“Why you go to Yemen?”

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So said a Royal Jordanian employee.  Variations of this question have also been asked by our mothers, and other’s mothers.

Nevertheless, here we are at the Sheraton in Sana’a—the capital of Yemen sitting at 7,500 feet and 80 degree sunshine.  And apparently there is some sort of protesting going on here?

The flight in from Amman was uneventful—though one point of intrigue was the large family with us in the business class cabin.  Said large family presumably consisted of a Yemeni man, his many burqa’d wives, a couple of teenage sons, and a toddler who ran around the cabin for all four hours of the flight and once turned my caps lock on for me.

Anyway, for more background on this country I point you to a segment of Steven Colbert’s Better Know an Enemy.  Worth watching at least for the Cool Runnings cameo:

The Colbert Report Mon – Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Better Know an Enemy – Yemen
www.colbertnation.com
Colbert Report Full Episodes Political Humor & Satire Blog Video Archive

Not a lot of firm plans for our day in Sana’a, but we’ll let you know what we end up doing here soon.  Happy President’s Day!

Weekend in Sant Cugat (Barcelona)

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We kicked the trip off with Vancouver to Heathrow in British Airways First class (after a one way Avis rental in a tiny Nissan Versa from ZAAZ).  This was our second international first class experience, and our Cathay Pacific flights last year to South Africa set a pretty high bar.

Nonetheless, there was a “who am I?” moment when we were served our post take-off bowl of nuts.  Two pressing questions immediately crossed my mind:  (1) why haven’t these nuts been warmed? and (2) kinda cheap to only have cashews—where are the macadamias?

Otherwise, the pajamas and lay flat bed were totally fine.  And you can’t beat sitting in the first row of a 747 in the nosecone with windows that face slightly forward.  I’ll share some photos of the cabin in a future post on the way home.

After our 15-minute back massages/facials at the British Airways lounge, we were on our way to our first destination of Barcelona.  Ten years ago, Lillie was an au pair for a family there, and we’ve stayed in touch and visited many times since.  The little infant from back then turns ten this year—crazy.

So we spent the past two days at the family’s house gorging ourselves on Catalan food—best food on the continent, for my money.  I made a big mistake not taking a picture of the homemade paella we ate on Saturday—comprised of rabbit, chicken, squid, clam, and prawns.  So take our word it was delicious.  Even our friend Mark from Toronto happened to stop by to have a bite (he coincidentally was in town for the Mobile World Congress).

We had a late dinner at Braseria la Bolera in Sant Cugat, where we enjoyed just in season calçots.  They are a young, green onion chargrilled then served with a sort of romesco sauce.  Here is our paella chef Marcel demonstrating the Catalan eating technique:

Sunday morning was quite the breakfast of champions—xurros/churros dunked in your own personal bowl of thick chocolate soup.  It was obviously delicious, but you can’t help but but think the whole time that it’s not something you should be eating at 9am.

Jet lag aside, we had an amazingly enjoyable time hanging out with the family in little Sant Cugat.  We even managed to watch two of the kids play basketball on Saturday morning at the local gym!

Huge thanks to Marcel, Montse, Joana, Laia, and Pep for hosting us.  And also to Teresa for making the 2 hour trek from Lleida to spend Saturday with us.  This was an incredibly pleasant way to start our trip.

I’ll end this now with some selected shots taken with my camera (with a new 50mm f/1.4 lens) by 13-year old Joana:

Namibia Wrap Up

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So now I belatedly wrap up this trip report with the below final items.  Also should note that there are more adventures already in queue for 2011, so please stay tuned for those hopefully more timely updates!

  • Some of you get a kick out of this, so there’s a slideshow of airplane food.  Nothing really memorable in this department since we were slumming it in business class unlike Lillie’s 30th in Cathay first class.  Plus they’re all taken with the iPhone, so of questionable quality.
  • My sister sent in a kind post-trip note regarding this trip.  She sent this to me for posting a full five months ago, so it seems like the time has come.


