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Monthly Archives: August 2011

Livingstone, Zambia

Author: Steve

Getting out of our shuttle when we arrived at our accommodations in Livingstone was an eye-opening experience – three of us were thinking, ‘hmmm, is this really the place’? Not that it wasn’t nice but it was definitely rustic for a 2-week stay.  While the 4th person, Keegan, was thinking ‘wow this is going to be so cool’!!  If you remember the Twilight Zone series, it’s kind of like an episode where a family goes on a camping vacation but never gets to leave and group after group go through and we were still there!  People stay maybe 2 or 3 days and then move on, we were there so long that the staff officially labeled us Zambian residents.  However, we all came to appreciate the Jolly Boy Camp/Hostel for the extremely kind staff and for all the people that came through while we were there.

As I mentioned, the person who came to love this place the most was Keegan and why wouldn’t he; he could talk to backpackers from all around the world every night at a campfire (we needed to drag him to bed); play a game of billiard’s with kids from Holland; listen to jamming music all day and night in the common bar area while he played cards; sleep under a mosquito net; belly up to the bar for orange Fanta; wash his clothes in a sink; cook meals in an outside shared kitchen; all the staff knew him by name and he got to go on adventures.  One evening Keegan, Kendal and a boy they had met from Rome played cards late into the night. They had a great time and laughed a lot.  The next morning we were heading out of the camp in a taxi for the day and the Italian boy came running and told the taxi to stop (the boy was leaving that morning). He reached in the taxi and gave Keegan a necklace that he had gotten when he was in the Serengeti in Tanzania to see the migration the week earlier. “This is a gift for you, ciao”.  What a nice kid; that memory will live with us forever.

This is a frugal backpackers camp/hostel (I can now check hostel off my list) and we met group after group of volunteers (of all ages) from all over the world, here to help this country in many different ways.  Some volunteer for a week some for up to 6 months or longer.  It’s simply amazing and being that this is a shared camp we all had one common area and at night everyone talked to everyone, “where are you from, what are your plans and where do you go from here”.  Everyone was positive and happy. The stories we were honored to listen to were endless and wonderful, we have learned so much.  There are so many fantastic people in this world.

When we first arrived we were instructed by our camp that its best to use the contracted taxi’s to make sure you are not taken advantage of by other cab drivers. Also, try not to walk alone outside the security perimeter and even if you are with someone never walk at night outside the camp.  The camp like many secured places we have seen thus far in South Africa and Zambia has an electrical fence and then barbed wire somewhere incorporated onto their secure border. One of the staff told us that the bad people don’t want to kill you they just want to rob you.  Amy and I walked to the grocery store many times during the day and took the kids as well with no incident.  At the ATM’s there are even police officers with old AK47’s at the ready…so again, not so bad.

Keegan and I decided to take advantage of a free walking-city-tour offered by our camp one morning.  We were the only 2 to show up for the tour of Livingstone.  Keegan knew what it looked like outside our camp and even though he was hesitant he said, “let’s do this”.  Jonathon our tour guide works at our camp and showed us around for about 2 hours.  This was like any movie you see where they show the impoverished side of Africa, all you have is dusty dirt roads, road side shacks that are shops, mothers walking with babies on their backs in scarves, ladies carrying buckets and groceries on their heads and men working on roads and houses with antiquated equipment (if any equipment at all) and children playing happily in the streets.  Keegan and I stood out as tourists; a good lesson for both of us of what it is to be in the true minority.  At first I was nervous walking around but as I continued to talk to Jonathon and learn about his country and his city I became more appreciative of the struggle these people have gone through and will continue to go through for some time.

Note: historical portion of blog you may want to skip:

It’s interesting to me that we are in Zambia, Africa visiting one of the Seven Wonders of the World and it’s named after a British Queen.  But after talking to Jonathon and understanding the time frames of David Livingstone’s 1855 discovery of the Mosi-oa-Tunya things sort of came together. Other European explorers and most likely Arabs had already passed through this area and seen it prior to Mr. Livingstone but dismissed it because they were in search of other treasures (Zambia is one of the top 3 producing countries of Emeralds – a lesson we learned at the campfire from an anthropologist traveler doing research).  In 1911 North-Eastern and North-Western Rhodesia merged to form the British Colony of Northern Rhodesia.  After colonization and the establishment of the imperial rule many decades passed and much happened (too much to put in a short blog but extremely interesting).  Zambia went through a heavy segregation period where blacks and whites could not socialize. Their Independence took place just 47 years ago in 1964.

