my jaunts: new orleans jazz

new orleans was always intriguing to me.  so close to where i grew up in oklahoma, but seemingly miles away in every other sense:  the food, the jazz, the slight sense of grit and corruption that lies just beneath the surface of its varied architecture.  i’ve known people who have moved to new orleans for school and then never left.  they say it gets in you and you can’t leave, even if you try.  so i was excited to (finally) explore the town and understand this spirit of new orleans.

jazz and beats at maison on frenchmen street

jazz and beats at maison on frenchmen street

we traveled with friends and found the most amazingly quintessential new orleans house on airbnb in the heart of frenchmen street, just across the street from washington square park.  note: do not stay in the french quarter.  rather, stay here, on frenchmen, amongst the jazz bars and the outdoor art market, and only a short walk away from the quarter (if you must, if only for cafe du monde beignets).

ok, cafe du monde is worth it. skip the line and go sit down: first come, first serve.

ok, cafe du monde is worth it. skip the line and go sit down: first come, first serve.

the jazz bars on frenchmen were my favorite part of new orleans.  walking up frenchmen, loud and urgent jazz rushes from inside the clubs and greets you, demanding you step in for a while.  should you accept, you’ll most likely find packed spaces, locals sipping abita beer, and potentially a bachelorette party or two.  step into the spotted cat music club, a small bar recommended by new york times’ 36 hours, where i spent the good part of an hour enthralled by the couples who charged in and started swing dancing with such purpose that it was both thrilling and catatonic.

dancers and jazz at the spotted club music club

dancers and jazz at the spotted club music club

some bars require reservations for seats (such as snug harbor jazz bistro), while others pull you in spontaneously as you walk by.  one night, we walked past maison when we heard a mix of hip hop and jazz coming from inside.  it was different and immediately piqued my interest, and i couldn’t help but dance along.  we walked in to find a group of around eight guys, all young, that switched between rapping and raucous playing of their instruments (think: kanye’s “all of the lights,” though younger and more raw).  at one point, one member left the club to go outside for a smoke break.  he couldn’t resist the music, though, and started playing his trombone from the street in the middle of pedestrians walking by.  the music has a way of taking hold of you like that and not letting go.

maison jazz club

he couldn’t resist – a musician plays from the sidewalk during his smoke break

if the music at a particular place wasn’t doing it for us, we’d move on; there are too many bars offering different types of music that you should never settle for mediocrity.  our favorite spot one night would be boring the next.  keep walking, and you’ll find what you’re after.  some of my favorite spots (all within walking distance) were dba, spotted cat, and maison.  i also heard that blue nile was fantastic, though we never stepped inside.

live jazz at d.b.a. - lots of dancing here

live jazz at d.b.a. – lots of dancing here

each night, we’d walk up frenchmen, listen to jazz, dance along, drink, and cheer for more.  between sets we’d switch locations or stroll through the outdoor art market just next door (check out brett henderson’s booth for some really cool photos overlaid with maps of new orleans).

the art market on frenchmen street

the art market on frenchmen street

walking back to the house post-jazz, we’d buy pizza at the pop-up pizza pirate (it’s literally in the shape of a pirate ship) and sit on our balcony overlooking washington square park listening to the lingering jazz and conversations of late-night walkers pass by. this was new orleans by night, the time to see the city for what it is.  now that i’ve seen its spirit, i’m a believer.

the best of frenchmen street

the best of frenchmen street

my jaunts: the texas state fair

the ou/tx red river showdown in the cotton bowl. boomer!

the ou/tx red river showdown in the cotton bowl. boomer!

as cooler weather rolls in, summer is starting to wave good-bye, and what a great summer she was!  favorites included grilling out on warm evenings in our backyard (so nice to be back to the land of warm nights!), patio trips to boulevardier, brunch at the grape, trying to find the best pizza in town (cane rosso is currently winning that challenge, but you can expect this challenge to definitely extend into fall!), and picnic-ing across town with the lovely dallas picnic society.

lakeside park with the dallas picnic society

lakeside park with the dallas picnic society

but fall is here, and that means a lot of things: boots, apple cider, fire pits, college football, and of course, the texas state fair.  i haven’t been in several years, but this year my husband bought me tickets to the famous red river showdown football rivalry between oklahoma and texas, which takes place at the cotton bowl, which is situated right smack dab in the middle of the fair.  the temperatures had dropped significantly the night before, so we bundled up and took the train down to fair park to check it out.

the cotton bowl

the cotton bowl – scene of the famous oklahoma/texas red river showdown each october, in the middle of the texas state fair

it’s difficult to explain the texas state fair if you haven’t been before, so allow me to describe with a few photos.  the fair sits in the middle of the art deco fair park complex, which also houses the women’s museum, the texas discovery gardens, and an outdoor music venue, among many others.  in other words, it’s giant.  big tex greets you in his famous texas drawl as you walk down the main promenade.  this is the new big tex after the original from 1952 splendidly caught on fire in 2012 (funny/not funny – it was also the year big tex turned 60, was given an AARP card, and had shades of grey added to his hair – #godblesstexas).

