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Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Cat's Animal Adventures...

As far as I can tell, Cat is having some great animal adventures. Here are her comments:

Aug 29th

Wednesday afternoon was pretty funny though because they wouldn't let me get out of their cage! Unlike the other times when you stand up and they run, this time they decided that I was their human jungle gym and I had all of them running up my leg to my shoulder and jumping on my white hat! They didn't want to get down and I wasn't really sure how I was going to leave....

Today I went in with the squirrels and they were very frisky. I think one is in heat so they were chasing each other and making noises. I drew the line when two of them started to have sex on my leg though! So...I left.

Yesterday I went on a cheetah walk with Cleo and Pride. They walked for a bit and then just laid down for the rest of the time… Tonight I sleep with Cleo and Pride so I am mentally preparing myself to get peed on.

Aug 30th

Sleeping with Cleo and Pride was awesome. They are very cute though and come over right away and snuggle with you all night. However, wild dot dots are TERRIBLE bed hogs and both Dawn and I only had about 6 inches each for our mattresses and every time I moved Cleo would let out a big sigh. It was a really really amazing experience though.

Today I went into the caracal and wild dog enclosures to pick up discarded bones. I had to fend off 8 wild dogs with sticks! We were told to watch our backs so they don't separate us and try to eat us.....ah just another day at the office!

Aug 31st

I was on food prep in the morning and then spent the afternoon hanging out with the animals. I finally went in with Lose the leopard and Asem the vulture and Finn the one winged eagle. I also said hello to my cheetah girls too, oh and I met Zebe the zebra and saw the rabbits.

Sept 2nd

I played with the foxes again last night. One of them came right over and sat with me and then flopped over on his back so that I could scratch his tummy and he made fun grunting noises. They are officially my favorite animals at Harnas and I will be sad to leave them.

Today I thought we were going to have to go to the waterhole but we haven't yet. I got to go on a cheetah walk with Cleo and Pride, though it was more of a cheetah flop as they walk for a bit and then lie down under a shady tree. It was still fun, but I did sit on a bunch of burrs which I am still currently extracting from the butt of my jeans....good times....


Good times indeed.

Also, don’t forget that there are plenty of YouTube videos up from the first 3 weeks. We are at 13 and counting!



Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Update from Cat and First Videos!!

Hello Everyone,

I heard from Cat today and things are going well. Here's her latest news...

Yesterday was fun. I got to go on tour as a guest and I got great video of a lion charging, 25 wild cheetahs attacking meat, and wild dogs going insane! It was pretty neat, but I sun burnt the tops of my ears....whoops!

"I have also fallen in love with some of Harnas' littlest residents...the round
squirrels. You can go into their enclosure and they run all over
you. It's pretty neat. I also hung out with the cheetahs and a blind
vervet monkey yesterday. However, like Jeff Corwin the monkeys freak me
out a bit because I am afraid they will bite...and they probably will."

Back at home I have begun going through pictures and video from the trip. Thanks to the magic of You Tube, I am proud to bring you our first video. See below!

I hope you enjoyed it. There will hopefully be more to come soon. Feel free to visit Cat's You Tube Page at:



Monday, August 25, 2008

The Journey Continues...

For those keeping up with the blog and the email updates, Cat is now in Namibia and my mother and I are safely back in the US. As promised, I will do my best to provide updates based on the spotty communications I am receiving and will try to fill in the gaps as well. I reserve the right to edit and/or add any information she sees fit upon her return :)

Franschhoek & Cape Town

When we last left Cat, we just finished a very pleasant stay in Hermanus. I think we were finally beginning to ease into what we consider "relaxation mode" for the trip, which is probably fast paced by other people's standards. Here is Cat's quick summary of the last few days...
"We had a great time in Franschhoek and ate some food/drank wine that was out of
this world. We stayed at a great bed and breakfast too... Yesterday was a
marathon shopping day, but I think we now have everything that we need."

I think the highlights in Franschhoek began with the beautiful guest house at which we stayed. The place was called the Coach House and it is run by a wonderful couple, who were friendly and very helpful. They recommended some of the wonderful places where we ate and organized a wine tour on horseback for our first morning. This was a special treat as it was only my second time on a horse and the first time for my mother.

