Friday, June 29, 2018

"When You Travel, Things Sometimes Go Wrong" - Santorini, Greece

Santorini, GreeceJune 26 - 29. 2018

Well, this wasn’t the trip that we had envisioned.   The plan was four days on Santorini, a seven-day cruise of the Greek Isles, and three days in Athens.   But in spite of an unexpected calamity, we actually did enjoy our four days on the beautiful island of Santorini.  We arrived on the island on a rainy Tuesday, but woke on Wednesday to beautiful blue skies and perfect temperatures. Our hotel, the Antilez Suites, looks out over the ocean-filled caldera of this ancient volcanic island, and we ate breakfast on the patio with views of the white and blue towns of Fira to our left and Firastefani to the right...and little Oia town way out on the tip of the island.
Anteliz Suites - our room is right at the top of the first flight of stairs.

Our room was all decorated in Grecian whites and blues.
A rainy view from our balcony

The hotel pool - Rob's accident happened on the steps just to the left of the pool.

A sunnier view from our room.

Breakfast on the balcony

The town of Fira - the capital of Santorini
The town of Firastefani peched on the volcanic ridge

And the little town of Oia at the northern tip of Santorini

Wednesday morning, we just browsed the tourist shop-filled little lanes of Fira and Firastefani, which were crowded with visitors from the five cruise ships anchored in the caldera below.  

Rob in Firastefani

Hotels and homes of Firastefani

Naturally, Rob finds a cat to pet!

Tourist shops fill the little lanes of Fira

Shopping shopping shopping

Church domes and towers

Chuch dome in along the path into Fira

The cable car that takes ship visitors up and down the steep cliffs below Fira

The other ways to get up the cliffs are by walking or by donkey.

In the town square, we discovered  the Archaeological Museum where we saw some of the artifacts preserved from the ruins of Akrotiri, an ancient town that, like Pompeii, was buried by the ash from the Santorini volcano. We had lunch at Salt and Pepper, a wonderful local restaurant with a delightful hostess. She walked around the restaurant, chatting animatedly with all the patrons...and when the customers were served their food, she took their photo for a big book she keeps. She bragged that she remembers every customer and that we are her family. We followed lunch with a pedicure for me and a massage for Rob at a local establishment.

Wall paintings from the ancient city of Akrotiri are preserved more safely in the museum.

Birds and dolphins were popular themes on the pottery

It was interesting to see that coffee cups look just the same for 4,000 years!

That afternoon, we decided (haha!) that it would be an interesting experiment to check out the Greek health care system.  Rob went for a dip in the hotel pool...and upon emerging from the pool, slipped on wet marble stairs and came down hard on the back of his shoulder. (And thank goodness he didn't come down on his head! This all could have been much worse.) I was in our room when one of the staff came knocking on the door and said with her limited English, "He has fallen!". My heart pounding, I hurried down the stairs to find my poor husband stretched out on the hard rock moaning in pain.  The hotel manager and some staff members, and an English guest who was a nurse, were clustered around Rob.  They had already placed towels under his side to prop him up and were shading him from the bright afternoon sun with an umbrella. The ambulance had already been summoned.  Everyone could not have been more wonderful.

Now is a good time to add that, if you plan to have an accident, Santorini is NOT a good place to choose to have it! The hotels are clustered along a high cliff, and there are few actual roads. The only way to reach our hotel is along the uneven pedestrian trail along the cliff, so once the EMT had Rob all taped up like a mummy to secure his arm, it was the choice of bouncing along on a stretcher or walking. His legs were fine, so he chose to walk...but it was a difficult walk! And then the ambulance had to navigate through the narrow streets past hundreds of tourists to get him to the hospital down on the flat part of the island.