The North-Western Hotel in Livingstone where Queen Victoria stayed is still standing today, it was built in 1907.  It’s in a shambles but is an official National Monument so it can’t be torn down. The original sign still hangs above the entrance, Jonathon asked us to look closely and we could clearly see a black person pushing a white person in a cart (it looked like a wheelbarrow). This was one of the attractions of the hotel because these people were pushed all the way to Victoria Falls and back, which is over 10K one way.  We took that similar route to the falls (but with a paved road) and to actually see where and imagine how these people were pushed is amazing.  Ironically enough this hotel was also the first place to have and allow a multi-racial social bar in Livingstone in 1961.

Every country has it’s own very deep history and I am enjoying learning as much as I can as we travel through each location.  We head to Cape Town, South Africa next – this will be one of our longest stays (in the same apartment) during our journey.

Sleeping quarters under the nets. Luckily we weren't in summer season so the mosquitoes weren't bad. We've been good about taking our malarone pills as well.

Playing pool in the common area.

Heading out for an adventure to the grocery store.

Keegan with Jonathon our great city-tour guide. Locals don't appreciate it when you take pictures so this was the only shot we got (one of the nicest buildings).

Keegan showing what the boys were cooking for dinner. He was wearing a bandana like the cool college campers.

Doing laundry.

Here's Kendal writing a blog and checking her emails in the common area.

Typical night at camp. You can see the money exchange rate to the left (we've been through 7 exchange rates since we left the states). The young couple in the back were from Holland, the women spent 6 weeks teaching AIDS prevention and sexual abuse prevention to women. The older couple on the right came to Namibia from Wisconsin 15 years ago after their kids left home, they basically never went back they stayed and build schools for kids throughout the region.

Chillin' in the backpackers cove. The staff asked Keegan when he would come back and he told them he would be back in 15 years. The more I'm learning about Keegan the more I wouldn't doubt that.

 
4 Comments

Posted by on August 28, 2011 in Zambia

 

Botswana, Africa – Chobe National Park Safari

Author: All

Tent 1 – Kendal and Amy

Well the urbanites with no pets and no camping experience did it!  We went on a 2 day 2 night CAMPING Safari in the Chobe National Park in Botswana, Africa.  Were we scared?  Not until we got there.  Chobe National Park is huge; it’s the size of Portugal.  There were animals at every turn.  It was an exhilarating and awesome experience that we will never forget.  The trip included; a boat game drive, an afternoon game drive, an evening game drive and an early morning game drive, as well as all the camping gear.  Our first night we were with a nice family from Italy and a really fun group that had been volunteering with Habitat for Humanity. We were up late talking and telling stories by the campfire.  We also had a brave girl from Germany – only 16 and on her own (!??!) and a 20 something guy from Canada.  It was fun to learn everyone’s story.  Within the first five minutes of the river cruise we saw elephants. We saw an adult and a baby elephant do a river crossing and we saw a herd of water buffalo cross the river as well. We felt honored to see these natural sights.  Our eyes did not blink a whole 2 days from all the different sights and animals to see.  I’m sure it would bore you to list them all.  The ranger told us that they look at the vehicle as one big metal animal.  The exhaust takes their sense of smell away, so they don’t smell humans on board and don’t attack.  All week Keegan wasn’t allowed to do various adventures because he was considered prey.  When we were 2ft away from two lions my mother was not trusting the “one metal animal” theory.  Our guide filled us with wonderful information about all the animals, birds and vegetation.  There was a full moon while we were out (of course!) The sunrise and sunsets were an amazing red that they say only happens in Africa.

As much as I hated the fear — it was all from a lack of control (who says I’m a control freak?) When we asked the guide if he had any weapons “just in case” he pointed to his head – “only this!”  The entire experience was wonderful and it will be with us forever.

Tent 2 – Keegan and Steve

During our camping safari there was a fire going at all times to keep the animals away because they don’t like fire (Kendal and I collected a lot of wood to keep it going and to keep them away — don’t worry we didn’t go that far ;)) On our last sleeping night before we went to bed Dad and I got our flashlights and shone them around the camp to look for animal’s eyes because they reflect against the light.  We saw 100 eyes of Impalas.  And while I was collecting wood for the fire I was pretty sure I saw an Aardvark or Honey Badger or some kind of animal of that size it was really cool. We saw a TON of animals. Our game driver (Steve, not my dad) was full of great information.  On the first game drive we saw two lions up close about to go find them some dinner.  Steve told us they were brother and sister that hunt and do everything together.  My mom was very scared of all the animals because they were literally 2 feet away, touching distance and they were huge. She was holding on to my thigh and wrist very, very hard.  If she held on any longer I would have lost my leg and my hand.  I still have marks where she was holding me.  We also saw some really cute baby elephants and baby baboons (my dad now does not like baboons but the babies are still cute to us).