the new and improved big tex

the new and improved big tex – howwwwwdy, folllllks

the fair has a livestock section with goat competitions, pig and ostrich races, cattle, and horses.  it has an automobile building that showcases new cars and a creative arts section with prize-winning quilts  and cooking challenges by chefs. there is a building filled with inventors hawking their latest gadgets and a relaxation tent filled with new hot tubs, massage chairs, mattresses, and more.  weirded out yet?

goats at texas state fair

these are goats. competing. with a giant ceiling fan.

because then there is the food, the glorious fried food that booths compete over each year, trying to outdo each other with the most outlandish fried goodness.  there have been fried oreos, fried s’mores, fried coke, even fried butter!  this year i tried the fried sriracha balls (ok, delicious) and the fried pb&j sandwich with bananas.  but the classic is fletcher’s corny dog, freshly dipped upon your order and just absolutely amazing.

fletcher's corny dog

the famous freshly-dipped fletcher’s corny dog – a state fair must-eat.

beyond the food booths are the crazy carnival rides and games, which range from individual booths where you can shoot balloons to win a giant stuffed life-size gorilla to the texas star, a 212-foot ferris wheel that gives you views of all of dallas.

carnival games

carnival games at the texas state fair

and finally, the game.  oklahoma vs. texas, played at the exact half-way point between the two schools.  students descend in droves from norman and austin, and girls don teeny flowy dresses in school colors with the mandatory cowboy boots.  the players, the bands, the mascots – everything is a competition and the game itself never disappoints, especially when oklahoma somehow manages to win with a completely terrible offense.

ou/texas style

boots and legs and dresses and hats – boomer.

cool temperatures, corny dogs, and the red river showdown…fall is officially here.  cheers!

what are some of your favorite things to do in fall?

technology tuesday: afar and duolingo apps

technology-tuesday

after a (kind of long) hiatus, technology tuesday returns!  mainly because there are two FREE apps in my life right now – afar and duolingo – that a) i’m mildly obsessed with and b) are helping me become a better explorer.

the first is the afar travel app from afar magazine.  if you’re not familiar with afar, it’s a truly wonderful travel magazine that’s fairly new (started within the past couple of years), and provides off-the-beaten-path travel inspiration.  my best friend gave me a subscription for my birthday last year and i eagerly await its arrival each month.

the app is cool in that is lets everyone (i.e., its writers, its readers, and you!) create highlights of cool places to see, eat, and drink anywhere around the world.  creating a highlight is extremely easy: 1) snap photo, 2) write brief description of why your highlight (e.g., a cool restaurant) is worth someone’s time, 3) tag it with descriptors and a location, and 4) you’re ready to post and share!  i’ve created a lot of highlights for dallas, which you can see on my highlight page.

snapshots of the afar app

snapshots of the afar app: (left) highlights in downtown dallas based on reviews of members, and (right) scenes of highlights i’ve added throughout dallas

afar is also great if you’re planning a trip, as you can save other people’s highlights to an itinerary.  last summer before my trip to south africa, i saved a dozen or so highlights from cape town into an itinerary, which i then downloaded to my phone so i could view them without wifi or cell service.  genius.  it’s like pinterest for travelers on the go.

my afar itinerary

more of the afar app: (left) a couple of the highlights i saved to my south africa itinerary, with (right) the details of one of my saved highlights. good news: you can download it for easy viewing while traveling!

the second app, duolingo, was recommended to me by my friend, julia, and it helps you learn a new language or improve your skillls on a language you partially know.  my husband downloaded it about a month ago and started spending five minutes each day relearning german.  i heard him muttering phrases in german and became intrigued.

i decided to download to help refresh my spanish skills, which have been somewhat dormant since my summer abroad in spain, and several trips to argentina, chile, and spain (ok, i also like to order margaritas at mi cocina in spanish, but i don’t think that counts).  duolingo starts with a placement test, and then creates a lesson plan based on the results from the placement test.  i committed to five minutes per day, and each night i receive push notifications to complete the lessons before i go to bed.

learn a language with duolingo!

learn a language with duolingo! track your progress (left) and improve pronunciation skills (right).

the lessons are grouped by categories, and include translating sentences that are written and spoken, learning new phrases and verb tenses, speaking into the microphone to improve pronunciation, and improving knowledge of spanish sentence structures.  once i complete a lesson, it may prompt me to go back and brush up on skills i have already completed.  i like this because it keeps enhancing and improving my knowledge of the language rather than pushing forward all the time.  (bonus tip: sometimes the sentences to translate are…strange.  follow @shitduosays on twitter for the very best – #goldmine.)

a few scenes from the easy-to-use duolingo app

a few scenes from the easy-to-use duolingo app

overall, duolingo is fun and i look forward to the five minutes i spend on it each day (let’s be honest, it usually turns into ten minutes).  i can also compete with friends and track my progress on a graph, which is always great for the accountant in me. and did i mention it’s free?  and it gets amazing reviews rivaled only by the (expensive) rosetta stone?  check it out.

do you have any favorite apps i should check out?

