Returned Peace Corps
Volunteers of South Florida


RPCVSF TRAVEL


 SOMETHING’S COMING

SOMETHING GOOD


By TRAVEL@RPCVSF.ORG


May 29th, 2022  Travel has spent several weeks working with our travel agent, Africa Adventure Company, on the itinerary for our March, 2023, safari to Namibia. Some things are certain: 1. The travel company requires ALL travelers to be vaccinated and boosted. 2. All travelers are required to take an anti-malaria drug. Travel will help you obtain generic Malarone. 3. Single rooms will be scarce and have a price supplement. 4. It is not too soon to shop for a wide-brimmed straw hat, (NO baseball caps) 5. Our safari vehicles will likely be 2 Toyota Land Cruisers with A/C carrying 7 passengers + driver/guide each. If we have an overflow, we will try to get a third vehicle. The real problem is lodges. There could also be testing and mask requirements we will deal with later.

 

We are trying to replicate our previous wondrous trip. What next? We are Peace Corps so we improve. Right now we are trying to add an overnight at one of the largest conservancies in the country. (A conservancy is a large tract of land leased by the government to an entrepreneur who must fence and develop it with a lodge, electricity, clean water, sewage/waste provision, and roads. It is often adjacent a national park with a gate in the fence to insure genetic variety.) We visit nearby Africat Conservancy, home to dozens of cheetahs and a leopard. The mothers of these cats were poached before they had a chance to teach their cubs to hunt. They can never be returned to the wild and the mercy of other animals.


Our safari starts in Johannesburg at the Met-Court hotel in The Emperor’s Palace complex, a 5 minute walk from the airport. We do not walk it. Too dangerous. We take an airport-hotel shuttle. We note the 10 foot fence topped with razor wire and the gate guarded by men with AK-47s. This is one of the largest casino operations in South Africa. We stay 2 nights to fight jet lag. SA is not on daylight savings time but we are so the time difference is only 5 hours.


We gather in Tribes Cocktail Lounge and Restaurant for intros and a 5 minute ceremony to initiate newbies who have never been to Africa. The large restaurant has an even larger menu so food cultists will find lots of kale. I recommend the ostrich (farm raised) steak in berry sauce, a little chewy, but nice. Travel will also provide each table with a bottle of South African bubbly.


The next day we are shown landmarks in the city while never leaving our locked vehicles until we reach the townships, specially built residential areas for blacks under the Apartheid regime. We see Archbishop Tutu’s home which is not open to the public and Nelson and Winnie Mandela’s home across the street which we tour. Today the townships all have piped water, electricity, and paved streets. Most homes have huge additions with no attempt to blend with the original structure.


Then we fly to Windhoek, the bustling capital of Namibia where we meet our driver/guides and vehicles (No assigned seating) We head due west to see the largest sand dunes in the world. These are national monuments no one is allowed on. The government has set aside one, nicknamed Old Man, for tourists to climb. It is an easy walk to the top or you can take a couple of steps and turn back. Most people who go to the top sit down and slide down. Suggested apparel: slacks. The sand is hot. Just outside the city, we spot our first animals, a herd of impalas, a medium sized antelope, the largest animal group in Africa. They are so cute. We stop for pix. We come across more impalas. They are so cute. We stop. We come across more impalas. They are so cute. We do not stop until we spot the magnificent oryx, a large solitary antelope, the national symbol. They mate for life so sometime the bride is with him. If a bachelor is with him, they are not gay, just good friends beyond mating age. SUCH A DEAL OPTION: sunrise hot air balloon ride over the dunes.  See how vast they are; watch them change color as the sun rises; all topped off with a bubbly breakfast on the beach.


The seal rookery is next, hundreds of adult seals and pups in a small space. This means a lot of pee and a lot of crap and a big odor. We do this before lunch. We may even see some vessels stuck on the rocks while small waves 24/7 break them up, toss them onshore giving the country the nickname Skeleton Coast.


