually.

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The sharks would swim near and the guides would yell “RIGHT DOWN!”  The divers in the cage would lower their bodies using bars inside the cage to keep themselves underwater while the sharks circled around them.  When it was Zach and I’s turn, we climbed into the water and were instantly freezing.  It was my first time in the Atlantic Ocean!

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We waited until more sharks circled around us and listened to the guides as they yelled at us where to go and when to lower ourselves down.  The water wasn’t perfectly clear but the views of the sharks swimming only feet away from you was really frightening.  They would surge out of the water, mouths wide open, and attempt to swallow the bait.  This was the most intimidating part.  Their mouths and teeth were gigantic and being that close was heartstopping!

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The most terrifying part, however, is when a shark got a hold of the bait while we were in the cage.  Zach and I were on the far left side of the cage with a couple of other people in the cage with us.  One of the sharks locked in on the bait, wouldn’t let go, and ran nose first into our cage.  If I reached out my hands I could have touched his skin, but we weren’t allowed to move any body parts outside of the cage, and with good reason.  The shark would not give up and kept ramming his body into the front of our cage.  It was the most incredible thing I had ever done.  Being inches away from one of the most terrifying animals on the planet.  Once we got out of the water and dried off, the boat made its way back to shore with a quick stop at Dryer Island where all the seals hang out.  You could smell the seals before you saw them, but it was absolutely amazing how many of them there were.  The swimming baby seals were my favorite.  They would swim along side the boat, attempting to show off.

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We made it back to shore in time for lunch (we learned quickly that “lunch time” in South Africa is anywhere from 12:00 – 4:00) and then got to view our video the guides took of us diving.  We then had our driver take us back to our hotel to meet up with Mark and Jeanene for dinner.  We at ate a seafood restaurant on the water and then walked along the waterfront.  We listened to the live music, watched all the boats come in, and called it a night.

Cape Town

The last day in Kapama we slept in, had breakfast, and said goodbye to everyone at Karula.  Julius, Bricks (our waiter who served us at every meal) and Excellent were all there to send us off and load all of our luggage into our tiny rental car.  We made our way back to the main gate of the reserve and then to the airport.  Hoedspruit airport security was pretty comical…no metal detectors, just a hand search of your baggage on plastic folding tables adorned with animal print table cloths.

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We were flying to Cape Town for the last portion of our trip.  Once again on South African Express, where the Coke Lights are plentiful and the treats are wonderful.

It took us a while to arrive in Cape Town because we had to fly first back to Johannesburg and make a connecting flight down to Cape Town.  Once we arrived, we drove to our hotel at the Victoria Albert Waterfront.  On our way we had a fantastic view of Table Mountain, one of the city’s more popular attractions.

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We arrived at our hotel, showered up and met back for dinner at an amazing Italian restaurant on the waterfront.  Afterwards the men were delighted to find a McDonald’s and ended our night with some twist cones and ice cream sundaes.  A twist cone at the MdDonald’s in Africa is about .20 – Zach was on cloud 9.  We went to bed a decent time because the men had to be up bright and early for a 7:00 am pick up at our hotel.

Mark and Zach left the next morning to go hunting outside of Cape Town at a reserve owned by a local African tribe.  They were called the Bushmen, and communicated by using clicking sounds.  Zach and Mark got a tour of the village and how the people lived.  They got to see their homes and learn about their traditions.

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When they arrived their guide explained the deal.  They could hunt on their reserve as long as the meat went to the people of the village.  Zach and Mark obliged and had signed up to shoot a Springbok.  It turns out the people wanted more meat than a springbok could offer them and let Zach and Mark shoot an Eland if they were able to, for the same price.  An Eland is about four times as big of an animal as a Springbok and Zach was excited about the possibility.  The tribe decides who shoots what and when on the reserve.  It is much more of a political thing than they had thought.  Joe, their guide, outfitted Zach with a rifle.  Mark had previously had shoulder surgery and decided not to hunt.  Zach’s gun was bigger than he was, with a silencer (illegal in the US) on the end so the animals couldn’t tell which way the shots were coming from.  Joe explained that Elands were extremely difficult to shoot because they move really fast and hide out in brush as soon as they see anyone near.  The guide told Zach he had less than 20 minutes to get an Eland if he was able to do it.  The guys spotted the group of Eland, Zach spotted his target, and shot one!  A clean shot right through the heart.  They had a little trouble locating him because right after the animal was shot because he had a surge of adrenaline and laid down to die in the bushes.  It took them some time to find him, but knew he was shot because all of the other animals were waiting nearby.  Elands never leave with one of their own wounded.  They were all around him waiting for him to get up and run along with him, that’s how Joe knew that Zach had really got him.