Imagine the most beautiful picture of an African Safari and it still wouldn’t do this trip justice. There were thousands upon thousands of animals. The sunsets and rising moons were incredible and yes we were extremely nervous being so close to these beautiful animals. They weren’t like the animals you see in the zoo, they were all in great shape, healthy and robust.  The first night, Steve, our very kind and knowledgable guide, basically was running into animals on the road, we had elephants, zebras, water buffalo and hyena practically sitting in our laps (there were no windows or doors on our jeep, easy animal access) .  It all happened so fast; I had the big lens on the camera because I thought the animals would be at a great distance, I never imagined we would be staring face to face with them. Then all of a sudden we were parked for about 15 minutes staring at 2 lions, at dusk, which is when they start hunting.  That was incredibly nerve-racking!  I know for sure one of the lions looked first at Kendal and then was circling the back of the jeep once she saw Keegan.  Luckily her hunting partner (brother) started to head down the road and they both headed for bigger game.  (My family doesn’t remember it this way but this dad is sticking by what he saw-and I surely remember the pounding of my heart).  The next night we had new campers that had just come from a night game drive, they were lucky enough to see a kill.  Two female lions, with a male watching (two of which we saw the night before) hunted down a baby elephant killed and ate it in front of them.  After seeing their graphic video and watching the elephant kick its legs while being suffocated and seeing it start to be tore apart, we all agreed just seeing the lions close up was good enough for us. The next day we went to see the carnage and amazingly enough it was all gone except the rib cage, which was in two pieces and being picked away by the vultures (ahhh, the circle of life).  The first night I was woken up at 2:30am by the sounds of lions, elephants, hyenas and zebras, this went on all night long and are sounds I will never forget.  We had a hyena den about 100 feet from our camp so I know they were close by.  Our guide gave us a lesson on all the scat that was surrounding our tents and we realized that there were not many animals that didn’t stop by to check things out at night.  Most of us took a shower in the bush with a sack of water above your head.  It was pretty eerie to look over the “shower curtain” and see 20-30 baboons about 50 feet away staring at you – check that one off the bucket list!

I did not expect for this safari to be so beautiful, thrilling, tiring and memorable but it was all of that!!  A special shout out to my honey, Amy, this was 2 rings outside her comfort zone but she dealt with it great!

The elephant water crossing

Kendal and Amy checking out the water buffalo water crossing

The kudu were perfect

The beautiful zebra is Botswana's national animal

This lion was right outside our jeep

Walking away for a bigger meal

Keegan securing our campsite between game drives

The kids did a good job keeping the baboons away for Steve but I decided to take his picture as he peeked out "Inappropriate Man in the house"!!

The sunsets were awesome!

At night this hyena was next to our jeep

Full moon and the animals were howling all night

 
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Posted by on August 23, 2011 in Botswana

 

Lubasi Orphanage and the Simonga Village – Zambia

Author: Amy

Part of our year journey was to learn how others in the world live.  Our experience in Zambia included seeing the amazing sights but we also chose to see some not so glamorous sights as well.

Steve’s short addition – Zambia is one of the poorest countries in the world.  They have an election coming up next month.  They have 17 political parties to choose from with a handful being the strongest. It is well known that this is a very corrupt political and economic environment.  The minimum wage has gone down, it was 180,000 kwacha and it’s now 130,000 kwacha per month (currently $1 US = $4700 kwacha, so that’s an income of about $27.66 per month or $331.92 per year).

We spent a few days visiting an orphanage called Lubasi Children’s home.  There are about 40-50 children there right now.  They can house up to 65, they don’t have more right now because they can’t feed them.  We asked the Director what we could do while we were there but even though there was a lot that could be improved/built they had no money for supplies (they are even having a hard time paying employees).  The Director told us the best thing we could do was spend time with the children and let them know how important education is to the success of their future.  They already have things stacked so high against them but an education will at least give them a chance.  AIDS and HIV is the main reason for the orphanages.  The children typically go to the school in town but they are on break until September 5th.  We spent time playing soccer, and games with the kids.  It breaks your heart to see the blatant desire for love and touch.  By the end of our visit kids would be leaning and touching of every part of us.  They loved to stare at and touch my skin and look at the freckles, I told them I was like a Cheetah.  They laughed – you don’t look like a Cheetah!!  Keegan had a blast getting schooled by the kids in soccer – ages 10-17 years old all play together.  It’s amazing to watch them – they are so incredibly fast and strong and LOVED having a new player to mess around with.  We brought a travel-sized game of Trouble (thank’s Kim and Caroline!) and Kendal spent 2 ½ hours playing Trouble with various kids.  They were in heaven (we left the game for them).

One of the girls Kendal and I played with a lot was Memory she is 11 years old.  When we talked to her about getting good grades so she could go to a boarding school she said she did get good marks but was worried that she might have to go to boarding school and she would have to leave her younger sister at the orphanage (they’ve been at this orphanage for 5 years).  Her younger sister, Blessing, is 9 years old and sick (even though you wouldn’t know it by playing with her). Memory told us how that the same morning she woke up and her sister, Blessing, was not in bed.  Memory said she was so very scared because she though her sister had died and her sister is everything to her.  Blessing was rushed to a hospital at 5am and according to Memory she was given a lot of medicine. We don’t know exactly what’s wrong with Blessing but to hear Memory tell the story is simply heart wrenching.