jaunt chats: trancoso, brazil

my friend, derek, recently traveled to trancoso, brazil for his honeymoon with his lovely wife, brandace.  i hadn’t heard much about trancoso, but vaguely knew of bahia.  his photos floored me and i begged him to write about his trip for jaunt.  thankfully, he agreed, and it’s safe to say that most of you will add trancoso to your travel list before you finish reading.  enjoy!

trancoso-brazil-beach

making your honeymoon your own…for better or for worse

when you became engaged, you are not only committing to a lifelong marriage but also to months of stressful wedding planning.  perhaps that is why the honeymoon has become the quintessence of unwinding.  luckily for me, my future wife and mother-in-law assumed most of the tasks of sorting through flower arrangements and table linens, thus leaving me with my favorite hobby: travel planning.

for me, thoughtfully arranging a vacation with my new bride was just as important as arranging our wedding itinerary. i began exploring options by visiting popular travel websites, “top 10 honeymoon destinations” slideshows, and other married friends’ facebook albums.  every location promised secluded romance, tropical beverages, and beautiful seascapes to take the obligatory “feet on beach” instagram.

trancoso-brazil-beach-shot

i settled on a spot that would deliver all of those requisites and much more; however, you would not find trancoso on any “top 10 honeymoon” list.  in the remote discovery coast of bahia, brazil, sits a half-century old fisherman’s town that only received electricity 15 years before our arrival. the inherent risks to choosing a place like trancoso for a honeymoon included all of the possible nightmares of foreign travel: 18 hours of planes, airports, dodgy roads, poor plumbing, and a language barrier. but doing a little homework would ease those fears and trancoso would prove to have come a long way over the last decade.

brazil – my own

my mother is brazilian and i have always considered myself half brazilian; that is, until i was forced to deny my dual citizenship in order to obtain a tourist visa, otherwise face the long battle of renewing a brazilian passport used only once as a toddler.  nevertheless, i was determined to explore a slice of my heritage and share the experience with my wife.  also weighing on the decision was the upcoming world cup, which would be hosted by brazil in the days following our departure.  for the locals, the anticipation of the world cup provided an air of excitement that outweighed the woes of preparation.

trancoso-brazil-resortthe eventual winners of the world cup would not miss the enchantment of the discovery coast, either.  in brilliant tactic, the german national team set up “camp” just north of trancoso so they could adapt to brazil’s weather conditions and train in relative privacy.  their accommodations seemed to fit the building code of coastal bahian living: natural wood framed, open-air bungalows equipped with modern luxuries.  no one who sees pictures of bahia’s beach-lined villas would say that these people are roughing it.  quite the opposite, the wealthy and fortunate vacationers have discovered a style of living that could only be achieved in coastal bahia.

trancoso - paradise discovered

the road to trancoso was not originally paved in gold.  in fact, the roads arriving to trancoso are still not paved at all.  the town and its locals seem to cherish some of its oldworld feels in spite of the recent renovations.  when the mode of transportation is not by foot, locals find a dirt bike or the rare pickup truck sufficient for traversing the 3-mile wide city.  for tourists, trancoso is mostly confined to your private villa resort and the town square called quadrado.  what you will not find confining in trancoso are the endless beaches. except for the few beachfront pousadas (private inns) and restaurants, you could easily stroll the main 1-mile stretch of beach without passing another person.

trancoso-brazil-beaches

trancoso has become a popular vacation destination for wealthy brazilians and urban youth looking to party.  during carnival and other summer holidays, trancoso will transform from a quiet hideaway to a 24 hour sun-drenched nightclub, a “paradox and dream” amongst urban brazilians and free-spirit bahians who have witnessed the intermingling of their complex and simple worlds.  more often, the locals are required to adapt to the draw of their own private paradise.

our honeymoon happened to land during the “off-season” (based on brazilian standards) when most beach-going brazilians choose not to put up with chilly 75 degree days and the occasional rainstorm.  for that reason, we were able to experience trancoso during its quiet season. we felt as though we had the beach and villa resort to ourselves.  and with all that space to yourself, you find it natural to want interaction with whoever crosses your path.  often that interaction was only with local staff or bartenders, and despite the language barrier (we created our own portuguese-spanish hybrid dialect), the conversation was always pleasant.

trancoso-brazil-honeymoon-resort

when planning the trip, i understood the key to a tranquil honeymoon was to keep the itinerary open and flexible.  we knew of a handful of activities offered by local groups but resisted scheduling anything more than a day ahead.  when the weather forecast called for rain the next day, we booked a canopy-covered, outdoor couples massage.  when we were bored of the beach, we booked a quick round of golf.  when we got tired of the same scenery and routine, we hired a car service to take us to another unique beach.

by the end of the trip, our minds and bodies were in perfect harmony with the trancoso way of life.

trancoso-brazil-relaxing

for better or for worse

making a vacation experience your own forces you to takea leap of faith.  the risks of traveling a less beaten path often means you will make new discoveries.  some good and some bad, but it’s usually the obstacles we overcome while traveling that give us the longest lasting memories.

