A Travellerspoint blog

Kruger National Park and applying for my visa

Change of plans - Skukuza to Pretoriuskop

overcast 18 °C

How's everyone doing this evening? I just got back from a wonderful talk by Vali Nasr - a Carnegie scholar and an expert in contemporary Middle Eastern affairs and Islam and politics. He is a powerful speaker in his own right and spoke about the rising middle class in the middle east. It was one of the best talks I've been to in quite some time - he was clear, lucid and thought provoking. He recently published a book called "Forces of Fortune" which I intend on reading sometime soon. Anyhow, just thought I'd let you know since I found the talk interesting.

So I went ahead and booked my Kruger National Park visit today, it all sounds quite exciting. We (Sesh and I) were actually supposed to go to Skukuza park earlier but after I made the payment to my travel agent, she said that they were full up and suggested Pretoriuskop instead with a few positive changes. I looked it up and it looked good, I mean we're on a safari so I'm not really expecting the Presidential suite with a buffet spread here.

Pretoriuskop Camp Map:
pretoriuskop.jpg

Here's what our itinerary for Skukuza looked like:

Safari price: R4 910 per person sharing
Basically works out to about R1635 per day.
There are beds in the tent but people can either bring their own sleeping bag or 'hire' one for R100 (see below).
The beds are canvas camp beds and are off the floor.

Highlights:

3 Open-vehicle game drives
Any day departure - leaving OR Tambo/Johannesburg at 10h45.
Returning to OR Tambo/Johannseburg at 18h30.
Your reservation is at our Bush Cuisine in Skukuza Rest Camp in the Kruger Park. The camp is properly supervised, here is a dining tent and a kitchen and breakfasts and dinners included
You accommodation does include tents appointed with beds, please bring your own sleeping-bag.

Itinerary – 3 Day Safari

10h45 – Depart OR Tambo airport – Nelspruit.
14h30 – Arrival in Nelspruit
16h30 – Arrival in Skukuza - after completing the Kruger Park entry formalities you will go to your camp, unpack and check into your tent and familiarize yourself with the set-up. Skukuza does have a swimming pool, shops, a delicatessen, take-away restaurant and the Salati Restaurant.
04h30 – Wake-up, following coffee, tea and rusks.(Departure times alter with sunrise and are set by gate-opening times)
05h00 – Depart – open vehicle game drive
08h30 – Return to camp for a hearty- breakfast and some rest
12h30 – Lunch – for your account

15h00 – Afternoon game vehicle game drive.
18h00 – Kruger Park closes their gates, back to camp for dinner and a lively chat around the camp-fire about the day's game viewing and the photographs and a chance to get some rest.
04h30 - 2nd Day – Wake-up call
05h00 - Depart – open vehicle game drive.
08h30 - Return to camp for a hearty- breakfast and a chance to clean-up.
11h30 - Departure from camp and return to Nelspruit.
14h00 – Departure from Nelspruit to Johannesburg.
18h30 – Arrival at OR Tambo airport, Johannesburg.

Once we found out Skukuza was full up, our next alternative Pretoriuskop came with a few changes, I'll copy paste part of the email I received:

"You will be staying in huts in Pretoriuskop (instead of tents at Skukuza) therefore they will have linen and towels provided.
· They will have two game drives a day – sunrise and sunset.
· Two meals breakfast and dinner are included.
· Transfers to and from Johannesburg are included.
· This is inclusive of conservation fees."

Huts at Pretoriuskop Camp:
our-hut-at-the-rest-camp.jpg

It sounds like a deal to me, so we're on for Kruger park unless something drastically changes in the interim. Also, I was talking to Sharad over the weekend and he recommended I watch this video called "Battle at Kruger". I'm not sure if you've seen it but it was pretty awesome! It's basically a battle between lions, buffalo and crocodiles - all at the same time. I've posted a link to it here so you can view it as well on youtube.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LU8DDYz68kM

Finally, I decided to get off my butt and figure out the visa issue for the World Cup. So, I went to the local CVS (a convenience store here in some states in the US) to get my passport photos taken for the South African tourist visa for the world cup - which is free of charge for Indian citizens btw, I'm quite impressed. I walked in there and asked the girl (Stacy, I think) if she could take some passport sized pictures of me. She agreed and was messing about with her camera when we spoke for a bit and I'll tell you what, I'm always amazed at some people's lack of awareness on basic issues.

