A Travellerspoint blog

April 2008

Istanbul

Even old New York was once New Amsterdam

sunny 67 °F

Istanbul straddles Europe and Asia, connecting the two continents with bridges, mosques and the Turkish flag. However, it’s hard to reduce Istanbul to the only city that can boast being simultaneously Asian and European. Istanbul has been so much for so many for so long. This city of 12 million people, the 4th largest in the world, has been home to more recorded and restored history than any country we’d been to.
IstanbulBlog01.jpg

We had done some studying before arriving in Istanbul, but any books we poured through didn’t capture the frantic pace of the city, the traffic, the diversity nor spirit of the locals. We found the city to be very European and concurrently highly Muslim. 99% of the city is Muslim, but 99% of the folks we saw on the street were European in appearance. Folks all over town dressed sharply European regardless of the day, and we found a walking street near our hotel (the Hyatt) that was packed to the gills with upscale stores, and folks walking the town until dawn, (literally). The boys found a nice street spot near the hotel to skate, within the mass of people cruising the streets, and the locals seemed amused by the boarders, not irritated, which was a welcome surprise.
IstanbulBlog02.jpgIstanbulBlog03.jpg

The old part of town is where we spent the lion share of out time. We were staying in Taxim, a relatively modern section of town, so we would need to taxi our way into the old city each day to get to the various sites we intended to visit. Once we were in the old town, where the majority of Istanbul’s history resides, it was pretty easy getting around by walking or public transportation, but not quite as easy traveling from our Hotel. Throughout Istanbul we met many folks that spoke great English and wanted to talk to you about America, and the trips they had made or were planning to make, or whether Hillary or Barack were going to be the next president. Once again we were shocked to see how much citizens of another country know about our government.
IstanbulBlog04.jpg

Istanbul has a long history dating back well before the Romans and we found museums and archeological sites that took pleasure in recording and telling the stories. We visited the Basilica Cistern that Constantine had built to ensure water was plentiful for the palace (later enlarged by Emperor Justinian). We drove underneath the ancient Roman aqueduct that filled that same cistern. We walked around the chariot race track that housed 100,000 people and saw many deaths. We gazed on an Egyptian Obelisk that was over 4,000 years old. We did this without entering a mosque, cathedral, or palace. We of course did that as well. We visited the Hagia Sofia which was built by the Roman Emperor Justinian in the 4th century AD and still stands quite proudly to this day. It has been a church and a Mosque and is now simply a museum – a gawkers paradise. We were amazed how well this structure has held up over the centuries. Considering that this building is over 1,600 years old, the architecture, and the mosaics within its walls are stunning.
IstanbulBlog05.jpg
IstanbulBlog06.jpg
IstanbulBlog07.jpg
IstanbulBlog08.jpg

Next to the Hagi Sofia stand the Blue Mosque, which was built roughly one thousand years later, and it is perhaps even more stunning from the outside, but the inside just made us uncomfortable. It is the first mosque we had visited and we are not used to taking our shoes off to enter. Parker commented first about the smell of feet, and we all gave him a silent but acknowledging nod – it did smell like a dank closet. And the thing that bothered us all the most was the way the women were stuffed into two small areas at the back of the mosque. Men worshipers had the run of the place, but women appeared to have domain over only two small galleries in the back. The men seemed to have an open invitation to show the tops of their heads to god, but the women had to wear a scarf over their head. In fact all women had to wear a scarf including Carol. This segregation of males and females made us uncomfortable, (beyond the pungent olfactory issue) and we all scrambled for the exit for a breath of fresh air and an equal footing. I can’t claim to understand nor to have ever studied the reasons for the different treatment of men and women in mosques, but it made us very uncomfortable. We also cruised over to the Topkapi Palace to see how the Ottoman Empire’s Sultan and his Harem lived hundreds of years ago, and it was pretty amazing to see the wealth dispensed by the royal family, and to see more evidence of the unequal footing between men and women. None of us were shocked that 300 women were kept for the Sultan’s needs and wants hundreds of years ago, but the recent memory of the Blue Mosque made this seem like another piece of evidence that something just ain’t right from a western point of view. It was pretty apparent that this isn’t really Europe, is it? We read an interesting article before arriving in Istanbul that detailed the tension between an Istanbul that wants to become a non-secular Muslim country and an Istanbul that wants to become part of the EU. There is so much happening in this country to pull it further east, and simultaneously pull it further west, it caused us to wonder whether the fabric of the country can hold together. Or will it rip apart at the Bosporus straight, creating a European Turkey and a non-secular Muslim Turkey. Only time will tell.
IstanbulBlog11.jpg
IstanbulBlog10.jpg