after about two days of unwinding it had become clear that the memories my wife and i were making were always going to be our own.  a blank itinerary with only a room reservation and a return flight home gave us the freedom to face new challenges together.

trancoso-honeymoon

the “top 10 honeymoon destinations” lists will probably never bear the name trancoso.  truthfully, we (and the locals) do not care if it ever does.  it’s difficult to say whether our stories and pictures will ever inspire others to book a trip to trancoso.  but we hope that more couples make travel a mode for self-realization rather than just fulfilling a predetermined checklist.

after all, your honeymoon will always and only be your honeymoon. and much like your marriage, you have committed to a lifetime of building your own memories for better or for worse.  you have the opportunity to write the first review.

my favorite products: SoLA

i know it’s already mid-september (how?!), but i keep wanting to hold on to those last few scorching hot days. temperatures of 100+ degrees and crazy humidity?  bring it on.  as long as i get my warm nights and endless amounts of sun, i’m one happy camper.  so i’m pretty thrilled that i stumbled upon sisters of los angeles (SoLA), founded by three amazing angeleno women, who, between them, add architect, author, product development specialist, manufacturer’s rep, fashion/lifestyle publicist, and marketing expert to their resumes.  SoLA sells unique city-themed gifts that immediately brought back memories of living in los feliz and soaking up the sun.

and hark!  SoLA sells products for a variety of cities, though los angeles-themed goods make up their largest selection.  here are a few of my favorite gifts from their site.  (fact: i doubt i can live without that los angeles beach towel/sun or smog tumbler set.)  which are your favorites?

los angeles beach towel, $40:

los-angeles-beach-towel

dallas candle, $15:

SoLA-dallas-candle

new york friendship brackelet, $7:

SoLA-ny-friendship-bracelet

golden state rocks – sun or smog, $48:

SoLA-sun-or-smog

 

boston mug, $15 - 50% of purchase price will be donated to onefundboston.org which was founded by Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick and Boston Mayor Tom Menino to help the people most affected by the tragic events that occurred in Boston on April 15, 2013.

SoLA-boston-mug

beaches women’s t-shirt, $42:

SoLA-womens-beach-tshirt

SoLA-womens-beach-tshirt-back

las vegas mug, $15:

SoLA-las-vegas-mug

big san diego beach tote, $35:

big-san-diego-beach-tote

jaunt chats: key west, florida

katie and jason at the southernmost point in the us: key west, florida

katie and jason at the southernmost point in the us: key west, florida

i honestly do not know how my friend, katie, does it.  between working, hosting open pool days at her house, being a social butterfly, and preparing for a new baby (soon!), she still finds the time to travel.  and travel often!  she is always an inspiration to me, and i love scrolling through all of her vacation photos (spoiler alert: she always has a blast).  so i’m thrilled that she was willing to share with me a couple of her recent trips.  first up: key west, florida, one of my own favorite trips (many, many years ago) that involved key lime pie, hemingway’s six-toed cats, and a whole lotta blue water.

jb: when did you travel to key west?

katie: my husband, jason, and i traveled to key west from dallas over memorial day weekend 2014. we took the trip as a “babymoon” when I was 22 weeks pregnant with our first child (due 9/25 – it’s a girl!). i had been to key west previously for work but jason had never been there. we were able to fly into key west (through miami) thus avoiding the 4 hour drive and getting our vacation started a bit earlier. the flight from miami into key west was literally up and down, 45 minutes max.

view of key west from the (short) flight from miami

view of key west from the (short) flight from miami

jb: how did you plan for your trip?

katie: we used both yelp and trip adviser reviews to research resorts and restaurants (mostly yelp). We found a great resort/boutique hotel called the parrot key resort that was a bit off the main drag (i.e. duval street – more on that later) and we thought that it looked very calm, peaceful, and relaxing – just what this mama-to-be was looking for in the hustle that is so often key west!

one of the four pools at the parrot key resort boutique hotel

one of the four pools at the parrot key resort boutique hotel

jb: what are some of your favorite moments from the trip?

katie: we had some great dinners, the best of which was at latitudes, located on sunset key island which is just a quick ferry ride out (tip: you are supposed to show up to the ferry at the time of your dinner reservation). you can sit right on the beach, but be cautious of where you sit depending on the time of day and sun. we ended up moving our table from right against the water back a little bit into some shade where we still had a spectacular view of the water and sunset.

the sunsets in key west

the sunsets in key west

for something more casual, you must stop at dj’s clam shack on duval street for the lobster roll and mahi mahi fish tacos (share with a friend so you can try both). this place was featured on diners, dives, and drive-ins on the food network and the hype is real.

the famous lobster roll from dj's clam shack

the famous lobster roll from dj’s clam shack

we did an excursion with sebago water sports – the morning reef snorkel. key west has some of the most expansive barrier reefs in the world. to protect the ecosystems, they are very serious about not touching any of the reef as you go out and explore. the sebago team was great, and they suggested that we grab breakfast at the cuban coffee queen (photo below), a little shack popular with the locals, serving up giant breakfast sandwiches, smoothies, and of course coffee creations of all kinds. this was a great find and there’s a little shop adjacent or benches out front to pass the 10-15 minute wait time.

