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WESTERN AUSTRALIA – THE ROAD LESS TRAVELED (Part 7 of a Recent Journey)

When one is already in an area of the world (in this case, the Indian Ocean southwest of India), adding on another segment in the “area” makes a lot of sense.  At least to me and the hubby…
To clarify — and if you’ve been “virtually” traveling on this trip with us — you know we spent 10 days in India and four days in the Maldives.  Why not head southeast to Perth, which is then a straight shot north to Hong Kong, the last stop before heading home?  But that wasn’t the only reason for the visit.
Having traveled in 2010 to Australia’s east coast (Sydney, Cairns & Melbourne), we knew a return trip was inevitable.  What sealed the deal was the gracious invitation to stay at a winery in the Margaret River (Eagle Bay) region of Western Australia.  How did that come about? The hubby’s L.A. client hails from Perth and the winery belongs to her parents and, ultimately, our generous hosts.
We spent the first night in the country in Perth proper before heading south to the wine area.  Como The Treasury Hotel (which I highly recommend) converted an old building into a multi-level complex in the heart of downtown Perth.  Of course, when in Australia, a koala visit is a must — this one at Caversham Wildlife Park — where one could also interact with plenty of kangaroos as well.
 
Breakfast at Como The Treasury in Perth.
Clockwise from above: The irresistible koala — up close; family of sheep — the one on the right is just 10 days old; kangas in various states of repose.
And then it was on to the raison d’etre.  Wise Wine has been operated by Sandra & Ron Wise since 1992, and is just a gorgeous location.  We arrived in the evening when it was quite dark. While looking for the home, we happened upon wedding festivities (the winery is ideal for this) which garnered more than a few glances. We finally found our way to their spectacular abode where they met us a short time later, got immediately acquainted and settled in for the weekend.
Talk about a “play on words” above;
At right a winemaker is crushing Cab Franc grapes at the winery facilities.
On the property and for the wedding.  More about Crown later.
In addition to the wine making facilities, there are two wonderful restaurants (Lot 80 — that is their divine raspberry dessert below — and Wise Vineyard where we had amazing breakfasts) and some accommodations, not to mention a fair amount of kangaroos.  The hubby encountered large groups during his morning walk!  I nearly collided with one during a (pitch black) night drive — the thing was the size of “Harvey,” Jimmy Stewart’s imaginary companion in the movie of the same name — probably 6′ tall.
Clockwise from upper left: Entering the property; classic “fish & chips” at Lot 80 along with a fabulous raspberry dessert; stonework along one of the paths on the property.
The Wise family home (and our accommodations) left; above is their view of Eagle Bay

Sandra showed us around the area while Ron golfed.  We loved seeing galleries, the spectacular beaches (prime surfing spots) and some wineries.  As with Napa/Sonoma, one could easily spend several days absorbing all there is to do. The hubby and I spent a day driving around ourselves, going to the very southwestern tip of the country (below).
Amelia Park Wines, Margaret River

 

Magnificent piece of art at the Gunyulup Galleries in Yallingup
 (try saying that fast …)
Above, at the very southern tip of WA, where the two oceans meet. 
The sun sets over Surfers Point in Prevally.
Lots of folks come with their dogs and wine to this scenic spot.
We headed back to Perth for our late evening flight to Hong Kong and saw a bit more of the city before hanging out at the Crown complex — hotels, restaurants (including Rockpool and Nobu), shops and casino.  The Perth skyline is shown below. Next and last stop of this journey:  Hong Kong.
International Travel

JAIPUR, INDIA: A HELLUVA STORY (Part 4 in a Series)

The Oberoi JaipurBest welcome amenity anywhere!
Why is the drive from Ranthambhore to Jaipur nearly four hours in length when it is only about 100 miles (180 km)?  Because a “major” road in India can mean just two lanes in each direction.  Mind you, few drivers actually pay attention to traffic lanes, not to mention dodging all the animals, motorbikes, and enormous sacks of hay.

 

“Wide load” to say the least!
Arriving at the Oberoi Rajvilas is indescribable. It is a true oasis on 32 acres of lush grass with peacocks in abundance. It is just a gift.  And we thought we’d seen some pretty wonderful welcome amenities, but hand’s down this property gets #1 status.  Witness below the edible chocolate. How in the world …??  Someone across the planet reads my blog!  I am honored.
 

 

Best welcome amenity anywhere!