Passing through Walvis Bay, we remark, “What a lovely English seaside town.” And it is.

If you sprechen, you can practice in Swakopmund, a resort city and home of the descendants of the original German settlers. We stay at the Hotel Hansa, a beautifully restored colonial hotel. Hansa means Germany in Old German. This is where Brangelina popped out twins. Outside the city, we change to dune buggies with guides who will dig out some of the many critters who live under the desert. They are very sensitive to light so we are asked to stand shoulder to shoulder to form a sun shield. The guides will find a sidewinder to show us one of the deadliest snakes in the world.


Finally Etosha National Park and Namutoni fort are our northernmost destinations. Etosha is one of the oldest and largest national parks in Africa. We do at least 2 game drives, one to the west and one to the east for a wander through a fort from colonial times, used during 2 world wars and the war for independence to hold upstarts demanding freedom.

Heading home, we stop at a tented camp. Not real tents: wood frames covered with canvas with a concrete block wing to provide an en suite bathroom. All this is so you can see desert-adapted elephants, Darwin in action.


Back in Windhoek, we luxuriate in the Hilton hotel and our farewell dinner at Joe’s Beer House. This is also my birthday dinner which I have postponed too many months.

Remember: this is an official event of RPCVSF which gets no money from the event.

The Trip Leader is a volunteer and unpaid. This is NOT a strenuous trip. Due to arthritis in knees and hips, I use the wheelchair service in airports.


There are 2 packages. This email concerns the land package and is subject to final adjustments. More information will be given on the air package.


When the land package is made public and sent out, 8 to 10 days will be given to email Travel of acceptance. 2 or 3 days will be needed for me to sort out rooms and sleeping arrangements. The following day we all call Africa Adventure Company with our credit cards in hand to make a deposit and choose a payment plan. The time for acceptance is very short because there is great demand for lodge rooms. A deposit holds them.


Then on to the air package from your home to Johannesburg.


Travel: Implosion and Recovery

By travel@rpcvsf.org


 April 15th, 2022 - 2020. Nice numbers. For a year in which travel experienced a BIG birthday. How to celebrate? Safaris to Namibia and Victoria Falls. Travel has been to both places twice and does NOT need to go again. But it would be nice to go as trip leader for friends, family and RPCVs.


It was fortuitous former RPCVSF president Tuey Murdock (Colombia) was living in Windhoek, capital of Namibia, where her foreign service daughter Tura Rocha was on the embassy staff. They suggested I use a travel facilitator people at the embassy found quite helpful. I also found her easy to work with. She made it clear she was a facilitator and not a travel agent. This meant she could put together the land package but could do nothing on the air package.


I could walk the handful of interested people, mostly from the east coast, through the process of getting to Johannesburg and then to Windhoek. She put together a splendid land package which I was about to send out when the pandemic hit. I waited a couple of days and then postponed the trip indefinitely. I continued to talk up the trip for over 2 years.


Now I had a large group of interested people scattered across the USA. These travelers would need the help of a travel agent on the air package. I contacted my favorite agency for safaris, Africa Adventure Company HQd in Ft. Lauderdale. All RPCVSF trips have been customized. Surprisingly, not all travel companies customize packages. AAC advised me they are not traveling in 2022 but they could put together a package for 2023. Since they did the grand package on our last visit there, I moved the travel date to 2 weeks late March, 2023. As you read this, the itinerary is being put together.


There are some definites that can be considered at this time.


1. All travelers must be fully vaccinated and boosted. There could still be some testing requirements.


2. All travelers must take anti-malaria drugs. Generic Malarone is recommended as being the most effective with the fewest side effects; taken every day on safari and for 7 days thereafter. Travel walks you through getting a prescription. The malaria we encounter is not the deadly kind but it will knock you down for about a week during which time you may wish you were dead.


3. Single rooms are scarce. Our lodges are beautiful but on the small side. They also have a sizeable supplement. Even if you have a cozy friendship with the trip leader, a single room may not be available.