for more on those and my other favorites via my yelp reviews, click here.

jb: any crazy things happen in key west?

katie: a college friend of mine was there at the same time and we were able to meet up with him for drinks each night. he’s a private pilot and had brought a client down for the weekend and was there just hanging out. it’s always fun when travels bring you close to friend, especially when it’s unexpected!  also, we really enjoyed spending time at RICK’S  where they had a live performer singing and telling dirty jokes. he pretty much picked on anyone and everyone, whether you walked into the bar or just were walking by on the street. not for those who are easily offended (then again, KW is not for those who are easily offended).

running into friends in key west!

running into friends in key west!

jb: ha!  i would be too nervous for rick’s, i fear.  or i would need to take you with me when i go.  anything else cool?

katie: you may be interested to read up on the history of the u.s. presidents who spent time in key west (truman, eisenhower, kennedy, carter, clinton). i found out about this when we stumbled upon the harry s. truman little white house and explored a bit further.

duvall street - the main drag in key west

duvall street – the main drag in key west

jb: so how was the weather?  i hear horror stories of the florida humidity.

katie: it was hot and a bit humid with lots of sunshine! perfect for being poolside by day but a little warm for extended walking around and exploring during the day. the evenings were not as bad humidity-wise and i was more comfortable walking the streets in the evening (not like a hooker…make sure your readers know that!)

jb: katie is “not” a hooker.

snorkeling in key west!

snorkeling in key west!

jb: ok, so what’s the overall vibe?

katie: key west is definitely an adult scene. i was surprised by how many kids i saw (and strollers), much in the way that you may be surprised by seeing young children up and down the las vegas strip. duval street is a party scene for those not easily offended (be prepared to be called out for anything by local performers in the bars up and down the street). that being said, duval street also has great people watching! there’s also a big LGBT scene down the way on duval.

key-west-duvall

jb: packing essentials?

katie: must pack a bathing suit, flip flops, sunscreen, casual outfits for the evening – whatever you’re comfortable in.

jb: any tips?

katie: stay on or near duval street if you want to be part of the scene. this will cut down on your cab fares and allow you to get around very easily by foot for the most part. if you’re going with a group and want something upscale and a bit more private with easy access to the duval scene, check out sunset key where the westin has private cottages and is just a short ferry ride from all of the action.

jb: what did you read while traveling?

katie: well, it had nothing to do with key west, but i read we the eaters by ellen gustafson and i highly recommend this book. *disclaimer: my cousin wrote this book and it was recently released (may 2014)!

reading "we the eaters" poolside - check it out!

reading “we the eaters” poolside – check it out!

my jaunts: a south african safari

this guy pursued this girl all night. sometimes the girls will lead them on for days on end. we're not so different, really.

this guy pursued this girl all night. sometimes the girls will lead them on for days on end. we’re not so different, really.

i’ve been thinking a lot about how i wanted to write about last month’s safari in south africa.  before going, i thought i knew what i had signed up for, but it took me about five minutes on the safari vehicle to realize i was completely wrong!  so i think the best way to fill you in is to just copy my notes from my travel journal so you can relive my surprise/fear/awe/disbelief/love of the entire experience.  enjoy!

the south african bush. #nofilter

the south african bush. #nofilter

notes from my journal:

from nelspruit airport to sabi sands private game reserve is 2.5 hours by car.  the sights we saw while en route: cows walking freely, women with baskets/packages on head, goats, people walking everywhere, funeral homes, banana and eucalyptus trees, soccer matches played by kids/teens, speed bumps, KFC, unfinished stone houses, babies strapped on backs with colorful clothes, bright electric blue birds.  our driver, colin, was 31.  he lives nearby with two sons with tribe names.  he asked many questions: do americans protest?  tell me about your government.  how many languages are you speaking (he spoke three: english, africaans, and his tribe language)?  do you like will smith (he loves “bad boys”)?  his boys love KFC.  the journey was 210 km, but over 2 hours due to most of the road being unpaved and extremely bumpy.

this is our awesome ranger and tracker at arathusa - if you go, you gotta get with double D (dries and derick)!

this is our awesome ranger and tracker at arathusa – if you go, you gotta get with double D (dries and derick)!

so we arrive at sabi sands, our private game reserve that shares a border with kruger national park (animals roam freely between both), around 3pm.  we go through security at the gate, where they search our car for guns – apparently there are still poachers around.  we drive through to our lodge (many lodges in this reserve) called arathusa. we check in, drink some nice mango juice, get a warm towel at reception, and are walked to our hut.  upon putting down our things, our guide tells us the evening game drive leaves in…ten minutes!  we rush to change clothes and hurry out to the vehicle, where we are immediately whisked away!  no instructions other than “do not stand up – the animals may charge!”  noted.

this is a photo of another vehicle with a lion lying in front. this is how close we would get to the animals! it's insane! usually we would drive up to a pride of five to seven lions and just chill with them for 20 minutes.