We were not allowed to take any pictures.  One day we were there during lunch – a common meal in Zambia is nshima it’s similar to a very thick porridge – that is served with cooked greens and a sauce.  Everyone eats with their hands.  I hated taking their food (we shared 2 plates between the four of us) but we didn’t want to be rude either.  Our next visits came after meal times. As I mentioned the orphanage emphasizes education.  They all know Nelson Mandela well because he has such a strong influence – his quote “education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world” is taught everywhere.  The camp we stay at has a saying; if your backpack is getting too heavy leave your stuff for the orphanage.  We all are leaving with a lighter bag and a lot heavier heart.

We took a day trip to a local village – Simonga.  It was an incredible experience in taking what you are given and making the most of it.  We were given a tour by a grandson of the Head Woman.  The Head Woman controls basically everything that happens in the village from village disputes, who marries who and even outside village business and non-business relations.  This village is a part of a tribe run by a Chief that has about 250 villages.  This village is the only one with a woman head and is the largest, about 3000 people.  The people were very happy.  A huge asset to this village is a well-pump that the Zambian government (in coordination with a Japan manufacturing company) put in so they don’t have to take the long dangerous walk to the river for water.  Every so many days they get diesel to help automate the water and for other things but if they are out of fuel they need to hand pump.  The village is self-sufficient.  They make their own huts and grow their own food.  Elephants used to be the largest thieves they dealt with in regards to stealing what they had grown in their gardens.  They used to keep elephants out by burning chili powder around the perimeter because elephants hate chili powder.  But the smoke was also burning the eyes of the villagers so then they realized that even if you just rub chili powder on cloth and hang it on the perimeter the elephants stay out.  Interestingly the girls are still married-off for a dowry (5 cows, 2 chickens). The progressive Head Woman however doesn’t allow the girls to marry until they have finished high school.  The education they provide at this very humble school has become a highly important part of their village  – in fact they have their first college graduate.  This incredible person is currently enrolled in medical school in New York to be a neurosurgeon. Wow!  The kids made friends quickly in the village; it’s so refreshing to know their hearts are so kind and innocent.  They are very curious to look at us as we learn about them.

The men build the frame and the women fill the frame with termite mud

Here's Ronda showing Kendal her home

They make their own pots out of scrap sheet-metal

Fast friends

Kendal being taken for a walk

 
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Posted by on August 20, 2011 in Zambia

 

Zambia, Africa – Victoria Falls (Mosi-oa-Tunya)

Author: Kendal

DAY 1

Victoria Falls is one of the 7 Wonders of the World.  Today we went to the top of Victoria Falls. We got a taxi from Jolly Boys Camp (the place we are staying) to Royal Livingstone (a very, very fancy hotel, where we are not staying). While on the road to Royal Livingstone we saw some baboons walking on the side of the road! It was crazy! Once we got there we headed out to the boat that was going to take us to the only island on the edge of glory! 😉 Jk! I mean the edge of Victoria Falls! We took the same route that David Livingstone took when he discovered the beautiful falls. Well it was discovered before he got there, he was just the first white man to find it and to tell others about it.  We got off the boat and were treated like royalty.  We were handed what I think was an orange Fanta with Sprite before the tour. Then, because it’s kind of like the water rides at different theme parks, we were given raincoats. The water sprays everywhere, approaching the falls it looks like you’re headed into smoke but it’s actually the spray from the falls. It’s known as “Mosi-oa-Tunya” or the “Smoke that Thunders”.  They told us that we had to take off our shoes so we started walking barefoot with our raincoats.  There was mud everywhere! When we stepped sometimes our feet sank into the ground past our ankles! It was like a mud bath for our feet!!  As we headed over it was hard for me to imagine what it would look like because of the mud slowly squeezing its way between my toes, and toenails but I was kind of picturing some pictures that I had seen of Victoria Falls. Everyone in the group (which was 8 of us) had to hold hands as we reached the edge.  We then walked to the edge of Victoria Falls! It was not even close to the pictures, you might think that they photo shop the pictures to look that beautiful (I know I kind of thought that) but they don’t! So the pictures are real! I swear! They are not a green-screen backdrop with fake pictures!!! It was that magnificent! The guides took our picture as we posed by the water. When we were getting our pictures taken at the edge of the falls, which is 360 feet straight down, dad was squeezing my arm so hard! It was like when you go to the doctor and he checks your blood pressure with the machine. Then everyone went and walked through the mud and rocks again (barefoot!). Once we reached a certain point they let each of us go, one by one, to the edge of Victoria Falls and look down. It was an awesome view and Dad was even brave enough to get a picture for you! After the cool view, the guides asked our group if they wanted to go swimming. The option was to dip/swim in the top of the falls before the water goes over the edge.  Our family said no, but four other people went swimming. While they were swimming, we went to eat breakfast overlooking the falls.  It was very tasty.  After that, one of the guides washed everyone’s feet, to get rid of all the mud from our mud bath.  Like I said we were treated like royalty.  Shortly after we took the speedboat back to the Royal Livingstone. When we got to the hotel we sat on a swing and talked about our favorite parts of the adventure. Because we still had 2 hours until the taxi came back for us we decided to walk around the hotel grounds. As we were walking we came across at least 20 or more monkeys that live on the hotel grounds. They were just roaming around like it was normal!!! They were so cute! They started following us so we started to FAST-walk back to other people. We asked one of the cleaning people if the monkeys were friendly and he said yes, but when we asked a security person he said no.  He was holding a slingshot aiming at the monkeys.  Mom started talking to him, and he said he could show us the giraffes, and zebras that they had on the hotel grounds!!! So we got a ride on a golf cart out to see the animals and the trainer came out and explained it all to us for FREE! It was awesome!  Finally, before our taxi came for us we got a drink on the Zambezi River.  All in all it was an awesome experience.