This was another time where we gave my mother a great deal of credit. Never having been riding, we spent three hours, first going up the side of the mountain and then winding our way through trees and fields of grapes, she had the time of her life, even with a lopsided saddle. Overall we all agreed this is a fantastic way to experience the wine lands.

On the last full day, as mentioned above, we went on a whirlwind shopping tour through Cape Town. We got to see some different parts of the city from our first day, visiting the City Bowl area and Greenmarket Square, which was home to a myriad of handmade crafts. We finished up the day back at the Victoria and Albert Waterfront. This time we visited the Blue Shed, another craft venue, where we were able to find an authentic African Drum to bring home. For for more details on what I got to bring home and the challenges of bringing items large and small on two airplanes over 20+ hours of travel, please contact me :)

The last day was capped off with a nice dinner on the Waterfront. This was a combination birthday dinner for my mother and send off for Cat. The next morning I drove her to the airport early so she could begin the Namibian Adventure part of her trip. My mother and I began our long, but pleasant trip home.

Namibia and Harnas

From all reports Namibia has been quite an experience for Cat. Here are some excerpts from her last email...

Here is what I like:

1. The animals are so fun (when they are being nice to you). I have been licked by a cheetah (good exfoliation) and the cheetahs purr constantly and will walk up to you purring. When you feed them you call to them and they run towards you. It is pretty impressive to have a giant cheetah run towards you.

2. I had 5 baboons crawling on me yesterday. I am a little skittish around them because they move quickly and suddenly and I know they can bite, but they are also cute. I had one up the back of my shirt for awhile, but not the one who knows how to undo bras!

3. The bat-eared foxes. We take care of the 7 young ones. You can't really pet them, but you can pet the 3 bigger ones and they are super cute

4. Lost the leopard. I want to go in with her, but I am nervous as she is getting more aggressive (they don't take her on walks anymore) so I am only going to go in with someone who knows her.

5. I have met some very nice people.

My group (1) takes care of: Cleo and Pride (cheetahs) 7 bat eared foxes, mice (which is weird cause one gets killed every Friday for the owl), Tumela the African Grey parrot, a bunch of cats (they are EVERYWHERE) Bubbles and Uma to white (when clean) fluffy dogs, Suki the 1/2 wild cat and Sule this rare spotted cat or sometimes called a black footed cat.

I will be sure to post updates as I receive them and will try to post a few pics in the near future.


Saturday, August 16, 2008

Swimming with the fishes.....

It is official, I have now been in the water with great white sharks! Today Joe and I went on a boat to Dyer's Island to go great white shark cage diving. Joe wasn't going to come, but I really wanted someone to share the experience with so when he dropped me off we asked if there was space on the boat and there was, so he came along. We were both very excited (no really, Joe was too!) and we saw ELEVEN sharks!

I went shark cage diving in Hawaii and saw Galapagos sharks and that was very cool. Great whites really aren't as scary in person as they look in pictures, though if I were on a surfboard I think I would change my tune....These guys were between 9-14 feet and they are much thicker girthwise than Galapagos sharks.

The cage is skinny and long and fits 7 people in their own compartments. The boat flew out to the site (we went airbourne a few times) and then they began chumming for the sharks. They use a legal fish mixture, large rotting pieces of fish, and a black seal cutout. It took about 30-45 minutes for the sharks to come, but when they did they were very interested in the seal cutout. They hang out in the kelp at Dyer's Island normally because that is where the seals like to be. We saw their mouths a couple of times, and it was pretty impressive.

I was in the cage for about 15-20 minutes and it was cool. However, the seal was not staying tight on my mask so I kept having to pop up. We stayed on the surface, but when the shark was coming the deckhands would yell "down left" or "down right" etc, and we would duck down and hold onto the handrails to get optimal viewing. The seas were fairly rough though so we got thrown around a lot.

As a result of the rough seas, I am ashamed to say that I got seasick and added my own "chum" to the sea. I had to be in an enclosed space to put the wetsuit on and I think that is what did it. I took a motion sickness pill too, but the swells were pretty big and we were 9 kilometers from the shore. Luckily I got really sick after I saw the sharks and not before!