We took some time to go through the Archeological museum in Istanbul as well that is literally right next door to the Topkapi Palace. This place is amazing featuring treasures from Africa and Saudi Arabi, as well as local Archeology. There seemed to be scores of 4-2,000 year old sarcophaguses dug up in simple farmer’s fields. There were fabulous Mesopotamian relics and artwork. And there were some of the most significant items I’ve ever seen at a museum. For instance: The staff of Moses, the sword of Joseph, the sword of Mohammed, the turban of David, and the baseball bat of Joe DiMaggio, (ok just kidding on that one). It was the first museum that produced eerie shivers down my spine, confirming that people I thought were just folkloric, actually lived and held possessions. Beyond bizarre.
IstanbulBlog12.jpg
IstanbulBlog13.jpg

Carol and I spent some time in the Grand Bizarre, which, if anything is perfectly named. It was a giant and grand maze of tiny shops selling everything you could want to take home from Turkey: faux Monte Blanc pens, Turkish Delight candy, leather satchels, rugs from every corner of Asia, jewelry, antiques, spices, food, bobbles, bangles, etc... The aisles and stalls seem as if they will never stop, and getting lost among the brightly colored aisles is expected. Even a GPS wouldn’t help you here. The grand bazaar could hold your attention for hours and turn almost anyone into a shopper. The men and women working in the shops are more than accomplished sales people with a mastery in an English language derivative known as “come into my shop”. It is a highly effective language. We walked away from the Grand Bazaar with some very cool things, some of which we are now asking ourselves “What the hell were we thinking when we bought that? “That’s yours, not mine” “No it’s not. You bought that thing – you carry it home.”
IstanbulBlog14.jpg
IstanbulBlog15.jpg
IstanbulBlog16.jpg
IstanbulBlog17.jpg
IstanbulBlog18.jpg

For our parting shot of Istanbul, we did what everyone told us was a must. We cruised up the Bosporus straight which connects the Marmara Sea to the Black Sea. It is considered to be the narrowest straight used for international navigation, and we saw some massive ships cruising it. We also got a taste of other parts of Istanbul that were beautiful and tawny. We caught our boat in Bebek, which is the highest end neighborhood in Istanbul. If you shielded your eyes from the occasional Turkish flag, bebek could have been on the French Riviera. Beautiful homes sat on the shores. Large boats and yachts bobbed in the choppy waters. Exotic cars cruised the streets in stop and go traffic lined with pedestrians. The pedestrians were the giveaway that you weren’t in the Riviera. As much as we loved the people of Turkey for the friendliness, they don’t look European like French or Italian. They look Turkish which is entirely different. Strangely, I was being talked to in Italian throughout the trip which seemed quite befuddling to me until I stepped foot on Italian soil, which will be explained in the next entry… but I digress. The boat we took was an all wooden boat that served a fantastic lunch on board and cruised both sides of the Bosporus, avoiding the occasional and massive wakes of tug boats, and cruising under the bridges connecting Asia to Europe. We anchored and had lunch outside a school and watched with amusement as children ran into and out of the school at the sound of the bell, (which sounded more like a ring tone). The boat was awesome and the lunch was great. It would have been nice to have an English speaking guide, but we had a map showing significant palaces and forts, which was a great help.
IstanbulBlog19.jpg
IstanbulBlog20.jpg
IstanbulBlog21.jpg
IstanbulBlog22.jpg
IstanbulBlog23.jpg

After nearly 7 months of travel, we have finally made the turn into the Northern Hemisphere again and we all feel like we are entering our final leg of the trip. Istanbul, while not “really” Europe signals the end to our Asia, Australasia, and Africa legs of the trip and the beginning of our European segment. As we meander through Europe over the coming months, we’ll likely start pining for home as places begin to look feel more familiar. So let’s sign off to Istanbul with a song that we were singing for our entire stay in the fabulous city, raising a few eyebrows as we did… The song was first recorded in 1953 by the “Four Lads” and remade by “They Might be Giants” in 1990. Sung to the tune of putting on the ritz…