 

Pathway to our room above;
marigolds are used liberally for messaging (below).
Remember “Best Exotic Marigold Hotel”?  Filmed in and around the Jaipur area.

 

Prior to visiting somewhere, I‘m forever collecting information on shopping and restaurants. For Jaipur (one of the world’s major jewelry sites), on the list of must-see’s was the Gem Palace.  Founded in 1852, and still in the same location, this historic jeweler has a sign-in book so incredible I actually took some photos:   

 

In case it’s not clear:  Jacqueline Kennedy (top; circa 1962); Charles & Camilla (bottom left; circa 2006); Oprah (bottom right; 2012).  We were in very good company to say the least! Alas, no acquisitions.

 

 
We had a lengthy and fascinating conversation with 8th generation propietor/scion Samir Kasliwal, at the end of which he showed us some incredible commissioned pieces. I couldn’t resist trying on the 900-carat “chandelier” made for a Kuwaiti royal (as heavy as it looks). Somehow we started discussing our next stop — Udaipur. 
 

 

Yours for about a million bucks.

 

Back story: Before leaving home, we were informed by our tour company andBeyond that all 82 rooms at the Oberoi Udaivilas, plus the other comparable area hotels, had been bought out for a wedding during our scheduled visit and would we consider switching our plans. Firmly no. There’s no way we’re missing this place!  Of course, guess who’s going to the wedding?  Our new friend Samir! And since andBeyond personnel knew the groom, we would be welcome to attend .. along with the 1,200 or so other guests. What’s a few more?  Wedding highlights in the next post.
 
While in Jaipur we had a full day of sightseeing the historic sights, culminating with an elephant ride and dinner at Dera Amer.  The following day, it was a challenge getting up for a 6:30 a.m. hotel departure to the airport for the short flight to our next and final stay in India:  Udaipur…. 
Can you guess what this gentleman (facing the laptop) does for a living?  Notary Public.  Fax/typewriter/computer — the works.  Inside the walled city on our tour.
Clockwise from upper left:  Next to my Capricorn sign at Jantar Mantar, a Unesco World Heritage site with 19 “architectural astronomical” instruments built in the 1700’s; with our new Indian “friends” who love being photographed with Americans — mostly selfies; inlaid lifesize chess board — we heard something about the rulers using concubines as chess pieces; and the world’s largest sundial.  The hubby still can’t believe I used the word “hypotenuse” when we were there, but I will keep reminding him I did pay some attention in high school.

 

Atop Amer Fort

The hubby in deep discussion with Fort guards — about “Fast & Furious” movies!

Traveling companion/Aunt Judy Stone & I lasted about 15 minutes … love the elephants but the ride is VERY bumpy!
International TravelThings I Love

BENGAL TIGERS IN RANTHAMBHORE (Part 3 in a Series)

It’s likely that people travel to Ranthambhore, India, for reasons other than seeing Bengal Tigers in the National Park (there are just 58 in the area according to the most recent census; nearly 4000 total in the country), but I’m not sure why. Perhaps for the sole purpose of visiting Oberoi Vanyavilas, indeed a spectacular property with just 25 luxury tents … but that is probably not the case.
Traffic with no means of stop signs, let alone traffic signals.
Our journey from Agra to Ranthambhore was via train with a “first class” compartment. From leaving the hotel via car to being greeted at our destination was 4+ hours. If you saw the movie Lion, you know young Saroo spends a few days on a train with barred windows. That mode of transportation still exists today — either in 3rd or even 4th class. Fortunately our luggage was driven separately for us, so that was definitely a plus.  The folks from andBeyond were there until we boarded the train and waiting for us at the other end, which was extremely helpful. And we had a friendly and informative traveling companion in our compartment (after he was fully awake, that is).
Waiting for the train with our escort and the captivated onlookers.
In front of the train station in Agra.
Our companion in the “first class” compartment. He provided tracking info from Google which was very helpful!
We learned from our 2016 African safari that sightings are promised to no one. Indeed the first afternoon drive was hot, long and “whiplash” bumpy with only a brief sighting of a female tiger plus monkeys, deer, wild boar and many birds.  The next morning was worth the entire journey, even with the 6am departure.
Langur monkeys were everywhere in the park.  The guides rely on their calls of “alarm” to track the big cats and other animals.
Barely 10 minutes inside the park (the government divides the park into zones and the assignments are random; this was Zone 6), a very large male — nose to tail 12′ and in excess of 500 lbs — crossed our path out in the open.  After that, we were very lucky to encounter a female with her 4-month-old cubs — still being carefully guarded by mom. In other words, a family of Bengal Tigers. Mama and babies were consuming a large deer carcass, after which they strolled for a bit.  Our guide Farooq had a hunch they were headed to a nearby water hole and he was absolutely correct.  We were the first of several vehicles, and thus had a prime spot.
Papa ..

