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Looking for a single, comprehensive trip report from Roccco & Scaredtodeath

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Jun 23rd, 2003, 11:17 PM
  #1
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Looking for a single, comprehensive trip report from Roccco & Scaredtodeath


I guess maybe I'm being lazy, but after all us regulars lived through every day of Roccco making his trip plans and shared his excitement over the ether, I would love to see a single, comprehensive report on the trip (once the jet lag and whatever bug Roccco picked up have passed). So Roccco how about it?
And for Scaredtodeath - I LOVED your report on Vuyatela simply for the sass! I could just picture you picking up the neareast cushion or other soft furnishing and hitting Roccco over the head with it.
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Jun 24th, 2003, 12:35 AM
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Traci,

I don't think STD (hehe) has the patience to write a comprehensive trip report so you will have to settle for mine!

I really do not know where to begin. This was SUCH a different trip than last year's trip of:

Joburg (1) - Rosebank Hotel
Sabi Sand (3) - Singita Boulders
Cape Town (4) - Table Bay Hotel
Victoria Falls (5) - Matetsi (4), Victoria Falls Hotel (1)
Cape Town (3) - Mount Nelson Hotel

Just to recap, this year's trip was:

Joburg (2) - Michelangelo Hotel
South Luangwa, Zambia (5) - Kafunta River Lodge (3), Kafunta Island Bush Camp (2)
Cape Town (4) - Twelve Apostles (4)
Cape Winelands (1) - Lanzerac Manor
Sabi Sand - Vuyatela (3)

Although my trip this year was a couple nights less, I think I planned it much better and it really flowed well. STD loved Vuyatela and probably would not wish to go anywhere else in the future.

I, on the other hand, LOVED South Luangwa, and while I am not necessarily committed to Kafunta, I would return there in a heartbeat. However, there is a new upscale lodge being built by one of the Kafunta owners friends that will feature very upscale rooms, fancy china and linens and even massage. I could go for some of that, for sure, especially if the price is not too out of line with Kafunta and Kaingo.

When you are in South Luangwa, you KNOW you are in Africa. Right from the time you leave the Mfuwe Airport, the experience begins! For one hour you pass through small roadside villages that are nothing more than a few huts placed together and in a few select places you will see small stores and even a couple bars.

The children in Zambia RUN to the side of the road to enthusiastically wave and it is so cool. Because our flight was delayed about 3.5 hours in Lusaka, we arrived in Mfuwe at about 5:15PM and we had the privilege of having the sun go down on our way to Kafunta. All along the side of the road, for the length of the trip, there were numerous small fires so that the villagers could have better sight of the elephants that roamed the proximity.

It is NOTHING like landing at Hoedspruit and driving through a CITY to get to the Sabi Sand. Last year by flying a charter directly into Singita, I was really misled about how much I really was in the bush. Really, you leave the Sabi Sand and 30 minutes away you are back in a populated city.

PART II to follow...
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Jun 24th, 2003, 12:51 AM
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Not to jump all over the place but I will now back up to the beginning of the trip and try to keep it somewhat in chronological order.

Our flight over was really a tough one for me. Originally we were scheduled to go from LAX-JFK-JNB with no other scheduled stops. However, five days prior to my trip, I was notified by my agent that the JFK flight was cancelled and now only flew out every other day. I had my choice of flying out a day earlier or later but that would mess up my whole itenerary so I opted for the only other choice of flying LAX-Atlanta-JNB. What I did not realize at the time that the flight was really LAX-ATL-Cape Verde-Cape Town-JNB. This added about five hours to my flying time and for the duration of my trip, my DVD monitor did not work and I only had the patience to read for maybe 2-3 hours and sleep for 2-3 hours of the entire 24+ hours of flying.

We arrived at JNB at about noontime and headed straight to our hotel, the Michelangelo Hotel. Last year, being in Rosebank, we did not have an opportunity to see Sandton. Instead, last year we went to some nearby atrocity called the Randburg (?) Waterfront, an outdoor mall centered around a manmade lake that has since been closed for demolition, thank God.