We really hoped it was just a dislocation of his shoulder, but the x-rays revealed a displaced fracture of his humerus very near his shoulder, and the doctor told us that it could require surgery and advised us to have it evaluated by Rob's own doctor. That was the moment when our vacation plans flew out the window. 😥  Rob was trussed up in an "immobilizer"...a harness and sling. He will wear it until he sees the orthopedic surgeon on Monday, and it does help to alleviate the pain

Antony, our hotel manager, stayed with us every step of the way, following the ambulance, translating when needed, and driving us back to the hotel, stopping by the pharmacy for me to pick up the pain medication on the way. He has continued to take care of us, helping me contact the airlines to arrange our flights home, making sure we got meals, and more.

The first night after the accident was pretty awful. Rob was in bad pain - and pretty helpless with only one arm, so I was up with him, helping him with whatever he needed. But by Thursday, the meds were beginning to kick in and Rob’s pain was much diminished.  The weather was very strange all day on Thursday. It was sunny and fairly warm, but there was a wild wind – the strongest I’d ever experienced since Hurricane Carla in 1961!  Rob and I took a short walk to get lunch, then he rested nearly all day while I went out to explore the a bit more, but just walking along the cliff-top trail was an adventure in the strong gale!

Rob gives the thumbs up - feeling a bit better today!

A windy walk on Santorini.

We had made dinner reservations back at Salt and Pepper, so I walked by to cancel them and told the hostess what had happened. Based on her behavior at our good lunch, I was not surprised at her reaction. She truly did treat me like family, looking genuinely shocked and sorry, and hugging me like a mother. I felt like crying just because everyone has been so kind!

Thursday night was SO much better than the night before.   Rob and I both slept well, and Friday morning, he actually felt well enough to go with me to the ruins at Akrotiri, which is known as the Minoan Pompeii.  Like Pompeii, it was covered – and preserved – by volcanic ash in a huge eruption in about 1627 B.C.  The buildings are not as well-preserved as those we saw at Pompeii, but the site contained many treasures and clues to the lives of the bronze age Minoan people – beautiful wall frescoes, decorated pots, and even a sophisticated sewage system with in-home bathrooms!

We too a taxi to Akrotiri at the far end of Santorini and browsed around the site, which is enclosed in a covered building to protect the excavation.  It is not nearly as extensive as Pompeii, but it is estimated that only about 3% of the site has been excavated!  I wonder what other treasures might be found in the future!
The building that protects the fragile ruins of Akrotiri

A portion of the ruined city

The Pithoi Storeroom - pithoi are the large pottery vessels, and this room was filled with them.

The Room of the Ladies - the wall paintings of women that were found in this room are preserved in the Fira Museum

There was a good video showing what this grand home would have looked like  prior to the volcanic eruption.

Ancient beds preserved in ash

Akrotiri is an active excavation site.  We saw evidence of ongoing work all around.

Just below Akrotiri was a little beachside cafe, so we walked down for smoothies while waiting for our taxi to arrive.  
We enjoyed smoothies at the beachside cafe.

A Santorini beach

My favorite traveling companion.

We returned to the hotel for lunch on our balcony with its stunning views, then Rob napped again while I once again walked along the cliffs enjoying the spectacular views.  We spent Friday evening packing our bags for the unexpected trip home…but we will be returning with many memories – mostly happy and one not so happy – and with a determination to return to Greece to finish our explorations!

Santorini Sunset

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Return to Africa - Part 3: A School Visit and Kafue National Park, Zambia

From Zimbabwe to Zambia
A School Visit and Kafue National Park, Zambia
May 10 - 12, 2018

Our wake-up greeting came very early this morning, as we had a busy day ahead.  After a large breakfast, we left Hwange National Park for our long trip to Kafue National Park in Zambia.  But Hwange had a final parting gift for us...a pair of adorable rock hyraxes soaking up the sun.
This pair of rock hyraxes remind me of the Pushme-Pullyou from Dr. Doolittle.
Before leaving Zimbabwe, we stopped to visit St. Mary's Catholic School, one of the several schools supported by the Grand Circle Foundation, the charitable wing of the Grand Circle Travel company that includes Overseas Adventure Travel.  The children, in their bright blue uniforms, came out to greet us and we visited several classrooms, including a new computer lab that was being set up with the help of volunteers.  The adorable primary class children sang a song for us, and we got to interact with the older kids, asking them questions about their studies and having them read to us.
The children greet their visitors.