 

Mama plus one

 

 

Look closely — there are two cubs!

 

What can one say?  These are simply gorgeous creatures.  The stripes on the cubs are quite narrow and continue to spread as they grow.  One could die from the cuteness of them.  It was extraordinary.  The upside of traveling to India in April is the tigers are more apt to be “out” than certainly in the colder months, and the park is shut down completely for three months during the monsoon season (July-September).  The moral of the story?  Take the good (great) with the bad (hot)!
Jockeying for the best position to see the tigers
     Was able to get this owl in a lucky moment.
 

 

With our fearless (and fast) driver Anwar on the left and
guide Farooq on the right, but missing Judy in this photo.

 

Four drives and two sightings — one major — was just tremendous.  Couple that with incredible accommodations, food, spa and staff, and it was a thrill.  Next stop:  Jaipur.
International TravelThings I Love

THE ROAD FROM DEHLI TO AGRA (Part 2 in a Series)

Three nights; two very full days … that was Delhi, a city so vast and diverse that much more time could be devoted.  But with a total of just 10 days in India, one must move on. Prior to leaving, we enjoyed dinner at the Imperial Hotel — a must see if you’re a fan of the classic colonial style from the 1900’s. We dined at San Gimignano, offering authentic and delicious cuisine … sans alcohol due to a mandatory “Dry Day” prior to the impending local elections.   The next day, we boarded our private van for the 3.5 hour drive to Agra.
We were told by driver Akbar we were on the fastest and most efficient road in India.  He explained the absence of large trucks as the result of expensive tolls imposed.  The truckers are therefore forced to use an alternate road, which same drive takes six hours!
Arriving at the first of several Oberoi properties (specifically Amarvilas in Agra) to be savored on this trip is remarkable in itself, as just outside the walled property is significant evidence of poverty.   We were promised a view of the Taj Mahal from our room (and from many other enormous windows in the property), which did not disappoint save for the less-than-clear air.
 From the hotel lobby
Afternoon in the main part of Agra — these are water buffaloes who couldn’t care less about vehicles around them.
Checking her email??
With barely a day to spend in the area, no time was wasted and we were off first to Agra Fort.   It was hot — probably 110F — which required perseverance on my part; not so the hubby and Aunt Judy traveling with us.  The architecture, inlaid marble and sheer size are most impressive.  After an hour or so, it was back to the hotel to switch to a golf cart for transport to the Taj, just a few minutes from the hotel, in time for a sunset viewing.
Two photos of Agra Fort above; it’s way too vast to do the structures
and grounds justice in a few photos.
Security is quite tight, with men and women going through different scanners and pat-downs.  Finally, this iconic sight was upon us — one of seven or eight Wonders of the World depending upon which list is consulted.  In case you’re curious, we’ve been to five:  Machu Picchu, Pyramids, Colosseum, Great Wall, now the Taj Mahal, and the hubby has been to Christ the Redeemer in Rio.  No Chichen Itza or Petra, Jordan — yet.
It is a remarkable sight, no question.  We had been told in advance that there would be some scaffolding, but that hardly mattered.   And to think that this was built solely as a shrine to a wife (the emperor’s favorite) should give most husbands pause! Not much more can be written, but rather photos to be treasured.
View FROM the Taj Mahal of the entrance.
Would not have thought of coming to India without this ever-so-brief stop in Agra. Next we are off via train to Ranthambhore and a couple days on safari …
International TravelThings You Should Know

AFRICA, PART 5: ZAMBIA(!), ZIMBABWE & VICTORIA FALLS

“I think we’re landing in Zambia!  I didn’t know we were going there!!”  And that was the entry to stop #5 on our African holiday (click here for previous). I knew the airport destination was called Livingstone (as in “Dr. Livingstone, I presume?”), but the Zambian part was a surprise.
It was a very short and somewhat costly stay.  Between the entrance visa paid at the airport, and then the additional fee paid at the border between the two countries, it was under an hour and about $220. Good news is we were ably met and guided (all pre-arranged by &Beyond) by Joseph for the Zambian part, and then handed off to Tinus to make sure we and our bags made it safely to The Elephant Camp in Victoria Falls.  The tariff for the Zambian-registered vehicle to continue over the border would have been prohibitive so this plan was employed.
Crossing between Zambia & Zimbabwe