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As soon as they found him Joe called the men of the tribe.  Four of them came over (luckily wearing normal clothing and not loin cloths like they commonly wear) and took care of the animal.  They gutted it on site and Joe wenched it up into the back of his Land Cruiser.  Zach is going to have the skull mount shipped home once the people are finished with the meat of the animal.  Meanwhile, while Zach and Mark were off being manly men, Jeanene and I were shopping at the local craft markets.

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We stopped at serval markets getting jewelry, Zulu nativity sets for our family members, and other little treasures.  By the time we returned to our hotel to drop off our findings, the guys had returned.  They got ready and we all met back up for dinner at an amazing restaurant on the water.

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After our fine meal we walked through some shops at a local shopping center while watching the boats down on the water.  We ended the night with another visit to the golden arches for some ice cream.

Still on Safari

Our sixth day we skipped the early morning drive for an opportunity to interact with the elephants!  A 20 minute drive from Karula is a small area where some elephants live.  They were born in the wild but were raised in captivity so they obey and follow certain commands.  We had the chance to mingle with Jabulani (which means happiness) an 18-year-old elephant.  When he was three months old he got stuck in a mud pit.  The other adult elephants in his herd tried for some time to save him but couldn’t get him out of the mud and eventually abandoned him.  Some rangers found him soon after and got him out of the mud using wenches.  Since he had been abandoned by his herd, the rangers watched him day and night for weeks.  They fed him and took care of him until he was healthy.  When they tried to introduce him back into a herd, none of the other elephants would accept him.  So the reserved took Jabulani on as a special project.  He has since been accepted by a female and able to mate and have a baby.  The guides claim he still prefers humans over other elephants, however.  When we first arrived we learned a lot of about the elephant.  How they eat, breath, and about the different and unique parts of their bodies.

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We got to touch his feet, his ears, and his trunk.  Touching his skin felt a lot like rubbing your hands on asphalt.  Their skin is extremely rough and their little black hairs are really thick and prickly.  We also got to feed him pellets and watch him do his tricks.  We sat with him and he even let us all hug him.  He loves humans because the guides say he believes he IS a human.

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Then we got to meet the baby, Mambo.  He is only three years old, but already taller than all of us.  His ears felt like soft leather and he already had developed tiny tusks.

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Since Mambo is so young, he didn’t know any commands.  In fact, he bolted after some warthogs at one point and almost escaped.  We didn’t realize it until all the guides started running after him yelling him to TURN LEFT!

This experience was one of my favorites because of the time we got to spend one on one with the elephants, just the four of us.  After it was over we decided to take a drive in the rental car to see if we could find any other animals and to stop by the spa at the River Lodge.  The spa was incredible, like something out of a magazine.  Right on the banks of the river.

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We toured the facility and made our way back to Karula.  We saw several animals, but our favorite were all the water buffalo bathing in the watering hole.

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We made it back in time for lunch and then our afternoon game drive.  This drive was by far my favorite.

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First we found the lionesses, but had discovered they had killed a water buck and were feasting.  It was terrifying and intriguing all at the same time to see them all resting, blood covering their mouths.  They were all extremely full, only getting up to chase away the vultures off the carcass of the water buck.  Turns out they had a Thanksgiving feast of their own the night previously.

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We still hadn’t seen the male lion.  Since the lions sleep so much, it is hard to find the male in the daylight.  Out of nowhere we were driving up a path and there he was, the male lion.  Resting on the side of the road.

