Our first trekking day in Sapa

Our cabin in the train.

We spend the night on the train. I slept on the top birth, I fell asleep deeply to the sawing motion and it’s wheel cadence going over the tracks.

Today our group is complete in that we are five for most of the trip.

We arrive in Lao Cai early this morning.

Our guide Nga shall be with us for the next 3 days. He is delightful, funny and full of information.

After one hour of driving through windy and narrow roads at high altitude, we arrive in Sapa where we store the majority of our luggages and have a good breakfast before our 8 km treck. It’s pouring, foggy and cool. Everyone carries their backpack of at least 25 Pd’s, I hire a porter…over my dead body I’m carrying this crap!

Overlooking where we will hike down below, Dressed for the occasion with gators, light raincoat and wicking clothes which dry quickly, ready for the mud!

The five of us; Mandy, Cat, moi, Stacey and Amanda!

At the beginning of the hike, these women will stay with us and help through all the treacherous areas

We start at the top of a village crossing a bridge over the river; to the left is Nga, our guide, Cat and Mandy back right

We stop by a batik shop and witness the time consuming art of making batik accessories. Everything they need grows in the yard from the hemp plant, to the beeswax and Indigo plant,

Our walk takes place mostly by the river in the morning.

We eat a satisfying lunch at a home stay house on the way, we pass by several hamlets, where the butcher’s choice of meats is al fresco with flies buzzing everywhere! I’m sticking to vegetarian!!! The grocery store’s selection of fruits and vegetable is in colorful baskets on the floor. Simple homes with front gardens filled with vegetables which would be the envy of any western farmers. Stunning brown and white huge butterflies that I’ve never before..

Black Hmong women walking , just love their clothing.

After lunch we continue climbing higher and higher on a rocky muddy pathway.

We eventually reach the bamboo forest,. Under normal circumstances it’s not a difficult hike, but the rain we just had made slippery and deeply muddy. I even slid a couple of times; fortunately unscathed .

This is what our shoes looked like after the trek, much heavier than when we started!

We finally arrive in our home stay hamlet, where we will stay by the waterfall. We’re thrilled that there is a hot shower,

Our sleeping accommodation are rated NO Star!!! But the young hosts are FiVE stars

Sleeping upstairs on hard mattresses, thick blanket, to the sound of the waterfall

They cook an amazing meal and managed to spice everything up for some of us who shall remain vegetarian;; everything comes from their garden, how awesome and wholesome is that! They even made rice wine for us, we certainly got to find out a lot about their customs and their way of life.

We were their first Homestay guests ever! A truly beautiful evening

Hanoi Backstreet tours

Cat and I embark on a different type of tour We’ll get to be passengers with our drivers taking us in different parts of Hanoi on antique Minsk Russian bikes.

We’ll get to sample street food, home made beer, go to various small factories where artisans make flavored peanuts, wedding green gelatin desert with coconut, home made beer and last but not least… the best coffee I’ve ever had Vietnamese coffee made with whipped egg yolk and condensed milk! ( it must have a few calories!)

The beginning of our ride!

Chin Chin my very skilled driver

Our street food experience. I can’t say that I loved the food but I tried everything and we survived!

Hopping on the very dangerous train track with absolutely no protection, plenty of ways to fall by the wayside. In so many parts of the world it would have been disallowed!

Riding on bumpy paths on an farmers island near Hanoi.

An illegal compound of floating houses which houses mostly poor people with no birth certificate. This is right off the farmers island.

If you look carefully you will see that a tree trunk is part of the building structure in addition to many home extensions being their balconies as space is at a premium in Old Hanoi

A factory of rice wedding sweet delicacies sprinkled with coconut. Buildings are quite narrow, many people who work downstairs also live on upper levels of the same house, which often times is divided with the next generation thereby becoming smaller!

The most expensive and smallest coffee house in Hanoi, no bigger than my closet with a 1 million dollar value!

The famous Vietnamese coffee. A fabulous way to end the day!

Hanoi apartments with water tanks outside

We celebrate the beginning of our journey with Stacey our leader on the rooftop of MK hotel

Leaving LA Cat and I will embark on our 3rd adventure together. We meet at the Tom Bradley terminal in the Asiana lounge of LAX. Somehow as I board they change my ticket for a first class room. I guess it starts with a bit of magic!