“Istanbul was Constantinople
Now it's Istanbul, not Constantinople
Been a long time gone, Constantinople
Now it's Turkish delight on a moonlit night

Every gal in Constantinople
Lives in Istanbul, not Constantinople
So if you've a date in Constantinople
She'll be waiting in Istanbul

Even old New York was once New Amsterdam
Why they changed it I can't say
People just liked it better that way

So take me back to Constantinople
No, you can't go back to Constantinople
Been a long time gone, Constantinople
Why did Constantinople get the works
That's nobody's business but the Turks

Istanbul (Istanbul)
Istanbul (Istanbul)

Even old New York was once New Amsterdam
Why they changed it I can't say
People just liked it better that way

Istanbul was Constantinople
Now it's Istanbul, not Constantinople
Been a long time gone, Constantinople
Why did Constantinople get the works
That's nobody's business but the Turks

So take me back to Constantinople
No, you can't go back to Constantinople
Been a long time gone, Constantinople
Why did Constantinople get the works
That's nobody's business but the Turks

Istanbul”

Posted by Blakei 00:47 Archived in Turkey Tagged family_travel Comments (2)

Cape Town

Our last two weeks in Africa...

sunny

We finished our safari and headed for Cape Town, South Africa. As sorry as we were that our safari was over, we had heard from many people that this was a great city with a very So-Cal feel, and the perfect place to chill out after a safari. We found it a great place to chill, to surf, to golf, to shop, and for many others, to work and live. This, in spite of some of the issues we heard from the locals about current politics, the nervous anticipation of future governments, and a still existent racial divide. We were treated to great weather during our two week stay and enjoyed Cape Town immensely.
CapeTownBlog40.jpg

We stayed in the suburb of Camps Bay, on the other side of “Lions Head” from Cape Town city center. Camps Bay is a quaint, west facing coastal town on the Atlantic, sitting directly below the peaks of the 12 Apostles and Table Mountain. Residences and vacation homes scale the foot hills that rise from the Atlantic and slam into the base of the 12 apostles. Villas perch themselves directly over Victoria Road, Camps Bay’s main street, and the 2 km strand of white sandy beach that beckons just on the other side. Victoria Road is lined with restaurants and shops that seem busy from morning until the wee hours. During our stay, weekends filled Victoria Road, the beach, and the restaurants to the brim with tourists, sun worshipers, and folks that simply appreciate a great meal or their favorite beverage in a near-perfect atmosphere. Our Villa was perched over Victoria Rd, on the Northern end of Camps Bay, looking over a surf cove called Glen Beach. Glen Beach is rimmed with magnificent rock formations, warn smooth by eons of Atlantic surf. The Villa and its location was perfect for our family and for our visitors Anna and Fred, who flew to Cape Town from Accra, Ghana to visit. With its perfect west facing view, we saw some unbelievable sunsets from our balcony over Glen Beach.
CapeTownBlog01.jpg
CapeTownBlog02.jpg
CapeTownBlog03.jpg
CapeTownBlog04.jpg
CapeTownBlog05.jpg
CapeTownBlog06.jpg

Adding a bit of Color to Camps Bay and to all of Cape Town I suppose was a worldwide Hell’s Angels get together. Hell’s Angels leather jackets could be seen from all over the world strolling the streets in Camps Bay and Cape Town. Finland, France, England, Austria, Northland were all accounted for, as was California, Connecticut, Ontario, and New Jersey. It was funny, but North American Hells Angel Jackets feature the State, while the rest of the world just reads “country”. We actually found the Hell’s Angels we met to be fun loving, cool, and damn nice people. It was fun to have them in town throughout our stay, adding a bit of color that otherwise would have been missed.