CVS Pharmacy (for those who haven't seen the label before):
052709-001-cvs-pharmacy-thumb-153xauto-3187.png

This is how the conversation took off...

Me: Hey there! I'm here to get a couple passport sized photos taken...
Stacy: Oh alright, I'll be with you in a minute.
Me: Could you tell me if these pictures will be fine for a South African visa?
Stacy: I'm not sure we only do 2" X 2" anyway.
Me: Ok then, lets...
Stacy (brings out her camera): What are you going to South Africa for?
Me: Oh, I'm going to see the world cup in June! I'm pumped!!
Stacy: World cup? for Golf?
Me: ?!?! No, football...
Stacy: Football?? You mean the Oakland Raiders play in South Africa?? WOW!
Me (a bit confused): Uhh, no..not that football, I guess I meant soccer.
Stacy: Oh cool! well I'm not jealous because I was born on Superbowl Sunday and the Oakland Raiders played that day...
Me: Umm..oh that's nice.
Stacy: Yeah, can you imagine that! I got to see the Superbowl on the first day I was born.

From there on she went off on a tangent and started talking about how she firmly believed in astrology and every astro-book she read seemed like it called out to her. I'll tell you what, it was a long five minute wait until those passport photos printed. I darted out the door like nobody's business. How can you live in this world and not know about the Football world cup, it is after all the world's most watched sporting event. It's like asking what the Olympics are all about, or what Global warming is. I mean whether you believe in a certain thing or not, these things surround us ...this stuff is harder to ignore than your friendly mother in law every holiday season.

Ok well, that's my post and rant for the day L&G, hope you enjoyed reading it. I'll write back when I have more to write home about.

Take care and thanks for reading...
This is Sandeep, signing out.

Posted by 2011 19:11 Archived in USA Comments (0)

Less than 75 days to go!

Trip planning almost done...

sunny 21 °C

My friends,

Hope life has been treating you well. It has been quite a while since I posted but thank you for your patience. Planning for South Africa is materializing quite well at the moment. Accommodation has been taken care of and all that remains is planning for transport and the in-betweens. I've stuck to our original plan of seeing all the places I've mentioned in my earlier posts and also added a few other pit stops in order to make the trip more exciting.
As soon as we get to South Africa, we will be staying with a friend in Johannesburg that night. Simba is very kind to open his doors to us and offer to show us around, this will be a great way to see Jo-burg through the eyes of a local. Also, we plan to cage dive with Great White Sharks in the town of Gaansbai and I plan to do a bungee jump off Bloukran's bridge while I'm there. Bloukran's bridge is the highest single span arch bridge in the world with a central span of 272 meters... it should be the experience of a lifetime.

Cage diving with Great White Sharks:
12-52-thickbox.jpg

Bungee Jumping off Bloukran's Bridge:
Bloukrans_Bridge-001.jpg

Final arrangements still need to be made (mostly local transportation and finalizing the Kruger National Park trip). Things are moving along at a slow pace mostly because work has picked up rapidly off late and I'm having to work longer hours on most days. I've also joined quite a few organizations in my city and meetings with these keep me busy - that's a good thing because it makes the weeks fly by.
So far, Sesh and I are the only two people confirmed for the trip but I'm hoping my brother (Sanjeev) can take time off and join us too. He is a huge football fan and it will be fun to have him along.
So while a lot of crazy stuff is happening around the world today with healthcare in the US and the economic crisis in Greece, the main thing on my mind is that we've got 75 days to go and the Champions League which is right around the corner. There is much to look forward to, I'm really hoping the Blaugrana take the title again, they're playing exceedingly well off late with Messi and Zlatan tearing up the front-end. Oh, and what do you all think about Chelsea's victory against Aston Villa in the last game? 7-1!! Pretty insane huh? Lampard and Malouda gave Villa a couple weeks worth of nightmares.