That's Keegan walking behind one of our guides and the edge of Victoria Falls is right in front of them. That's not smoke, that's spray from the falls down below.

Here we are on the edge of Victoria Falls - a few steps to our right and we're heading straight down, it was so exciting!!

Here's another angle - you can see Dad's "death grip" on Keegan, his other hand was holding me. As long as the sun is out there are rainbows everywhere.

Because it was so dangerous you decided whether you wanted to go look down the falls. We all did. The guide was asking me, "Kendal do you want the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, if yes go jump for it"!! I didn't.

Here's the view, that's 360 feet down and the roaring water was so loud!

This is breakfast overlooking Victoria Falls.

Keegan was looking at all the monkeys on the roof and was shocked to see what was behind him.

That's me at the Royal Livingstone Resort.

DAY 2

Today we went to see the other side of Victoria Falls. We took a free shuttle there from Jolly Boys and a taxi back.  Once we got there we saw baboons everywhere! All kinds, some had babies, some older, male, female, all different kinds, and they are very scary looking. We had been warned by many other campers that the baboons do attack and take your bags so keep your bags concealed or don’t bring them (they are looking for food). We walked inside the gate and we headed into the forest.  It’s almost like a rain forest in the desert because of the spray from the falls.  It’s very green and pretty in this area.  We started going one way but we get stopped in our tracks because a huge male baboon was standing in our way, and its face seemed to be taunting us. We turned and headed another way down to the Boiling Pot (because we were following people) we went down half way, it was very steep, but then figured out that it’s not the way we wanted to go so we headed back up. Finally we got on the right path. We went and took a few pictures and were about to get a snack before we went to look at the falls closer when we heard the screams! A lady and a very big baboon were fighting over her backpack, they were playing tug of war with her large backpack, but then the lady fell backwards into a bush and the baboon had the bag, by then a number of men, including a park worker with a knife, came rushing in to help, chasing the baboon but the baboon easily ran and jumped off the side of the cliff with the bag. (We found out later that you are not supposed to chase them if they have your pack, just let them look through it, once they don’t find food or even if they do they will drop the bag and take off, if you chase them they will run to places and you will never see your bag again).  After the show 😉 we had a snack and restored our energy, we then headed to Victoria Falls. As we got closer we started to feel the water. Then we saw it, the breath-taking view of Victoria Falls.  It was just beautiful, my favorite part was watching the crystal like droplets of water come back up and splash us, it was surreal.  After we soaked it in for a while we started walking along it (it’s about 1 mile long), and took a billion pictures and videos.

That's me again - words can't describe what we saw that day.

We were all soaked.

My dad loved it!

The different sides that we saw of Victoria Falls were equally beautiful. We were able to see both and I’m glad we were able to because it makes up for other things (like scary baboons) that we have experienced in Zambia. And I’m sure the next couple things that we do will not disappoint.