Tomorrow we were going to go kayaking, but we are really tired and after being on the rough seas today I think I have had enough ocean for a bit. However, we are going to walk on the Cliff Path (2 minutes from the B and B) to see the whales in the morning. We saw some S. Right Whales from the shore today as well. Hermanus is the best place in the world for land based whale watching.

Marie had a lovely day by herself and saw what Hermanus had to offer shoppingwise. Joe and I had a lovely dinner tonight as well, and did manage to do a bit of shopping ourselves. :-)

Tomorrow we are off to the winelands....

Overall it was a pretty cool experience. I was nervous beforehand, but getting in the cage

Thursday, August 14, 2008

"Don't pee over there....there are fewer elephants that way...."

These are the words I heard one of the days of our canoe trip down the Zambezi as I was looking for a place to answer the call of nature.....I laughed and found another bush. However, I learned later that it wasn't just our guide speaking from experience....there actually was a heard of elephants standing about 15 feet behind where I was going to go...:-) Who knew?

Our canoe safari was probably the craziest experience I have ever had, and if you know me you know that is saying a lot! Let's see.....

We made it to Zambia on August 8th, but it was definitely an experience. Our flight out of Jo'berg was delayed..the plane was broken, but then an hour later we got on the same plane as it was miraculously fixed...right........Our hired driver was there, and was very friendly. However, we had to stop to get diesel....and you know the saying "3rd time's the charm..." well it should have been 6th time is the charm as we had to stop at 6 stations before we found one with diesel. By now it was dark and the roads are bad in Zambia, so the trip that was supposed to take 2 hours took 4.....Ah Africa!

We spent the night at a very nice lodge right at the canoe drop off point. However, the next morning I got up and left my tented platform to have breakfast. The sprinklers were on and in my effort to avoid getting wet by running to breakfast, I sprained my right ankle! I was very scared as I didn't know if it was sprained or broken or whether I would do the trip, but I sat with ice on it for two hours (and had my breakfast) and then decided that I had come all of the way out there and was going to go!

After hobbling down the dusty road (everything is soooo dusty in Zambia) to the canoe drop off point we received some instruction and then were on our way. Marie went with one of the two guides and Joe and I were in a canoe towards the back of the group with the other guide. The current was fairly strong and as a result we narrowly escaped death (no really...we would have died) in the first five minutes as we drifted way to close to a pod of 20 hippos! Our guide confessed to us on the last night that he was very concerned at that point as we were in "grave danger" Great.....

The canoe trip as a whole was about 70 Kilometers in length and it was pretty hard. The 2nd day was very windy which made it hard to paddle, though we were going with the current the whole time. There are SOOO many hippos on the Zambezi, and they are really funny to listen to. When they make noise it sounds like a cross between deep laughter and an exhaling whoopie cushion. We teased Marie a lot because she snored at night (was very congested) and we joked that she was trying to communicate with them!

We saw over 100 elephants and had one run across the water right in front of our boat (I got pics and Joe got video) and lots of crocodiles. We even went wading/swimming in water that was about 15 feet away from some crocs....they keep to deep water though and we were in shallow....or so we were told....All limbs are still intact though!

I learned a few things about myself and Africa on this trip.....
1. It sucks to go on safari with a sprained ankle...very hard to get in and out of a canoe (Joe was great though!)
2. I'm not a camper......I have done it before and would again for the right experience, but I don't dig sleeping on the floor and being perpetually dirty...UGH!
3. Peeing in the woods is not for me.....especially near a herd of elephants!
4. Zambia is REALLY chilly at night (I lived though)
5. Baby wipes are key for camping!
6. Joe is the best....(but I already knew that....)

Marie was a trooper on this trip. She loved going down the river, but then she was with the lead guide who kept telling her not to paddle. Instead she put her feet up while her Sherpa like guide paddled the canoe...and she chain smoked down the Zambezi...(until Joe and I yelled at her and told her to stop as the wind was carrying the smoke smell to us) In all honesty though she was really good. She doesn't like peeing in the woods either (but it was very funny when she asked our group how to do it) nor does she enjoy being dirty but she loved Zambia and wants to come back. Joe and I liked Zambia, but feel like we can now check it off of our list. Our group ( 4 S. Africans, and 2 guides) made fun of her thick NY accent and her need for coffee at all time (they teased her by pronouncing it Cwoffee!) but she took it in stride and had a lot of laughs.