Anyway, with that I must leave you all now. I will write as and when we have more updates with the South Africa trip. Once the trip is out of the way in June, I will start planning for the world trip next year. I'm quite looking forward to it and find myself thinking about it a lot more with each passing day. I also managed to read about 60% of Rolf Potts' "Vagabonding" and I must say that the book is quite impressive. It's a must read for anyone planning on traveling in the near future. It provides a host of links for you to refer to but more importantly, it dawns travel philosophy upon you in a way that only Rolf Potts can. Please check it out, it will do your perception on life and travel a whole lot of good.

Have a good weekend my friends, thanks for reading.
This is Sandeep, signing out...

Posted by 2011 08:54 Archived in USA Comments (0)

Road to South Africa - Part 2

The details begin to emerge...

rain 5 °C

Mates,

Sorry I've been a bit quiet off late. I figured if I didn't have good content, I wouldn't make you guys read unwanted stuff - It's like trying to sit through a timeshare presentation to get a free ticket to Disneyland, or that "free" yatch. Anyhow, the last few days I've sat down and thought about a rough outline as to what we can do/see around South Africa during the world cup for which Sesh, admirably hasn't booked his tickets yet! I hope I don't end up going there all by myself - I'd stand out like a perfectly dumb tourist, backpack et al. With Sesh, I'd be safer because he'd be the one wearing the Phillies shirts and NY baseball caps and the real football lovers could hate on him instead...ha!

Anyhow, the way we decided we would do this is by trying to center our travels around the matches we didn't want to watch so that we wouldn't be stuck on the road when there was an awesome game in play. These are the matches we definitely wanted to see on the big screen televisions by the roads/bars etc:

June 13th - Germany vs Australia (We reach SA on the 13th of June so this will be akin to a warm up game for us)
June 15th - Portugal vs Côte d'Ivoire (Not the most important but if we could, we'd watch it)
June 17th - France vs Mexico (My prayers are with Mexico!)
June 22nd - France vs South Africa (A home game, played against France, what an opportunity to cheer with the locals)
June 23rd - England vs Algeria (For some reason, I really like the English team and their fans, always a jolly bunch)
June 23rd - Ghana vs Germany
June 20th - Brazil vs Côte d'Ivoire (This is going to be a cracker!)
June 25th - Brazil vs Portugal (Need I say more?)

There are plenty more but these will suffice for watching on the TV screen for now. A more detailed version of the itinerary can be found here:
World Cup 2010 Itinerary

Right then, we also figured while we were in South Africa we might as well do some sight seeing - the wildlife, the birds ;) and all that good stuff so we chalked out a quick list of places that include Kruger National Park, Kynsna, Port Elizabeth apart from the match Venues in Jo-burg, Durban and Cape Town.

Now if you're rolling you're eyes when you read Kruger then you didn't really expect us to go all the way to South Africa and not see Kruger did you? It's like visiting India and not seeing the Taj, or visiting Italy and not seeing the leaning tower of Pisa (both of which I haven't done in spite of being to these places). South Africa as you all might already know is quite well known for its national parks out of which Kruger is world famous - nothing less than an amazing experience that takes you back to your roots...we plan on doing a 2 night and 3 day visit to Kruger and I'm also looking at a possible visit to the Sabi sands game reserve which is home to the 'Big Five' (The Elephant, Rhino, Lion, Leopard and Buffalo). The main downside to Kruger is that we were quoted $185 per person per night for the whole tour, that makes it a grand total of $370 for two days. Let's see how that pans out...

After Kruger we plan to reach Durban a day or so before our second game (Netherlands vs Japan) and stay there for a day or two before we head out to Port Elizabeth. We plan to hit a lot of the coast on our way to our final destination which is in cape town. A picture speaks a thousand words so I'll shut up and post a google map that will explain the same thing.

large_southafrica.jpg

I'm not sure how clearly you can see the points on the map but for the geographically challenged (ME), A = Jo-burg, B = Kruger, C = Durban, D = Port Elizabeth, E = Kynsna, F = Cape Town. A couple of other interesting places nearby that we *might* visit are Mossel bay and Hermanus. Mossel bay (1.5 hrs from Kynsna) has the highest skydiving point in the world and Hermanus (1.5 hrs from Cape Town) has some breath taking views along the coast.