Sandton is a really beautiful place. At once it is sad that we didn't feel safe to venture outside Sandton, but at the same time there is really no need to venture outside of Sandton while in Joburg, except possibly to do a Soweto tour.

Our room at the Michelangelo was AMAZING. I bought the room on Luxury Link, a four night package in a junior suite that included all breakfasts, champagne and fresh flowers in the room, one dinner at the Picolo Mondo and private transfers to and from the airport in one of the hotels private cars (mostly Volvo and Mercedes, it seems).

I negotiated with the hotel prior to my trip to upgrade me to a Premier Suite, instead of the Junior Suite, and in exchange I shortened my stay by two nights since I wasn't interested in staying in Joburg any longer than that period of time.

The Michelangelo Hotel is in Sandton Square and we literally walked out of the hotel and into the mall, exactly like the Table Bay Hotel connects to the Waterfront in Cape Town. We enjoyed a nice lunch at Bukhara's and just explored Sandton Square for a couple hours.

We saw billboards for a theater production called "The Green Mamba" that was playing right in the 100 seat Liberty Theater in Sandton Square and bought tickets for this live performance for a mere 80 Rand per person. Although much of the show centered around South African culture, my wife and I were able to pick up about 80% since we are vaguely aware of South African culture/politics.

PART III to follow...
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Jun 24th, 2003, 01:14 AM
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We were not really hungry for dinner since we had a late lunch and just grabbed some coffee and dessert prior to our theater visit.

By the time the show ended around 9:30 PM, we were exhausted and went straight to bed. Our room had a separate living room, TWO bathrooms, with the master bathroom being really nice and a nice spacious bedroom (with a TV both in the living room and in the bedroom).

We were awake by 5AM, partly out of hunger but mostly out of jetlag and we counted the minutes until our 7AM breakfast downstairs at the Picolo Mondo, passing the time with some retarded movie or other that was good for some sophmoric laughs.

Our breakfast was great. We were the only ones at the restaurant that early but the food was perfectly arranged for the continental buffet and for my hot breakfast I feasted on Ostrich Eggs and Warthog Sausage, and that was about as adventurous as my palate allowed for the duration of the trip.

By 8AM we were downstairs at the business center, taking advantage of our free internet usage that I negotiated with the hotel, while we awaited our 9AM Soweto tour.

Our tour guide arrived promptly at 9AM and he was a very nice 45 (?) year old Afrikaans man named Johan. He used to have his own construction company but he found that with the new rules and regulations of the New South Africa that he was much better off being a tour guide.

Johan told us that the majority of whites in Joburg had never, TO THIS DAY, dared step foot in Soweto, and that many people thought that he was crazy for doing so. While he had his opinions, this in no way negatively impacted the Soweto tour. As business owners, my wife and I share many of the same frustrations with employee relations, so it made for good conversation and helped develop a good rapport.

We visited the grave of Hector Peterson, the 13-year old South African student shot and killed in 1976 during a demonstration to protest apartheid laws in South Africa, as well as the museum that showed the struggle against Apartheid. All the photos inside were actually once secret government files.

From there we visited "Nelson Mandela's house." I paranthesize this because this house was never really Nelson Mandela's actual house, since it was burned down a couple times and rebuilt more as a tourist trap, than anything else. Our guide was not allowed to escort us through and instead one of the guides that worked there escorted us through the house and after showing us certain things, she paused as if she was awaiting some dramatic expression from us, when all I could think of was that THIS was not Nelson Mandela's house!

From there we passed by Winnie Mandela's current home, a compound really, with armed guards outside, and from the number of armed guards (about five), our guide judged that she was home at the time.

We finished our Soweto tour with a stop at Wandie's Place and although STD was too STD to initially eat, I gave it a try and after the guide told STD this was the kind of food that he ate everyday at home, she also tried a plate. It was not bad although I don't think Wandie's will ever need to keep a permanent table waiting for me.

We didn't do much that afternoon. STD got a facial and massage and I explored the Sandton Mall before hooking up for our inclusive dinner at the Picolo Mondo.

