29 November 2012

{Holiday Travel Plans}

As you may have seen on twitter, Jurg and I have some exciting holiday travel plans up our sleeves this year!

We'll be heading on a month long road trip through Jurgen's birth-country of Namibia and will also be passing through the neighboring country of Botswana on the way.  To say I'm excited would be the understatement of the century.  I've even mapped out our route :)

Our trip will be starting in Jo'burg, cutting through Botswana, and then heading into Namibia where we'll be spending Christmas on Jurgen's family farm.  From there we're heading to the south of the country and spending four nights in Sossusvlei {famous for it's picturesque sand dunes} before driving up the coast to Hentiesbaai for some fishing {Jurgen's choice ;)}.  After Henties we'll be spending three nights in the adorable little German town of Swakopmund, which I've visited before and absolutely adore.  We're then heading towards the northern section of the country and spending five nights in the beautiful Etosha National Park, making a quick stop in Omaruru on the way.  After Etosha we'll slowly {emphasis on slowly} be making our way back to Johannesburg - spending a night in Windhoek {Namibia's capital city}, a night on the Orange River, and then our final night in Kuruman before arriving back in Johannesburg to start the year.

That results in a total of 15 destinations and 6,041 km {3,754 miles} of traveled road!  It also marks the longest trip Jurgen and I have ever taken together.  It's bound to be one long, thrilling adventure!

Of course, this means I won't be flying home to California for Christmas this year and I'd be lying if I said that I wasn't at least a little bit bummed out about it.  But, since I was already there a few months back in September, and because Jurg and I both will be flying out in May for my brother's wedding - I decided to rather count my pennies and keep my feet planted firmly on the African continent this holiday season.  Luckily, I have some pretty awesome travel plans to keep me from feeling too sorry for myself ;)

As our departure date gets closer, I'll be sure to share more details about the logistics surrounding our trip.  We'll be partnering with some pretty phenomenal lodges and guest houses along the way and I can't wait to share all of the highlights of our tour with you!

What are your holiday plans this year?

27 November 2012

A Visit to the Sterkfontein Caves.

Several months ago, while Jenny and Brigid were out visiting {see here + here}, we decided to set a day aside to visit the Sterkfontein Caves.  The Sterkfontein caves are nestled in the heart of the Cradle of Humankind located just an hour outside of Johannesburg, and they had been sitting near the top of my "to-do in Jo'burg" list for almost as long as I can remember.  The caves are well known for housing well-preserved hominid fossils, including an intact human skull dating back 2.1 million years {named Mrs Ples} and an almost complete human skeleton dating back 3 million years {coined Little Foot}.  The Cradle of Humankind was declared a World Heritage Site in 2000 and is well worth a visit if you ever find yourself in the Gauteng area.

After enjoying a cappuccino in their cute little cafe, Jenny, Brigid and I joined one of the hourly tours and were assigned a guide.  The guide spoke briefly about the history of the caves and about the on-going research and excavation that continues to occur, as archaeologists are still in the process of unearthing early homosapien remains today.  We were even able to slip past one of the excavation sites, but it was too dark to see inside the narrow corridor.  

The rest of the tour was spent exploring the various chambers of the cave and learning about the different mineral formations.  One chamber in particular {Milner Hall} stood out as it contained an impressive underground lake.  The guide explained that researchers are actually unaware of how far into the cave the lake recedes as all exploration was halted after a student diver died during an exploratory assignment.  He apparently was able to find an unknown chamber with air, but rescuers were unable to reach him in time and he eventually died of starvation.  Standing in the dark, damp, and seemingly endless limestone tunnels - the thought of being trapped with no food, water, or light sent chills up my spine!

Overall, the tour was fascinating and something that I would love to do again in the future.
The whole experience makes you feel like you're going back in time!

Caves tours run 7 day per week from 9:00am - 5:00pm on the hour, with the last tour departing at 4:00pm.  For locals and tourists alike, the experience is an absolute must!  Tickets are R135 per adult {about $15 per person} and tours are approximately 60 to 90 minutes long.  For more information and directions visit their site here.