I don't have a very detailed itinerary at this point but I do have a basic idea that I'm working on. However, I don't want to bore you with details until I figure this whole thing out. Accommodation is one thing where we might be running into a brick wall when it comes to prices. The way I worked it out these are the average rates for hostels in each city we plan to stay at:

Jo-burg = $75 per person X 2 nights = $150
Kruger = $185 per person X 2 nights = $370
Durban = $75 per person X 2 nights = $150
Port Elizabeth = $70 per person X 1 night = $70
Kynsna = $20 per person X 2 nights = $40
Cape Town = $14 per person X 4 nights = $56

Accommodation Grand TOTAL: $836 per person if we take this route. Our alternate route is to book cheaper places if we can find any and use them just to crash and rough it out. Even those are rather hard to come by to be honest. The reason Cape town is cheaper is because we are looking at living in tents. Therefore, as you can see, accommodation is going to eat into our budget rather quickly unless we do a bit more research. since we originally budgeted $500-$600 for accommodation for 2 weeks of stay. Anyhow, it's time for me to get back to sorting this stuff out. I'll write again soon once I get my ducks in order. Until then, thanks for reading...

This is Sandeep, signing out.

Posted by 2011 20:01 Archived in USA Comments (0)

Road To South Africa!

Planning under way for FIFA 2010...

rain 6 °C

It has been rather chilly here this morning. I was glad I didn't have to wake up and go to work. Thank god for the weekend. I'm prepared to sit and laze around all day but I need to get cracking with my planning for the FIFA world cup which is just a few months away! You're all so lucky you get to see two trips (see first post - A brief Introduction) being planned at one time! :)

trophy.jpg

Yesterday, I bought my tickets to Johannesburg from Houston. I searched a bunch of different websites including the following:

Sidestep
Bing
Emirates
Fly

My jaw dropped when I saw the prices for these fares. You will have a hard time believing that Emirates was the cheapest of the lot when it came to competitive fare pricing (and Emirates is never cheap!). I have been checking the fares over a period of time now and waiting (praying) for them to drop below their current price but it became clear that would probably not happen given the magnitude of the event we are planning to attend. I decided to bite the bullet and buy my tickets...now I need to plan to get some really cheap accomodation to compensate for my flights. Maybe emirates will let me sleep on the plane at nights :)

Sesh on the other hand, hasn't booked his tickets yet since he is planning on going from the US - South Africa - India. Needless to say, his tickets are way more expensive than mine and I believe he's still praying to the airline CEOs hoping for better fares. I hope he doesn't decide to wait for too long because these prices are rocketing faster than Usain Bolt can cross that 100m finish line... (Bolt FTW!)

Our first pit stop is in Johannesburg - I plan to arrive there by Sunday morning (11am). Rather long flight mind you, I'm leaving the US on the 11th of June PM and the flight goes all the way to Dubai, and then onward to Jo-burg with a transit of over 8 hrs. Crazy isn't it? It'll all be worth it though when I set foot on the African continent and join my fellow football worshipers in their state of World Cup ecstasy.

So here is our itinerary in terms of matches we will be watching:

World Cup - South Africa 2010

079.jpg

GO ORANJEEEEEEEEEEEEE!

1. June 14, 2010 @ 7:30 AM ET
Group Stage Group E
Netherlands v Denmark
at Soccer City (Johannesburg)

2. June 19, 2010 @ 10:00 AM ET
Group Stage Group E
Netherlands v Japan
at Durban (Durban)

3. June 24, 2010 @ 2:30 PM ET
Group Stage Group E
Cameroon v Netherlands
at Green Point (Cape Town)

I'm quite excited about all three matches, It's obvious that the Netherlands didn't get the group of death (Brazil did) but nevertheless we have some exciting matches to look forward to with Denmark, Japan and Cameroon being great teams in their own right.

