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Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Seeing the Art of Cape Town

On our first full day in Cape Town, Lisa and I took the sage advice of a South African art collector and hired Stephen Long as our guide for the day. Stephen is well known in the Cape Town arts community (and to the shaman of the Eastern Cape) as one of the most renowned bead dealers in the region. Many of the beads you find in the beadwork of South African art is actually imported from Venice, the Czech Republic, and now China. Our first stop was the South African National Gallery, where we viewed activist art created during the oppressive apartheid regime. One of the most disturbing pieces is the three life-sized figures with horns and no mouths called The Butcher Boys, created in plaster by Jane Alexander.

Then it was time see some of the impressive local crafts found in the city. The Gallery Shop, on bustling Church Street (48), is a gem of a small store selling colorfully beaded jewelry, sculpture, wall hangings, pillowcases, and more. Owner Lorin Strieman used to run the gift shop at the Natioanl Gallery and she has a great eye for contemporary South African craft. It’s hard not to purchase all the whimsical beaded animals at Monkeybiz. The pieces were created by impoverished, HIV-positive women who were trained as artists to make a living. It was wonderful to walk upstairs and see all these women sitting together and laughing while creating art. Just as alluring is the work at Streetwires, where sculpture of all sizes is created by wire and bead. Like Monkeybiz, you can walk upstairs to see the large group of artists at work. Bags in hand from all the goods we purchased, we visited the colorful houses and mosques found in the nearby Bo-Kaap neighborhood still home to a large Cape Malay population. All of our purchases are now back at our house, cherished from our memorable day with Stephen. We’re happy to pass along his contact information to anyone who’s interested in hiring him for the day. 

 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 09/27/16 at 06:00 AM
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Friday, September 23, 2016

Abercrombie and Kent Week—The Cherished Memories on Safari

Those close-up shots of leopards, lions, hippos, rhinos, elephants, and giraffes might have impressed my Facebook friends these past two weeks, but 5 years from now I won’t remember any of those animals. Okay, maybe that one rhino in the Okavango Delta we surprised who ran off in a blur. What I’ll remember is that marimba band playing solely for our group as we arrived for lunch at the Victoria Falls Hotel; my guide, Kebby, clearly enunciating the name of that colorful bird, the lilac-breasted roller; waking up to French-pressed coffee at Stanley’s; all those glorious sunsets, especially the one overlooking the Zambezi on the deck of Sussi and Chuma; heading back to our room at Chobe Chilwero after a long day of game drives and boat rides to find that a bubble bath had been prepared; jumping with young children in hand at the Zambian village of Nakatindi; and all those wonderful stories we shared at dinner with our new friends. These are the special moments I’ll remember and inevitably the driving force behind another trip to Africa some 2 years from now when thoughts about taking that long international flight have faded. I yearn to return to that continent and its people more than any other destination. It’s my spiritual retreat where I feel most alive. I want to thank Abercrombie and Kent for the opportunity this time. 

I’m off to Bloomington, Indiana, for Parents Weekend at IU. I’ll be back on Tuesday with blogs about our trip to Cape Town. Have a great fall weekend and keep active! 
 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 09/23/16 at 04:00 AM
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Thursday, September 22, 2016

Abercrombie and Kent Week—Living with Elephants and Other Philanthropic Projects

On the second day of our safari, I woke up at sunrise to the cacophony of high-pitched bird calls. French-press coffee arrived at my lodge at Stanley’s Camp and I drank a cup overlooking the high grasses of the Okavango Delta. After breakfast, our group of six was driven to a clearing where we soon stared in awe at a massive 11 ½-foot high, 5 to 6 ton elephant named Jabu. A gentle giant, Jabu was joined by two other elephants, the playful Thembi, and the oldest of the trio, 40 year-old Morula. The elephants were led by American Doug Groves and his South African-born wife, Sandi, two zoologists who adopted the threesome when culling operations in South Africa and Zimbabwe left them as orphans more than 25 years ago. 