22 November 2012

Happy Thanksgiving!!!

It's hard to believe that another year has come and gone already - I feel like it was just last month that I was posting about how we spent last year's Thanksgiving in Johannesburg surrounded by new {ex-pat} friends and the most delicious American-inspired feast.  I must admit that Thanksgiving is one of my all-time favorite American traditions that I've been able to share with Jurgen and I love that the holiday serves as a yearly reminder to pause for a moment and consider all that we've been blessed with in life.

Of course being an ex-pat offers a unique perspective on Thanksgiving, and it's one of the many times during the year when I wish it was possible to morph back to California and spend a few days with family and friends before being able to snap my fingers and morph back to South Africa.  Even though we all know this isn't possible {yet}, programs like Skype offer a close second and so tonight I'll be setting my alarm for the wee hours of the morning when all of my family will be together at my parents house.

Aside from missing family though, being an ex-pat in-and-of-itself has actually provided me with a host of things to be thankful for!  Truth be told, this year has been one of the best yet!

Here are just a few of the things that I'm grateful for....

+ Being able to call two beautiful countries my home.  There are so many things that I'll always love and appreciate about California and the United States, and there are also so many ways I have been blessed by living in South Africa.  I'm one lucky girl.

+ Jurgen! {I bet you knew this one was coming!}  But really, aside from getting engaged this year, it's just great to have someone in your life who you know you can always turn to for a laugh, a hug, or a shoulder to cry on.  When the going gets tough, for some reason it doesn't seem so bleak when there's two of you.  AND, when the tough gets going, it's even more incredible to have someone so fun, carefree, and adventurous to share life with.

+ My family.  Even though they're 1000's of miles away I always feel like they're here when I need them and are willing to offer words of advice and encouragement.

+ Friends.  Real friends and blog friends alike.  And for this community of incredible women {and a few men!} who continue to inspire and uplift me on a daily basis.  Blogging has turned into so much more than I initially anticipated.

+ A warm bed, a roof over my head, clean water, and a full tummy.  It's so difficult not to take these luxuries for granted, but so important to remember that millions go without these things every day.

+ Travel!!!  I'm so thankful that every once in awhile I'm able to hop on a plane to somewhere new and learn about different cultures, incredible sites, and breathe in a fresh perspective.

+ Our Namibia road-trip this December and January!  More to come on this soon :)

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To all my American friends - I hope you have a safe and wonderful Thanksgiving surrounded by loved ones and full of the most delicious food!!!

20 November 2012

{On Stepping Outside Your Comfort Zone} by Daryl

Today I'm so excited to have the lovely Daryl from {Roots, Wings, and Other Things} filling in for me on the blog!  Daryl currently lives in Germany with her local love Steven, but she just announced the exciting news that they're getting ready to make a permanent move back to the States within the next couple of months.  She's a stunning photographer, avid traveller, style connoisseur and someone who I consider to be a close friend.  On the off-chance that you aren't already familiar with her blog, you should probably mosey on over there after you finish reading this post!

Hi friends! My name is Daryl. I live in Frankfurt, Germany (for now) with the love of my life, Steven. We like adventures and eating a lot. Thanks, Jenna, for having me over on your lovely blog today! 

People ask me quite often what I love about living abroad. I have lots of answers: The food, the constant opportunities for travel, the ability to experience another culture first hand. When I give people these answers, they nod enthusiastically and smile. One answer I've tended to throw out there, however, has inspired some puzzled looks and requests for me to elaborate.

I love the feeling of not understanding what the heck is going on.

I know. I'm weird. When I first arrived in Germany in 2010, I had to figure out where to live, where to buy food and where to go for fun without speaking a word of German. I was lost and confused with no idea what the heck I was doing - and it was the most exhilarating feeling ever.

It's as if the universe was literally just forcing out the control freak in me. No more planning every move - I just had to go with the flow.