 
10 Comments

Posted by on August 15, 2011 in Zambia

 

Johannesburg, South Africa

Author: Amy

We made to the Continent of Africa for the first time for all of us.  Based on our travel plans/costs I chose a flight with a 2 night stopover in Johannesburg.  When planning I was naïve on most of Africa and thought, ‘I’ve heard of Johannesburg a lot, it must have things to see and visit, let’s stay there between our long flight from Croatia and quick flight to Zambia which is where we go to see Victoria Falls’.  Well, as planning kept moving, poor Africa did not get priority planning and when we would mention Johannesburg to people we almost always received the same response; don’t go anywhere without security; you can’t walk during the day or night; you can’t trust the cabbie’s and most people have high walls and electric wires around their homes as well as a guard for security.  After this information I found a hotel that would pick us up from the airport – it is the most expensive place we have stayed.  WOW!  It’s gorgeous.  Friendly security guards are everywhere, with a wall and electrical fence lining the hotel.  The staff (which is 3 to each hotel guest) has told us that Oprah stayed here with many famous actors like Chris Rock and Will Smith – they really liked Will Smith.  Just a note, we are here in the off-season, so prices are slightly better.  The question is; has what we have been told about Johannesburg true – it’s so hard to say.  We came from Croatia where the entire country had a population of about 4.5 million.  The city of Johannesburg has a population of 8 -9 million, many of which are refugees from other nearby countries.  It’s been such a sad lesson to teach – the power struggle and war in every area we have gone to.  The big wars in Germany, the battles in Croatia and now the countries at war in Africa.  The other war we see here very clearly is the wealthy vs. the poor.  There are two extremes here and that causes violence and paranoia and is such an unhealthy way to live.  The people that we have met all have jobs and are extremely helpful and happy toward us.  The kindness glows in their eyes.  On the way to the hotel there was an accident on the freeway so we got off and took the city roads, at a stop sign we saw some police filling their van with people, beating them with a stick to get them in, about 2 feet from our window.  You could see the sadness and embarrassment in our driver’s eyes.  Steffi, who we visited in Berlin spent time here last year doing volunteer work and told us “don’t stay locked up in your hotel, there are beautiful places to see, just travel smart”.  We did take a trip to a mall square and saw a new statue of Nelson Mandela.  Being there you would believe you were in New York or Chicago – (it’s winter here).  There were so many high-end shops.  It was packed with people shopping and buying.  Everyone was dressed beautifully – name brand everything and cool boots for the ladies.  Kendal and I loved checking out the fashion.  We will go back to Joburg (as they call it) for two more nights after we leave Zambia and the Victoria Falls area.  We plan to see the apartheid museum and other sites.  I am sad for those that live here and that it has such a bad reputation.  It is such a beautiful place.  Years of turmoil have made it what it is and I guess it just becomes your way of life.

Nelson Mandela Square Mall - Johannesburg, South Arica

 
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Posted by on August 11, 2011 in South Africa

 

The Lessons in Hospitality

Author: Steve

When we left for this trip we knew we would need to work hard at teaching the kids educational facts in each country throughout the year.  It has not been easy for any of us to try and absorb each historical fact (there’s just so much intriguing information out there) especially when you’re traveling each week to a new location.  This blog is helping us reign in our thoughts with what we see and learn each day.  So no complaints, we will stay the course and continue to take in as much information as we can.  However, one powerful lesson we did not count on hitting us so impressively were our lessons in hospitality.

The one area we know for sure we and our kids have already been given a huge lesson in is hospitality.  From our first day in Gelsenkirchen, Germany with Annetta and Werner and how they picked us up from the airport, gave us great meals, let us stay in their lovely home and showed us their region and their lives; our time there was too short with these great people. We never met them before this trip. In Greece our warm Greek family in Paro’s at Hotel Afrodite taught us that it’s about enjoying each other and being happy and not always making that extra buck.  Now to Croatia, our final stay on this leg in Europe, the hospitality we were given was unbelievable.  We will never forget the warm family service we were given at the beautiful Hotel Magdalena in Krapinske Toplice and would stay there again in a heartbeat.  Zlatko and Gorinka our hosts from the same village, were such fun people and allowed us to truly be a part of their family.  From the baptism and how they sat all the Americans in the front row of the church (and they sat behind us), to the huge gift baskets they gave us that were waiting in our hotel room when we arrived, to letting us join them in Brela on their family vacation, and their motto of “when in Croatia you will never be hungry or thirsty” (and we weren’t).  I personally loved my long talks with Zlatko, we talked about everything from Croatian history, how he grew up in former times, our marriages, our kids etc.  I will always cherish my time with him.  I cannot say enough on how humbling it is to have been given such hospitality during the last 2 months.

Annetta and Keegan going at it - they could have played all day

Saying goodbye to our friends at Hotel Magdalena: Marijana and Dubravka (the owner)

Gorinka, Zlatko and Daniel; it doesn't get much better than that

As I sit in our hotel in Johannesburg, South Africa and write this, I am glad to say this lesson in hospitality has put tears in my eyes and I know I can and want to do a better job of giving hospitality at the level that has been given to me and my family.  My kids have seen first hand “the giving” not for any other reason than love – no matter what country you are from, what language you speak, what religion you practice or the color of your skin…we all have more love to give.