Doug first came to the continent in 1987 to help with a feature film about the early days of South Africa. He met Sandi, adopted their elephants, and never returned. In 1999, they founded the charity, Living with Elephants, dedicated to creating a harmonious relationship between people and elephants. That morning, I had the opportunity to touch the ears and tusks of Jabu, walk Morula by the trunk, even get a slimy kiss from Jabu before we had lunch. But this is no hokey tourist trap. The primary goal of Living with Elephants is to help Botswanian schoolchildren overcome their fear of elephants and other large mammals that could very well have killed members of their family in the past. An estimated 30,000 elephants are now killed every year in Africa due to poaching. That leaves some 350,000 elephants on the continent with more than a third of these amazing animals in the small country of Botswana. If the Groves can show locals how compassionate elephants really are, this can only help stem the mass killings. 
 
On our last day of the trip, we visited the community of Nakatindi, not far from where we stayed at Sanctuary Sussi and Chuma in Livingstone, Zambia. When the government promised this village a medical clinic, fresh water, and a primary school and never came through on that promise, Abercrombie and Kent came to the forefront. They built a clinic that now serves 10,000 people annually. They were also instrumental in educating the community about Malaria and AIDS, the two killers that have left many children in this village as orphans. When the villagers had to walk through a national park to get their water from the Zambezi River, they were frequently attacked by wildlife. So Abercrombie and Kent created a water pump to get fresh water piped to their village directly. They also opened a bike shop, shipped old bicycles directly from America to Zambia and Botswana, trained locals to become bike mechanics, and then bought those refurbished bikes back. They are now used by schoolchildren who need to bike 7 kilometers each day to get to school and by farmers who need to get their goods to market.
 
I was once skeptical of these philanthropic projects in Africa. Saw it as a drop in the bucket, especially when you consider that the cost of one day on safari is comparable to the yearly earnings to someone in the village of Nakatindi. Then I visited a school in the Maasai Mara that was built largely due to the donation of one safari client on vacation. I met a young woman there who was continuing her studies at Oxford. She told me that before the school was built, no girls were allowed at the local public school. In one of the largest slums in Nairobi, I saw how a Johnson and Johnson executive on safari returned to donate a factory that created tampons. That way, girls would not miss 2 to 3 days of school when they had their period. Another executive, this one from Warner Brothers, created a computer room where locals could not only play video games but learn about the risk of AIDS. Then, of course, there’s Bill and Melinda Gates, who also went to Africa on safari. Eradicating malaria is now their top priority. I often say to clients that you visit Africa the first time to see the wildlife, but you return often to be with the people. Those people need a helping hand. 
 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 09/22/16 at 06:00 AM
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Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Abercrombie and Kent Week—Dining and Lodging at Our Four Sanctuary Retreats

We stayed at 4 different lodges in Botswana and Zambia, all with a distinct feel of their own and all perfectly situated in a pristine chunk of wilderness. Service was impeccable at all the lodges. Servers would greet you by your first name when presenting a rolled-up cool wash-cloth scented with mint, lemongrass, or lavender after each game drive. Dining went way beyond expectations, with fresh fruit in the morning followed by eggs and omelets anyway you like and thick lean bacon. All washed down with strong French-press coffee. Entrees at night included the local game, kudu, beef, fish, chicken, and good vegetarian choices like a tasty wild mushroom lasagna. Dinners were always served with a selection of quality South African wines. 