The city center of Cape Town was a nice place, but rather unremarkable if measured by its architecture and activity. What sets Cape Town as a city apart from the rest of those in the world is its fantastic waterfront and the almost surreal location of the mountains that surround it. The city center of Cape Town sits in between a large bay and the beautiful backdrop of Table Mountain. Table Mountain rises almost vertically above the city, dwarfing the entire skyline, and making one wonder if New York or Shanghai’s skyline would look equally unremarkable in its presence. A tram runs to the top of the mountain and on a clear day, it is a magnificent place to stand. We were lucky to take the tram on an evening where the weather was perfect and we could see for what seemed like one hundred kilometers in every direction. False Bay and the Cape of Good Hope lay to the south and the city, with its millions of people and endless beaches to the north. Table Mountain regularly produces its own weather, which is a large fog bank that covers the top of the mountain, referred to by locals as “the table cloth”. We saw the Table Cloth spread out over the mountain tops a few evenings, but were lucky to miss it during our trip to the table top.
CapeTownBlog07.jpg
CapeTownBlog08.jpg
CapeTownBlog09.jpg
CapeTownBlog10.jpg
CapeTownBlog12.jpg
CapeTownBlog13.jpg

We didn’t have a big agenda in Cape Town. We had only planned on three activities besides hanging out at the beach and studying; 1) A visit to the top of Table Mountain, 2) A shark cage dive, and 3) A visit to Robben Island. Upon our arrival and discovery of our Villa’s spaciousness and location we added one more important activity, which was re-establishing a vigorous workout routine. Every morning we would rise, and do sets of pushups to exhaustion, jump rope, and then run 2 lengths of the beach. This proved to be a fun family activity that wasn’t really possible at some of our other locations. OK, that’s a bit of a cop-out. Finally our guilt of not working out for a couple of months after Australia caught up with us, and this perfect workout setting inspired us to dive back in to prepare for our entrance back into our active and healthy little town. We found a couple of other fabulous things that were “must dos” as well, like sand boarding some South African dunes and hiking Lion’s head, that we manage to find time to do as well :-)
CapeTownBlog14.jpg
CapeTownBlog15.jpg

Shark Cage Diving
We knew that South Africa was home to just about every Great White Shark documentary we had seen on television over the years. We weren’t exactly sure where these documentaries were filmed, but we knew they were close to the cape. After a few internet searches, we had found that one can arrange transportation from Cape Town to Gaansbai, about 180km south east to take a boat about 10km off the coast to swim with Great White Sharks. You don’t actually swim with the sharks, mind you. You put on a full wetsuit and weight belt, and lower yourself into a shark cage while the crew of the boat “chums” with fish parts to bring great white sharks right to you! Isn’t that awesome! We thought so. So off we went, leaving the house in the morning for the long drive to Gaansbai. We arrived, had a lunch, watched a dos and don’t video, and walked to boat. The boat had an appropriately scraggly and unaffected crew who were quite comfortable with the notion of rubbing great white sharks on the nose, and throwing Tuna heads and blood into the water to bring sharks nearby. Nearby is an understatement.
CapeTownBlog16.jpg
CapeTownBlog17.jpg
CapeTownBlog18.jpg
CapeTownBlog19.jpg

We left the protected dock and pushed the outboard motors on the way out toward “Seal Island” and area you have likely seen on the discovery channel called “Shark Alley”. The swells were pretty large and the water was very choppy. We were all a bit freaked out as the boat slammed its way through the swells. It felt as if the boat was going to break apart in the swells. We could see the top of the boat separate from the bottom on every slam. It looked like it was going to fall apart. And there are Great White Sharks in the water. AHHHH! We slowed down, and came to a calm stop. The engines idled, and we hooked up with the shark cage. The sea now seemed calm by comparison, but the swells were large enough to completely lose the other boats that were nearby as the dropped their passengers into the water as well. We took turns dropping into the cage which was a bit of a thrill as 10+ foot Great White sharks actually rubbed up against it. The sharks were so close that I couldn’t get a picture of an entire shark from inside the cage. I got a lot of pictures from outside the cage. The horrendous smell of the 10,000 seals on seal island would waft over us from time to time, which, when combined with a chum of fresh tuna heads and fish blood, made simple sea sickness seem like a paper cut in a trauma ward.
CapeTownBlog20.jpg
CapeTownBlog21.jpg
CapeTownBlog22.jpg