 

First sight of the falls on airport approach above; view below from our terrace with the spray shooting up.
Annie & Brad White are the general managers of the camp (like pretty much everything else in the area, part of Wild Horizons) and welcomed us upon arrival. We were shown to “tent” 3 — sitting area, king bed, en suite bath, deck and plunge pool.  While considered luxury accommodations, these were very different than the two camps in South Africa, and about as close to camping as the hubby and I want to be at this stage in our lives — for me, maybe ever.

 

Above: our tent
below: looking around to the deck and plunge pool.
To give some context, when my sisters and I were young, we went on a family trip to Yosemite National Park.  The first time our dad had an insect encounter, we packed up and headed straight to Las Vegas. Not much has changed .. we are clearly not the camping types.

 

The Elephant Camp staff was terrific nonetheless and put up with the hubby’s endless banter and attempted jokes so that’s a very good thing. In particular, there was assistant manager Moses who the hubby  kept calling “the leader of our people.” And no doubt the biggest challenge on this brief stay was “mosquito abatement” — regrettably nothing we had (spray, wristbands, etc) did much good.  Mosquitoes were the clear winners in this battle.

 

At left:  those are towels folded in the shape of an elephant’s head and trunk, holding a welcome note …

 

Pinpointing our location …
We had a wonderful encounter with Sylvester, a 7-year-old cheetah who was lucky to have been rescued after his family was killed.  He has been raised “domestically” and walks around on a leash.  I guess he was ready for a nap … all 170 lbs of him. 

We were so fortunate to have a guide by the name of Vusa lead us on our tour of the area.  Learning English is compulsory in his native Zimbabwe, and his was beautiful and articulate. We learned he previously had been with &Beyond where he met and subsequently married Thembi who works both as a masseuse and in guest relations at another area hotel. They have two young sons. I tell you this because no matter

    Vusa and Thembi

 

where we go, the life challenges are the same for most all when it comes to child rearing and relationships. Vusa even helped us navigate the gifts purchased from “Mr. Discount” outside of the falls.  The hubby had fun with that negotiation …

 

The powerful spray appears to blur the photo — lenses must be regularly dried off.  Below, the hubby & Vusa deep in conversation.  Neither the coats nor umbrellas really do much to keep anyone dry.

 

 

Ode to Dr. Livingstone at left; above is one of the many rainbows visible through the spray
Left:  view of the lower area.   Those ropes suspended above the water are for the daredevils (clearly not us).

 

The photo above shows the contrast in the landscape just outside the spray’s reach.  Dry as a bone .. Near the spray was a rain forest.

 

 

Above is a Vivid Monkey — so called because his “bottom” (not really the name of the body part) is an absolutely gorgeous shade of blue.

 

Above is a baby baboon whose family was very close by (she didn’t appear to have “permission” to venture far)

 

 
 
 

 

Four countries converge near Victoria Falls:  Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe and Zambia.  The falls straddle the two “Z” countries from the Zambesi River, which is the fourth longest in Africa after the Nile, Congo and Niger.
“Rush hour” on the Zambesi River — on our sunset cruise

 

Male of this pod showing he’s boss

 

As for us, this post was mostly written while sitting in the very modern Victoria Falls airport, eating pizza and waiting to depart for Johannesburg — flight time a mere 1-1/2 hours (south). To be continued …

 