Plane food:

From my sister Naveena:

I have, like all of you faithful klugusamy.com readers, watched with envy as Vinod and Lillie go off on their many fantastic adventures in high style.  So when Vinod emailed the family almost 6 months ago to suggest that he could arrange a trip to Namibia, my ears perked up.  But I’m not someone who is capable of planning that far ahead and he said he needed an answer right away so he could begin planning the trip and securing business class tickets using miles.  I was in the process of switching jobs and couldn’t really pay much attention to this so just told him to count me in, not really knowing what I had signed up for.  He did however inform us that “Satisfaction is 99% guaranteed.”

Now that we’re back from Namibia I can say that the trip went above and beyond a 100% level of satisfaction thanks to our intrepid travel agent and tourguide, Vinod.  A week before the trip, I still hadn’t paid attention to enough detail to even know when my flight left.  But thanks to an extensive multi-media briefing from Vinod and a detailed PDF itinerary I was given to load onto my Kindle, I started to get excited and ready for the adventure.  From there I just had to show up at the airport where I proceeded to be wined and dined via an amazing first class (not even business class!) travel experience. 

Now I’m usually a pretty independent traveler and can take care of all my own arrangements, but traveling with Vinod, Lillie, Mom and Dad, pretty much meant that I should just shut up and go with the flow.  So I did what I was told and let everyone else handle details like ATM withdrawals, car rentals, hotel check-ins, GPS setting, and camera beanbag sewing (ask Lillie about that); I just had a great time mooching off the gang’s flawless trip execution in order to enjoy the wonderful sightseeing. 

As you’ve seen from Vinod’s posts and pictures, Namibia was an absolutely gorgeous country and we covered a lot of ground in our Land Rover.  As we were departing Windhoek, Namibia, we saw an African proverb written in the airport lounge that pretty much summed up my role in this trip: Omukumuniniva ke shii oule wandjula.  This translates to “One being carried does not know the distance of the road.”  I will never forget the wonderful time I had on this trip and look forward to never having to arrange my own travel ever again.  Thanks Klugusamys! 

Out of Namibia

Nothing to do on the last day except to leisurely eat breakfast at the Fig Tree, and head to the airport.  But not without one final/minor “adventure”.  Halfway to the airport, my dad realized he’d left his jacket back at Fig Tree.  There was no time to turn around, but with a call to the guesthouse my dad’s jacket jumped into a taxi by itself to meet us at the airport.

It was amazing how simple that coat retrieval process was.  And that’s pretty indicative of how this trip went.  The only snafu that we weren’t easily able to right the course on was my mom’s non-veg dinner on the one day a month she’s veg (?!).

Anyway, on this last day we all flew back to Johannesburg together.  Then later that day Lillie and I would continue back to Seattle, my sister would head back to Los Angeles, and my parents would spend the night at the excellent Intercontinental (only 5K Priority Club points!) at the airport before heading to Victoria Falls and Chobe the next day.

Credit: Mom Ponnusamy

This day also happened to be my 30th birthday—my parents generously (but not sneakily) provisioned some slices of cheese and carrot cake from the Intercontinental restaurant, and stuck some matches in it.  There are countless worse ways to celebrate than being in southern Africa with (most of) my family.

Check out all this high quality Namibia schwag!  I’ve seriously never seen my dad so excited about buying something as he was with that vest.

Credit: Lillie Klugusamy

Riding in the upper deck of the A380 out of Jo’burg and up to Paris was also a nice way to round off the day.  Plus there was time for one last birthday Windhoek in the Air France lounge before leaving the continent.

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Back to Windhoek

Last full day of the trip, and one last long drive to get back to Windhoek for our flights out the next morning.


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We made only one stop along the way at a craft market with some relatively aggressive hawkers.  But those guys weren’t going to faze my sister, so she bargained her way to a decent price on some souvenirs.  The rest of us got out of there pretty quickly with empty hands.

Back in Windhoek in the early afternoon, we checked into Fig Tree Guesthouse.  This place was absolutely perfect for a final night.  We enjoyed sitting in their garden/pool area drinking red wine by a fireplace and catching up with the wireless internet.