All in all we really enjoyed our time in Sandton and the Michelangelo and found it superior to spending one night in Rosebank as we did last year.

The next morning we said goodbye to Joburg and left to catch an 8AM flight to Mfuwe (South Luangwa) connecting in Lusaka.

PART IV to follow...
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Jun 24th, 2003, 01:33 AM
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Our flight to Lusaka was a short 1 hour 45 minute flight on a Boeing 737, I believe. We were scheduled for only a 90 minute stopover, but lo and behold, our flight was delayed by 4 hours!

50% of Zambian Airways fleet went down that day, in this case, one out of their two planes. Our plane was actually right in front of us, but Zambian Airways sent it away empty to Harare to pick up passengers that were stranded when the other plane went down.
It was frustrating, to say the least, to see our plane fly all the way to Harare, five minutes before boarding was scheduled to begin. There is NOTHING to do at the Lusaka Airport and unless you want to pay $20 USD each way to get into a somewhat suspect capital city (safety wise), then, like us, you are probably going to opt to stay in your seat for the next 4 hours.

I did go upstairs to the bar and had a beer, but I found it very painful to watch the preteen American midwestern boy play pool against the equally sized African man, possibly the two worst pool players I have ever seen. While I am no Minnesota Fats, and I have only picked up a pool cue a few times in my life, I knew that these two were something else and I found sitting in the booth with the two of them playing pool a few feet away, the equivalent of voluntarily sitting in a classroom while someone rakes their fingernails up and down the chalkboard.

Our Raytheon Beechcraft 1900D finally made its way back from Harare and we boarded the plance at just before 4PM.
It was a smooth and quick ride to Mfuwe, but the delay cost us our evening game drive.

We, along with another couple from London, were picked up at the Mfuwe Airport by our ranger, Rocky. We didn't even manage to get out of the airport parking lot, before we heard a crashing sound inside the vehicle and our Land Cruiser died! After about 10 minutes, our ranger was able to fix the problem and we were off to Kafunta.

The ride was a very nice experience, as it began to darken and we drove on a road lined with many small villages and half of the roadside bush seemed to be burning, creating a mysterious smoky atmosphere that only complemented the approaching sunset.

We were greeted at Kafunta, by one of the owners and sat with her and the couple from London and had a drink with them for about 30 minutes before going to our room to prepare for dinner.

The scenery at Kafunta was absolutely beautiful. There are eight chalets at the main lodge, the Kafunta River Lodge and they are on raised stilts to protect against floods and hippos, but surrounded by grass and a variety of mature trees.

Besides the British couple, there was a trio of Americans but they were sort of strange and it was immediately apparent from all concerned that conversation with the baboons would likely be more productive. The British couple, however, were really nice and the guy was hilarious...the sort that is just able to deadpan these one-liners on command, a couple that would end up being used on the American trio. He and STD really enjoyed going back and forth with their banter and I was glad that STD found a way to entertain herself sans telephone and internet!

Once STD brought up the subject of British comic, Ali G, that seemed to occupy about 50% of the dialogue for the next two days with Ali G imitations being served up all around.


PART V to follow...
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Jun 24th, 2003, 02:23 AM
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We had a mediocre dinner that was completely acceptable to me (this IS Zambia, after all) but that didn't sit well with STD. Just the same, we could probably each use about six months worth of Zambian cuisine to regain our college physiques, so it didn't really bother STD that much.

At 3AM, I was jarred from a very deep sleep by STD after she heard something munching behind our heads, right outside our thatched chalet. Once I got up, I saw that there was a full grown hipppo that was probably not more than two meters from our heads as it munched away on the grass. We stayed up for the remainder of the morning.

That morning was our initial game drive. Kafunta is located right outside the South Luangwa National Park but it still takes about 30 minutes to get in the park. 20 of those minutes is spent driving to the "pontoon" crossing and 10 more minutes is actually on the pontoon, driving the vehicle onto what is really nothing more than a small barge or trailer and then being rowed across the hippo-infested Luangwa River by Zambian government employees.

