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Pictures are Up!

Okay, I finally got them all off of my camera and got the verticals rotated.  Whew!  I took about 800, but I picked the best 300 or so and put them up here.  The first bunch are from my stopover in Germany on the way to Africa.  Below are some highlights from each of the days to go along with my earlier commentary. :)  Enjoy!

Maintz 5.18.07


Lion Park 5.19.07


Soweto 5.22.07

Cape Town 5.23 - 5.24.07

Safari / Pezulu 5.25 - 5.27.07

Just Saw This...

I was doing a little catching up on my favorite blogs and noticed that while I was gone, Tenika did a featured scrapper post about me on her multi-photo layout blog.  I'm so flattered!  She always picks such awesome layouts to feature on her blog so I'm thrilled that she highlighted some of my work :)  You can see the post here.  Thanks Tenika!

Home Again

Can I tell you how seriously bummed I am to be back?  South Africa is so amazing and I didn't even see a fraction of it!  Hopefully I won't be so dead from the jetlag when I get home from work tonight that I'm too tired to pull the photos off my camera (like I was last night after 36-hours traveling) - if I get them off, I'll try and update with photos tonight.  I took a ton, of course, and I can't wait to see them full size!  In the meantime, a quick summary of the trip after my little update :) 

Tuesday I went to Soweto and the Apartheid Museum.  We saw the shanty town there and went through it and into one of the shacks.  Unbelievable and humbling.  After going to Nelson Mandela's house, the Hector Pieterson Museum and the Apartheid Museum, I had a much better understanding of the way things are and at times I was ashamed to be white!  I couldn't even imagine living through something like that.  Tuesday night Nicole, Gulcin, Connie, Jacob and I went to an African restaurant called Moyo. I ordered a dish called Cig Cig Wat which the server tried to tell me was an aquired taste that I might not like.  He brought up a sample but I loved it - as did the entire table.  We shocked him.  lol. On the whole Nicole wasn't super impressed, but I thought it was delicious.  Great atmosphere, great live music, delicious food.  I need to learn to cook with spices like that.  Such a difference!   

Wednesday Nicole and I were on a 7am flight to Cape Town.  What a gorgeous place!  We checked into the V&A Waterfront Hotel which was amazing.  We had a view of the harbor and Table Mountain from our room.  After getting settled, we did one of those Hop-on-Hop-off double decker bus tours of the city.  It also took us up to Table Mountain where we got off and took the cable car up to the top.  What an amazing view!  After the tour, we wandered through craft markets and explored the waterfront.  We ended up having dinner at a popular mediterranian chain - Anat.  Carved meat with humus, cabbage, eggplant and cucumber in pitas with falafel.  Very nice.  Then we hit the movies - we saw Employee of the Month which I quite enjoyed :)

Thursday we took an all-day tour of the cape.  There are some stunningly gorgeous beaches in the area.  We went to the Cape of Good Hope - the south-western most point of Africa.  We also went to Cape Point and went up to the lighthouse.  There are tons of baboons there - I have pictures of them sitting on the cars.  As we were walking up, I heard something and turned around to see a big baboon running straight at me.  Fortunately he ran past a little to the side.  When we came back down from the top, we were just in time to see another baboon attack some lady who was eating ice cream in front of them.  They like the people food apparently.  We went to some little fishing villages - we were also going to go out to see the seals, but the boat was down for repairs that day.  We stopped for a very late lunch at a little place right on the harbour which was delicious.  After that, we went to see the South African Penguin colony just down the road off the beach.  They were in the middle of hatching season so we saw lots of penguins sitting on their eggs and also lots of chicks.  They call them jack-ass penguins and once you hear them, you know why.  They sound like a cross between a goose and a donkey, but they were so cute.

Friday we were on the 6am flight back to Joberg where we rented a car and drove up into the bush.  It was a beautiful drive - it goes into the Mpumalanga region and through the Drackensburg mountain range, which is stunning.  Nicole was awesome driving on the other side of the road, and after only one wrong turn, we made it to Pezulu where we stayed in tree houses.  The people who run it are so awesome and they treat all their guests like family.  After checking in, we met everyone in the bar for drinks (where they were shocked that they met some Americans who didn't drink... lol.  Apparently the ones they know all drink like fish.)  We met the other couple who had just checked in (they were the only other guests) and then went down into an outdoor enclosure for dinner - they have a fabulous cook who brought out the most delicious African cuisine.  We made arrangements for our game drive the next morning and then retired to our tree house, complete with outdoor bathroom and mosquito netting :D.

