2015 Reviews, Previews & Predictions

by Bob Sparrow

Eagles

The Eagles backstage – me, NOT!

–  For me 2014 started here with the discovery, or rather the re-discovery, of The Tape’ – a mysterious offering from dearly departed, best friend, Don of Saudi Arabia, which has turned into an allegorical journey in search of . . . ? More discoveries are coming in 2015.

  •     –  Last year’s backstage cocktail party with the Eagles turned out to be more of a nose-bleed seat and a hot dog in the balcony, but their music was still magical.

–  I watched a car salesman, beaten and bloody, slink into his manager’s office with his tail between his legs as Linda drove away in her new 2015 Chevy Yukon

–  In 2014 I learned that Samoans, by any other name (even one as misleading as Caramel deLites) are still my favorite Girl Scout cookie, although I understand I’ll be paying more for them in 2015 – what a surprise!

carly scott

Missing woman turns into a homicide

–  The case of missing Carley Scott, to which I was introduced by a hitch-hiker I picked up on the ‘Road to Hana’, turned into a homicide when Carley’s jawbone and burned clothes were found by police. Ex-boyfriend, Steven Capobianco has gone from a ‘person of interest’ to being charged with murder.  Trial is set for sometime in 2015.

–  An economic forecast: I predict that 2015 will find Reverse Mortgages moving Forward.

–  Independence Day (not the 4th of July!) revealed our founding fathers to be just as quirky as some of today’s politicians, which is no easy task!

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Trekking the Himalayas

–  If my adventure to South Africa in 2013 was the ‘Trip of a Lifetime’, then my adventure in Nepal and the Himalayas last year was the ‘Trek of a Lifetime’ – it was a spectacular journey! I’m glad many of you could join me vicariously through my daily posts. I am now frequently asked, “Hey, where are ‘we’ going next?” Stay tuned.

–  It wasn’t as foreign, but just as beautiful – that’s the trekking through Glacier Nat’l Park, Yellowstone, and Alberta, Canada and our visit to neighbors the Nelsons at their second home on Flathead Lake, Montana this past summer. You’re all probably wondering if after our encounter in Jackson Hole, WY, if Sandra Bullock will ever leave me alone . . . more on that later.

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Is she still stalking me?

–  Earlier this year, while making a fool of myself at some of our ‘local’ tourist spots like Venice Beach, the Western White House and the Queen Mary, I missed my induction into the University of Utah Athletic Hall of Fame – it’s just as well, it turned out that they had plenty of ‘red shirts’ to clear the dishes and sweep up after.

–  Twenty fourteen concluded with a tribute to, and a debate with, my favorite sister, my favorite writing companion and simply one of my favorite people on this planet.  If you’re a regular you know she writes so well from the heart, while I tend to write from somewhere around the elbow, but whatever your preference, I predict much more of the same coming from us in 2015.

–  A big thank you to our regular readers in 2014 for enjoying our writing enough to encourage us to keep on doing it. Truth is, we’d probably do it anyway, but you need to know that your comments, your ‘sharing’ and your subscriptions make it a labor of love for us. Thank you so much!

2015

Bob & Suzanne wishing you an adventurous 2015!

If you’re not already a subscriber, we encourage you to become a ‘bird watcher’ in 2015 and follow and ‘share’ our adventures and observations.  That’s at least a resolution you can keep!

Hope you make 2015 matter.

African Diary – Part 3 On Safari

by Bob Sparrow (still in Africa)

All animal photos are mine . . . but you can look at them.

notten'sFrom Cape Town we flew into Mpumalanga International Airport (yes, that’s spelled correctly, I think they forgot to buy a vowel) in Nelspruit, then took a two hour ride to Notten’s Bush Camp in the Sabi Sands Game Reserve in Kruger National Park for the ‘safari’ portion of the trip. There are many Bush Camps in Kruger Park, but I can’t imagine any being better than the one where we stayed – Notten’s.  It’s family owned and operated; the current proprietors are David and Mia Notten; it was David’s grandfather who bought the land in 1964 as a family retreat; David’s father and mother, Gilly & Bambi (no, I’m not making these names up) opened their home up and started the camp in 1986 and subsequently handed it over to David and Mia.  There are some great family photos of the three generations on the wall in the meeting room.  We saw pictures of Susie, who heads the serving staff, when she was a baby with her mom and dad andjeep grandfather, who was hired by David’s grandfather back in the 60s.  There’s a picture of Thomas, our game drive ‘tracker’, who arrived from Mozambique at 13 and started working at Notten’s as a gardener – he’s now 43.  David’s cousin, Dale also works at the camp and cooked us a delightful barbeque on our first night.  David and Mia, both personable and friendly were always on hand to accommodate our every need, and what made us feel most welcome here was that everyone immediately treated us like ‘one of the family’ – a really nice feeling when you’re 10,000 miles from home in the African bush.

