Turquoise lakes, Majestic mountains, Dazzling glaciers

I finally got to experience the Canadian Rockies in all their Fall splendor, a trip that ranks in the top 5 of the multitudes I have taken. Now I wonder why I waited so long!

Winding our way from the dull flat plains of Calgary, Banff National Park presented itself in a smoky haze from the fires that have ravaged British Columbia, Washington state and Montana. With all the natural calamities this summer, the devastating wildfires have received virtually no national attention. However, there was no escaping the stark reality of the devastation, in the haze that obscured the jagged edges of these behemoths whose magnificence could only be imagined.

Banff sits nestled in the mountains and saves itself from crass commercialization by virtue of its setting. An 1880’s railroad town hugging the Bow River it is dominated by the Banff Springs hotel, an imposing castle like structure built in 1928 for guests of the Canadian railroad.

The Icefields Parkway from Banff to Jasper is one of the most magnificent drives I have taken. It rushes through pine forested valleys, with stunning views of the Crowfoot Glacier, Peyto Lake, and Sunwapta and Athabasca Falls that have carved steep canyons by their rushing waters. A 31/2 hour drive based on mileage takes 8 hours or more based on constant stops with their accompanying ‘ooh’s and aah’s’.

The Columbia icefields sits atop a triple continental divide, its melt flowing into the Arctic, Atlantic and Pacific. Trapped by 13 of the highest peaks in the Rockies, the Icefields have retained a large part of its freshwater mass. An expedition onto the Athabasca Glacier in giant snow buses with 5ft tall tires, had us struggling to stay upright on the shiny icy blue surface of the glacier.

Wild life abounds and we saw lots of bull elk and a rare sighting of a carnivorous bear. Juniper berries are in short supply this year and the short video illustrates the bear’s relish of its unorthodox meal.

Autumnal colors were beginning to sweep the wild gorse and carpets of alpine forests.

The jewel of the area and its most famous landmark is Lake Louise with its white ice cream chateau at one end with a glacier cascading down Victoria mountain into aquamarine waters on the other.

Not as famous but just as breathtaking is Moraine Lake in the same area. Its turquoise blue waters caused by the non absorption of light by the silt and moraine swept down by its receding mass, was my favorite.

In the Jasper area, Lake Maligne is a narrow one mile wide gem and a 90 minute cruise takes visitors to Spirit Island, the staple of photographic recognition for Jasper State Park.

Such a wonderful seven days with sensory overloads of every one of my senses:

Great food.

Lots of laughter.

Re-connecting with new and now good friends from our Africa trip on a hike in Johnston Canyon and lunch at Lake Louise chateau.

Constant entertainment provided by noisy magpies, giant ravens and little birds.

Sulphuric hot pools bubbling to the surface at Cave and Basin in Banff.

Visiting the Hoodoos or bewitched mountain.

And above all, being with the only travel companion I wanted to be with.

Adios amigos till next time!!

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Kruger Loves!!

Early morning drives were a favorite in Kruger nestled amongst the Drakensberg mountains. Well before dawn the air was redolent with the earthy smells of the bush. The musky smell of buffalo intruded on the crisp, clean air and birds joyously called out. A pride of 17 lions crossed in front of us with a lioness going about her morning business oblivious to our presence.

The evening before we had encountered the pride as it lay satiated from a buffalo kill. The young ignored their parents in juvenile curiosity and hunger.

On a return visit after sunset, the pride was actively feasting as the cubs burrowed deep into the carcass.
The elemental law of the jungle provides for the side by side dwelling of multiple species. Lions at the top followed by leopard and cheetah as top predators. Equally dangerous are the hyena who move in on the remains and audibly crack juicy bones filled with tempting marrow, followed by jackals and vultures.

We were lucky to get a rare sighting of a black rhino and its baby, an extremely endangered species. Rhino horn sells for $600,000 and it is estimated that there are 60 poaching units operating on any one day in Kruger. The chances of seeing a black rhino in the wild after 2020 are considered to be slim to none. It is cruel and senseless, made lucrative to hungry tribesmen after a false cancer curing claim from an Asian country. Heartbreaking is the calf left behind with no chance of survival.