Right then, on to other things - the next stage of planning for this involves booking hostels or finding accomodation. I signed up for this rather interesting concept called couchsurfing. It's pretty cool really - the basic idea is that you offer your couch to someone (a verified member who has been given positive reviews from his/her travels before of course!) and in return someone else from that site offers their couch to you when you travel to their part of the world. I think it's a brilliant way to meet/greet new people and get involved right away with the local culture. Quite a fascinating concept really - I sometimes find myself wondering why I've never thought of these ideas before, especially when they involve almost zero start-up costs and are so popular. I should've started facebook and youtube too I tell ya...ha!
Anyhow, check out the link to CouchSurfing right here:
CouchSurfing!

I'm pretty excited about this trip to South Africa, it might burn a rather large hole in my pocket by the end of it but I think it will be quite the experience of a lifetime. I really hope the planning for this goes rather smoothly and more importantly, quickly. It seems like the longer we wait, the harder it is to get any accomodation/tickets etc for this event. We also plan to do a bit of sight seeing while we are there - visit a safari, do some skydiving, go see the local places etc. Wish me luck my friends, I hope things turn out ok. If you're reading and have any suggestions, tips or ideas...I'm more than happy to learn from you.

I will keep you posted with further developments.

Have a great weekend!
Sandeep

Posted by 2011 07:26 Archived in USA Comments (0)

Travel Guides

Books to get us started

rain 10 °C

Today has been rather busy with me clocking a few extra hours in the office. I don't have much to write at the moment but I did manage to scrounge together a few minutes to talk about the books that we are planning to read to help us go forward with this. Since we're basically uber noobs when it comes to planning a trip of this scale, we figured we might as well get as much help as we can. The best place to start would be the internet of course but then there is also a case of too much information since it's all over the place and can take ages to accumulate. Two logical steps would be to either go to the library or buy a few books. We really didn't think the library was the best place for "cool" guys like us (none of us know how to search through those aisles looking for random alpha-numeric digits that make zero sense) so buying books was definitely the way to go!

A day or two ago, sesh went ahead and bought a few books on Amazon.com, he's waiting for the free super saver shipping to run it's course. Anyone else notice how Amazon's FSSS takes longer and longer to get through these days? I guess they're trying to make everyone switch to "Prime" so they can make their $79 in membership fees every year.

I figured I'd post some links to the books that Sesh bought, so here they are:

Vagabonding An Uncommon Guide to the Art of Long-Term World Travel by Rolf Potts
Now Rofl Potts is the same author who wrote "Marco Polo Didn't Go There", a book well received by its readers. His book "Vagabonding" retails for about $10 at amazon and has some really good reviews. I'm looking forward to reading it when I get a chance, or at least once Sesh decides he's had enough of trying to read the same first page for the next 10 days. ha!

Practical Nomad: How to travel around the world by Edward Hasbrouck
This book doesn't come with as good reviews as the other one but might still contain a few tips and pointers that we can use.

From my end, I'm planning to get this book and get me pointed in the right direction:
51qHVA1g4ZL__SS500_.jpg
Rough Guide First Time Around the World by Doug Lanksy
I'm in a bit of a conundrum here, the 2nd edition of this book costs $4.99 shipped but the third edition costs $13 almost. Something tells me I should get the newer edition even though it's nearly 3 times as much...this is really stingy of me to be worrying about 8 bucks but I hope those instincts will help me wade through this crazy world trip without too much fiscal damage.

Anyhow, let me know what you all think - if you know of any books out there that are better, then we'd be glad to hear of it, or if you can provide us any suggestions that would be great too. Please leave us a note in the comments section anytime. I should get going now and try and catch up on sleep. It's raining crazy outside and all that Tilapia (Google says the plural of Tilapia is Tilapias, I prefer Tilapiae...don't you?) I wolfed down for dinner is kicking in. Alright then, over and out for tonight my friends.
This is Sandeep, signing out...

Posted by 2011 18:26 Archived in USA Comments (0)

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