Last day in Africa!

What do we see!

Several tiny squirrels climbing up and down trees, staring at us!

Brown dwarf mongooses on a termite mound.

It’s very funny to see these tiny animals after the giants we’ve been privy to see!

We are fortunate to see one last pride.

There are 16 lions and lionesses, spread in two groups.

When they lie down, it is the one time they express affection towards each other, they hug, lick each other, rest their head on another lion. Quite endearing!

One lays on his back with his legs spread out!

Zebras and blue wildebeests always together!

We take photos to never forget!

Through their effort, passion and enthusiasm,

Tyrone and Jona, made all the difference in teaching us, instilling in us a great appreciation and reverence for the wild.

The magic of nature and this great puzzle that perfectly fits together.

We were indeed privileged to have seen the big five in one trip; the African elephant, African lion, the Cape Buffalo, the African leopard and the Rhinoceros.

We’ve come here in Africa not knowing what to expect;

We shan’t forget the impressive Maasai Mara Great Wildebeests Migration in Kenya,

The Maasai and how they fight to preserve their simple life.

The treacherous Bwindi rain forest-Uganda-with its silver back gorillas,

The sad faith of the Batwa Pygmies, a peaceful people whose only known life, was living peacefully in the forest for centuries,

The calm expanse of the Savannah Grassland in Kenya,

Being quiet spectators in this foreign world filled with wildlife,

Traversing the bush forest of Sabi Sand, never knowing which large predator might cross your path,

Living with all your senses and in the moment – as the internet was for the most part – nonexistent!

Second safari day- Dulini game Lodge

This morning, Jona and Tyrone had a very special treat for us.

We observed the white female rhino and her baby named Valentine, because she was born on that day!

They can live to be 40 years old. I guess it’s old in the animal world.

It is quite cold in the morning.

We warm up with a hot water bottle and a blanket being that the Land Rover is wide open.

We were privy to see a pride of lions eating a female buffalo. I will not deny that’s it’s extremely difficult and gory to watch.

That morning this pride killed two buffalos.

Apparently this is something the rangers don’t see daily. Perhaps not even monthly.

How the lioness chews and uses her molars on the side of her mouth to make incisions through the thick buffalo skin.

How she tries to pull the rib cage out to get to the meat so she can feed her cubs. The sounds you hear are horrifying, when she pulls the skin wide open, or the sounds of snap crackle, when she takes the rib cage out of the buffalo’s body.

Then the male lion, with his lush mane, strolls slowly towards his pride.

You could tell he was already full from eating the other buffalo.

He just sat next to the many lions watching us and them.

A young male cub gets into the action- his mane starting to show.

They suddenly stop eating and all look upward in the direction of the hill where two rangers are walking. They’re used to vehicles but not people walking .

I constantly had to remind myself that this is the natural selection in the wild and how perfect nature really is if only we didn’t tamper with it.

After viewing this incredible sight through many angles,

We moved on, where not very far, a herd of buffalos was huddling together and must likely be traumatized from the lions kill.

Jona explained the difference between the male horns which joins into a thick mound on top of the forehead,

whereas the female’s horns are flatter

There is a sight of a warthog

Vultures are waiting on top of a tree for what will be their next meal, We survey the area to see what it could be.

Sadly enough, it’s a two month old baby elephant laying on its side, appearing to have died from natural causes.

We go back for breakfast.

Jona takes us on a nature walk. It is priceless-I feel like I’m walking with an expert from National Geographic! He points out all the tracks of different animals.

Jona walking with his gun in tow.

Where we’re walking, the river gets wider in the rainy season, coming up soon .

How one tree can be used for toothbrushes while another one can make toothpaste. And the nut of the a different tree can be grounded to make great coffee. A different tree can be used for mint tea with its fragrant leaves.

We all decide to get a massage except Paulinda because we booked her calendar for the afternoon.

Apparently I missed another great lunch.

All of us leave for the Late afternoon safari.

Jona and Tyrone take us to something called Leopard hill, a bit farther than usual.

Low and behold, the elusive male leopard appears, he is indeed a lucky find!