Saturday, we got up for a 6:30am game drive with Ettiene, our ranger, and Ronny.  It was freezing, but it was just Nicole and I on the drive and it was unbelievable.  I've wanted to go on safari for years now and never thought I'd be able to.  I loved it.  LOVED it!  We saw rhinos, giraffes, wildebeast, warthogs, ostrich, and more.  It was exhilerating just driving around in the bush and hunting for animals.  We were going down an old riverbed when we were stopped by a huge aardvark hole in the middle of the road.  Only after Ettiene got out to check it out did we realize how sandy it was.  We tried for a while to get out on our own, but we were very firmly stuck in the sand and eventually had to call for a tow.  In the meantime we just enjoyed being out in the bush, and hoped that the buffalo and leopards didn't find us... lol.  We got out, though, and finished the drive which was followed up by an awesome brunch.  That afternoon, Nicole's co-worker Connie flew in to join us, and after tea (and some time spent watching the SA v. England rugby match) we took off with Ettiene on an evening drive.  This time we also saw zebra and buffalo, and then he took us to a hill where we could watch the sun set behind the mountains.  It was stunning.  Once it was dark, he pulled out the spotlight (and froze his hand off in the process) and we drove through the bush in the dark - we found eagles, an owl, and then cut into a clearing where we found zebra, ostrich, wildebeast and some buffalo all hanging out together.  That little adventure was followed by another amazing dinner.  This time we got to try a South African specialty - a Malay dish called Bobotie.  So good!  I'm definitely going to have to google the recipe.

Sunday, Ettiene woke us up at 5:30 - he was taking us to a park that was further out to try and find elephants which we all really wanted to see.  As we were driving out of the grounds where we were staying, we saw wildebeast and zebra, and then buffalo further out, and then along the fence we saw giraffe, and even further we stopped for several minutes because there were 7 lions along the fence at the side of the road.  They were just gorgeous!  We figured it was a good omen that we saw so many animals before we even got to the reserve.  Once there, we met West, the owner of Pezulu, who was flying over the park to try and find elephants for us.  He couldn't find them from the air, so we tried to track them, but couldn't find any fresh tracks.  We saw tons of animals, however, including hippos.  As we came to the dam to look for the hippos, we saw a reptile tail heading into the grass.  They have Nile Crocodiles there and we thought it might be one.  Ettiene stopped the truck and shot out the door and headed down the hill after it before we could even look twice.  I've never seen anyone move that fast!  He came back up the hill dragging it by the tail while it tried to rip his arm off with its teeth.  It turned out not to be a croc, but rather a Water Monitor or, as they're called there, a Leguaan.  This one was more than 2 meters long and it was amazing!  Once he had it subdued, we were all able to come in and pet it.  So cool.  Hopefully my pictures turned out well full size.  Anyway, after that, we drove around some more but still couldn't find the elephants.  We went back to the lodge for breakfast and then got cleaned up and checked out.  I was more sad to leave Pezulu than I've been to leave anywhere in a long time.  I could have stayed there at least week!

After we left Pezulu, we drove back out and took the Panoramic route through the Drakensburg mountains so we could see the Blyde River Canyon - it's the 3rd deepest canyon in the world.  It was quite gorgeous, but I'm sure it would be been even cooler if it hadn't been winter and if we'd have had time to explore from a boat instead.  At the end of the canyon we stopped in a place called Graskop for a famous local specialty.  Pancakes.  Only they serve them stuffed - I had a savory one stuffed with minced meat and spices with cheese.  It was very nice.  We also tasted one with bananas, homemade caramel sauce and cream.  Totally decadent.  After that, we continued to drive back to Johannesburg.  We made it in once piece back to the Hyatt, thank goodness!  and checked in about 10pm.