Although our first game drive was not very productive, game-wise, it exposed the natural beauty of the South Luangwa Valley and we saw countless Puku's, Impala's, a few Buffalo, numerous birds of every size and our first Thornicroft Giraffe, a species that is only found in the South Luangwa National Park.

We returned for our mediocre brunch (Kafunta serves coffee or tea with only some cookies or pastries prior to the morning game drive and then has an 11AM brunch). The good thing about Kafunta, is that the game drives lasted 4+ hours both in the morning and night.

Our night drive departed at 4PM and that night, our second night but first night drive since we arrived late the first night, we saw two separate leopards. One of the more fascinating things that I saw on this trip was when the leopard that we had the spotlight on, unknowingly seemed to pass by an Impala or Puku that was hiding not more than 10 feet away as it crossed. We were following the leopards eyes with the spotlight when a second set of eyes, became visible to us but not to the leopard.

That night we had a festive dinner and drinks with our British friends, although the awkward American trio was also seated with us, along with our ranger and one of the owners.

The next morning we exchanged emails and said goodbye to the Brits for our long 3.5 hour journey on one of the worst roads imaginable to the Kafunta Island Bush Camp. Sports Bras and Athletic Supporters should definitely be passed around for this ride, but the scenery was beautiful, nonetheless, and we did encounter 12 Thornicroft Giraffe together along the way.

We did have to make a crossing on a large kayak to get to the Island Bush Camp, getting very close to a couple pods of 20+ hippo.

The setting of the Island Bush Camp is amazing. You almost think that you are on the Zambezi River instead of the Luangwa, and not more than a few seconds pass before you hear the hippos grunting nearby and the various birds singing all around.

We were greeted by the managing couple--a 32 year old South African guy that was a bit too heavy on the sarcasm and cigarettes, and his 26 year old New Zealander wife. Imagine Dennis Miller, Edward Norton and Russell Crowe all rolled into one and that was the guy (2/3 of that combo is hard to tolerate).

We did have some excellent exchanges with the managing couple, however, and took a great interest in their past experience in the bush...well, I did, STD had nothing in common with them and found it difficult to remain on her best behaivor! I did think that they were a bit too self-absorbed (and that is our job as paying guests) and found their chain smoking habits annoying.

However, the beauty of the camp made up for it and we were served a braii (sp.?) each night, a very slight upgrade from the food at the other camp.

This camp was strictly game walks and STD even went on one while I did three game walks.

The true highlight, however, was the camps location and the actual rooms which were nothing more than thatched walls that only went up four feet, with the remainder open to the outside, but with a mosquito net surrounding the twin beds. There were flushing toilets and a nice shower that had about a 10 gallon bucket of heated water overhead that proved to be completely sufficient.

There was no electricity in the camp and we operated completely off kerosene lamps and for the cooking only fire. The one talent that the managing woman had was baking bread and I must say that the bread, was great and far superior to the bread we had at Vuyatela and even some of the restaurants in Cape Town.

The game walks were exciting at first but then grew a little frustrating when you realized that close encounters with predators or elephants was unlikely. Instead I learned that hyena dung is white, that Impala's dung is in little pellets and that the locals engage in impala dung spitting for distance contests, and I learned to identify a variety of animal tracks. Still, it was fun for two days.

We returned for a final night at Kafunta River Lodge and on the way back encountered a couple elephants along with other game.

On my final day, I enjoyed a couple beers by the natural hot spring while I continued to read Dark Star Safari half-heartedly, as the author continued to talk trash about our sort that go into Africa "on safari" but never really see African people, other than the ones that serve us. Whatever...to me while he is a great storyteller he is also a crotchety old man that is lashing out at others in response to the 60th birthday that he had approaching.

Anyway, the final night game drive was spent with a PharmD couple, each professors, she an American from New York, he a Zambian now residing in the USA but back for a monthlong visit with his family in Lusaka. They were okay, I guess, but a little too anal for still being in their late 20's.