I love the feeling of being out of my element completely. When you get out of that comfort zone, magic starts to happen and all of these opportunities you've never dreamed of start to just fall in your lap. It sounds too good to be true, I know, but I'm not making this stuff up.

My German is much better now and I've acclimated to German culture, but I still can't help but giggle a little when I'm standing in a supermarket attempting to read the label on some package and I can't figure out for the life of me what it says. When that happens (and it happens often,) there's nothing to do but smile, shrug, and toss the thing into my cart regardless.

Think of this as a little reminder to get out of your comfort zone. Try new things, put yourself in new situations, be spontaneous. Open yourself up to new opportunities when they come your way and don't get frustrated when you feel lost. We're all figuring this out together.

Thanks for reading - I'd love it if you stopped by my blog and said hello!

- - - - -

Thanks so much Daryl, I couldn't have said it better myself!

15 November 2012

{On The Bucket List}: Gorilla Trekking in Central Africa

I've decided to start a {bucket list} series on this little blog of mine, as a way of sharing just a few of the thousands of things that I hope to experience/accomplish/witness within my lifetime.  Not only in an effort to hold myself accountable to follow my own dreams and passions, but also in the hope that it will inspire some of you to do the same.

"Tell me, what is it that you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?"
Mary Oliver


Many of you have probably already heard of Central Africa's infamous Mountain Gorillas via Dian Fossey's Memoir turned film, {Gorillas in the Mist}.  Dian Fossey dedicated over eighteen years of her life to studying these amazing creatures and lived amongst them in the mountains forests of Rwanda.  She also led numerous anti-poaching campaigns during her time in Africa, until she was mysteriously murdered in her mountain cabin in 1985.  Her work has spearheaded gorilla conservation and she's a large part of the reason that there are any Mountain Gorillas still living in the wild today.

Despite conservation efforts, presently there are only an estimated 700 mountain gorillas left in the world, the majority of which are spread across Central Africa in the countries of RwandaUganda, and the DRC.  With the purchase of a gorilla permit, it's possible to join a guided trekking tour into the jungle in an effort to catch a once-in-a-lifetime glimpse of these human-like primates existing within their natural habitat.  Realistically, it's an opportunity that may not exist for our children, since the small population of remaining gorillas is still threatened on a daily basis by poaching, habitat loss, disease, political instability, and civil unrest.

I had hoped to incorporate a gorilla trekking tour into my Rwanda // Uganda trip earlier this year, but there was just no possible way for me to squeeze it into my modest budget.  In three or four years time though, I would love to return to Central Africa with the specific purpose of visiting the Mountain Gorillas.  It really is a life changing opportunity that may not be around for much longer.  And... the price of obtaining a gorilla permit is largely offset by the fact that the majority of the cost goes straight into strengthening the conservation efforts that are already in place.  It's a win - win.

Here's a bit more information on joining a trekking tour:

Cost of a Gorilla Permit

$750 in Rwanda - $500 in Uganda - $400 in the DRC

A Permit gets you

A guided 8-person trek with an hour of time spent with the gorillas.

Which country is best?

No country is better than the other in terms of gorilla viewing.  Rwanda seems to offer the easiest access and if you're new to Africa, it's probably the best option.  Uganda will offer you a more "off-the-beaten path" experience and requires an 8-10 hour drive from the airport.  At least eight days in country are recommended for Uganda trekking.  The DRC offers the most adventurous option, but border crossings can be difficult due to war and civil unrest.  As put in Elizabeth Gordon's Huffington Post article, "If you are an experienced Africa traveler and want some serious bragging rights go to the Congo."

Where to stay: 

Rwanda {luxury // mid-range // budget} Uganda {luxury // mid-range// budget} DRC {luxury // mid-range}

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For previous {Bucket List} posts, see here.

Also, today I'm guest posting about thankfulness on Jane's lovely lifestyle blog {In the Pink and Green}.  See my post here!