He walks slowly. Apparently he’s after a scent.

How gracious he walks.

His saffron coat speckled with black and brown spots.

His golden eyes when he raises his head and sheds a piercing look, is a thing of beauty…

He then rests on a termite mounds perhaps waiting for his prey underneath.

These cats are stunning in the wild.

We are privilege to have seen all that we have seen.

When we go back, we must go to the outside circle where they make a fire.

Dinner is a buffet, and we get to talk to Jona some more.

The staff starts singing, dancing, and playing drums. What a way to end the trip!

Then Ronnie Ronnie brings the chocolate birthday cake covered with fruits made by their pastry chef at my request for the birthday girls!

Paulinda, Jona and Johanne cutting the cake!

Wow! it was rich and delish!

We pack tonight for our ultimate departure home; so we can participate in one last morning safari!

Our first Safari day in Sabi Sand

We got a very deep night sleep, exhausted from traveling.

Our wake up call us at 5.30 and we must be ready to go by 6.15am as the sun is rising.

A newlywed couple from Australia and we depart with Jona our guide and Tyrone our tracker who sit In Front of the jeep, watches the animal footprints and the direction they’re wandering to.

The topography here is different. It’s a bush safari, lots of dry brush, bushes and trees coming out of their winter season.

We see lots of male and female Nyala Antelopes. The male is beautiful with large twisted horn, a dark coat with lighter downward striped and russet colored legs, as though he’s sporting boots! The female has a lighter coat and also has white downward stripes.

There are massive male Kudu antelope They’re very tall with twisted horn and the female is much smaller. Their coloring is more of a uniform light brown.

In the middle of the bushes, we were privy to see a pack of wild dogs. Their patched print is beautiful with the cutest round ears.

They are ferocious, they hunt in packs and they care for their litter in packs. A painted dog is what they resemble, everyone one of them has a different print. Sadly they’re on their way to extinction due to disease and human habitat encroachment.

We learned how male Nyalas, exhibit a slow machismo dance against another male, their mane rises straight up, their tail curls up, their step is lithe.

Dwarf mongoose must be meals for several animals

The most beautiful black bird with the longest tail, the Fortktail Drongo, is something else to watch in flight.

The Rothschild Giraffe are much more skittish than the Masai giraffe. I was lucky to get a close up!

But la piece the resistance was the leopard perched high on a tree branch

She turns herself around on the branch effortlessly.

Opening her eyes, looking straight at us with her yellow diamond colored eyes

Resting after catching her prey;

The bushbuck , which she carried all the way up the tree!

They set up a bush breakfast for all of us in the wild.

They cooked sausages, eggs, bacon, bring in some cheese, scone cookies and Amarula coffee; it gave us a nice jolt.

Some of us decided to walk back with our guard and his rifle ( just in case) to our lodge; about 2 miles.

We come back to our room and enjoy our tiny pool overlooking the river.

Within a split second, while Johanne and I are enjoying our terrace, a huge baboon walks on the balcony open the door and goes directly to the living room, jumps on the credenza and steals the sugar; Johanne screams at him and he darts out! so quick and hilarious but no time for a picture.

We are definitely in their zoo. We have tons of monkeys jumping all over and walking on our balcony, Male Nyala antelopes roaming in front and eating all the leaves, Bushbucks and Impalas everywhere!

The lodge always serves a late lunch before the late afternoon drive. I slept though it; a blessing!

During the afternoon drive we just sit near the herd” memory” of elephants on the stream in front of us.

it was a delight to see the interaction between mother and baby.

The most interesting interaction was between the baby elephants and how they are so playful with each other

We saw a strange bird named yellow billed hornbill.

We watched the most beautiful sunset as we drive to our next surprise!

The best is always the cat! We drive far to find this leopard in the dark, he is breathtaking to watch.

He has a superb nocturnal vision, a keen sense of smell and a remarkable agility to climb any tree. He is shy and solitary.

We drive back slowly and watch the clear sky filled with stars.

Jona, who truly is a fountain of information, point to the Scorpius constellation and explain that you can recognize it with its bright star Antares. It must be magnificent to watch this sky during a dark moon, being that is an absence of light pollution in these parts.