Almost immediately in the game drive we came across a pride of 8+ lions and cubs. First we came across three cubs and a couple lionesses that were babysitting and later we came across a trio that was out hunting that DID NOT appreciate our presence! We probably approached within 10 feet of the hunting lionesses and after a couple seconds, the nearest one got up quickly, and for one heartsinking moment, took a first step towards us before turning the opposite direction. Not that it would have mattered, but the private game park rangers in South Luangwa are not permitted to carry firearms.

On the same gamedrive we saw a few elephants, giraffes, zebras, buffalo, etc. We saw just about everything that the South Luangwa had to offer that night.

For me, Kafunta was a really great experience. With mature Baobab and Sausage trees towering all over the South Luangwa and the Luangwa River never far away, it was a beautiful locale. Plus, the price was right. Even with our flight from JNB-Lusaka-Mfuwe, it was still less expensive than most every game lodge in the Sabi Sand while offering a much more genuine safari experience. Lastly, the people we met at Kafunta, whether we liked them all or not, were a much better travelled group than the seven Texan stewardesses at Vuyatela. Can you even imagine??? "Y'all are sitting right where the smoke is blowing...Sure you don't want to move on the other side of the fire?" Uh, no, I think I will die a quick death of smoke inhalation rather than a slow death of Y'alls on the other side of the fire with y'all.

PART VI to follow TOMORROW!!! Time for my two hours of sleep as I try to get rid of this jetlag.
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Jun 24th, 2003, 03:11 AM
  #7
RBO
 
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I also hoped for a short trip report. Instead it is so long. I guess you cannot help yourself, Roccccccccccco. Have a nice trip and hope one day you will understand what a short trip report is.
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Jun 24th, 2003, 05:10 AM
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thanks for all the detail. It maks you feel as if you are there. Can't wait to hear more.
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Jun 24th, 2003, 05:19 AM
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I agree with "dlm" - I love reading all the details from your trip. Thanks for taking the time to post such a comprehensive report, Rocco. I look forward to your second installment.
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Jun 24th, 2003, 05:54 AM
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My family has never had the good fortune to visit Africa. We are arm chair travellers, so we loved Roccco's report. The details are fascinating, and I hope he will follow this with even more. If we ever do get to go there I know some great ideas just coming form what he says about his trip. It was really interesting.
 
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Jun 24th, 2003, 06:08 AM
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Y'all don't like Texans?? Ah, c'mon, they were just trying to be nice. How do you know they weren't well traveled? A lot of people (moi included) get in the airline business just so they can travel.
 
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Jun 24th, 2003, 06:45 AM
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Rocco, great report -- you really captured the essence of Kafunta and the feeling of being in the heart of Africa. Looking forward to your next installments.

Michael
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Jun 24th, 2003, 09:07 AM
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I have to admit, I also really found your trip report very interesting, so far. The great detail you go to does give one a good sense of what it was like. I am looking forward to the rest of your report. Most interested in Cape Town and visit with Selwyn.
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Jun 24th, 2003, 12:16 PM
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Hey Rocco...

I have a list of questions for you but I don't want to bore this message board with the details. Can you email me at [email protected] so I can send this list to you?

Thanks.

Kevin
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Jun 24th, 2003, 12:19 PM
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Kewilliam,

No problem. I'll email you later on today.

Also, here is my email in case anybody needs it:

[email protected]
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Jun 24th, 2003, 12:58 PM
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Rocco - printed out your entire report (so far) and took to read as I caught some sun (after the monsoons we've had in NYC these past few weeks, had to get out into the sun).

Glad that no one was sitting close by 'cause I was howling at some of your tales, especially the Hippo grazing by your tent - could definitely get the adrenaline going.

When we visited Kenya, we had the same experience as you did in Zambia, with the children running to the roadside to greet us. Amazing how they could hear a vehicle from miles away and be there as you passed or stopped.

Can you tell me what city you passed after arriving at Hoedspruit on way to Sabi Sand? The only thing we passed was the Hoedspruit Research Center where they care for endangered cheetah and other cats, any all we saw was the security fence - not any sign of civilization. And when we left Sabi Sand, we drove on terrible roads past some local villages (no City) and once on blacktop only beautiful scenery until we got to a town called Gaskop (sp), and that was about 3-hrs. later.