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His “favorite female” beside him, nearly as big as he was.  Julius estimated he was at least 150 kilos.  His paws were gigantic.  He didn’t even flinch when we drive right up beside him, maybe 10 feet away.  As we left the male lion alone to sleep we came across a tiny baby giraffe.  In the middle of the road.  He looked lost, but wasn’t moving out of our way.  Just sitting there, staring at us.  Julius noticed his mom was lying down in the trees behind him and drove over to her off the path and through the brush.  We all thought she was resting and quickly realized she was dead, Julius had guessed for at least two days.  No wonder the sweet baby giraffe had nowhere to go.  He didn’t want to leave his mother.  Julius had also guessed that he hadn’t left her because he was hungry and was still attempting to drink her milk.  The baby giraffe finally made his way off the side of the road and into the trees.  It was heartbreaking.  We ended the night by finding ourselves surrounded by an elephant herd again, this time accompanied by a giant bull elephant.

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He was HUGE.  Bigger than any of the others by several feet.  He walked right across our path, but Julius made it clear we were staying a distance away.

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Out of nowhere a female elephant approached our truck.  She came so close going so fast that Engrid started to squeal.  Julius told us to be very quiet and he took off before the female snatched one of us out of the truck.  He said of any animal, the elephant is most likely to approach and attack the automobile.

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He told us this AFTER the giant elephant chased us away!  We had our last snack break in Karula, and Excellent really out did himself.  He decorated our table with little leaves from a plant nearby.  Such a sweetheart.

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We tried to spot some leopards from Excellent’s scouting seat…but to no avail.  We made our way back to the lodge and had our last dinner in Kapama.

Thanksgiving at Karula

The next morning we were awakened by monkeys.  I jumped up in bed to the sound of quick steps on the metal roof of our room.  I ran to the sliding glass window to see what was happening when I noticed them.  Maybe 20, maybe more, in the trees above the glass.  They were jumping on and off the roof, almost teasing us.  It was 4:53 am.  Luckily, we had a wake-up call at 5:00 am for our early morning game drive.  All of us were up and out of the door at 5:30 for breakfast.  Julius (who Mark had been calling Caesar by now) and Excellent were extremely chipper for being up and ready to go that early in the morning.  We had only been driving around for 15 minutes when we ran across some giraffes.

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They were leisurely eating right along our path.  We also saw a herd of zebras running through the trees and passing right in front of us.

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I have to admit that at the time the whole experience reminded me SO much of Jurassic Park, but more on that later.  It was actually quite chilly in the early mornings and we were all bundled up in the few layers we had packed.  We came across some beautiful birds who made their hanging nests above the water to protect themselves from predators.  They were bright yellow and moved extremely fast.  Also, tons of tree frog nests.

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We went along another path to find a whole family of giraffes:  two adults, male and female, and five little babies.  They weren’t scared of us in our vehicle at all, almost still sleepy from the night before.

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We also came across several nyala and impala along the trails.  We stopped to have a snack:  dried fruit, muffins, and hot chocolate, before heading back to the lodge.  The four of us decided to head back to our rooms for a power nap before lunch time.  We had lunch in the dining room, explored the area a bit, and then had lunch before heading back out on our evening game drive.  We spotted three hippos in a watering hole and had another encounter with the lionesses and the male cub.

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Julius asked us what we wanted to see next and Mark informed him we really wanted to see some rhino.  The animals are completely free and roam as they please, so we were warned you might not see all you planned to see due to the fact that they are just so hard to find certain days.  Sure enough though, right before the sun was setting, we found three rhino in a field on the opposite end of the reserve.

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We also spotted the most beautiful kudu.  Besides the elephants and the giraffes, the kudu was my favorite.  They have the body of an elk, but grey in color with thin, white stripes on their backs.  The males also had these gorgeous horns, huge and black shaped like corkscrews.  I am going to get a set for my home one day!  Julius then found another watering hole to have our evening snack before the night drive.

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Mark loved our safari vehicle and kept telling the rest of us how he was going to get a spot light for his Ranger at the cabin to do animal tours with.

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It started to get dark and we had only been driving for a few minutes until Julius spotted a leopard track.  Leopards are the most difficult to spot of all the Big 5 because of the fact that they hide deep in the brush or in trees.  We tried to located the leopard clan, but it got dark too fast.  Excellent got out his spot light and we searched for a few more small nocturnal animals before ending our drive for the night.   We had our Thanksgiving dinner in the dining room.  Since they don’t have American turkeys in Africa, we settled for Tuna.  It was Zach and I’s first Thanksgiving with our family in four years.

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We loved being with Mark and Jeanene for the holiday and were so grateful to make memories in this amazing place!