Primary classroom

Our tour members met with kids in the upper grade classroom

The brand new computer lab
The headmistress told us about the successes of the school and how much they appreciate the support from Grand Circle.  They had made several improvements to the buildings recently and the classrooms were bright and cheery with posters on the walls and lots of books.  We learned that most of these kids walks several kilometers to get to school each day.  I couldn't help but contrast this with one of the schools we had passed along the road - a one room crumbling stucco building sitting in a dreary plot of dirt - although I guess a crumbling school is better than none at all.
The headmistress told us more about the school.

The students learn about agriculture in the school garden.
Our bus took us back to the town of Victoria Falls where we walked across the bridge over the Zambezi River that separates Zimbabwe from Zambia.  Outside the immigration office, we were greeted by a band of baboons climbing on vehicles and watching for unwary travelers carrying food.  We were also "greeted" by overly friendly and persistent young men trying to sell us copper bracelets and carved animals.
A Zimbabwe traffic jam!

Walking from Zimbabwe to Zambia.  "Buy my copper bracelets and animals!"

Our first glimpse of Victoria Falls.  

Baboons were romping all over the grounds outside the immigration office.
Like many African nations, Zambia has an interesting and rocky history.  Based on my scribbled notes from one of our guides, here is a brief summary.  It has a population of 17 million people from 73 tribes with many languages, although the official language is English.  After centuries of tribal kingdoms, the region came under the control of Cecil Rhodes and his British South Africa Company in the late 1800s,  and my generation grew up knowing this country as Northern Rhodesia.  In 1924, the company handed over the government of the country to Great Britain.  In the 1950's, a group of African men with ability but no rights led the movement to push out the British, and Zambia gained its independence in 1964.  The country had lots of natural resources, including copper, but its big challenge was to find qualified people to run the new government and the industries, so the economy took a big downturn in the 1980s under the president, Kenneth Kaunda.  In 1991, the resistance party won a landslide victory and the new president, Frederick Chaluba,  The new president recovered a lot of the money that had been hidden overseas and worked to diversify the economy, with an emphasis on agriculture and tourism.  Some farmland was returned to white farmers who had been exiled.  Education is free through Grade 7, then those who pass the exams may continue their education for a fee.  Students with excellent grades may attend university under a government grant if they work for the government for two years following college.  So life is improving, although unemployment still stands at 45%.  Currently, the Chinese are buying up copper, gold, and coal mines and bringing their own labor.

After entering Zambia, we had a short bus ride through the large town of Livingstone to the very modern Victoria Falls Airport where we split into three small groups for our plane ride to Kafue National Park.  From the plane, we could see the Lufupa Tent Camp along the banks of the Kafue River near its junction with the Lufupa River.
Sue and Elisabeth in Victoria Falls Airport

Roxann, Rob, and Joan wait for the planes to Kafue National Park.

Part of our group heads to their plane.

Rob, Joan, Susan, and Dennis shared this little plane.

I don't look too nervous, right?

Rivers of Zambia

From the plane, our Lufupa Camp could be seen near the junction of the Kafue and Lufupa Rivers.

We landed on a tiny airstrip, startling a grazing herd of impalas, then had a short drive to our lovely camp.  Once again, we were greeted by a friendly staff, cold towels, and welcome drinks.  Our comfortable tents were set up on platforms overlooking the river.
Impalas racing away from our plane.

They were probably a little annoyed at us.

The Kafue Airport

We head to our next camp.

The staff was out to greet us...

...and cold drinks were waiting.