13 November 2012

{New York by Night}: A Photo Essay

Today I thought I would share the last of my New York photos taken during an evening tour of the city.

Dare I say that the Big Apple is even more beautiful in the dark?!   

What do you think? 

08 November 2012

My Happy Place.

Last weekend, Jurgen surprised me with a weekend date to {Bush Babies Monkey Sanctuary} in Hartbeespoort.  We visited Bush Babies for the first time earlier this year and I haven't stopped talking about it since.  It's just such an incredible experience to be able to interact so closely with the primates and to observe the wonderful habitat that Bush Babies has created for them as their new home.  As you can see in the photo below, it looks like a monkey's paradise if I've ever seen one.  And I mean really... where else in the world can you actually hold a monkey on your shoulder?!

Bush Babies is one of eight free-release monkey sanctuaries in the world and is home to a variety of different primate species including squirrel monkeys, spider monkeys, lemurs, capuchin monkeys, and bush babies.  All of the inhabitants used to either be household pets or were bred for the pet trade.  Many of the monkeys were victims of previous abuse and are on a long, slow road to rehabilitation and recovery.  Others were donated by typical pet owners who just weren't able to meet the daily demands of caring for a monkey.  Either way, Bush Babies attempts to provide it's primates with a safe and secure natural environment where they are able to flourish and live as they would in the wild.

Meet Sarah.  She's the only spider monkey in the sanctuary at the moment and they are actively searching for a mate to keep her company.  When we were last at the sanctuary in April, Sarah hitched a ride on Jurgen's shoulders, but this time she seemed content observing the group from a distance.  The guide described her hair style as the "Justin Beiber look".... adorable right!?  I never understood how spider monkeys earned their names until I saw Sarah walk on all fours during the tour.  Doesn't she sort of look like a four-legged spider in the photo below?

... And this adorable Capuchin monkey's name is Apie {monkey in Afrikaans}.  He's undoubtedly the star of the show at Bush Babies and is also a total kleptomaniac.  He greets each and every tour by searching everyone's bags and pockets to see if he can find any stray wallets or cell phones to add to his stash.  {Note: it is recommended that you leave all bags and wallets in the car for this tour!}  I have a hunch that Apie's previous owner used him as his personal thief - this monkey has a serious obsession with pockets, zippers, and gadgets of any kind!  It's amazing to see how clever he is.  In the above photo, the guide is trying to lure Apie away from that enticing pink backpack with a bottle of water.  As you can see... he's not having it.

After Apie was satisfied that he'd searched every crack and crevice, he decided to hitch a ride on my shoulders throughout the majority of the tour.  Needless to say, I was in heaven and more that happy to offer him a lift!

Ring-tail Lemurs from Madagascar!  These cuties are extremely endangered.

A black and white ruffed Lemur, also from Madagascar and also endangered.

Apie also had to take in the view from Jurgen's shoulders :)

This photo is from our previous trip in April, but it's one of my all-time favorites so I had to share it again.

And the above is Apie wallowing in total self-defeat.  No new gadgets this time.

On the way back home, Jurgen turned to me in the car and asked "Was today really like getting a present for you?" - I immediately resounded with an absolute yes!  It was indeed better than any material gift anyone could ever give me {with the possible exception of a dslr ;)}.  This is one tour that I will never tire of and I'm sure this will not be our last visit to Bush Babies.

So Apie.... until next time!!!

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Bush Babies is open 7 days a week with tours operating between 9:00am and 4:00pm.  It's located in the beautiful little town of Hartbeespoort {about a 45 minute drive from Jo'burg}.  For any South Africans and tourists passing through the area, it's an absolute must!  Tickets are R195.00 per adult {about $25 per person} and tours are approximately 90 minutes long.  For more information visit their site here.

06 November 2012

A Life Update.

Hello everyone!

Today I thought a good solid life update was in order.