Monday, we got up and re-packed all of our suitcases, and then went out for some last minute shopping and food before heading to the airport.  We hadn't been thinking about baggage when we planned, however, since we had bags for me plus Nicole and Connie who had both been there a month.  Needless to say, the car was packed.  Connie sat in the back with 3 suitcases and her feet up in the air and I had another one on my lap.  We made it, though, and I got on the plane to begin the 36 hour trip back to Utah.  We stopped in Frankfurt for about 6 hours, but it was raining so we didn't go out.  Then Nicole and I split and I came through Cincinnati back to Salt Lake and got home last night.  I think the jet-lag should hit me about 3pm... lol. 

Anyway, that's the summary!  We did so much, and I'm so sad to not be there anymore.  It's such an amazing place with wonderful people.  I'd go back in a heartbeat.  I hope someday I'll get the chance :D  And next time, I'll make sure to spend that full week at Pezulu ;)

Hello From Africa!

Well I'm here!  So far it's been awesome.  I feel like I've been here much longer than just 2.5 days, but that might be the jetlag and the 2 days it took to get here ;)  I left Thursday and flew overnight to Frankfurt where I had a 12.5 hour layover.  So, I hopped on the train at the airport and went to Maintz.  That was cool - it's where Guttenberg is from, so while I was there I stopped at the Guttenberg museum which was very interesting.  I did a self-guided walking tour of the city, had some pretzels and sausage and spent some time relaxing in the fresh air in the Spillerplatz by the Carnivale Fountain, which is very cool.  At that point the fact that I do NOT sleep well on planes was starting to catch up with me, so I went back to the airport and read until my flight.  By the time I got on board, I was about to fall asleep standing up and I crashed almost as soon as I was in my seat.  So from there, I had a 10-hour flight straight down the length of Africa and got to Johannesburg on Saturday morning.  I slept, thankfully, on and off for the entire flight.  Which was a good thing since we had plans from the moment I got there.

So... Africa.  Nicole met me at the airport with Conrad, who is a friend of a friend from Virginia that she was introduced to through email.  He took us to central Johannesburg for a quick look at the city itself.  Let me tell you.  That is a seriously scary place.  It's like the worst section of DC, only it's the entire city.  As we were walking from our car, I couldn't see any other white people anywhere we went.  I was kind of expecting it, but we got some odd looks.  But Conrad took us up to the 50th floor of the Carlton center, which used to be part of a ritzy hotel that closed down because of the urban decay.  But from there, we had a panoramic view of the entire city, and all of the abandoned gold mines that surround it.  There are lots of buildings that used to be offices or apartments that have just been abaondoned and are now full of squatters.  All of the banks, businesses, etc... have moved outside of the city now.  It's kind of amazing to see.  Once again, I'm reminded how incredibly blessed I am.  Every time I come home from one of these trips and look at all that I have I just realized that I am so spoiled.  But I quickly forget, of course, until I'm reminded again at times like this.

After leaving the city, we stopped by the hotel so that I could drop off my suitcase and take a quick shower.  2 days on the plane, I needed it!  Then we took off for the Lion Park.  That was so much fun!  We met the other 3 members of Nicole's team who are working here - Jacob, Gulcin and Connie.  They're all a blast.  We fed the giraffes - they have seriously long tongues.  We walked around taking pictures and then went on our guided game drive through the park.  It's kind of like the wild animal park near San Diego.  We saw zebras, wildebeasts and some other animals that were similar to impalas.  There were wild dogs, jackals, ostriches, hyenas, cheetas and, of course, lions.  There were four camps of lions, and they have quite a few white lions, which are just gorgeous.  In one of the camps, two of the lionesses started circling our truck and then sat on either side.  We got some great pictures.  After the drive, we went to where they had the lion cubs and they let us into the cage to play with them.  I think they were about 3 months old, and sooooo adorable!  We could only scratch their backs and bellies, but some of them decided to get frisky and do a little affectionate nibbling.  Gulcin and I are the only ones who didn't get bitten, I think. Since there were no other groups waiting and no children, they let us stay in there for close to 30 minutes - quite a bit longer than the regular 2 minute max.  I got some great pictures - can't wait to get home and get them downloaded!