Credit: Mom Ponnusamy

Also made a stop down the street at Maerua mall (the largest shopping mall in all of Namibia!), and for some reason ended up with a midday to-go snack from Panarottis Pizza .  I was successful in unloading a lot of Namibian change there.

Finally, we ended the night at the restaurant Fusion, owned and operated by a Namibian woman.  We ordered some pan fried mopane worms–they were neither disgusting nor delicious.  Great atmosphere at this place though, so would highly recommend it.

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Roaming around Etosha

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We only spent one night at Okaukuejo, and spent the next two nights at Halali.  The location is more central (marker B in the map) and the waterhole in the camp proved to be much more enjoyable.  The map below shows the general route we plied around.  One thing that kept surprising us was the size of elephants, giraffes, & ostriches.  You know they’re big, and yet you find yourself scanning the horizon, squinting at every bush to see if it’s an animal.  When an elephant or giraffe is actually on the horizon, there’s no missing him!

 


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The major storylines from our 2+ days driving the Land Rover around:

  • My mom and I were the lone spotters of a little cheetah cub off the road before it quickly disappeared.  That little stuffed animal like face is burned into my brain.
  • Naveena ran over a pretty giant rock in her first stint at left side of the road driving.  (disclosure: I’ve had left side driving issues in Cyprus and South Africa, so it happens to the best of us.)
  • The Land Rover battery dying while we sat at a waterhole that earlier in the day (at least) had a pride of lions hanging out.

That last bullet point has spawned tall tales of me “attempting to feed Lillie to the lions.”  It’s all relative, I suppose.  We were in need of a jump, so it was pretty necessary to get out of the car and ask a nearby vehicle for help.

The tricky part is that you’re not supposed to ever get out of your car—a totally sensible rule given said lions, and Lillie got yelled at by a guide in a huge Overland vehicle who made no effort to help.  To me it seemed sensible for Lillie’s friendly face to be the one to freak out another car by tapping on their window.  Big thanks to the Dutch folks with the kitted out Land Cruiser for helping us out in a pinch!

A few months later, I’m pretty certain that my eBay purchased refurbished Garmin GPS caused this battery drain.  I’ve had three different cars in the last year randomly die on me—the Garmin is the common thread.  I should really consider replacing that…

Anyway, lots of good animal sightings.  The favorites you’ll see in the slideshow below:

  • Lots of lions.  Though lions proved to be extremely boring to watch as they spend most of their days sleeping, Lillie & I were both excited to see male lions for the first time.
  • A solo elephant drinking under a tree at the Ngobib waterhole.  It was a bumpy little spur off the main road, but we were rewarded with this guy all to ourselves.
  • Driving down a road called Dik-Dik Drive and seeing dik-diks.  Pound for pound, these foot tall ungulates were my personal favorite sighting.

Some of the photos in the below slideshow have captions, which for the life of me I can’t get to display during playback like they should.  So feel free to head directly to the gallery for such commentary as “Just missed catching this black backed jackal in mid-poop.”

Up to Etosha National Park

This was the longest slog of the trip, but the roads were all actually quite nice.  In the town of Omaruru along the way, Naveena and Lillie somehow found themselves on a tour of a place making paper out of elephant poop.  A nice bonus.


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We arrived at the Etosha gate with not a whole lot of time to spare before they closed at sunset.  We were spending our first night here at Okaukuejo.  Within minutes of entering we saw our first jackal, giraffes, zebras, and elephants.

Here’s a lilac-breasted roller (otherwise, not a lot of birding on this trip):

One of the nice features of the accommodations inside the park is that they have floodlit waterholes.  Basically that means that after you eat dinner, you can take a short stroll from your room to a nearby waterhole and watch animal activity all night.

As soon as we walked up to the Okaukuejo waterhole, so did a pair of black rhinos to grab a drink.

Then on came another black rhino with her youngin’.

I shot both of those at 300mm with a Better Beamer Flash Extender.  I got that thing in the mail right before I left, so sadly never got to practice using it before this.  Pretty satisfied with the first time results nevertheless.  Also pretty satisfying to see black rhinos for the first time.

