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April 16, 2021


Remember the following incantation: "My swollen feet are only temporary and I will be able to wear my shoes". A trip is when you hop on a plane and go to Florida. A trek is a 14-hour flight to South Africa. Was I totally prepared? No. That's why I'm passing on the things I should have done.

Jet lag won't ruin your entire vacation, but why waste any of it burnt with a lack of energy. Going to South Africa means going thru a lot of time zones so you may experience the illusion that you're living the same day twice. I know I did. It would have helped had I set both my mind and body to the South Africa time, especially when it came to sleeping.

South Africa Airlines... SAA... or as I so named it, "Scrunched Anatomy Airlines" (on economy class), is the best airlines. They have the only non-stop flight to Johannesburg and it would do well to plan out the 14 hours. The great thing about SAA is that they go beyond the Jet Blue tv screen that's in front of you by providing your own system to watch top notch movies (pause button included for the much needed bathroom or exercise break), and an array of music all at no added cost regardless of "class". They also provide cushy eye masks to block out any light that may interfere in your sleep mode. However, I do suggest that you bring cotton to mask out the droning jet noise.

Meals. Always get a special meal. The best to go for is a fruit plate as one of your meals. Protein, skip the sauces on another with no salt. No mass made dessert is worth it. Have another piece of fruit. This may all sound a bit bland, but airline food never tastes as good as it sometimes looks. You'll more than make up for it when you're at your destination.

Liquids. Dehydration is a problem, especially due to the dry and stale air conditioning systems that exists on any airlines. Drink 8-10 ounces of water per hour of flying, but not with your meals. Liquid with meals dilute your digestive juices and contribute to intestinal swelling. Carry your own bottled water as a backup, in case they run out of it. And when you do order the bottled water don't let them put ice in your glass. It defeats purpose. You also don't want the glass of orange juice that they walk around with on a tray. Unless you're sure that it was poured from a carton, most likely they are not diluting it with bottled water. Although cranberry juice is good for you, remember that sugars are added. Carbonated beverages doesn’t help either. And I know that it's quite tempting to have alcohol, especially when you're not paying extra, like on SAA (particularly tempting is the Amarula... a South African version of Bailey's), but keep it bare minimum.

Exercise. The first exercise you have to do is training for the airport trek. Walk around the house with the luggage, maybe even up and down a flight of stairs. You're not always going to be able to roll that luggage. On board exercise. While you're in your seat, slowly contract and release every muscle you can think of starting from your feet to crown of your head. Raise your arms and reach while inhaling and exhaling. If you happen to be awake when there are no carts around, walk around the plane. Do a "Groucho Marx" walk with straight back and bent knees. You don't have to take long strides, but if you do, slap on glasses and a mustache and say the secret word.

Medication. Although some of the resorts that I stayed at were considered to be "Malaria Free" I was highly advised to purchase anti-malaria pills for all other areas. I chose one called Malarone. Had to take a pill a day before traveling, each day and some days more after coming home. None of my colleagues taking this one had any side affects. I felt a bit drained and light headed much of the trip. But this may be due to the fact that I haven't introduced ANY prescription or whatever drugs into my system in over 20 years.

I suggest you bring the following: Vitamin C for infection or acute inflammation; S.O.D. for food poisoning or toxicity; Acidophilus for other intestinal floral (or make it a habit of having yogurt for breakfast) and most importantly, a diary, so you can look back and see what you should have done.

Got my tetanus shot, passport, evacuation insurance and a prescription for anti-malaria pills. 15 hours on South Africa Airlines (aka Sore Ass Airlines) landing in Johannesburg and a 2.5 hour bus ride to the Palace of the Lost City in Sun City. But this is the "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous... .and Merle trip". Now, I thought that THIS place was outrageous, but it got even better.

The initiation of the first of many game drives was a trip to the Sundown Ranch Lion Park. That's a photo of me holding a 3-month old lion cub. I got to kiss its little nugget head and rub its little belly... awww.

Game drives and game reserves. This was the most awe aspiring adventure that I've EVER experienced. All of the game drives took place in an open vehicle. Early morning and evening drives... with the use of halogen flood light, but NOT flashed directly into the animals' eyes. Yes, this was the naked jungles of South Africa... lions and tigers are bare, oh my! This first one took us through the sandy roads, but as the drives progressed, the Game Rangers drove on just about any terrain in search of the wild.

No fear. Never. These animals are not fed by humans, they go after prey and there are no fences. Animals that I have never seen before... wildebeest, impala, kudu, bushbuck, warthog, white rhinos, genet. And some that I have seen... elephant, leopard, cheetah, baboon (who looked familiar). I took loads of photos... and so did the rest of the group. Did not experience an actual "kill" taking place, but did see one zebra that apparently met up with a lion. A zebra, by the way, is the largest sized bra you can find.