After the Lion Park, we drove back a different way and Conrad pointed out an area where thousands of people have taken over a section of land and built make-do houses.  I've read about shanty-towns, but the reality of seeing one just blows your mind.  They build houses out of scrap metal and cardboard boxes and they're practically stacked on top of each other for almost as far as you can see.  I just can't even comprehend living like that.  The saddest part is that about a minute further down the road, there's an enclosed compound of houses where the rich people live - they're gorgeous and can cost up to 20 million rand each.  That kind of dichotomy seems to be completely normal here, however.

So, once back at the hotel, we rested for a few minutes, and then some of the ladies stationed at the consolate here in SA came to pick us up.  They're from the Indian population, who had their own township.  I'm sure I'm spelling their names wrong, but they're sisters named Ushon and Rumilla.  They took us to the Indian part of the city where they had this outdoor evening market.  It was fascinating.  Lots of loud Indian music, the smell of cooking meat and saffron, stalls selling everything you can imagine.  We stopped at a spice merchant and got some different spices (Steph - I'm going to need a good curry recipe!)  After that, we went to a Pakistani restaurant and had curry for dinner.  Very good.  Then, back to the hotel to crash.  So that was day 1!  lol.  Good thing I slept on the plane :-P

Yesterday, we went with Nicole's co-workers to a 5-star hotel - The Wycliff, where we met some more people from the consolate for brunch.  The seafood lovers were in heaven, but I had eggs benedict, polenta and parma rosa pasta.  They had a dessert table that was to die for - they have a traditional pudding that's kind of like bread pudding that just melted in your mouth.  So good!  After that, it was shopping time.  I do like to shop :D.  Nicole and I went with Jacob and Guchen to a roadside market that they had seen.  These were people who lived in trailors and shantys in the middle of the market and sold these gorgeous handcrafted goods during the day.  They had such cool stuff.  From there we went to the weekly roof-top craft market that they hold in the parking garage of the mall across the street from our hotel.  We could have spent an entire day in that place.  So much to see!  Nicole was in her element - she loves to bargain.  I hate it, so I would pick out something I liked, find out what the starting price was, and then stand back and let Nicole get me a good deal.  I did get a few deals on my own, however.  I have a carved wooden giraffe that's close to 4 feet tall that I'm going to have to somehow get on the airplane.  lol.  I'm sure I'll work it out ;)

Anyway, today Nicole is at work and I've been hanging out.  There's an awesome gym at the hotel and then I wandered over to the shopping center to pick up a few groceries (a whole bag of groceries for under $10!) and then I did a little more souvenir shopping in the African Craft Market outside the mall.  Tomorrow I'm going on a tour to one of the townships - Soweto.  It has lots of ties to the anti-Aparthied movement, and I'm going to the Apartheid museum as well.  Wednesday morning Nicole and I are off to Cape Town.  We got a killer deal on a waterfront hotel and I can't wait to stand on Cape Point and see the Cape of Good Hope.  After that, we're off on safari, (and right now I'm supposed to be researching points of interest for the drive there and back... Nicole booked a rental car and will be driving on the wrong side of the road.  Mildly frightening.)  It's been awesome so far, but the best is yet to come!

Anyway, that was quite the novel :)  I'll update again once I'm back home.

Minutes to Midnight

41rn8mqhhmlWoohoo!  Love me some new LP. I know what I'll be downloading on iTunes tonight ;)  Nothing like some awesome new tunes on a long airplane trip, right?

Right now I'm plodding through some reporting and watching last night's AOL concert in a little corner of my screen.  Nice.  Can't wait until their next tour! 

Beautiful Baby Shower!

This weekend we had Mel's baby shower.  It's always so much fun to go and celebrate a new baby!  I went early to help Mel's sister Lola get everything set up and ready to go.  I had made some fun little party favors - I did die-cut / pieced baby bottles with a hole that you could see through and attached P5120005them to a bag that had all the dry ingredients for M&M sugar cookies.  It turned out so cute!  But guess who didn't take a picture :-P  Lola and I also made a diaper cake - my first, but I found out that she makes lots of them, which is why her portion (the diapers all tied together) turned out so great.  I just added some fun little gifts and some flowers.