A unique feature of Notten’s was that there was no, or little, electricity.  There was one plug per room to charge cameras or computers, but all the lighting was by kerosene lamp or candle.  No television, no clocks.  We started out missing the conveniences of lights, electrical outlets everywhere and a little TV at night to catch up on the news, but after four nights we ended up missing the charm of our candle-lite room and the sounds of the savanna at night.

2013-05-24 09.14.27Dinners were a special event at Notten’s – tables in the eating area, which were separated for breakfast and lunch into tables for 4-6, where all pushed together in the evening so everyone in camp (20-24 max) ate together at one long table, thus promoting the sharing of stories about where people were from, places they’d been and places they were going.

The food was incredible – I’m going to try to duplicate their bananas French Toast when I get home, but I have a feeling I won’t quite capture the essence of it.  Their lemon meringue pie was like nothing I’ve ever tasted . . . only better.  OK, I think you get the point, the accommodations and staff were awesome, let’s move on to the reason we went there – the animals.

We arrive in camp around 2:30 in the afternoon and one hour later we were on our first ‘game drive’.  Game drives are conducted by a ‘tracker’ driving a 6-8 passenger open-air Land Cruiser, with a ‘spotter’ sitting in a seat attached to the hood.  A typical game drive lasts about three hours and covers miles of dirt and off roads, throughout the savanna and bush – wherever the animals happen to be.

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We first encountered a male, female and baby rhinoceros and drove to within 15-20 feet of them and watched them grazing – they gave us a casual glance and went back to the job at hand – eating.  Shortly thereafter we came upon four lions, three male, one female; we were told that the males fought over the female and we saw the ‘winner’ and the female go off to . . . make more lions.  One of the spurned suitors dejectedly limped off into the bush.  We first heard the sound, then saw a cloud of dust in the distance, we then witness a herd of approximately 400 Cape Buffalo stampeding right past us.  When the last one had passed us, we saw the reason they were running – there was a leopard trailing them waiting for a baby Cape to get separated from the herd, thus providing the leopard with dinner.  But the herd was keeping a close eye on the calves, so no Buffalo Burgers for the leopard tonight.  We saw the leopard disappear into the brush and heard growls and hisses and then saw a honey badger running out of the brush and the leopard smugly walking out behind him with what the honey badger thought was going to be his dinner, a large king rat that he had killed.   Thomas, our tracker, told us that a honey badger, pound DSC00353for pound, is probably the fiercest animal in Africa, and that he could have kicked the leopards ass, but perhaps he had rat for lunch, so he reluctantly let the leopard have it.  It was now dark as Thomas headed the safari through a maze of dirt roads, without streetlights I might add, back towards camp.  After driving about 20 minutes, he stopped; we knew every time he stopped it was because he spotted something he wanted us to see.  We just sat there in the dark wondering what we were supposed to be looking at.  “Look over there,” he said, as he flashed a spot light to our right.  We turned and no more than 15 feet from us was a large bull elephant just standing by the roadside.

What an incredible first drive; we join the ‘Big Five, First Drive’ Club – I just made that club up, but amazingly on our first game drive we saw all of the ‘Big 5’ animals (Elephant, Lion, Leopard, Cape Buffalo and Rhino – members of the Big Five were chosen for the difficulty in hunting them and the degree of danger involved, rather than their size).

DSC00376The next day I took the opportunity between drives to do a ‘bush walk’ – it was just Thomas and me wandering through the bush, he is obligated to take a rifle with him on all such walks.  As we walked along, we came across 6-8 giraffe, he showed me the tracks and scat of various animals as well as some interesting vegetation, like a weed that you can wash your hands with – it acts just like soap when you rub it between your hands.  As we walked along through the bush I asked a number of questions about the flora and fauna.  My last question was, “Have you ever had to use your gun?”  To which Thomas, stopped, looked me in the eye and replied in a very somber way, “Yes, just last week.”  I froze in my tracts as I now imagined all kinds of animals charging us and Thomas firing at them until he ran out of bullets.  “What were the circumstances?” I asked.  He replied calmly, but in a serious tone, “Last week there was a man who asked too many questions, so I shot him.”  Then he broke out in a big smile and told me he’s never had to use the gun.

We had two more days in the Game Reserve – a game drive in the early morning (6:30 – 9:30) then back for breakfast, and a game drive in the afternoon (3:30 – 6:30).  Aside from more ‘Big 5’ sightings, we saw, hippos, giraffe, impala, baboons, wart hogs, wildebeest, hyena a myriad of small furry animals and birds that we’re still trying to figure out what they were.  We had a leopard come right next to our vehicle – I literally could have reached down and petted him – but I thought better of it.