Rob outside of our tented cabin by the river.

The accomodations were very comfortable.

Our view of the river...

...from the nice deck.
After settling in, we headed out for a pleasant evening game drive through the park.  By the time we finished, it was quite dark, and our driver used spotlights to try to see the nocturnal animals that might be roaming through the bush.  At one point, he stopped in an open field, turned out all the lights, and I gasped to see the stars blazing over us in the moonless sky.  The Milky Way was clearly visible, and familiar Orion was near the horizon, but the Southern Cross was high in the sky, a rare sight for those of us living in the Northern Hemisphere.
Evening in Kafue National Park

Red-necked Spur Fowl

Goliath Heron

We had spotted a genet, a small African mammal that looks rather like a combination of a cat and a raccoon,
but it quickly disappeared.

A Game Drive through Kafue National Park

We woke up to a lovely sunrise and the grunts of hippos very nearby in the river.  Our days for most of the rest of our trip followed the typical pattern for most African safaris - up early for a morning game drive in order to see the animals at their most active, a return to the camp for lunch and an afternoon rest during the heat of the day, then out again in the late afternoon when the animals once again begin to prowl, ending the day with social time - a "sun-downer" drink and dinner.  We were always back in our tents by about 8:30, and since the night was pitch black, Rob and I were usually asleep by 9 p.m.
Morning on the river.

Hippos and a Grey Heron.  The hippos made noises all through the night.

Breakfast in the open air lodge.

Our morning game drive took us past many familiar animals, but introduced us to a few new ones, including a well-hidden Defassa water buck, and the puku, a lovely antelope.

Defassa Water Buck hiding in the tall grass.

Water bucks

Male Puku

Female pukus

Mother and child puku

Our guides joked that the small herds of male impalas and pukus were "the losers," but we also learned that when a
male antelope is busy mating, he doesn't eat, so he becomes weak, and the head of the harem changes every few days.

Glimpse of a blue monkey at the base of the tree.

Crocodile basking in the sun.

Wart hog skull by the side of the road.


We also learned more about the flora of the park.
Leopard orchids growing on the trunk of a palm tree.

Candelabra tree

The white pods of the Cassia tree.  Its bark is filled with quinine.

We took a rest stop along the banks of the river where we watched a large group of hippos quite close to the shore.   Before we headed back through the woodlands, our driver lit a wad of dried elephant dung, which helped to repel the tsetse flies that become active in the warm afternoon.

Sue and Lou photograph a pod of hippos.

We encountered lots of hippos during our river cruise.

This reminded me so much of the Jungle Boat Ride at Disneyland

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Our guide lights a ball of elephant dung to ward off tsetse flies.
The big excitement of our day was finding a pride of lions.  (I know I go way overboard on photos!   But lion sightings are rare, and I can't stop myself from taking dozens of photos in the hope that a few of them will turn out well.)
This is why one doesn't go walking through the African grasslands!

I think they spotted us!

The pride was on the move...
...until they found a nice shady spot to rest.

Kafue National Park is home to over 500 species of birds, and as usual, I was on the lookout for as many of them as I could find.  We didn't come close to finding all 500, but here are a few we saw today.
Great White Egret

African Go Away Bird (or Grey Lourie)
I found a YouTube video that makes it a bit more clear how they got their funny name.
The Call of the Go-Away Bird

Goliath Heron

Helmeted Guinea Fowl

Gross Starling

Wattled Lapwing

Meyers Parrots

Black Shouldered Kite

Little Bee Eater

A pair of Crowned Cranes

Unfortunately, I had come down with a bad chest cold, so after lunch, I made the difficult (but wise) decision to skip the evening game drive and had a nice rest, once again enjoying the sounds of the hippos in the river.  I joined the rest of the group for dinner and sun-downers, and we all oohed and aahed at the gorgeous sunset over the river.
Dinner in the Lodge

Time for Sun-Downers

A beautiful end to another great day!