Like you, when we visited in '01, a few months after 9/11 our flight schedule was changed - we had to leave a day earlier. It was good that our plans for first and last day were fluid and easily adjusted. This is something I do regardless where I travel "just in case".

After 4 trips to Africa, I still have a problem with these early morning game drives. I "don't do early" very well; though I'm up at crack of dawn or earlier, I prefer my breakfast (even if only juice, coffee and toast) relaxed. And the idea of brunch at 11am and no meal until afternoon tea (coffee, snacks) maybe at 4pm and dinner after 8pm, I'm not a happy camper. While my travel partner did "do early" on some days, most often we arranged to go out after breakfast about 9:30am and stay out till lunch, which we ate at 1pm. And strangely, the three times I did early drives, we were often disappointed in animal sightings - finding lots of animals still sleeping. That is except for our Leopard sighting which we spent about 3-hrs tracking and even saw her being attacked by a baboon.

Great story about the various animal dung, but did you have the opportunity to put your hand on fresh elephant dung? Disgusting at the thought, but one of our guides coaxed us to do so and I'm still amazed that I dipped my manicured nails. I still shudder thinking about it, but I did. The best though was watching two land snails "doing it" right in the middle of the road (got a great photo of this).

Bye the way, what kind of business do you and STD have?

Looking forward to the continuing story -----.
 
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Jun 24th, 2003, 01:34 PM
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Rocco...

Great thanks for the email address. I just sent you two emails.

Please let me know your thoughts/opinions.

Kevin
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Jun 24th, 2003, 04:25 PM
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Sandi,

We went through the Gowrie Gate into the Sabi Sand Reserve. Vuyatela was very close, possibly within 2 kilometers from the Gowrie Gate and to get to the Gowrie Gate we went through a town that seemed to have at least 5,000 people with a supermarket, a shopping mall and street vendors, along with goats and cattle on the road.

Regarding our professions, I have my own company (with my brother and dad) and our company installs traffic signals and street lighting throughout Southern California, working for the various municipalities and the State of California.

STD and I own a couple Residential Care Facilities for the Eldery (RCFE's) that specialize in Alzheimer's care. STD is the administrator and does 95% of the work for that business. They are just six bed residential homes but are like a Bed and Breakfast quality and they are completely private pay, as it is hard to enough to provide quality care when people are paying 5 times the amount that Social Security would pay.

I look forward to some sleep and if I cannot sleep then I will continue on with my reports which I believe will pick up on our arrival back in Johannesburg for our layover on the way to Cape Town. Some interesting stuff coming up in there. Stay tuned!
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Jun 24th, 2003, 06:23 PM
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Roccco-
Was the jet lag that bad? I've been to Australia and Europe and everyone warned me before those trips that I would feel like hell for a few days. The Australia travel WAS grueling, by the time I flew home from Sydney-LAX- New Orleans, I was probably drooling in my sleep on the passenger next to me, but I was pleasantly surprised how very quickly I bounced back. And you're a young buck as I recall - 30 something? I'm 40-something.
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Jun 24th, 2003, 06:39 PM
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Off To Africa,

South Africa is probably the furthest place in the world from Los Angeles. The day started with an early morning 3.5 hour game drive, a nearly 1.5 hour transfer to the airport (Hoedspruit), followed by waiting one hour for the actual flight, followed by a 4.5 hour layover in Joburg, followed by a 1 hour layover in Cape Verde, followed by a very rushed custom clearing 1 hour 15 minute stopover in JFK, and ended with a 5+ hour flight from JFK-LAX on a plane with a little league team and worse yet their obnoxious parents (THESE are the types of parents that physically attack the umpires).

From the time we left Vuyatela to the time we arrived at our front door (home), it was just a tad under 35 hours. No matter what age a person is, that is a rough trip.

The only reason why I was able to even stay up last night was because I ran for the first time in nearly a month and couldn't sleep after that.

I hope to continue my trip report later tonight.
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