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On our last drive, as night was falling, the three Land Cruisers from Notten’s all stopped out in a clearing in the savanna for cocktails and appetizers around a campfire.  A full moon rise added to the magic of the evening as David pointed out the ‘Southern Cross’ constellation – the first time I’d ever seen it.  The Cosby, Still & Nash song by the same name echoed in my head . . .

When you see the Southern Cross for the first time,

You understand now why you came this way

‘Cause the truth you might be runnin’ from is so small,

But it’s as big as the promise, the promise of a coming day

 We were promised another day, but not at Notten’s, our promise was as big as Victoria Falls, which was our next destination.  The next morning we were off for Zimbabwe.

Next Monday: African Diary – Part 4   Victoria Falls and Out of Africa

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African Diary – Part 2 Cape Town

by Bob Sparrow (from Africa)

“It’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey”

 Getting There

Whoever uttered the above quote never flew from Los Angeles to London, London to Johannesburg and Johannesburg to Cape Town on a journey that included 26 hours of flying and 17 hours of lay-overs.  I think I experienced a bending of the space-time continuum – I may have even spent some time in the Twilight Zone; I’m not sure where I was; I wasn’t even sure who I was.  All I know is I left Los Angeles at 5:00 Friday afternoon and arrived in Cape Town, South Africa at 3:30 Sunday afternoon.  Somebody owes me a Saturday!

Being There

12A

12 Apostles Hotel & Spa

I can’t remember the last time I stayed in a suite at a Five-Star hotel . . . OK, maybe never.  I can tell you it’s nothing like camping in the desert.  But when we checked into 5-Star The Twelve Apostles Hotel & Spa those long hours getting there just seemed to . . . nah, my back still hurt“The 12A” as it’s affectionately called, sits on the coast, by itself, between Cape Town and the Cape of Good Hope, and it is magnificent!  Our oceanfront suite allowed us to sit on our deck and watch the sun sink into the Atlantic – and all this time we Californians thought the sun always sank into the Pacific.  The facility, the location and particularly the staff, were marvelous.  With “The 12A” as our base, and with the help of our expert guide, Craig Ziman, we squeezed in as many ‘points of interest’ that we could in three days.

 Seeing There

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Table Mountain

Table Mountain – it’s a must to take the gondola to the top and spend some time checking out the spectacular views of the cape below from various points.  You can even repel down part of the way if you choose – I didn’t choose.  Cape Point – better known as the Cape of Good Hope, where the currents of the Atlantic and Indian Oceans meet was a bit disappointing in that you really couldn’t tell where the Atlantic Ocean left off and the Indian Ocean began – I suggested they should dye them different colors – I don’t think they were listening.

Ever stay up nights wondering exactly who fought in the Boar Wars?  We visited the Castle of Good Hope, which is filled with military memorabilia where you can find the answer to that question.  We visited a penguin beach, yep, penguins in South Africa, as well as the Waterfront (shopping and restaurants), Camps Bay (more shopping and more restaurants), the diamond district (guys, don’t let your wives go shopping there!), where we learned that most diamonds naturally come in . . . you guessed it, a diamond shape.  We also took a trip out to the wine area of South Africa, conveniently called The Winelands.  

township

“Township”

Juxtaposed to the quaint, up-scale villages and elegant homes in The Winelands are the shanties, euphemistically called Townships, which line the freeway for miles leading back into Cape Town.  The shanties are a 10 x 10 foot room made from aluminum siding and plywood with no running water and public port-o-potties for bathrooms.  We were told that over one million people are living in such conditions.  Apartheid has ended and there are many wonderful sights here, but this is a clear sign that the complete development of South Africa is still a work-in-progress.

The Best Reason to Go

It’s about an hour’s boat ride from the Cape Town Waterfront District to Robben’s Island, where Nelson Mandela spent 18 of his 27 years of incarceration. The prisoner’s living quarters varied from one room jammed with 30-40 prisoners, to a single 8 x 8 cell, to something smaller, that were previously used as dog kennels.  Food was bad and sparse; prisoners were forced to work 8-10 hours a day in lime mines on the island and were often physically and mentally tortured for various reasons or for no reason at all.  Solitary confinement was worse.

Robben-Island

Robben Island cell

Our tour of the island’s prison was conducted by a former prisoner who talked about conditions in the prison.  He said, “They tried every way possible to beat us down, they torture us and treated us like animals, but in the evening we were able to gather together for about an hour or so and we would use that time to educate ourselves – there was a saying, ‘Each One, Teach One’ – that way those who could read taught others to read, those who knew math taught other to do math and so on.  The main thing we continued to reinforce with each other was that whatever they did to us, we were not going to let them break our spirit.  At night, if time and guards allowed, we would sing, we would dance, we would do little plays for ourselves – anything to keep our spirit alive – that was the most important thing, to keep our spirit alive.” 