4. It is not too soon to look for some smart safari frocks. You do not want to frighten the animals. I am sporting Ralph Lauren (Polo).


5. When the final dates, prices, and itinerary are sent out, the time for acceptance will be very short, 8 or 9 days. Until we make deposits, we are tying up rooms that others want desperately.


A word about customized travel:

I know what I want you to see so we do not waste time.

Our land package tends to be a couple of days shorter than regular packages. This lets us fit better into the schedule, work and vacation, of employed people. A couple of days shorter usually means a few dollars less expensive.


The trip leader is not compensated.


This an official activity of RPCVSF which receives no remuneration.


Coming: Victoria Falls: Your life is incomplete until you see Victoria Falls.

Where do you want to go next? Let travel know.

Would you like to be a volunteer Trip Leader? It is fun. The pay sucks.

 



Is Your Passport Ready to Go?


As the pandemic resolves itself, you may feel the need for (and deserve) an international travel break. Certainly, Returned Peace Corps Volunteers of South Florida, Inc., will be traveling in coming months. We have several birthdays to celebrate. If you are itching to go, use the interregnum to see if your passport is ready to go.


If your passport expires in 2021 or the first half of 2022, renew it soon. Some countries, particularly in Africa and Asia, will not allow entry if your projected date of exit falls in the last six months before your passport’s expiration date. This may seem a bit insane but you will not be able to talk yourself around this at Passport Control no matter that your passport is still valid.


In the rear of your passport, you will find pages labeled “VISAS”.  Some countries insist on 3 of these blank pages when you enter the country. If you enter the country twice on the same trip, 6 pages are needed. It helps that “In transit” does not count as an entry. Further back in your passport are several unlabeled blank pages. THESE PAGES DO NOT COUNT. Again, you will not talk yourself out of this conundrum at Passport Control.


Renewing your passport is fairly easy. Download the application at US Passport Agency. Passport photos are available at most Walgreen’s and CVS drug stores. Every post office accepts renewal applications in an envelope along with the photos, your old passport, and check for the amount set out on the website. While you are at it, why not mark the box and pay for extra “VISA” pages?





TRAVEL: Prepping to Go in the New Year

By Greg Zell (Nigeria)


travel@rpcvsf.org


January 9, 2021 - The coming weeks are going to bring great changes in the travel industry with the advent of the vaccine. Travel thinks it will be a requirement from several sources. First, the USA with its virus record may not let us out without proof of vaccination; then countries may not let us in without proof; finally, airlines may require proof, especially on international flights.


Travel is monitoring all news sources to keep us updated. If you get some juicy info, be sure to share. We are all in this together. The pause has given us plenty of time to think. We hope to go somewhere the last third of 2021. Travel has 2 packages, one to Namibia, another to Victoria Falls, to rework and reschedule. 2 more trips under consideration: Senegal for a taste of French North Africa and The Gambia, to add a British touch; secondly, Belize, British but in Central America. A hoot: you better Belize it.


The vaccine is not the only med in the news. Early Peace Corps Volunteers in malaria countries were given hydroxychloroquine related drugs. It killed malaria and only made us ill in bed about half a day. Now it no longer kills malaria and has no effect on the virus. Travel will not venture into malaria country with any traveler who is not taking anti-malaria medication. Travel assists you in obtaining a prescription for a milder, short term drug, a generic version of Malarone.


Food and water are other avenues to illness in international travel. No one in any group going with Travel has ever got sick. We follow the science of CDC guidelines for Peace Corps Volunteers. This has caused titters from travelers in other groups. They had several queasy (or worse) days which we avoided. It is all laid out in a printed sheet you will get. Travel is personally in charge of water distribution.