International TravelThings I LoveThings You Should Know

AFRICA, PART 3: LUXURY SAFARI IN KRUGER NATIONAL PARK

The lead-up and anticipation prior to a safari is exciting and filled with anticipation.  One can look online and talk to friends who have been; experiencing it first-hand is an entirely different story.
The third stop on this African holiday took us north after our the wonderful days in the Cape Winelands (see previous post). One could call Hoedspruit an “airport,” but it’s really nothing more than a series of connected landing strips and a small building surrounded by fencing to keep the animals out.  Rudi, our guide for the next couple of days, greeted us and handled our duffels (in keeping with the reduced baggage allowance).
Can’t you just see Simba on
that cliff??
Deplaning at Hoedspruit
Quite the modern technology;  kind of like the scoreboard at Fenway Park
With Rudi, our guide for the stay who also does airport runs
Forty minutes later, we were warmly welcomed at Royal Malewane by the GM and assorted personnel with a cool towel and tropical drink. This safari camp is also part of The Royal Portfolio; after our stay at their sister property in the wine area of Franschhoek, we knew we were in for a treat.  Lunch on the terrace (with buffalo in sight) included orientation, and then we were off on our first safari drive. Nothing is mandatory in the schedule, of course, but it would seem rather silly to come all this way and not participate.  The 5:30 a.m. wake-up call for 6:15 departure may sound a bit like boot camp, but I’ve never known one with luxury accommodations, service and cuisine.
Quite the welcome ..

 

Beautifully and warmly decorated accommodations.  We were free to walk to our room during the daylight, however guests must be escorted by camp personnel after dark … lots of critters around that might not be friendly.
 

 

Hangin’ outside the camp kitchen; couldn’t care less about us;
below: looking out to the grounds from the spa area.

 

We were in luck right off the bat, with a number of giraffe, elephants and rhinos all congregated around a mud hole.  Sage advice was proffered:  … don’t miss the experience of being on safari by being glued to whatever device you are using.  Cells were allowed for photos only but had to be on mute. The high point was a rare sighting of a black rhino; only about 20% of visitors are able to do that. To us lay people, the rhinos (black and white) looked pretty much the same — the name has nothing to do with their color…
Honestly, he looked the same to me .. we were told the mouth has a different shape than the white rhino.
They love a good mud bath …
The days are long.  Coffee and a light bite is served prior to the first drive of three hours or so.  A beautiful breakfast awaits on return, and then the day is free to do as you wish (exercise, spa visit, etc).  The afternoon drive heads out at 3:30 and dinner is served after the return.  There were candlelit terraces one night; a short drive to a tent the next where we were greeted with champagne, traditional African dancing and buffet. Every wine and spirit is available, and the staff is always quietly present.  They really serve “with pleasure.”
The lighting is extraordinary; once the sun set, it seemed like every star in the sky was visible

 

Cocktails and snacks at sunset on the drive
When one thinks of staying in a hotel, typically included is daily maid service, with the next level being turn-down upon request, then to automatic turn-down plus maybe some amenities in the room. Then there are these camps where (invisible) staff were in the room every time we left –sometimes four or five times each day. Oh, and laundry is beautifully washed and ironed — at no charge.

The primary goal of going out on the drives is to provide guests with sightings of the “big five” — originally so designated as the most difficult animals hunted on foot, but now regarded as the most desired to be photographed by safari-goers.  They are: African lion, African leopard, Cape buffalo, black/white rhinos and African elephant. Expert ranger Rudi, along with tracker Jonas, led us for all of the drives, and they were extraordinary.  Sightings cannot be guaranteed. But with cooperation via short-wave radio — not only with our camp’s other vehicles but with neighboring camps as well — information is shared regarding the best direction to see the animals.  The experience was remarkable. Some animals were more cooperative and abundant than others which can merely be a matter of timing.   The pictures tell it best….
Zebras, although there they are called Zabras (long “a”)
That’s what happens when you don’t listen to your mama.
The vehicle at top indicates how close we were.
Hippos were a frequent sight outside the water — a prolonged drought is not giving them much choice.
Talk about having a target on one’s back …
one of the many types of antelope

 

The experience in the vehicle is akin to “Transformers” — up, down and through steep terrain.  Jonas is using a machete to cut through brush to get us closer to a leopard.
The birds aren’t just along for the ride; they are performing a service by removing ticks from the rhino’s back.
Analyzing tracks so as to find animals for us to view
That’s me in the mirror — forever taking photos.
Candlelit dinner on the terrace

 

Above, the greeting after we were driven to a tent for dinner; menu at right.
Sisters?  Girlfriends?  Not sure about these two beauties.

 

The elusive leopard — very hard to see in the brush.  This young lady was about 18 months old.
Our very compatible group: Bonnie & Jay from NJ; newlyweds Major & Marta from Cabo; with Rudi & Jonas
We HATED to say goodbye …
Next post: we head two hours southeast to private game reserve Sabi Sand to stay at Londolozi.  We vowed not to compare the game viewing with this stay in Kruger, but I’ll weigh in on the difference in the accommodations, etc….