this is a photo of another vehicle with a lion lying in front. this is how close we would get to the animals! it’s insane! usually we would drive up to a pride of five to seven lions and just chill with them for 20 minutes.

the vehicles are massive with four rows of seats: first row for the ranger (driver), and three rows of three seats each for guests.  seats are stadium style and blankets are provided.  rides are at dawn and dusk, aka feeding times.  the animals are used to seeing the vehicles because they have seen them since birth and do not feel threatened, so we came very close to the animals.  as in, a LION touched the tire i was sitting over!  very frightening and amazing all at once.  the vehicles are open air, no doors, no roof, nothing between that hungry lion and me.  #ohhello

if that's not going to cause your heart to pause, i'm not sure what will. mama lion at kapama game reserve.

if that’s not going to cause your heart to pause, i’m not sure what will. mama lion at kapama game reserve.

the ranger drives and radios other drivers to see if anyone has seen anything. the tracker sits in a seat on the hood of the vehicle and looks at the footprints in the road to follow the tracks to the animals.  at night, the tracker shines a light looking for the red eyes of nocturnal animals (when you finally find the pair of red eyes, the sight is really quite surreal: oh, there’s a pride of lions?  onward for a closer view!).

this is what you find at night when searching for nocturnal animals. #scary

this is what you find at night when searching for nocturnal animals. #scary

on our first drive, we saw a pride of lions, a leopard (very difficult to see since they travel alone and are constantly on the move), many deer-like animals, giraffe, and many birds.  on our second drive, we saw two lion prides, zebras, buffalo, warthogs, rhinos, and more.  my favorites are the awkward giraffe and the stupid-looking elephant – we saw a family of elephants surround their baby when they smelled the lion dung on our vehicle.  had to leave immediately or else they would have charged!

this is a leopard that is really close.

this is a leopard that is really close. we followed him for 40 minutes as he walked around and marked his territory. so beautiful (the leopard, not the marking of territory).

these elephants smelled lion dung on our car and freaked out. they immediately circled the babies and prepared to charge. we exited quickly.

these elephants smelled lion dung on our car and freaked out. they immediately circled the babies and prepared to charge. we exited quickly.

animals are everywhere and we come so close!  i’ve gotten nervous several times when we go off the road to track an animal, running over bush and trees in the process.  in a pinch, how would we escape?  today, one pride was quite skittish, and we had no easy escape – terrifying, but we were also only 20 feet away from five lions – so surreal!

just a crazy close elephant ripping apart a tree.

there is no zoom here – just a crazy close elephant ripping apart a tree. she charged us post-photo. terrifying/i love her.

the african buffalo: hideous and dangerous.

the african buffalo: hideous and dangerous. i left the sides of the vehicle in the frame so you can see how close we were. the surrounded us. then charged us. after my heart resumed beating, we drove on.

all of this is extremely bizarre and awesome.  i feel miles away from cape town, and even further from home.  where are we?!

just a couple of rhinos out for a snack.

just a couple of rhinos out for a snack. i’m not entirely convinced that these guys aren’t really dinosaurs. can someone prove that to me?

our safari schedule:

5:30am – wake-up call

5:45am – coffee and tea at the bar

6:00am – morning drives

6:45am – sunrise

7:30am – coffee/tea stop in the bush with your vehicle

my husband stopping for morning coffee in the middle of the bush - not much protection here from a lion.

my husband stopping for morning coffee in the middle of the bush – not much protection here from a lion.

9:00am – return for breakfast (one day, they surprised us and we had a bush breakfast outside – we were greeted with champagne and gorgeous views!)

10:45am – bush walks with guides, where you walk through the bush on foot (completely terrifying for me)

2:00pm – lunch

3:00pm – high tea

3:30pm – afternoon drives

5:30pm – sundowner cocktail stop – pretty crazy to drink a gin and tonic while side-eyeing a giraffe nearby

6:00pm – sunset

6:30pm – return to the lodge (one night, they surprised us and we had a bush dinner in the dark – someone saw hyena circling – so crazy.  we had a lesson in stargazing and ate delicious food (the food at safaris is plentiful and amazing – you do not go hungry).

headed back to our vehicle post-bush dinner.

headed back to our vehicle post-bush dinner. the stars were so bright in south africa! our rangers pointed out the southern cross and other constellations.

we met so many amazing guests from around the world at arathusa, and many had travel stories that were so inspirational (so many places to see, so little time!). we ate meals together, and chatted over cocktails pre-dinner.  our second safari was at a more upscale lodge (kapama karula), and was lovely, but did not have the same community feel to it as arathusa did.  if you’re looking for a good place that gives you amazing guides, plentiful animals, and a really great safari experience, i would 100% recommend arathusa.  check out my reviews of arathusa and kapama karula on trip advisor, as well.

the view from our room included these cuties! very loud (and apparently dangerous), they had a group of seven that hung out together. these are the babies.

the view from our room included these cuties! very loud (and apparently dangerous), they had a group of seven that hung out together. these are the babies.

these are the footprints/tracks the tracker looks for when searching for the animals. the large round ones are elephants, and we learned how to identify the tracks of rhinos, hippos, leopards, lions, and more.

these are the footprints/tracks the tracker looks for when searching for the animals. the large round ones are elephants, and we learned how to identify the tracks of rhinos, hippos, leopards, lions, and more.