 
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Posted by on August 6, 2011 in Croatia

 

Zagreb, Croatia

Author: Steve

We have a good friend from our hometown that was born in Croatia and her parents still live there.  We also met up with another family on their summer vacation in the village where Toni is from. We were so fortunate to be invited to visit and as Keegan wrote about in his blog we were invited to the wonderful baptism of their very cute daughter, Layla.

We started the weekend by taking a short trip up to the family’s wine vineyard.  Many family’s have small wine vineyards in this village that they work as a hobby. This is a beautiful piece of land that also has a small house with an outhouse, sort of a studio apartment above the wine cellar where the barrels are kept. The views were incredible from all angles.  After a very nice evening drinking some wonderful homegrown white wine a few of us adults went to the village festival (everything is walking distance as Keegan mentioned).  We stayed out probably (ok not probably) a little later than we should have but we had a wonderful time in the big tent listening to live Croatian music and dancing the night away.  It was a fun night with a lot of laughs and catching up with friends.

The view over looking the valley from the wine house in Krapinske Toplice

Amy and Kenda checking out the wine cellar

Zlatko and Gorinka's vineyard

Amy, Kenda and Toni enjoying the wine and the laughs

The Christening was approved by a Christian, a Hindu and a Jew - I think that means good luck for Layla!

The next day our friend’s father, Zlatko, gave the two American families a wonderful tour of the sites in Croatia’s capital; Zagreb.  We visited the church of Saint Mark’s and Trg Bana Jelacica, Zagreb’s main square, just to mention a couple.  We also visited the Trakoscan Castle in northern Croatia.  Zlatko was able to rent a large van from a friend that made it so convenient to have one vehicle for all of us. We had incredible hosts.

In front of the church of Saint Mark's

Coleman, Keegan, Kendal and Brooke enjoying the city view of Zagreb

Atop the Trakoscan Castle.

Zagreb is a wonderful city with not only old, rich history but recent history as well.  The entire country has a population of about 4.5 million.  It is, at this point, still not a member of the EU but it is said to be close to becoming a member country.  Some would love for it to happen sooner than later because it would open the doors to new opportunities and growth however many would rather it not happen for those same reasons.

The recent war in this area is complicated to understand because it has so many factors spanning over such a long period of time.  But the more I read and talk with the locals I realize this was a war in the making that was realized over many centuries of turmoil, with a strong springboard from World War I and II during the reign of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia.  After the death of Josip Broz “Tito” (Yugoslavia’s charismatic yet controversial leader) in 1980, economic, political, and religious difficulties started to mount and the federal government began to crumble during this decade. During this time the Kosovo War Crisis occurred as well as the rise of Slobodan Milosevic.  So the area was unsettled all around.  On Easter Sunday, March 31, 1991 the first fatal clashes occurred in the beautiful Plitvice Lakes National Park (we took a day trip and hiked this incredible park-we would recommend this visit) between Croatian and Serbian forces.

Plitvice Lakes National Park

Plitvice Lakes National Park - waterfalls were endless and everywhere

Plitvice Lakes National Park - the water was crystal clear aqua

Plitvice Lakes National Park - this was a slightly overcast day which made it a great day for hiking

And then again during the same year, 1991, the Battle of Vukar took place, which lasted from the middle of August to November 16.  At least 3,000 people were killed and this battle completely destroyed the city of Vukar (the largest complete city destruction since WWII).  On October 1, 1991, the walled-city of Dubrovnik was attacked by the Yugoslav People’s Army, led by Slobodan Milosevic, he declared that Dubrovnik would not be permitted to stay a part of Croatia because it was historically a part of Montenegro.  The casualties of this 7-month conflict were 166 people.  In May 1992, the Croatian Army lifted the siege and liberated Dubrovnik (we also took a day trip to see this amazing city-we would recommend this visit as well).

Dubrovnik - we walked the perimeter of the wall with an audio tour, it was about a 2K walk

The walled city of Dubrovnik - we could have definatly spent more time here

Conflicts continued on a small scale and sporadically in Croatia until 1995.

On August 4, 1995, the Croatian Armed Forces in conjunction with the Army of the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina effectively carried out a large-scale military operation known as “Operation Storm”.  They had received strategic instruction from the US based firm, Military Professional Resources Inc. (MPRI), this engagement was approved by the US Government. This conflict lasted about 4 days with complete victory for the Croatian forces.

The history of this country is so vast and still so fresh that I can’t help but wonder if the younger generations, from all sides, are strong enough to put these differences aside and move forward toward a more peaceful future.

 
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Posted by on August 6, 2011 in Croatia

 

Brela and Makarska, Croatia

Author: Kendal

While in Croatia we were able to do a mini vacation with our friends to a beach town called Brela.  Brela is a beautiful beach on the coast of Croatia with mountains as a backdrop.  While you swim you look up and see the mountains that often times have clouds that seem to be just sitting on them.  When you look out you see the many small islands off the Dalmatian Coast of Croatia.