Jurgen surprised me last weekend by taking me on a mid-study break to Bushbabies!  He knows me so well.  If I could describe my dream job {salary not considered} it would probably be working here, or travelling for the rest of my life, one of the two.  This was our second time visiting the monkey sanctuary in the past six months and it most definitely won't be our last.  It's my happy place - plain and simple.  I'll be back on Thursday with more photos and details from our weekend!

In other news, I finished my post-graduate degree!  It's been a long time coming and it felt so good to hand in my final exam yesterday afternoon.  I could just feel the stress melting off.  This girl has officially been studying for seven years now and I still have one or two more years to go {depending on the programme}.  By the time I really finish I think I'll be just about ready to throw the towel in on studying for good.  But until then I'm going to celebrate this glorious break in-between studies.  It's going to be pretty darn amazing.

Jurg and I are planning a three week road trip through Namibia in December and January!  We're starting in Cape Town and slowly making our way up to Etosha National Park in the northern part of the country before turning around and heading back to Jo'burg to start the new year.  All of our plans are slowly but surely coming together and I can't wait to share more as everything is finalized.

Lastly {to all of my American friends out there}, be sure to vote today!

01 November 2012

{Wild & Free Private Game Lodge}

Today I thought I would share the last of the photos from our engagement weekend!  I realized that I had given you guys all of the mushy proposal details, without ever telling about how we spent the rest of our incredible weekend at {Wild and Free Private Game Lodge} in Bela Bela.  It was our first time treating ourselves to a 5-star experience, and I must say that if we ever treat ourselves again, our stay at Wild and Free will be difficult to top.  From the welcome drinks to the game drives to the food to the jacuzzi - everything far exceeded our expectations.  Just when we thought things couldn't any better, somehow they would!

Our stay included three {delicious} meals a day prepared by the resident chef, Jabu.  Before each meal he would casually stroll out of the kitchen and stop by each table to let us know what he had prepared for us on that specific occasion.  His descriptions alone would already have us drooling, but nothing could ever prepare us for the edible art work that he put in front of us each meal.  Pure, delicious, creative genius people!  And I am not receiving any form of compensation for saying this... his food is really some of the best we have ever tasted!  I'm beginning to salivate just thinking about it.  When we left that Sunday, Jabu jokingly told us that he would be happy to cater our wedding food.  Jurgen and I took one look at each other and agreed that was probably the best idea ever!

And it wasn't just what we ate, it was where we ate.  Each morning breakfast was served out on the deck overlooking the open bushveld and we were able to spot giraffe and elephant grazing in the distance as we enjoyed our meal.  Dinner was then served at small single tables surrounding a large fire pit with a bonfire.  The whole setting was very magical and in the evenings the view of the stars was phenomenal!

Our stay also included a sunrise and sunset game drive each day.  We took advantage of both options and saw a ton of wildlife.  Our guide John was extremely knowledgeable about the area and frequently communicated with other guides so that he was sure we were heading in the direction of the elephants, water buffalo, etc.  All in all we saw everything from giraffe to elephant to warthog to zebra to antelope to rhinos {+ a baby rhino!} to crocodiles.  We really had the best experience and also enjoyed mid-drive wine and snacks at sunset one evening.  It was such a memorable experience... something that we will never forget.

Up early for a sunrise drive!
This type of antelope is called a Kudu - this one is a young female :)
The first course of breakfast.... oh my heart be still.
Our viewing deck... and where Jurgen proposed :)
Mama + Baby
Cape Water Buffalo
Wine and snacks at sunset
Breakfast on our last morning - so so yummy
We're engaged!

Overall, our engagement weekend couldn't have been more perfect.  And it wasn't just the proposal {although that was a huge part of it!}, it was also the atmosphere and all of the teeny tiny touches that the staff of Wild and Free put into our stay.  We left feeling as though we were leaving behind new friends and as we drove off we were already discussing how we were sure that we would be returning in the future for anniversaries and other special occasions. 

Just thinking about it now gives me goosebumps!

{To visit their site, see here!}