 

my jaunts: cape town, south africa

the colorful bo-kaap neighborhood

the colorful bo-kaap neighborhood, which we explored in cape town on our extra day that we added.

cape town is one of the most unique cities i have visited.  located in the southeastern tip of africa, it confusingly feels like europe due to the british and dutch colonization from years past, and is often described by the rest of africa as “not the real africa.”  yet look a little deeper, and something new is bubbling up.  as the nation continues to separate itself from the all-too-recent apartheid (a post on that later), the landscape is changing.  a new generation of youth who never knew (or only vaguely remember) the blatant segregation of races now together create a sense of optimism through shared beers at hipster pubs, the growing popularity of football among the entire nation, and a feeling of creativity that permeates the city, replacing the formerly rigid afrikaaner mindset.

stunning vistas while driving along the western edge of the cape peninsula

stunning vistas while driving along the western edge of the cape peninsula

also, the scenery is breathtaking.  table mountain surrounds the city center and provides stunning views on sunny days (though beware: table mountain is often shrouded in clouds, making breathtaking vistas impossible for days at a time), while cosmopolitan beach towns line the atlantic ocean with posh restaurants and cafes.  heading south from the city, the cape peninsula is a day’s drive and provides views only paralleled by big sur in central california (and minus the thousands of tourists).  if that’s not enough, the cape winelands are to the east of the city and boast unbelievably picturesque vineyards famous for cultivating excellent pinotage amid cape dutch architecture.

it is easy to be overwhelmed by a city such as this, and i had no idea where to start. we spent five days in cape town, and i still feel as if i did not see enough and that i missed out on some key sites.  to help future visitors, i’ve put together my ideas on must-sees, based on how many days you have on hand.

for one day in cape town:

if you get to choose which day to visit, choose saturday.  start by taking a cab to the old biscuit mill in the eastern, industrial part of town.  gradually turning from a warehouse district into a creative hub, the former biscuit mill houses the neighbourgoods market each saturday.  hundreds of vendors converge with clothes, jewelry, and food.  oh, the food.  stalls of african comfort food, sushi, paella, mediterranean salads, ostrich burgers, brai (african bbq), and more, surround rows of communal tables set with fresh flowers and burning candles.  you must go to see the new face of cape town: young, diverse, and all creating something that seems to be more brooklyn than africa or england.

the neighbourgoods market entrance in the old biscuit mill in cape town

the neighbourgoods market entrance in the old biscuit mill in cape town

following lunch and shopping, take a cab to the nearby convention center and hop on the double-decker tourist hop on/hop off buses.  for one day, i recommend the red route.  head to the top of the bus and listen to the guide as you speed through downtown, long street, and district 6, where black residents were forcibly removed from their homes in the 1970s and forced to live in townships outside the city (the district 6 museum is worth a stop).  if in need of a pick-me-up, stop at the mount nelson hotel (nicknamed uncle nellie) for high tea (make reservations in advance).  otherwise, continue on to table mountain.

a view of the city bowl district from the top of table mountain; looking northwest toward the atlantic ocean.

a view of the city bowl district from the top of table mountain; looking northwest toward the atlantic ocean. you can see the cape town stadium (from the world cup!) near the northern coast.

at the base, head to the cable car lines (tip: buy your tickets in advance to bypass the 45-minute wait), and zoom to the top of the mountain, which takes hikers approximately four hours to ascend.  the views are unbelievable and the photos do not do it justice.  back on the bus, head to swanky camps bay, a beach town known for its cosmopolitan vibe, and get out for a glass of champagne or espresso from a sidewalk cafe while watching the waves.  return to the bus for drives northward along the coast past more beaches, the world cup soccer stadium, and finally to the v&a waterfront.  very touristy, but worth a stop to see locals catching a televised rugby or soccer game at the large amphitheater.

the south africa vs. scotland rugby match at the v&a waterfront in cape town. the rowdy brazil world cup game followed with a packed ampitheater.

the south africa vs. scotland rugby match at the v&a waterfront in cape town. the rowdy brazil world cup game followed with a packed ampitheater.

add a second day:

hire a guide (i strongly recommend graham at wilderness touring) and head south to explore the cape point peninsula.  bring a camera to capture the winding roads hugging sharp cliffs that descend to crashing waves from the atlantic ocean.  pass quaint towns with cape dutch architecture, and head to table mountain national park for glimpses of ostriches and baboons near the cape of good hope.  eat lunch at two oceans restaurant, but don’t sit outside unless you’re willing to risk losing your dinner roll to a hungry baboon (seriously).  continue north along the eastern side of the peninsula, stopping at simon’s town to see penguins (penguins!!) as they frolic along the sand.  a total highlight.  end the day with a stroll through kirstenbosch gardens, the ethereal botanical gardens of cape town,and a true gem of the city.  complete the night with dinner at manna epicure in the gardens district.

