Monday, January 25, 2010

Victoria Falls!

I got attacked by a crocodile. No really.

But let's start at the beginning...

We took a two night trip to Victoria Falls Safari Lodge, a stay we won in an auction in September that benefited the Tswhane Place of Safety. Vacation + charitable giving? Heck yes.

Prior to the trip, I asked if we could be upgraded and was informed that yes, our standard room would be upgraded to a deluxe room. Score.

We get to the airport with plenty of time, only to find that Will's carry-on suitcase is overweight. We were carrying on as there was no need to pack a suitcase for a two night trip plus things get lost in African airports. Its just fact. I travel frequently (I'm in Zambia right now!) and I have never been turned away because my suitcase was too heavy. Hassled? Yes. Questioned? Yes. But told to check my bag because it was 5kg too heavy? NEVER.

We were not happy to get this news.

Nevertheless, we did a quick rearrange of luggage (tip: always pack some of your clothes in your companions suitcase in case your stuff gets lost!), checked, and received our 1st row seats. We breezed through security and on into the international terminal where we decided to use our diplomatic status to purchase champagne to bring with us to Zim. Good idea, Nagli.

Let me stop here and just say how ecstatic I was to finally be traveling with someone, but most of all, to be traveling with hubby. It seems I am so often alone when I travel and its nice to have someone to talk to, someone to help, someone to laugh with... oh gosh, I can't even begin to relate how excited I was to be on holiday with Will! Yay!

The flight went off without a hitch, complete with the nicest flight attendant ever. We had tons of leg room and an entire row to ourselves. Heck yes for comfort! We get off the plane, breeze through customs, get our luggage, get transported to the hotel, and check in.

Then we get to our room.

Forgive me: the Kudu Suite.

We open the door. Our deluxe room turned out to be a 2 story suite, complete with private balcony overlooking the waterhole, 1.5 bathrooms, massive jacuzzi tub, and king bed. Wow. I must have been a good girl this year! We were completely and utterly stunned by the awesome room - it even came with sunscreen and bug repellent!

Artistic shot of our bedroom upstairs in the Kudu Suite

We took lunch at the bar overlooking the waterhole and then next thing we were off!

Activity 1: The Helicopter

Wow. May I say, wow? I didn't even have time to be scared. Seriously. We ran to the copter, got buckled in, and no sooner could you say "Victoria Falls!" we were off! Straight up into the air - how fun! I can't even begin to tell you how fun it was and how amazing the views were. I would definitely do it again! Only pictures can tell the true story...

Activity 2: The Sunset Cruise
You really can't find much to complain about when it comes to a sunset cruise on the Zambezi, complete with hippo sightings. Unless you like to complain about Zimbabwean vodka. Or the lack of any other beverage option beside Fanta Orange and coke. Or the Zimbabwean singers performing a horrificly offkey version of a traditional song. But it was fun, we took great pictures, and it was nice to be on the water.

Activity 3: Morning Safari
If I had never been on another safari in my life, I would have been horribly disappointed by this. Luckily, its not my only shot to see game! We woke up at 5:00am (TOO EARLY) and realized it was raining for our safari. BOO. We were only 4 people on the safari, but seriously, we didn't see much - impala, warthog, buffalo, elephant, eland, giraffe, zebra, birds. Breakfast was included, which was good, but all in all, I'll stick to safaris in South Africa or on the Zambian side of the falls.

*insert 4 hour nap here*

Activity 4: Wine route canoe ride on the Zambezi
I don't know why they call this the wine route canoe ride, but they do. I'm guessing its because you can drink while someone else paddles you down the Zambezi. Regardless, words again can't express how special this experience was to me and Will.

Going down the Zambezi by canoe is incredibly quiet and relaxing. Sooner or later, I'll post a video here to share the sounds we heard that day. We saw baby crocs, hippos, even vervet monkeys. At one point, our guides gave us a break on this beautifully white sandy beach. We took pictures, watched an elephant on an island (yes, he swam to get there!!!), and then played peek-a-boo with the hippos that were clearly irritated that we were visiting their hood. All of this while the sun was going down.

Special? Absolutely.

As we neared the edge of the falls with the great smoke in the distance, Will's boat bumped my boat, as it had done several times that afternoon when he wanted to get a new beverage. Or so I thought...

I then heard the guide start shouting behind me. As I turned around, there it was:


I turned around just in time to see him right next to the boat and then SMACK! The guide dropped his paddle as hard as he could right between the croc's eyes. As he paddled away, the croc just looked stunned at the turn of events and he left us alone.

Somehow I was calm through all of this. I said, "I bet this happens all the time!" The guide says, "This has NEVER happened before!!!"

I guess we're lucky. A story for the grandkids.

That night, we dined in the hotel restaurant. I had crocodile curry in honor of my croc.