The fam on the beach in Brela, Croatia

We started off the day eating in the hotel breakfast area, and playing with Daniel. After the scrumptious breakfast, we all (10 of us including kids) went back to our rooms and got ready for a quick swim in the Adriatic Sea. Only Keegan, Zlatko, and I went swimming, it was really fun once you got used to the cool temperature. The first day it took me forever to get in but by the time we left I would just jump right in.  Sadly, while we were in the water Keegan and I saw a dead bird’s whole body faced down floating! Very sad/creepy. After showering we got dressed and took the acoommm (a car or van in Daniel’s 2 year old language-he’s very cute) to visit one of Gorinka’s friend’s old house in the city of Makarska.  It was close to the top of a mountain and when you looked up into the mountains you saw the really fluffy airy clouds resting there.  This was a very old house that the man and his wife (who had been born there) had done a lot of improvements on, he was very proud and the house was very cool with an awesome view of the sea and the mountains.  They have tons of olive trees on their property and when they harvest them they take them to an olive oil factory in town and have extra virgin olive oil made.  Toni, Mom, and I thought that at any moment the ‘Cullens’ (from the Twilight series) could come flying down running at lightning speed ;).  We then took the big van (acoommm) to the beach of Makarska. The beach was so much more crowded than the one in Brela (our beach). The families split up and explored on our own.  Our family went and had a quick snack and walked around the city, which is a major tourist site. We then met back up with our friends, who had somehow (beyond me) gotten a spot on the busy beach. Keegan went on this fun plaything shown in the pictures below. You paid a fee and were able to climb and jump on the cool stuff in the water.  He jumped on this mat thing, they call it the blob and moved to the end of it and then another boy that he had been talking to (good-looking by the way ;)) jumped on the other end and Keegan went flying!!! He went at LEAST 15-20ft in the air! My stomach went to my throat as I watched him fly through the air. “SH*#*T!!!!!!!!” screamed my very scared mother. People on the beach clapped and cheered.   He was up immediately and laughed it off, but then he didn’t eat that much later . . .  After that very exciting/scary experience we all headed to the acoommm to put our beach stuff back, we then walked to Gorinka’s friends other house for some dinner. When we arrived we were told that we were going to have a traditional Dalmation prepared dinner. So we had appetizers, fish soup, fish (the main dish) they brought out two huge trays of fish — sardines and some other fish they had made, various side dishes and then dessert. It was a very tasty meal!  Our host was a very kind older man and his wife.  The wife made the food and the man made the ladies jewelry as a gift to take with us.  They were necklaces and bracelets made of shells.  After a great evening we said our goodbyes, and headed to the acoommm. When we got back my family stayed in and watched some TV (English with Croatian subtitles) and then very quickly went ‘nitey nite after a long great day.

At the mountain house with the clouds riding up above.

The mountain house had a great deck with grape vines for shade. Bronco (the older gentleman in the back with Gorinka) was our host.

Me, Mom, Toni and Gorinka on one of the decks in the mountain house with the Adriatic Sea and the Brac and Hvar Islands in the background.

Keegan getting ready to reach his spot for his flight.

The busy beach in Makarska - they all got a chance to see Keegan fly!

Our great Dalmation dinner in Makarska

After dinner Bronco gave all the women jewelry he had made.

A couple of side notes on Croatia – I loved being with people we knew.  We went to a restaurant on a mountain (everywhere is on a mountain).   Just outside the door were animals and we fed them some bread (shhhhhhhh….). There was also a playground that we could play on! But it was wet so Keegan dried them off with his butt first ;). Then all four of us (Keegan, Brooke, Coleman, and I) decided to run around the restaurant for some exercise. We all did about 10 times around (estimate) before we had to leave.

Playing with the goats on the mountain restaurant

While in Brela Toni told us how she went there growing up and how she would jump off the rocks.  Well one day she took us to the rocks. Let’s just say that the rocks were much higher than we had anticipated. Toni went first and did a ‘shallow’ dive, HEADFIRST! Very nerve-racking. She is so much fun and she’s crazy brave too. Then it was my turn so I climbed up but it’s much scarier on top than on the bottom. So I waited as some other kids came on a paddle boat, they got very close and if I had jumped I would have landed on them. So this one guy went and then Toni told them to hold off cause my dad and I still had to go. So Dad went first (his friend Dr. Rick gave him a 3 for technique but a 9 for facial expression), and then me, my stomach raced to my mouth the minute I jumped! It was very fun to do it but I’m not going to do that again (maybe).

Keegan, Toni and me in the Adriatic Sea

Toni's brave shallow dive!

My awesome jump!

All and all I think Croatia is a pretty great country to visit but being there with our friends made it a really awesome time!

 
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Posted by on August 3, 2011 in Croatia