We had a blast on Shark Cage Diving and it was one of the highlights of our Cape Town activities. It’s pretty hard to describe how scary and claustrophobic it is to be enclosed in a cage under water while Great Whites swim around you. It’s even scarier getting in and out of the cage while the crew is yelling at you to “HURRY UP – SHARK RIGHT THERE!” About a week after our adventure, I ran into a story about a Shark Cage Diving boat capsizing and losing (as in death) three of its 10 passengers. It turns out that a “freak” wave capsized the boat in the exact same place we were diving only one week before. The “freak” for me was that the same boat was only 100 meters from our boat. The two pictures that follow are the boat that capsized: One from the Cage Diving Company’s own web site, and the other from our camera the week before the accident occurred. As much fun as it was, I would urge you to make sure you are comfortable with the conditions before you commit to heading out to the sea, even after a 180km drive.
CapeTownBlog23.jpg
CapeTownBlog24.jpg

Robben Island
Robben Island sits in the middle of Cape Town’s Bay, just a few kilometers off the coast. A visit to Robben Island was on our list of things to do, because Robben Island is perhaps the most significant acknowledgment of apartheid we would encounter on our visit. Robben Island was an Island jail, that held both political prisoners and criminal prisoners. Political prisoners were sentenced to years of detention on Robben Island, many for protesting the policies of the apartheid government nonviolently. We had seen pictures of Robben Island during our visit to the Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg, but pictures couldn’t capture the raw emotion of the place. It seemed as if we took a virtual time machine, touring the jail that held political prisoners. Our tour guide himself was a prisoner on Robben Island during the apartheid era. He described in detail how he was treated, what he was allowed to read, allowed to write, and allowed to do. He described how many letters he could receive and send per year (two). He showed us the daily diet for black prisoners, and the contrasting higher calorie diet for Indian prisoners. He described what it felt like to have letters from his wife destroyed before he could read them, and letters he wrote destroyed before reaching his family. He explained how treatment like this was all part of the psychological warfare used to keep the prisoners weak.
CapeTownBlog25.jpg
CapeTownBlog26.jpg
CapeTownBlog27.jpg

Nelson Mandela, who was the central figure in unraveling of the apartheid government and its policies was held in Robben Island for many of his 27 years of incarceration, and we were able to see the cell in which he spent those years. What an incredible ordeal this man and this country have been through in the past 50 years. This “tour guide”, having spent more than a decade of his own life incarcerated on this Island, was very upbeat about the prospects of life for him and for all South Africans going forward. He was sure that we all left understanding that Robben Island is a tribute to all men’s strength to overcome injustice, and about the power of reconciliation, and not about the wrongs committed by a ruling class of South African’s who wished to keep the black majority forever in the dark. It was an inspirational visit.
CapeTownBlog30.jpg

We spent a fair amount of time at the Victoria Water Front, a fantastic collection of shops, restaurants, bars, movie theatres and attractions, as well as the Nelson Mandela Terminal, home to the Robben Island Ferry. The Victoria Water Front is also a bona fide working waterfront with fishing boats, and fishing terminals with all the aromatic sensations you would expect from such a place. We found some of our best restaurants here, and did a fair amount of shopping too. It seemed however, ironic to depart from this upscale water front, and arrive at the most notorious of apartheid prisons.

We sensed and discussed with white and black South Africans the nervous anticipation of what the future holds for this great country. All hope for a better, more unified and equal South Africa, but all worry that the time machine we took back to Robben Island won’t treat the country as well in the next 20 years. This was top of mind in most South Africans because the Zimbabwe elections were being held during our visit, reminding them all of how a shining example of an African democracy can go so horribly wrong. So many South Africans privately, (and publicly when prodded), worry that Zimbabwe’s shining example could become their South Africa as well. During the Zimbabwe election week, power outages were rolling through tawny Cape Town neighborhoods, pressing ever harder on the South African Psyche, providing another scary comparison to Zimbabwe’s hardships.
CapeTownBlog11.jpg