That’s how our first few hours at Etosha went—many more wildlife photos to come from the next two days in the park…

Swakopmund

The drive from Sossus Dune Lodge to the coastal town of Swakopmund was definitely the bumpiest of the trip.


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However there was some nice and constantly changing scenery, and we picked up the obligatory Tropic of Capricorn photo.  This was the second time we’ve driven across this line of latitude (Madagascar the other time), so you can see I was very excited about that:

We pulled into Swakopmund right at sunset, where my sister snapped this one:

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We checked into Villa Margherita and this place was pure class.  Everything was immaculate, and the staff amazingly professional and friendly.  Sitting by the fireplace, drinking red wine, and enjoying the wifi on our iPhones (1 iPhone:1 person ratio) was a delight.

Also a delight was The Tug restaurant for dinner.  This was our opportunity to skip the red game meat and enjoy some fresh seafood, and it didn’t disappoint.

But what is Swakopmund really known for?  It’s the birthplace of Shiloh Jolie-Pitt.  So Lillie and Naveena posed outside this hospital. 

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However, it should be noted that a later Google search shows this hospital has absolutely nothing to do with Brangelina.

Anyway, Swakopmund was a really delightful place–we all would have loved to have lazed around Villa Margherita and the rest of town for a few days.  Next time!

Sunrise at Sossusvlei

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There’s nothing like waking up at 3:45am when on vacation.  That we did, and we were on the 60km road to Sossusvlei around 4:30am. 


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The last 5km of this stretch is a soft sand track where 4×4 is required.  It was dark, not really sign posted, and we were the first ones through so there was nobody to follow.  It was rather a fun drive!

With no problems at all, we found our way into the parking area for Sossusvlei.  A German couple arrived shortly after, and much later the small group tour from Sossus Dune Lodge.  We chose different dunes to climb, so we were essentially alone for sunrise.

As a result, we had lots of fresh sand to tread on in the remaining pre-dawn minutes.  Here is Lillie’s iPhone sunrise video edited with Windows Movie Maker:

 

Now, here’s a collection of photos from Sossusvlei and Dead Vlei:

 

On the way out we got into a wee bit of trouble with the Land Rover—I zigged when we should have zagged.  As soon as we realized I had made a wrong turn out of the parking area, the car was no longer moving as it was stuck in sand.  Whoops!

Credit to the whole family for not panicking.  I got the car unstuck, however in the process overheated the engine.  Here’s a bunch of folks who know nothing about cars surveying the scene:

A little bit of (unnecessary) adventure added to the trip.  We then headed back to Sossus Dune Lodge to clean up, pack our bags, and move on.  Next stop Swakopmund.

Windhoek to Sesriem and Dune 45

After breakfast at Terra Africa, we loaded up the Land Rover and headed southeast towards Namib-Naukluft National Park via Spreetshoogte Pass.


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Bratwursts were on the lunch menu at Café Van Der Lee in Solitaire, followed by Moose McGregor’s apple pie—which was also good enough for the boys on Long Way Down.  I’ll add the photo of that pie at a later date as my sister Naveena is holding it hostage on her memory card.

However I do have this artsy snap from Naveena in Solitaire:

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We followed the sign to C19 pictured above to check into Sossus Dune Lodge.  This place set a personal record for most expensive accommodations, but I was totally happy with the decision.  It consists of 25 chalets that are within the national park, and looking out towards the dunes.

Since it’s inside the park you (along with folks at the Sesriem Campsite) get access to a side road that lets you stay longer and leave earlier.  This allowed us to be the last to leave Dune 45 at sunset, and the very first to arrive for sunrise at Sossusvlei.  Excellent.

Rooms were also in excellent condition and well-furnished.  The open shower was killer:

After a short rest in our respective rooms, we headed out to Dune 45 for sunset.  There was only one tour bus there, so not too bad.  Here’s my mom blazing the trail for the rest of us:

The family from (sorta) the top:

Back at the lodge we had dinner, then hit the hay as we had a planned 4:30am departure the next morning to be at Sossusvlei for sunrise…