Travel is not a travel agent. Our itineraries and arrangements are made through very experienced travel agencies. Together we make sure you see all you should see in a time frame of 13 to 15 days to accommodate working people when a couple of weekends are included. This makes our land package a bit less costly. Living out of a suitcase longer is not fun either. Travel is not a guide. Our travel agent outfits our package with the finest available. Our trips are designed for adults of all ages. They are not strenuous with a minimum of walking. The longest walk is usually to the airport gate. Travel uses the airport wheelchair service which racesTravel and everyone with me through security. If you have trouble getting in or out of a vehicle, there is always a large gentleman nearby to assist. You will never find a land package identical to ours on the internet.


 Scheduling in the new year is going to be tricky after dealing with all the virus issues. Every country in the world has its own high tourist season. We avoid that: too much $$$. We choose “bridge” seasons on either side of high season. Airlines should be offering all sorts of “bargoons” as incentives. Then there are weather considerations. Animals and tourists do not like rain. The drama of Victoria Falls depends on the rainfall in the north reaching the Zambezi River in the south. No one likes to be too hot or too cold. This is further complicated if we go into the southern hemisphere where the seasons are reversed.


All PCVs fall in love with their host country. Why not share that love by being a Trip Leader with assistance from Travel, of course. It really is not that difficult, maybe even some fun. Think back to all those balls you had in the air at the same time as a PCV. Fun, no? The pay for a Trip Leader is not good; Travel is a volunteer without pay. RPCVSF, a registered charity and official sponsor, gets no money from us.


Please send any questions or comments to travel@rpcvsf.org.




Returned Peace Corps Volunteers of South Florida, Inc., will be traveling again as soon as international travel is officially AND scientifically allowed. Countries must welcome us. We have always been guided by Center for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations for Peace Corps volunteers. Of course, there are no PCVs in any part of the world at the moment. Not much will happen till after the election which should filter out the political aspects of decision making.


Our former president, Tuey Murdock (Colombia) reports that Namibia, one of the countries we are considering, is in complete lockdown. Residents of Windhoek, the capital, are not allowed to travel outside the city limits. All school classes are virtual. There is only one international flight in and out of the country each month to Frankfurt (This was German South West Afrika) at a ridiculous price.


The news reports lots of virus around Johannesburg, South Africa, starting point for most southern safaris.


In the meantime, direct your questions, inquiries, and chats to travel@rpcvsf.org and practice your phraseology with these Animal FunnerismsHere are some wonderful English language collective nouns for groups of animals you may see. For example, gaggle of geese (which you will not see).


Tower of giraffes: which you will see.


Zeal of zebras: which you will see. Zebra rhymes with Debra in all the world other than the USA. Also called a dazzle of zebras. Plains zebras have stripes down to their hooves; mountain zebra stripes end half way down their legs.


Parliament of owls: You could well see an owl but I don’t think we will catch a parliament.


Crash of rhinos: They tend to be solitary or paired so I don’t think we will see a crash.


Memory of elephants: We should see several groups. Savanna and maybe desert adapted.


Muster of storks: Definite probably.


Implausibility of wildebeest: Quite plausible; also called (gah nu) gnu.


Ambush of tigers: Not this trip: an Asian animal.


Harem of seals: There is one in Namibia and then some.


Cackle of hyenas: We hope to see them on the hunt. Fascinating to watch.


Shrewdness of apes: Nope. Maybe a baboon or three.


Barrel of monkeys: See shrewdness of apes.


Pride of lions: You already knew this one. We should see several prides.

Namibia 2019


Travel is organizing a repeat of our great 2016 safari to Namibia for approximately two weeks during April 15, 2019 through May 15, 2019. Travel needs 4 more interested people to ask the travel agency to put it together with exact dates and pricing. For more information, click here: >>> NAMIBIA 2019.doc


Marge and Greg do Bangkok and Indochina


For the Travel Article, Please Click Here: >>> Marge and Greg do Bangkok and Indochina.docx

Arrivederci, Roma by Greg Zell

     

 Our farewell dinner for our Italy tour was at a large restaurant in Rome which featured live opera singing on stage with 2 women and 2 men. For the finale, the emcee announced a special treat. He left the stage, sent a gentleman nearby up to the stage, made his way through all the diners to the back of the restaurant, and pointed at me to go up on stage. He got us in a huddle and said, “In a moment, the music will start up. Do not make a sound. Just mouth the words as best you can.”