Lola made lunch - fabulous spinach and strawberry salad and chicken salad on Lion House Rolls (mmmm.)  We had a nice turn-out and played some cute games.  My favorite was the one where everyone puts a bag on their head and then the host tells you to take off something you don't need and everyone keeps going until you realize that you don't need a bag on your head!  Julie was awesome, though, and got it on the first go-round.P5120018   There were a few others, like putting a paper plate on your head and then trying to draw a picture of a baby on it.  That was pretty funny.  There were also some darling baby gifts - Mel and Vic have decided not to find out whether they're having a boy or a girl, so there was a lot of green and yellow in evidence :) P5120025

After the shower, Mel and I just sat and talked for a few hours.  So nice to just do a little catching up!  Angelina was really cute too... I had brought her this little pink turtle with a bobbing head that I picked up at a market in Cancun.  She was endlessly entertained.  I've never seen anyone able to turn anything into a toy like she does - her imagination is just unbelievable!P5120016

So on Sunday, I found out that my ward is going to be split next week.  This should be interesting.  There was a lot of speculation in relief society about who would be going where... I have a feeling my complex will get lopped off of the rest of the ward and put in a new ward with another group.  Which means I would get out of Primary!  Yay!  Not that I don't like the kids, I just don't like teaching them such boring lessons.  No 8-year old should have to read straight from the bible.  Bleh.  They don't allow outside material in the lessons either.  But the kids are good sports and totally cute.  But we'll see if I get a chance to go back to being an unsociable single in the back row of Sunday School once I get back at the end of the month :)

And speaking of... I'm still counting the days!  Nicole and I have spent the weekend emailing and we've been IMing today, going over possible itineraries and tours.  I'm starting to get so excited but at the same time it's frustrating to look at our calendar and budget and then compare it to everything we want to do.  Nicole is the master at getting good deals, however, so I'm hoping we'll find a way to make it work.  Just looking at the pictures of the places we're planning to go is making me giddy!  Now, if this stupid, nagging little sore throat that I woke up with yesterday will just succumb to my Vitamin C bombardment and go away, all would be perfect!

6 days, 2 hours, 48 minutes

That's how long until my plane takes off and I leave for Africa!  I'm not counting or anything.  lol.  It's finally started to sink in that I'm actually doing this, so thank you to Nicole and her uber-cool job and flying/hotel benefits for making it possible to cross something off of my "things to do before I die" list that I didn't think I'd ever get to cross off.  Now if I can just get her to reply to my emails so that I know our safaris and tours are good to go.  And if I can just get over the fact that everyone I talk to tells me how dangerous they here it is in South Africa.  Of course, as soon as I mention that I'm staying at the Hyatt, not a hostel near the townships, it's a different story.  lol.  Let me just say, however, that in reading the State Dept. website to make sure I didn't need any shots or special visas, I realized an important truth.  The State Dept. is committed to frightening all potential travelers into never leaving the country.  Seriously.  I got half-way through their travel warning and almost called off the trip!  Then I realized that they have similar warnings for all of the countries I've visited and the panic goes away.  I did, however, take one safety precaution.  I was going to take a picture and post it, but I was too lazy.  I picked up a bottle of bug repellant.  100% deet for "severe conditions."  My goal is to come home malaria-free.  I'm hoping that's not too much to ask ;)

Anyway, a few posts ago I put up a layout from my trip to Costa Rica last year and I mentioned that I wasn't liking it and would probably redo it.  I can't tell you how much time I've spent trying to get this stupid layout to work for me.  I know, relax, it's just a hobby, right?  You'd think.  It's been totally blocking me and obsessing me though.  I haven't been able to work on anything else because it's like this haunting thing hanging over my head.  I even posted it on an anonymous critique blog to help get tips!  I got some great feedback and implemented most all of it.  I'm still not sure that I love it, but I like it sooooo much better than I did before.  So here's the revised version, since I'm sure anyone reading is DYING to see it.  LOL.


So, with that over and put away, I can move on.  Next project?  Tags to go with the treat bags, which I also need to assemble, as the guest favors for Melody's baby shower tomorrow morning.  I can't believe she's just weeks away from her due date!  Time seems to have gone so fast.  Well, I'm sure Mel doesn't feel that way... lol.  And after forgetting my camera for her birthday celebration, I promise not to forget it for the shower tomorrow (note to self.  DON'T forget the camera tomorrow!)

Here's to weekend plans and countdowns to adventure :D  Happy Friday!