Activity 5: Victoria Falls National Park
$40 for the two of us to get into the park? And we only have one hour to see it? Moly. But we did it and get some awesome shots in the process.

I've heard the Zim side of the falls is much better than the Zambia side. I wouldn't say it was better - but I would say its different. You see a completely different section of the falls, including the Devil's Cataract, which can't be seen from Zambia. It was actually incredibly difficult to see because of the mist/smoke from the falls. Regardless, it was really incredible. Its a huge park so we definitely got a work out when we had to run back from the falls to our waiting hotel shuttle...

Vic Falls will also be the place where I will forever recall Will being called out to as "Papa" by someone wanting him to buy a parka! ha!

We get to the airport and check in, only to find out they've given our front row seats away. Don't get me started. As soon as we get on the plane, we realize we are in the absolute worst seats on the plane - seats that don't recline and have extra wide arm rests that won't move. I quickly complain to the flight attendant that I had reserved my seats but they were given away and I'm a silver SAA member. She says she doesn't think the flight will be full and we can change. As we start to settle into our reality of the seats, we're asked by the flight attendant to come to the front. We do. Turns out the lady checked in two men who don't speak any English into our seats... and since its an exit row, they can't sit there! God smiled upon us again!!! So in the end, we got the seats we reserved in the first place and again enjoyed plenty of leg room on the 2 hour flight back.

The only bummer on the whole trip is that most of my pictures didn't turn out (but all of Will's did - yay!). We got an awesome new digital camera for Christmas (thanks mom and dad!) but I guess I had it on some strange setting. Most of the pictures are grainy. Worse, the camera wouldn't take pictures quickly so even though I thought quickly enough to take a pic of the croc, the camera didn't agree. BOO. Will is looking into it and we should fix the settings before Mom and Dad arrive in March.

All in all, it was an incredibly fantastic romantic trip filled with the great outdoors and lots of fun on the river! I highly recommend Victoria Falls on the Zim side!

Friday, January 15, 2010

Happy New Year!

ouch. November 5 was the last time I was here? Sorry friends.

A brief summary of life since November 5:
  • I traveled to Mozambique, Lesotho, Botswana, and Cape Town - all were trips for work and all were incredibly enjoyable. No pictures as I had no camera, but all great trips!
  • I celebrated my 2nd Thanksgiving in South Africa - hooray turkey! We finally fried one up!
  • We welcomed Maria and Butch, our first friends to visit us in SA in December - it was so good to have friendy friends in town!
  • I saw my first lion in South Africa (I had seen them before in Zambia, but not here) - big 5 complete in SA!
  • I watched a scary movie, which I hadn't done in eons (AHHHHHHHH, Paranormal Activity!). I'm still scared. Poor Will.
  • I sang Christmas carols at the Ambassador's house! It was so great to be accompanied by an amazing pianist and to be the lead soprano on my favorite Christmas carols.
  • We celebrated Christmas in Eesterust, bringing Christmas to more than 50 children!
  • We hosted a fantastic Christmas Eve dinner, using PW recipes (beef tenderloin, rosemary potatoes, burgundy mushrooms) - yum!
  • I got fantastic Christmas loot, including tsavorite stud earrings from Will (he handpicked these rare gems and then had them set for me - yay!), a copper double bottle wine chiller, silver platters, and heck yes - a camera!!!
  • I became mildly obsessed with turning "Party in the USA" into "Party in the RSA" - because, after all, I do bob my head like "yeah..."
  • I discovered 30 Rock (awesome) and John Adams (awesome)
  • Lost Season 5 = absolutely hands down best season EVER. Jacob/John Locke... WHAT????
  • I read the best book I've read since What is the What and A Thousand Splendid Suns... what is it? Oh heck yes, its My Life in France - the biography of Julia Child! What an amazingly great read!
  • Mad Men season 3 is so incredibly dark and depressing I've stopped watching it. BOO.
I took off two weeks at the end of December and enjoyed a "stay-cation" in Pretoria, aside from our brief jaunt to Pilanesberg with Maria & Butch. It was so nice to catch up reading, lay by the pool, try new recipes, and yes, rebuild my entire iTunes library. I really needed the time off to relax and I have come back to work 100% recharged.