     “Ladies and gentlemen. I give you the new Three Tenors.” The music came up. I started mouthing and gesturing and gesturing almost violently, pseudo-Italian style. When the last high note came, my eyes were bulging and I felt faint for loss of breath. We got a standing ovation. As I made my way through the crowd back to my table, people were yelling, “Bravo! Bravo!” and reaching out to touch me. This had to be a set-up but no one would own up to it. Our guide said, “We have a star among us.”



Immediately following this page are two articles about the recent group trip to Haiti


RPCVSF Visits Haiti by Greg Zell


and


Mountains Beyond Mountains by Hyon O'Brien


RPCVSF Goes on Safari to Namibia

By Greg Zell (Nigeria 62-64)


Travel Coordinator, Returned Peace Corps Volunteers of South Florida, Inc. 


     The group met up in Johannesburg and went straight to Tribes restaurant in the Emperor’s Palace casino complex for drinks and a bit of ceremony to initiate the 3 newbies to Africa. Now that they were going to be Africa hands, they would no longer say, “Johannesburg. From now on it would be, “Joburg. At dinner, most tried the ostrich steak fillet (farm-raised, of course) with berry sauce, washed down with a splash of South African bubbly. Both were proclaimed “delicious.

          

            Next morning was early, the first of many, for an hour and half flight to Windhoek (vind hook), the pretty capital of Namibia. We were met at the airport by Stewart, our fantastic guide. A 34 year old native of Zimbabwe, he said he was on his way to becoming a hooligan when he decided to pull himself together, started studying wild life and went to guide school. All his younger siblings have African names. For him, his mother just liked “Stewart. He started by setting us straight: Some of you have heard of Africa time. Namibia was a German colony. We do everything on German time. And so it was. We boarded our “safari Ferrari, as he called it, actually anenclosed air conditioned Toyota Land Cruiser for 7 of us and Stewart. Off we went on a short tour of the charming capital. Before heading to the coastal dunes, largest in the world, we stopped at a grocery store for Stewart to fill our coolers with lunch goodies and drinks. Our lunchtime routine: Stewart would pull up under a nice tree. We all pitched in to set up the folding table and chairs, unpack the coolers, chow down, and repack.


          The dunes are national monuments. Climbing on them damages them and so is prohibited. The government has set aside one dune for turistas to climb. The wind was blowing the sand around this day. We decide climbing was not a good idea for people with glasses or contacts. We head for our lodge to begin another routine. All our lodges, except this one, were beauties, but all had a view. We would find a cozy part of the lodge facing west, order a drink or two from the bar and have a Sundowner followed by buffet dinner and a bottle of South African red and one of white, all included in the price of travel. This lodge was a “soft camp, units built of wood frames sheathed in canvas with a permanent bathroom + toilet. When the canvas is made to look like a tent, this is called a tent camp. Ours was a soft camp. Overall, the set-up was satisfactory BUT the wind was blowing. The canvas flapped all night making sleep very difficult for still tired people.


         We head up the Skeleton Coast stopping to see a fishing vessel caught on the reefs since 2007 being slowly disintegrated by the Benguela Current and wave action 24/7. Outside the scenic oceanside town of Walvis (vall fish, the Afrikaans pronunciation of the English corruption of whale fish) Bay we have lunch at The Raft, a restaurant on pilings over the water. The icy Benguela makes for fine oysters on the half shell. Heading north, we visit a seal rookery with more seals on shore and in the water than our imaginations could conjure. A lot of seals produces a lot of waste which makes for lots of odor which lives in turista memory.