Another long drive to spend three nights at different private game reserve lodges. The fist was called Makweti and owned by a woman who lives in Huntington (Long Island). This was also the beginning of receiving more personal attention. Dinner was outside around a bonfire and native women entertained us in song... and it STILL got even better.

We were getting up close and personal with the animals. Sometimes just 10-15 feet away. They didn't seem to care. But it seemed that every time I wanted to get a good photo, the animal would turn around and show it's behind. Well, at least the warthogs know how ugly they are and would rather that we take their best side. What went through my mind was the animals thinking, "Photo, shmoto... kish mier in tuchas".

Singita was the last of the private game lodges. Wait... just let me describe the accommodations. Entrance into the foyer with a refrigerator of gratis refreSjanents to include wines and liquors. More about THAT later. Bedroom with netting over the bed leading into a HUGE bathroom. Tub equipped with bath salts and candle. A separate shower stall and ANOTHER shower stall located outside of the room in the open air... I'm not sure but I sensed a hyena laughing at me. The private terrace had its own pool, too. After the night game drive we pulled into an area with lots of hanging lanterns. Outdoor dinner in the wilds! You just HAD to see the "outhouse" set up. Bamboo, curtains and a "sink" of water and lemons just outside of it. Every time someone walked there, there was an employee to light the way. What a piss!

Food? I thought that venison was an extreme. Ostrich in all forms (ostrich eggs are a biggie in regards to decoration... it seems that a bowl of them is considered to be "welcoming"), smoked kudu... and no, none of it tasted like chicken.

And now we're off to Capetown for four nights. Three of nights were spent in the "Village"... the heart of the gay area of Capetown, which is considered to be the "gay capitol of the world". Here, we each had our own apartment in a particular area called De Waterkant Village. There were no exclusive women's bars. Mixed dance bars. One was named the Bronx and a more subdued one called Cafe Manhattan. One special dinner was set up to meet friends of the guy who runs this tour. Four women showed (thank goodness) and I made some new friends. Discussion pointed to not having women travel alone, in S.A.

Different game drive of sorts as we drove down the Cape Peninsula. We first went to Boulder Beach to see an amazing colony of African penguins. Could tell that the tourists were all foreigners... they were walking towards the right. Onto Huat Bay for a cruise to Seal Island. On the way down to the Cape of Good Hope, we came across some "families" of baboons sitting along the road... looked as if they were "homeless and hungry"... practically begging. I expected them to have signs reading, "will do people imitations for food". As soon as we got to the Cape of Good Hope, we noticed a group of Orientals getting off a bus. We VERY quickly ran off of our bus to pose behind the sign while Christiaan (our wonderful 14-day tour guide) took a group photo using EACH of our cameras. Made it just in time!!!

A break in the Village action had us staying one night at the Table Bay Hotel, near Table Mountain, which we took a tram to. What a view!!! The hotel, located on the waterfront, is connected to one of the biggest Capetown tourist attractions... the mall. And with our dollar getting 10 rand...

Next was a tour of the wine country. We went to an estate called Merelust and did some wine tasting. Having already experienced the vast flow of wines with dinners, this just added to my personal opinion about how great the wines of South Africa are. MUCH better than California or French. I got hold of a cape wine public relations company here in New York to do some further "research".

Having gone out with the gang, 4 shots of tequila and 3 beers later ("Oh, come on, Merle, loosen up"), I swore off any form of liquor for the rest of the trip and opted for an herbal tea called Roobios. I did buy a native liquour called Amarula... cream drink made from the marula fruit tree and rich in vitamin C.

Two airplanes later, we arrive in Livingstone, Zambia to stay at the Royal Livingstone Hotel. My room was on the ground floor and the area had monkeys walking about... there were "Monkey chasers" on hand to keep them away from the outdoor dining area. They threw stones at the monkeys... They must have to put "without sin" on their resumes. Took a trip aboard the African Queen... no pun intended... for a sunset cruise... still no pun intended. The next day was spent viewing Victoria Falls. First was a walking tour. On the way back through the paths, young monkeys would just jump out and walk in front of me the way my cats do. Didn't care, but wasn't going to pet them. A second view of the falls was via helicopter. Although the falls is considered to be one of the Seven Wonders of the World, it appeared a bit dried up and just made me wonder what it would have looked like. Also got a tour of a Zambian village complete with a female witchdoctor.

Last leg of the tour brought us to Johannesburg at the Grace Hotel in the Rosebank area. Another mall and an African craft market. This is where I did most of my shopping. Not too many "chatchkas", as I didn't want to haul too many extras in my luggage or have to go to a "Schlepp-and-Ship" outlet.

I have David Rubin (Davidtours.com or ValueandStyle.com) to thank for this journey of a lifetime. And so it's back to the jungles of New York where the world's human species runs loose. OY, where's my glass of wine?

- Queens Times


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