The drive back from the canoe end point was possibly more dangerous than the trip itself! We were in a 9 passenger souped-up jeep with a trailer full of canoes. The roads in Zambia are BAD! Imagine the worst road in the cover it in dusty dirt and potholes and render it impassible without a 4X4 and then multiply that by 10. Voila! You have our trip. I swear, I thought the truck was going to tip over at some points due to the crazy angles we were on. I think my brains got bounced out and my nose and lungs filled with dust. The truck also broke down twice, once internally and once because of a punctured tire....go figure! However, we still made good time and got back to the lodge in one piece.

When we go to our final hotel destination last night there was a power outage....and then when it came back on there were no hot water! I was SOO sad..and cold....but right before we went to sleep, Marie was outside smoking and came in and told Joe and I that a herd of zebras came to visit. They were right outside out door!

We have been travelling since 4am this morning but made it to Cape Town around 1pm. Joe is relearning how to drive on the left and our Guest House is really pretty. Now we are wondering around the waterfront of Cape Town, shopping and looking for a place for dinner. I can't wait for a good meal! Until then......

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Winter in Africa is still Winter....Brrrrrrrr!

In my house we have an ongoing joke about how I can't dress for weather. At one point Joe drew me a handy chart showing me what I should wear depending on the temperature. The lowest temperature on the chart being 20 which show a picture of a in don't get out of bed if it is 20. On the Kruger safari, I learned a valuable lesson. Winter in Africa is still winter and when you are doing game drives in an open safari vehicle, freezing doesn't even begin to describe things. I was the only one who had gloves and a hat too.....hmmm...who's dressing for weather now!

We had a bit of a rocky start leaving for the safari (sat in the hotel lobby from 4:30am-6:30am) but after that everything was great. It took about 4.5 hours to drive up to Kruger National Park, and as soon as we transferred to our safari vehicle at the gate, we immediately began to start seeing animals. We saw 3 of the big 5 in our first 4 hours (rhino...didn't expect to see rhino so it was a nice treat, elephant...the park has 14,000, and leopard.....very lucky they are shy and not often seen). We also saw lots of giraffes and two 3mo old spotted hyena pups which were adoable.

Our first evening we went on a night game drive and saw a gorgeous sunset and were fortunate to see young bull elephants play fighting. It was cool to watch the diurnal animals go to bed and the nocturnal animals start to come out.

The second day we saw the rest of the big 5 including buffalo and a pride of lions (2 females, 2 males, and 4 cubs). They were laying around panting, fat and happy from gorging themselves on a giraffe that they took down the day before. On our last day in Kruger we were able to see them again, but this time they were eating and a little cub was sleeping inside of the rib cage. It was a truly amazing sight to see!

The most amazing thing about the safari is simply seeing the sheer number of animals. I have seen many of these animals in zoos before, but never in these numbers. We saw herds of 40+ zebra, tons of elephants and herds of giraffes running through the veld. We didn't see any cheetahs or wild dogs, but maybe we will on our next safari! We have seen a lot of babies though including lions, giraffes, warthogs, zebras, baboons, vervet monkeys, elephants and hyenas.

The camps at Kruger are fenced in and we slept in tents with twin beds. Right before dinner on our second night I saw an elephant walking and after dinner hyenas we patrolling the fence perimeter. It was quite exciting and hearing hyenas whoop to each other in the early morning is really a special thing.

Last night we stayed at a private game reserve which was basic but very nice. This morning at breakfast we all got to feed a nyala (a neat looking antelope) which had very wet lips and a slobbery tongue, but was very cute. We also watched monkeys steal apples from the table...cheeky monkeys!

We also saw Blyde River Canyon which is the 3rd deepest canyon in the world and was gorgeous. Even though this part of Africa is experiencing winter, the mix of browns and greens is still beautiful. The veld is teeming with life and there are aniamals everywhere you look...just they way I like it. In fact Joe has made it his personal mission to snap a photo/video of every animal that crosses the road in front of our safari far he is doing well!