Cruising on the Kafue and Lufupa Rivers

Today was a fun change of pace from our usual game drives.  Our "drive" today involved floating down the two rivers that join near our camp, navigating around the many hippos and crocodiles that live in the river, and spotting the many birds that live along the riverbanks.
Karen, Joan, and Candace are ready for the cruise.

Our vehicles for the day.

Looking forward to a good day.

Looking for wildlife

Great Cormorant

African Darter -AKA Snake Bird

We saw lots of the Snake Birds drying their wings after fishing in the river.

Water lily and table of trees

African Fish Eagle - the national bird of Zambia

Fish Eagle in flight

Malachite Kingfisher

Another view of the Malachite Kingfisher

The African Jacana is also called the Jesus Christ bird because it appears to walk on the water.  (Thanks, Karen H.)

My favorite bird of the cruise was the very unusual Saddle-billed Stork. 

These storks mate for life.  This couple was tending their nest.

Our guide showed us how to make a necklace of the green and purple stem of the water lily.

The Hammerkop always reminds me of Woody Woodpecker.

Monitor Lizard

A huge Tent Spider web

This hippo appeared to be wearing a crown of flowers

Study in Khaki

Wire Tailed Swallows

Red Throated Bee Eater

Another African Fish Eagle

A peaceful river.

Puku herd on the riverbank

Red Throated Bee Eater

And another one.

Pied Kingfisher

The staff surprised us with a lunch by the banks of the river, then we returned to the camp for an interesting lesson from Lydia, our camp manager, who introduced us to the "ground nut," (which we know as a peanut) and talked about the many ways it is cooked and used here.  It is a primary source of protein, as meat is expensive.  Some of us got a chance to pound some peanuts into peanut butter.  Then Charles showed us the ingredients for making homemade beer, which he began brewing today and planned to carry along to complete the fermentation in time for the end of our trip!
Walking to lunch

Lunch in the bush

Roxann and Sue help Lydia made peanut butter.

Dennis gives it a try

Ingredients for homemade beer

Our group spotted something in the tree at camp.

It was a little monkey.
Lydia talked candidly about Zambian culture, with an emphasis on behavior within families.  We were surprised to learn that parents are not the ones who give lessons on moral behavior to their children.  They appoint an "auntie" or "uncle" who instills these moral lessons in the kids.  The objective of bringing up a girl is to prepare her to manage a household, while the boys are prepared to provide for a family - traditionally through farming, animal husbandry, and fishing.

At puberty, girls are confined to their Auntie's home for three months to get an education in becoming an adult.  Boys are taken to the bush for a ceremonial circumcision and other rituals.  They must be able to establish a household before asking their Uncle to arrange a marriage - and marriage is not between two people; it is between two families.  The parents are not involved in the marriage arrangements.  Although marriages are arranged, girls do have the right to say no.  If she agrees, the man must pay a dowry.

Marriages are expected to last for life, and the couple is expected to produce children.  In some tribes, polygamy is accepted, and if a couple does not have children, the husband may seek a second wife.

It was kind of interesting.  As our "teacher," Lydia was very straight-forward about describing the culture, and appeared to be very accepting of it.  But when we asked if she would consider being a second wife, she said absolutely not!

Our day ended back on the water with an evening cruise and "sun-downers" on our boats, which our pilots tied together so we could enjoy the social hour.  Then, as was the tradition on our last evening in each of our camps, the staff followed dinner with entertainment and dancing.
Another curious hippo on our evening cruise.

Hippos everywhere

Unidentified birds

Brown-hooded Kingfisher

Sun downers on the boat...

...complete with snacks.

Dinner and entertainment were both in the boma for our last night in Kafue Park

Once again, we enjoyed the wonderful singing and dancing.

And this time, we got to take part in the dancing!

Another beautiful sunset to end our stay at Lufupa Camp.