What's the new year's resolution? Well, I'm continuing to challenge myself to do something I'm scared of.
  • Last year? White water rafting on the Nile in Uganda. That looked like this:
  • The year before? Horseback riding on my honeymoon and ziplining in Magaliesberg (I still have a massive dent in my left shin from crashing into the side of the mountain - sigh).
  • In 2007 - a half marathon (yes, scary!) and glacier hiking, both in Alaska.
  • In May, Will and I are celebrating our 2 year anniversary to go be with the Great White Sharks in False Bay, where they famously breach seals at Seal Island (as seen on Planet Earth). Its going to look like this:

  • Tomorrow I'm getting on a helicopter flight and flying over Victoria Falls. Yes, I'm scared. Not scared like paranormal activity scared, but scared like we're-gonna-fall-from-the-sky scared. Oh well - I'll do it and bring back the pics to prove it. I have a camera now, you see. For now just know it will look somewhat like this:
We're also going on a safari, a canoe ride, and a sunset cruise. I am so excited about our weekend vacation to Zimbabwe/Victoria Falls! It will be my 3rd time to the falls but my 1st time to the Zimbabwe side (previous visits were from the Zambia side).

One thing we've been talking about here among friends is grocery shopping - spending too much, wasting food, not having a good plan in place, etc.. I feel like this is something I've recently done well so I thought it might be fun to share some tips for grocery shopping!

Will and I used to go to the store list-free and just buy things willy-nilly. While it was nice to have a stocked fridge and pantry and to make decisions on what we'd eat when we got home from work, this often resulted in us chucking loads of wilted, rotten veggies and spoiled milk and yogurt. It was wasteful, both in terms of money and in food. I just couldn't take it anymore.

For one month, I kept our receipts from our grocery trips and was absolutely SHOCKED. We were spending so much money on groceries and throwing about half of it away in the trash and stocking a good 1/4 of it in our pantry and freezer. Yikes. It was time to overhaul our behavior.

Every Sunday I make the plan for the week.

Step 1: Inventory! What do we have in the fridge, pantry, and freezer that we can/need to use and/or get rid of?

Step 2: Sit down with my cookbooks. I actually love to read cookbooks - I find them fascinating! I have tons of recipes I've clipped from magazines (Rachael Ray, Cooking Light, Food & Wine, Real Simple) and placed into a binder, but I also work from Pioneer Woman (obviously), Cooking Light, Best International Recipes, and Best Light Recipes. I also browse Pioneer Woman Cooks!, the Cooking Light website, and Tasty Kitchen (I'm a contributor there!). I look up the ingredients I have on hand and pull 1-2 new recipes that includes those. Or I just pick something new and fun!

P.S. I'm ITCHING for this and this...

I also work from a set list of our favorite things to eat, which includes:
-- Burgers
-- Tortilla pizza (I actually posted this recipe on Tasty Kitchen!)
-- Rainbow Salad with grilled chicken
-- PW's chicken parm
-- Beef stroganoff
-- Tacos
-- Sloppy joes
-- Soup and sandwich

Step 3: Make the list! I write out S-M-T-W-TH-F-S at the top of a shopping list and write out the dinner that corresponds to that night. I usually plan to make four dinner meals during the week, mainly because I've realized that we'll either go out to eat or eat at a friends house at least 2 nights a week (usually Friday and Saturday) and one night we'll eat leftovers or something simple, like a s. I also make recipes that feed 4 so that we have enough leftovers to eat at lunch and/or breakfast.

I write out the ingredient list for each of those dinners and also add regular things (dog biscuits, laundry detergent, toothpaste, sandwich meat), again, checking to see what we need versus what we already have.

I usually run the list by Will and make sure he's on board with the weekly plan. I really give him major credit for adapting to a scheduled dinner plan! He's been great about it.

Step 4: I head to the store with Will and STICK TO THE LIST. There are no coupons in South Africa so I don't really have the benefit of shopping with clipped coupons. If its not on the list, I simply don't buy it (unless its on super duper sale or its some American product that I've never seen before and am afraid I won't see again - Cholula? Its coming home with us!).

Step 5: Prep! On Sundays, I typically pack my lunch for the entire week and I may even go ahead and make two dinners in one night so I don't have to later on the week (example: maybe I make spaghetti or sloppy joes to eat another day but eat stroganoff that night).

The results?
-- More money in the wallet
-- Feeling less wasteful
-- Use of cookbooks that were previously collecting dust...
-- Feeling in control of my spending and eating habits
-- An emptier fridge and pantry (even our friends have commented!)

Some things we can't avoid. Occasionally we do go out more often than we meant to and wind up having to freeze something that was meant to be eaten for dinner one night. We still stockpile some items - but we really reserve that for things from the US, like Panko bread crumbs and brownie mix. I can't help it. While I don't think I'll ever be someone that prints out a calendar to put on the fridge but I like where we've come to in regards to our meal planning. Yay!

Next steps: I'm trying to do better at turning leftovers into something new. For example, I made carne asada tacos Sunday night (YUM) and Monday night Will and I turned them into steak fajita quesadillas simply by adding cooked onion and green bell pepper and cheese we already had on hand. I'm interested in trying this sometime too... I've been looking for a book and searching the internet, but so far... nothing.

And we're off to Victoria Falls - yay! Picture post to come soon!