A cornucopia of the wild delighted our eyes every day.

And finally, the magnificent leopard. The big 5 were our reality now: elephant, rhinoceros, buffalo, lion and the leopard. But I also reveled in the sight of the mongoose, baboons, termites, kudu, wildebeest and gloriously plumaged birds.

It was sad to say goodbye to this heartland of ours. Photos are a poor substitute for the real thing, but keep the memories alive.

Adios amigos!

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Mosi-Oa-Tunya: The smoke that thunders

Words cannot capture the awe inspiring grandeur of the Victoria Falls. The ever present roar of the thundering waters, mist hanging over gorges rising off an arid landscape carved by the Zambezi river snatch breath, soul and mind away.

Walking along the Zimbabwe side of the falls, the river fell over us in soft rain and made walking treacherous on the slippery stone path. A month or so after the rainy season, the main falls cascade down in unabated splendor. In a month or so a large part of the falls will dry up, so great timing on our part!

Discovered by Dr. Livingstone in 1850 and named in patriotic fervor after the great white queen Victoria, current nationalistic fervor to rename the falls by the Zimbabweans gives way to the lure of desperately needed tourism dollars: what if the tourists don’t come if the familiar name of this wondrous sight does not exist and evoke tourism fervor. In other words don’t mess with a good thing.

Lunch at the Lookout cafe overlooking the Batoka Gorge was spectacular. Great food and an even better view. Zip lining and bungee jumping off the legendary Cecil Rhodes bridge connecting Zimbabwe and Zambia over the Zambezi river were pleasant backdrops to the water gushing below.

Memories of Chobe keep surfacing. A rare sighting of the African wild dog (an endangered species) killing an antelope, chased away by vultures, in turn chased away by jackals.

Edwin a beautiful two year old I met at a Namibian immigration post on Impalila island and tribal dancing in a tiny Namibian village where I encountered the sausage tree and it’s fruit for the first time.

Oh Africa!!

But the last memory as sleep claims me is of Mosi- oa- tunya, the smoke that thunders in my dreams.

Adios amigos till next time!

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Chobe dreams. Botswana and Namibia

I stepped into another reality four days ago when we arrived in Kasane in Botswana and spent the next few days crisscrossing the Chobe river from Botswana to Namibia on the Zambezi Queen. The African elephant, buffalo, hippopotamus, birds of exotic plumage, monitor lizards and crocodiles took their sustenance from the Chobe river as we woke up to their calls, grunts and song every morning.

Water and land safaris in Chobe National Park have ensured that I will never visit a zoo again. The joy of seeing these small and large creatures in their natural environment was a true joy to behold.

It was heartening to see the co-existence that is such a natural part of the eco system. Baboons play on the same sands as elephants, mongoose and antelope with birds dozing beside hippos, crocodiles and buffalo.

And the birds are amazing. Birding could become a permanent hobby for me. So many species can be spotted in a few minutes that it has left me with a permanent crick in the neck.

The crocodile is magnificent and ubiquitous. It dozes silently on the sands but moves with the flicker of the eye. One has to consciously not think of the consequences of taking a tumble off the boat.

Well life is an adventure but Oh how wonderful it is!

Adios amigos to the next time!

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Cape Town Highs

A truly spectacular day with blue skies and bright sunshine. At the expense though of a severe drought afflicting the area. The natives pray for rain, the tourists revel in glorious days and the ability to take in Robben Island and Table Mountain, both at the mercy of inclement weather.

An early morning start and we catamaran’d to Robben Island. The entire journey was backdropped by Cape Town with Table Mountain sandwiched between Lions Head and Devil’s Peak.

The visit was a moving experience guided by the memories of a prisoner who served time with Nelson Mandela.

Nelson Mandela’s cell in B Block was like any other, fourth from the entrance and our guide opened the door with the original key used by jailers.