penguin sighting at simon's point on the eastern edge of the cape peninsula - i love them!

penguin sighting at simon’s town on the eastern edge of the cape peninsula – i love them!

add a third day:

remember your guide?  bring him back for another day, and head to the winelands.  explore stellenbosch, a charming town in the middle of the winelands with a pristine downtown (think: santa barbara).  choose a few wineries to visit.  i would recommend vrede en lust for the wine enthusiasts, meerlust for the creatives (find charmaine gola and have her tell you everything you ever wanted to know about wine in south africa), webersburg for a traditional winery in cape dutch architecture, and delaire graff for a completely ridiculous display of wealth that will leave you awestruck.  people may suggest you stop in the french town of franschhoek:  skip it; too touristy.

the webersburg wine estate is a perfect example of cape dutch architecture.

the webersburg wine estate is a perfect example of cape dutch architecture.

add a fourth day:

continue to explore cape town.  spend some time strolling the city at leisure.  we stayed at liberty lodge in the gardens district (read my trip advisor review here), and it was a perfectly central location that was safe and allowed for walking to most city center sites.  shops and restaurants line kloof nek street, which turns into the famous long street as you head north to downtown.  stop in the vintage shops of long street, and especially at clarke’s bookshop, which specializes in cape town and south african literature.  walk through bo-kaap, the colorful muslim neighborhood with brightly painted houses set against the backdrop of table mountain; visit the bo-kaap museum to talk to residents and understand the history.  afterwards, enjoy lunch or tea at any of the hipster-esque cafes along bree street (i recommend dear me brasserie for excellent salads).  if you have the time, visit robben island to see where nelson mandela was imprisoned (you must reserve in advance).

the dear me brasserie near long street in cape town

the dear me brasserie near long street in cape town

add a fifth day:

rent a car and head to babylonstoren.  read my gush of a post here.

what to read: long walk to freedom by nelson mandela, you can’t get lost in cape town by zoe wicomb

what to watch:  searching for sugar man

when to go: summer is better weather-wise and allows for better views from table mountain.  however, winter is the best time for safaris, so you may be forced to visit capetown pre-safari in the winter.  weather is mild, but bring some layers (see my post on what to pack here).

my map of cape town!

my map of cape town!

travel tips: how to properly pack a carry-on by rolling your clothes

how-to-pack-a-carry-on-by-rolling-clothes

in my last post, i wrote about how to choose the minimal amount of clothes for a two-week city/safari vacation in the winter (we just returned from south africa last month). all of the clothes in that post are included here for packing purposes, with the exception of the clothes i wore on the flight (which included my bulkier shoes and jacket). it seemed daunting given the number of clothes i had to bring to south africa, but it worked perfectly!  this week: how to fit all of those clothes into a carry-on duffle bag.  a few notes on the duffle:

  1. we were told to bring soft-sided duffles because many safaris do not accept “rollies.”  i did not find this to be true because we saw rollies at both of our lodges.  if you get similar information, you may want to check first before buying a new bag.
  2. that being said, it was very freeing to have the duffle because they are so much lighter and easier to maneuver.  plus, they’re cheap.  i got mine at REI for around $30 (currently only available in stores, and not online).
  3. you, like my husband, may think i am misspelling “duffle,” and that it should be “duffel.”  both are accepted.  despite previous posts, duffle will continue to be used exclusively on jaunt.
my husband with his carry-on duffle after passing through "security" at the hoedspruit airport.

my husband with his carry-on duffle after passing through “security” at the hoedspruit airport.

so how many of you roll your clothes when packing (i.e. roll the actual articles of clothing, not pack them in a rollie)?  this is something i had read about many times (travel bloggers just looooove to talk about rolling clothes), and i kind of thought it was a bunch of nonsense.  how can any packing method save more space than folding clothes flat?!  well, this is why i’m no engineer.  turns out that rolling clothes saves much more space, and i have the photos to prove it.

the clothes after traditional folding - looking tall!

the clothes after traditional folding – looking tall!

to start the experiment, i folded my clothes like i would normally – simply laying them flat and folding in half (or thirds if a long tunic).  the clothes were bulky (remember, packing for winter with sweaters and pants), and stacked very tall in the duffle, while leaving empty, unused space on the sides.

the packed bag with folded clothes

the packed bag with folded clothes – not bad! everything fits, but not much room for any purchases bought on the trip.

so then i tried the rolling.  i folded my clothes in half (hot dog, not hamburger), and then folded the arms across, as well, and then literally rolled into a little cylinder (see photo at top of this post).  it was shocking how much more room i had in my bag! magical!

the packed bag with rolled clothes

the packed bag with rolled clothes – so much more room! tons of space for toiletries, gifts purchased on the trip, and more.

an added perk was that it was extremely easy to pack and unpack at the lodges.  i would just grab the rolled clothes and leave them rolled until i wore them.  i think it prevented wrinkles this way, as well.

all rolled up and ready to go - with room to spare!

all rolled up and ready to go – with room to spare!

do you have a preferred way to pack?  would you recommend rolling clothes?