         In Damaraland (home to the Damara tribe), we see elephants, not ordinary elephants, desert-adapted elephants, not a sub-species, just adapted. They require far less water than ordinary elephants and get some from succulent plants. The countryside is very dry. Central Africa has been suffering from a drought for the last 5 years or so. We are at the end of winter in the southern hemisphere in desert and semi-desert. From sundown to sunrise, we are quite cool. In the sun, we get to the high 80s. A road sign marks crossing the Tropic of Capricorn into northern Namibia.


          Next stop, Swakopmund, the resort city of Namibia, home to descendants of the original German settlers and winter destination for many German tourists. (Every street sign says “strasse”). We stay at the Hansa hotel built in 1905 but beautifully restored. (Hansa means Germany in Old German.) In the lobby, a voice calls out to us. “Are youAmericans? My name is Jahana Hayes, I am America’s teacher of the year doing a StateDepartment tour. Her beauty fits the hotel. We have another great meal washed with a South African red and a white at The Tug, a boat in the harbor. A highlight of the trip is a side excursion in a dune buggy-like vehicle into the desert with a crusty Scot via Australia. He would spot a rise or mark in the sand, tell us there is an animal under there. We would get out of the vehicle. He would line us up to form a sun block. Animals living under the sand have no natural protection from the sun. He and his crew would dig a few inches until they found a critter which they showed us before returning it into the ground. They even found a deadly sidewinder snake. To give us a stir, he would hot-dog on the dunes. This was special. In town, I felt if I hollered,“achtung” I would bring the entire city to a halt. Nicely, one of our group spoke Germanwhich was a good icebreaker with the locals.


          Off to Etosha National Park, one of Africa’s oldest and largest where we have 3 game drives. We see 14 lions, with one noshing on a kudu (large antelope); 2 black rhinos; 2 leopards; jackals; baboons; warthogs; guinea fowl; impalas, elands, kudus, springboks, steenboks, dik-diks, and oryx; giraffes; elephants; zebras (ordinary and mountain); several species of mongoose, more birds than we knew existed, skinks, geckos, and wildebeests (gnus). On our last game drive, we go to Namutoni, a park entrance in the far northeast corner. Here is a restored former German fort, used originally to subdue the Africans, then to house WWI enemy nationals who might stray into German territory, finally by South Africa for any troublemakers demanding independence. Our lodge, just outside the park, was straight from Architectural Digest.


         Last stop is Africat Conservation Game Reserve, This is a huge electric fenced reserve where the animals roam free. 6 cheetahs greet us. We are lead into a blind which they call a hide. A leopard on the other side never sees people but hears the arrival of a vehicle and so knows it is going to eat. We peek at a sandy hill topped by what looks like a stubby dead tree, From an underground tunnel, a hunk of mule appears in a tree hole. The leopard retrieves it, lounges on a limb, and dines. These animals cannot be bred or released back into the wild. Their mothers were killed before they were taught by mom to hunt. They will never learn, cannot teach any young and so cannot go for bush. Lions and wild dogs are kept in holding pens out of public view.


         Back in Windhoek, we stay in a very new Hilton. Our farewell dinner is at Joe’sBeer House, one of the citys most popular restaurants. Most opt for roast oryx, the national symbol of Namibia. I pass. Game is too tough for me unless ground in a burger. The game we have been served at every meal is from older animals sent to hunting reserves as a form of culling. A few awards were given out: Best Dressed Male: Ted; Best Dressed Female: Lisa; Best Shopper: Maria; Earth Mother of Africa: Marge for her years of service; The Order of Women of the Bush was awarded to Corina and Natalie who met the bush and loved it.


        The safari was a great success.. No one got sick because everyone followed Peace Corps/CDC protocols for eating and drinking in Africa. My formula: an unusual county, a good group of travelers, and a fabulous guide. (Stewart was the best of all my excellent guides.) Even our Africa hands had never seen anything like Namibia. “Amazing” was the word most often heard.


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