Sand Boarding
Carol saw a “Sand Boarding” activity in one of the brochures at the Villa, and called the outdoor adventure company that managed these trips. Sand boarding, as you might imagine, has something to do with putting a snowboard and boots on your feet and sliding down sand dunes. We like boarding of all kinds, so it sounded fun to us, so we arranged a trip. A young South African drove us about 50km north of Cape Town, where sand dunes were large and plentiful. We put on our snowboard boots and carried our boards about 1km out on to the crest of one of the dunes. We strapped on our boards, and slid down the hill. The hills were steep, but you didn’t gather much speed, since the sand slowed the board. We actually had to apply car wax to the bottom of the board before each and every trip down the dune. Now, there are no chair lifts in the dunes, so when you reach the bottom, you walk to the top. I don’t need to tell you how much work it is to hike up sand dunes in snowboard boots carrying a snow board. I think you can probably envision that. It was a little hot that day and we were all dripping in sweat by the end of our outing. Let’s just say it was a calorie deficit day.
CapeTownBlog31.jpg
CapeTownBlog32.jpg
CapeTownBlog33.jpg
CapeTownBlog35.jpg
CapeTownBlog36.jpg

Lion’s Head
Toward the end of our stay, the boys and I climbed Lions Head, while Carol and Anna did some last minute shopping, (there isn’t much in Ghana). Lions Head is part of the Table Mountain National Park, but the peak sits alone, separating the City Center from Clifton and Camps Bay. The climb took only two hours thanks to some great paths and pretty quick hand over hand climbing, (in some cases assisted by chains for a vertical wall short-cut). The payoff at the top was incredible offering even better views than Table Mountain. If you’re in Cape Town, in reasonable condition, and not afraid of heights, do this climb! That evening we were visited by some friends, John and Candy Montgomery who live in the New York City area, but have lived in, and still love Cape Town. They gave us some great suggestions about Cape Town before we left on our trip, and we were very lucky to have their visit overlap with our stay. We enjoyed some great conversation, some excellent South African wine, and a beautiful sunset.
CapeTownBlog37.jpg
CapeTownBlog38.jpg
CapeTownBlog39.jpg

Our family repeatedly found ourselves toasting Cape Town, one of our new favorite “world” cities, wishing Cape Town and all of South Africa good fortune and great luck in the coming years.
CapeTownBlog41.jpg

Posted by Blakei 10:47 Archived in South Africa Tagged family_travel Comments (2)

Mombo Camp

The Moremi Game Reserve or Otherworldly Theme Park?

sunny 72 °F

Mombo Camp is in Botswana’s Moremi Game Reserve on the northern tip of an Island called “Chiefs Island”. The Island’s name sake, the local tribe’s chief, had been the only person allowed to hunt this sacred place over the past centuries. It’s surrounded by permanent water ways and seasonal flood plains creating an island ~100km long and ~30km wide that has historically proven difficult to reach by poachers or hunters. The animals seem to have genetically encoded this geography and history, taking advantage of this relative safe haven for what many guides consider to be the heaviest concentration of wildlife in the Okavango Delta, and perhaps all of Africa. The wildlife seems undisturbed by the coming and going of vehicles, as if knowing that you aren’t the chief. Mombo Camp’s reputation illicits an envious ooooh or ahhhh from safari goers that have only heard about it, and an acknowledging nod from those that have had the pleasure of staying or working here. This was the only camp on safari we had high expectations even before arriving. On the short trip from the airstrip to camp, we were blown away with the quantity of giraffe and elephant that we saw. Every turn in the road seemed to produce another tower of giraffe or herd of elephants.
MomboBlog01.jpg

When we arrived at Mombo, we were greeted by Izzy and Taps, the managers of the camp, and Kirsty, a high school graduate who was learning the ropes, and taking care of guests like they were family. They walked us through the do’s and don’ts of the camp, and showed us to our tents, which were more like houses, making even Tubu Tree, (which was incredible), seem relatively simple by comparison. The paths to the rooms were elevated as were the two pools, the bar, the dining area, the viewing platforms, and of course your three room house, errr… I mean tent. This “elevated everything” was required to let the deadly cape buffalo migrate through camp every night without crushing the guests. Yes, I’m serious. Our three room tent included a private viewing platform with a comfy couch, an outdoor shower, a long balcony, two full beds, a living room, and a bathroom that had two showers, two sinks and two toilets. Ok, I’m kidding about the toilets, but you get the picture. Our rooms were over 100 yards from each other with an area by the pool only slightly elevated, so we split up in our usual Griffin/Mom and Dad/Parker combos.
MomboBlog02.jpg
MomboBlog03.jpg
MomboBlog05.jpg
MomboBlog06.jpg