The Limestone Quarry where Nelson Mandela and other political prisoners worked is a peaceful place today. It caused untold health damage to those who worked there. A pile of stones is a lasting monument by the 1200 or so prisoners who came back to memorialize their experiences years later.

Leaving the island we spotted whales, dolphins and penguins frolicking together. A delicious South African meal awaited us at Karibu on the V&A waterfront: Snoek caught in the local waters, Malay fish cakes, Bobotie a Malay dish made with minced beef and raisins and Waterblommetjie Bredie, a local lamb delicacy.

After lunch, we took the funicular up to Table mountain. The views were spectacular with hoped for rain clouds far in the distance. An orange breasted sun bird fluttered around us and the Perote bloomed everywhere.

Our long day ended with a sunset visit to Bo-Kaap, a historical center of Cape Malay culture and today a thriving, diverse community of colorful homes and cobblestoned streets.

Another wonderful day creating memories of a lifetime.

Adios Amigos!!!

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Africa Africa Africa

A wish and a dream come true! So wonderful to be back in South Africa, a journey of hopes and thoughts materialized. Though planned to be a 60th birthday celebration in February, a short delay later and I am finally here with the only person I want to be with on this trip.

It’s winter in Cape Town but we have been fortunate with abundant sunshine and temperatures in the low 60s. A nice change from the humidity and heat of a Minneapolis summer.

The African penguin was in full display at the Boulders Penguin colony and watching the little folks toddle around, feed and protect their young and nestle on their eggs was a delightful treat this morning.

And then it was on to see the southern ‘most’ point of Africa: Cape Point and the Cape of Good Hope. To fall off the jagged rocks and wash up on the shores of Antarctica or see the swirling merge of the Atlantic and Indian oceans gave flight to my fancies. Though the real tip of the continent is further south, the Cape of Good Hope has captured the collective imagination of the world as Africa’s southern most tip, and hordes of tourists prove it wrongly true.

The food offerings are authentic and delicious from the bustling yet humble food market at the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront

to gourmet dining to the music of crashing waves and glimpses of blow spouts from passing whales at the Harbor House in Kalk Bay: giant prawns, mussels and hake fresh from the waters outside.

The adventure continues so adios amigos to another day!!

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Stepping back in time

On my recent trip to Prague, I was able to explore  the medieval city of Cesky Krumlov in the southern Czech Republic. This city adds its images to my treasure trove of memories, of Bruge in Belgium and Chester in England, other cities from medieval times visited a long time ago.

The last time I was in Prague for the christmas winter markets, Cesky Krumlov did not cross my tourism radar. But on this visit it was the favored topic of discussion for its beauty, character and authenticity. On my last free day I snagged a lucky seat on a sold out bus and three hours later I fell into the medieval ages. The town was celebrating its Five Petalled Rose Days, harking back to Austro Hungarian times, a feast for the eyes and palate with scrumptious food, elaborate clothing and old world sports.

From the veritable feast offered in the town square I tried a homemade Czech Mokavy Kolac, a semi sweet yeast dough round topped with poppy seed and cream. Though the delicious Kolac sated my culinary pursuits there was lots more for everyone.

Medieval dress and food were complemented by all manner of homemade crafts.

Cesky Krumlov grew around a horseshoe bend of the Vltava River from the 8th and 9th centuries and is a mix of Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque architecture. It is simply charming with its castle and ancient homes hugging the Vltava. Modern day rafting on the river rapids provide cool relief at every bend of the narrow cobblestoned lanes.

Not to be ignored, Prague is the other famous ¬†jewel in the Czech Republic and the fifth most visited city in Europe. It’s a must see with its cuisine, iconic castle and old town with the astronomical clock gawked at every hour by hundreds of camera toting tourists, as its four animated figures representing the despised ‘vanity, usury, lust and death’ are set in motion by the skeleton ringing the bell.

A short but memorable visit made extra special by the company I had.

Adios till next time!

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