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“African Spirit”

We came away from Robben’s Island amazed and inspired, but what we didn’t know was that we were about to experience that ‘spirit’ on our boat trip back to Cape Town.  We started our return trip sitting on benches on the outside deck of the boat, but as the sun went down it quickly cooled and we moved inside.  Soon after we came inside, a middle-aged black man stood up and started singing in a native language, other blacks, men and women, quickly joined in and although they didn’t all know each other, they all knew the song and each would either join in singing the melody, harmonies or a background beat – they sounded as if they’d been rehearsing this routine together for years.  It didn’t take long before all the black men and women were up singing and dancing in the aisles.  We few whites on board just stood, listened and watched in amazement.  The music was so infectious, I tried to join in, and with the help of the black gentleman standing next to me, I learned a couple of words and joined in the singing.  If my skin color didn’t give me away, my voice and my dance moves did; I soon realized what I should be doing is recording this – so I did.

As we prepare to move to the next phase of our journey, the safaris, we are amazed at all the wonderful things we saw in and around Cape Town, but what I will remember most are the people – their great smiles and wonderful dispositions.  I’m not sure how they do it, but I’m thinking it has something to do with that great ‘African Spirit’ that will not be broken.  Perhaps it is about the journey.

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Next: African Diary – Part 3  Game Drives

 

 

African Diary – Part 1 It’s A Jungle Out There

by Bob Sparrow

Lion     I hear a low snorting sound just outside my tent . . . or was it inside?  I lay perfectly still and slowly open my eyes and furtively search the darkness for movement.  I hear rhythmic breathing and feel the warm breath of an animal on my face – or am I just imagining it?  As my eyes adjust to the darkness I see the rustling of the canvas tent next to me.  The snorting becomes louder, the breathing heavier. What’s out there . . . or in here?  My imagination is running wild.  We were forewarned that the ‘Big 5’ (Lion, Elephant, Cape Buffalo, Leopard and Rhinoceros) are curious animals and might wander into camp looking for food.  I wondered: Am I food?  I slowly rolled over to glance in the direction of the breathing . . . it was my wife.  I wake up in a cold sweat in my bed at home.

I’m headed to Africa this week, so my imagination may be turned up a few notches, but if you, like me, thought all the dangers were out in the African savanna, think again.  Like any good traveler I’ve been doing some research on points of interest that I’ll be seeing over the next couple of weeks and while I’ve learned what the ‘Big 5’ of African wildlife are, I’ve compiled my own ‘Big 2’ that I’ll be looking out for as well:

  1. Man
    1. S. Africa has one of the world’s highest rate of murders, assaults and rapes       
    2. Over 17 million people in sub-Saharan Africa have died of AIDS
    3. Around 50 people are murdered in South Africa every day
    4. Drivers                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    

                                 i.  Cab drivers will scam you, rip you off, take you for a ride

                                 ii. Safari drivers have little to no regard for you back or kidneys

        2. Mosquitos – Every 30 seconds someone in Africa dies of malaria

mosquito    Sounds fun, doesn’t it?  Those at the South African Chamber of Commerce will tell you that all major cities around the world have high crime rates.  I looked up – New York, in the summer when crime is the highest, has about 50 murders a month.  But I know that if I stay away from the wrong people and wrong places in Africa I’ll be fine – as long as they stay away from me.  Here are the ‘Big 5’ ‘animals’ I’m going to try to avoid:

  1. The Robber
  2. The Mugger
  3. The AIDS carrier
  4. The Malaria-infested Mosquito
  5. The Cab Driver

Indeed, it is a jungle out there.  So why go to Africa, you ask?  It is a beautiful country with an incredibly rich history and lots of amazing animals – and I want to see where Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie get their kids.

All kidding aside (I really wasn’t kidding) below is the abbreviated itinerary for your Man-on-the-Savanna to bring you an up-close and personal look (from my warped perspective) at Africa.

 LAX to London

London to Johannesburg

Johannesburg to Cape Town (Finally!)

Cape Town site seeing (3 days)

Sabi Sand Game Reserve – (3 days)

Johannesburg – 1 day

Victoria Falls, Zembabwe (2 days)

Home

If any of my writing gets lost in translation it’s because there are over 2,000 languages spoken in Africa (This is one of many ‘interesting tidbits’ that I’ll be reporting back to you with).sardines

Signing off from LAX where I will be packed, sardine-like, into a metal tube floating through the sky for the next 26 hours.