Of course, shortly after we arrived and settled in, it was time to eat our “tea time” snack. The food at Mombo is prepared by a chef named Simon, a larger than life South African bloke who is a pleasure to hang out with and share a beer or two. He and his kitchen were amazing producing some of the best food we’ve ever had. Not the best food on the trip. I mean the best food we’ve ever had, period. I had an ostrich filet that was as good as the best beef fillet I’d ever eaten at Morton’s or Daniel’s. We had an eggs benedict brunch one morning, and it was by far the best I’d ever had. The boys wanted burgers one night, and they got burgers that were equally yummy. One evening, shortly after Simon introduced the meal, which he did before each dinner, Griffin made the comment to me “When Simon describes what we’re going to eat, my mouth waters”. So, not only is his food delicious, his descriptions are as well. Griffin found that he had so much fun with the staff at Mombo that he became part of it. Griffin was mixing drinks behind the bar, serving snacks, chasing monkeys and squirrels away from the brunch bar, and on one occasion he was even part of the official greeting team, welcoming new guests to Mombo with a old towel and a special drink that he actually made at the bar.
MomboBlog07.jpg
MomboBlog08.jpg

Mombo Camp “stilts” on the edge of a wide plain which turns to a seasonal marsh flooding as the Okavango Delta rises. The floods were filling the plain as we arrived. Across this broad plain we could watch hippos wading, cape buffalo meandering, crocodiles slinking, and red lechwe grazing – all at once. Just sitting at the bar or chilling at the pool, brought a sense of awe as we gazed over the plain and felt flooded ourselves.
MomboBlog09.jpg

We went on 6 game drives over the course of our three days at Mombo, and all were incredible. I won’t go into the details of each drive, but will highlight a few of our experiences. First, it should be said that we hooked up with a couple from San Francisco, Lucrecia and Wayne, who were on four of our drives with us. They were both funny and interesting and we couldn’t have chosen a better couple to experience this with. They were a hoot. Our guide at Mombo was an affable and fun Botswanan named Emang, who knew the area well, and was always there with a fact, or a quip. Emang had the coolest way of finishing every sentence with an “ayh?” “Look at these prints. These lions walked a long way last night, ayh?” “We’re now going to drive a long way to see the white rhinos, ayh?” The boys and I found ourselves talking like Emang by the time we left, and none of us have been able to stop. We felt a little jaded, having seen so much before Mombo. The large herds of Impala had been so common over the weeks that we didn’t gasp anymore. Emang knew pretty quickly what we had seen and what we hadn’t, so we spent little time viewing animals of which we had seen many. “We’ll move away from the Impalas now, ayh?”
MomboBlog10.jpg

A documentary covering the life of a female leopard called “Eye of the Leopard” was filmed in the Mombo area. The documentary is shown on BBC, Animal Planet, and National Geographic. We had the pleasure of seeing this leopard, (named Legadima), one morning with her two new cubs, as they played shortly after dawn. They were precious, and so utterly comfortable with people, that they played without fear or caring as we watched the cubs beat up on their mom for a half hour or so as. That same day we saw our first and only cheetah of the safari, as she hung in the shade after a hunt, avoiding the midday sun. We rushed from the cheetah to catch up to some white Rhino that were a few kilometers away. We were in a Land Rover again and we found ourselves in door deep water, for 100s of meters as we made our way to the Rhinos. When we arrived we found the other camp Land Rovers there ahead of us viewing a Bull, a mother and two baby rhinos. These Rhinos are new to the area and rather shy, so it was heard to follow and get a good view, but these animals are incredible. They are huge, made of muscle, and they are unbelievably quick. We saw all of these things, plus our usual sightings of lions in one single day. Absolutely incredible.
MomboBlog14.jpg
MomboBlog15.jpg
MomboBlog16.jpg