Tomorrow we leave for Zambia. We have a 2 hour flight and then a 2 hour drive to our hotel/canoe drop off point. Our canoe safari is from Sat 8/9-Wed 8/13. I won't have any communication so make sure everyone watches lots of Olympic coverage for me!

Until then....


Sunday, August 3, 2008

Jambo Africa!

Jambo everyone!

The Chiappa family has made it safely to Africa! The flight was very long, but it was ok. The only bad thing is that the seats were made for midgets (Marie was quite comfortable). :-) Actually the plane wasn't full so it was nice. Marie got to spread out a little and I took her seat for the second leg. The first leg felt like it took forever, but I took a tylenol pm for the second leg and it went faster. They definitely give you a lot of fun options for entertainment though. They have video and audio on demand. Our plane even got in 1/2 hour early. I haven't seen any monkeys yet though...or groundhogs...;-)

We got went through customs and secured transportation without a hitch (though I think we got a little gauged on the price...but what can you do..) and the hotel is very nice. The rooms are clean and the bathroom has a nice shower and a tub.

I'm a little concerned because we haven't heard from the safari people so we don't have a time for pick-up for our safari tomorrow, but we should know soon. We are going to order food from a nearby restaurant for dinner tonight so we don't have to leave the hotel. I am looking forward to laying in the horizontal fact after 19 hours in a plane I may never sit up again!

That's all I have to report for now. It seems surreal that we will be seeing lions and elephants and all other types of animals in this wild country tomorrow though!


Saturday, August 2, 2008

The Adventure Begins...

A few days ago I was going to begin this blog with a witty introduction...but a few days ago I hadn't packed yet either. After going to bed between 2 and 3am each morning this week, the packing sadly didn't happen as quickly as I would have liked. I should probably also tell you that I do many things well, but packing is NOT one of them! However, with that having been said, we leave for our great adventure in 16 hours... By we, I mean my husband Joe and my mother-in-law Marie. If you think that traveling with your mother-in-law and your husband to a far off land is not your ordinary vacation...well you're probably right, but I think we'll be ok!

The journey begins with a 17-18 hour flight from JFK to Johannesburg, South Africa...I mean who doesn't like being folded up like a pretzel for a million hours in a plane full of dehydration....A few days ago Marie asked me what first class was like and I told her. Heaven. However, I also told her that heaven costs about $5000-6000. She then replied..."Oh, I thought it would only be like $100 more and if that was the case I was going to suggest we go for it." Believe me, if first class were only $100 extra per person I would have already gone for it! Ah well...pretzel it is.

The Chiappa Family African Adventure as I like to call it is laid out like this:

August 4-7-Kruger National Park, South Africa (I want to see a bushbaby!)
August 8-Fly to Lusaka Zambia
August 9-13-Canoe Safari down the Zambezi ("I love hippos....which is fine as long as you don't love them too close.....I'm really excited to see elephants though!)
August 14-Fly to Cape Town South Africa, Try to go on a cultural tour with dinner and traditional dance in a township
August 15-Tour of Cape Town, self drive to Hermanus (whale-watching capital of the is Southern Right Whale breeding season and you can see upwards of 50 whales right from the shore!)
August 16- (enter Jaws theme...) Cat-Great White Shark Cage Diving! Joe and Marie....relaxing and shopping...
August 17-Sea Kayaking in a Whale Sanctuary (how cool is that!) Then onward to the Winelands...
August 18-Sightseeing, Wine tasting, Food Coma....
August 19-Spa Day! Relaxation at last.....Joe goes biking and drinking...maybe at the same time
August 20-Travel to Cape Town..sightseeing and loose ends...
August 21-Cat to Windhoek Namibia, Joe and Marie home
August 22-Joe and Marie arrive at JFK at 7amish, Cat to Harnas Wildlife Foundation (check out the video...takes about 30 seconds to begin once it is loaded)
August 22-September 18-Harnas Wildlife Foundation (feeding baboons, sleeping with cheetahs and hanging out with all kinds of animals!)
August 19-Cat begins to head home...
August 20-Cat arrives at Dulles at 6amish...

I will try to blog when I can while we are all together, but once Joe gets home he will be writing about my adventures for me as communication will be spotty on my end.

Wish me luck!