Lions were plentiful here, and we had many encounters with prides of up to 22 at once. Each night, we could hear the lions, and one night, a couple of males were so loud, apparently in a fight, that Parker arose from a sleep and woke me as well, we listened to males make more noise than you can imagine. They sounded like they were just outside the tent, yet they were likely over a km away. The guides joke that a male Lion’s roar sounds like a deep bellowing “Whoooooselandisthis…” “It’s mine”, “It’s mine”, “Mine” and you can almost hear them say it as they patrol their area. The next morning on our game drive, we ran into the two male lions, both of whom appeared injured and tired from their fight. Later that morning, we ran into a large pride of females. While we were parked next to the pride, my glasses fell to the ground as I was working with the camera. Remember that lions think you’re part of the vehicle when you’re in it? It’s true. Well, I got out of the Land Rover within 20 feet of the lions, (on the other side of the vehicle) to retrieve my glasses. I asked and Emang said no problem but be quick. Every lion lifted their napping heads abruptly and turned toward my foot the moment it contacted the ground. I was back in the Land Rover within approximately one nano second. Chilling.
MomboBlog17.jpg
MomboBlog18.jpg
MomboBlog19.jpg
MomboBlog20.jpg
MomboBlog21.jpg

We tended to lose track of dates and days of the week while we were on Safari. We didn’t really care which day was Sunday or Monday, or the 20th or the 31st or whatever. On this particular day, we had completed a morning game drive and we were headed toward the camp, but we sensed that we were heading to a different camp than usual. All of the vehicles seemed to be converging at the same time at the same place which is very odd. We arrived at an elevated tree house, sitting atop a beautiful hippo pool and an exquisite brunch. It was Sunday brunch. It was Easter Sunday brunch. A Simon prepared Easter Sunday brunch. We had all completely forgotten what day it was, and it never occurred to us until we showed up at hippo pool. Chocolate eggs and all. Brunch was wonderful as was every meal at Mombo…. and so were the hippos. Hippos, had been difficult to spot before Mombo camp, because they tend to be pretty shy and unfortunately we tended to get glimpses of hippo heads or hippo backs, but never a whole hippopotamus. That changed at this hippo pool. We didn’t get enough on Easter however, and we returned the next day to take all the hippos in.
MomboBlog22.jpg
MomboBlog23.jpg
MomboBlog24.jpg

frontCape Buffalo had been elusive for the entire trip. We’d been close, but the buffalo would simply disappear after our first glimpse. Not at Mombo. They slept in the camp, and under your tents. They would migrate into the camp from the plain at night, and back out in the morning. We could hear them breathing, and we could feel them rub against the stilts of our tent. In the morning, we would have to be careful not get in the way of these huge creatures as they moved out into the open plain again. These guys are incredibly fast and pretty nasty if you rub them the wrong way, so you have to be careful. A couple of the bulls stood near our vehicle as we took off for our morning game drive, and we were “encouraged” to move quickly. After we were in the Land Rover, the buffalo took off in a sprint and shocked all of us with their power and quickness. Yowza.
MomboBlog25.jpg
MomboBlog26.jpg

We were lucky to be treated to a full moon at Mombo which shared the sky with a setting or rising sun on a few occasions, providing us with some great photo opportunities. The night sky was beautiful and we could see Cape Buffalos move through camp in the moonlight. On one occasion Carol and Griffin saw a hippo and a Nile Crocodile square off right in of their room under moon light.
MomboBlog27.jpg

We saw more baby animals at Mombo than anywhere we had been. We saw baby giraffes, baby elephants, baby leopards, baby hippos, and baby rhinos all within 10km of the camp. Each sighting of animal babies produced ooohs and awwwws and we usually hung out with the little ones until they meandered out of sight. We also saw the other side of life, running into an elephant skeleton that even Emang had never seen before. He explained how the bones of the elephants are spread around the grave site by the herd, everytime they return to “visit”.
MomboBlog28.jpg
MomboBlog29.jpg
MomboBlog13.jpg
MomboBlog30.jpg
MomboBlog31.jpg

Mombo was an otherworldly conclusion to our safari. Our little Cessna landed in Maun, which is the “safari city” of Botswana, readying to transfer out to Capetown. After two weeks, we were all sad that our safari had come to a close, not just because of all the incredible wildlife we had seen, or the beautiful landscapes or sunsets, but because of the remarkable people we had met. The very special people who have decided to make wildlife the key ingredient in their own life are forever etched in our hearts and minds, and we couldn’t help take just a little piece of their spirit with us.
MomboBlog32.jpg

Without any question, we’ll be back to renew that spirit, over and over again.

Posted by Blakei 03:22 Archived in Botswana Tagged family_travel Comments (1)

(Entries 1 - 3 of 3) Page [1]