I did a walk-through of each our accommodations on video, so please press the links below to get a more intimate portrait. Our first lodge, Stanley’s felt remote, lost in the Okavango Delta. We passed one other vehicle in two days and that was from Sanctuary’s sister property, Baines. I loved dining under the stars and then sitting around the campfire afterwards. The recently remodeled Chief’s Camp in the Moremi Game Reserve deserves all the accolades it’s receiving, like a recent mention in London’s Sunday Times calling it the “the most luxurious safari camp in Africa." Rooms are spacious and ultra-sybaritic, with plunge pools, outdoor showers, and a huge deck to watch the baboons and elephants at the nearby watering hole. The contemporary art in the main lodge was stylish, not garish, and the masseuse, Tumi, won rave reviews from our crew. Chobe Chilwero overlooks the Chobe River and Namibia on the opposite shores. We savored the moment when we returned from a majestic cruise on the river to find a luxurious bubble bath waiting for us. Sussi and Chuma felt entirely authentic, especially after having lunch at the over-the-top Colonial outpost, the Victorian Fall Hotel. Built on an elevated walkway, all rooms overlook Zambia’s Zambezi River. One memory I won’t soon forget is downing a strong vodka tonic, thanks to my favorite bartender, Vincent, on the deck overlooking the river at sunset. A campfire was roaring, the reddish-pink sun was reflecting off the waters, and hippos were grunting in the background. This is the image I want to hold onto as long as possible, at least until I return to the continent. 
 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 09/21/16 at 06:00 AM
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Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Abercrombie & Kent Week—Our Wonderful Botswana Guide, Kebby Arabang

On safari, you have the choice of booking a lodge and going out on game drives with their respective guides or hiring a highly reputable tour operator like Abercrombie & Kent who will assign a private guide to your group for the duration of the trip. Obviously, there’s an extra cost involved, but if you’re splurging for this amazing opportunity, it’s important to do it right. Lodge guides I’ve had in the past have been hit or miss, depending on their knowledge of flora and fauna and communication skills in English. The guide A&K assigned to us on our travels to Botswana this past week was exceptional. 

Botswana-born Kebby Arabang met us at the airport in Maun, the gateway to the Okavango Delta, and escorted us the next 9 days through the northern tier of the country and onward to Zimbabwe and Zambia. His knowledge of the outdoor world was encyclopedic. Kebby knew every mammal, every bird, every tree, even the planets in the sky above. But it was his genuine passion of the subject, seamless communication skills, infectious smile and sense of humor that made him one of the best guides I’ve ever met. I loved mimicking his Botswana accent, especially when he emphasized the letter r when naming the next exquisite bird like the lilac-breasted roller or southern carmine bee-eater. He took it in stride and laughed along with me, even when the joke lasted far too long. He’s also a talented photographer recently asked by a publisher on vacation to create a book from his work. One of my favorite parts of Kebby’s background is that he spent a year working at Disney’s Animal Kingdom in Orlando. When people asked where the giraffes were, he would simply say “up the stairs and to the right.” Now Kebby’s the one reaching as high as those giraffes, climbing the ladder of success as he’s become one of the top guides in Botswana, arguably the best place on the planet for going on safari. I look forward to sending clients his way. 
 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 09/20/16 at 06:00 AM
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Monday, September 19, 2016

Abercrombie & Kent Week—The Diverse Terrain in Botswana, Zimbabwe, and Zambia

Having just returned from one on of the most memorable trips I’ve ever experienced, an 8-night journey with Abercrombie & Kent to Botswana, I get the added bonus of reliving cherished moments this week on my blog. Botswana was my 5th safari and by far the most diverse when it comes to terrain. Much of the trip revolved around water, which was a welcome relief to often jarring game drives on rutted roads. As soon as we arrived in the Okavango Delta, we were greeted with roads that were washed-out with water. That wasn’t a problem with our A&K guide, Kebby, who would drive though the streams like he was atop a duck boat, not a Toyota Land Cruiser. The maze of waterways dotted with palm trees on our first two nights at Stanley’s Camp reminded me of the Everglades. That is, until you spot a leopard up a tree or a giraffe in the distance. At the recently renovated Chief’s Camp (which I’ll report on later this week), we enjoyed meals while watching elephants and baboons cool off at the nearby watering hole. 

 
Chief’s Camp was also where we would take our first of many jaunts on the waterways, this time via a mokoro, a traditional form of canoe. A guide poled us through the tall grasses on a leisurely paddle during sunset, Botswana’s version of a gondola ride. The abundance of wildlife at Chobe National Park, our third stop, was mind-blowing, Best known for the largest population of elephants in the world, over 75,000, you peer out and see long parades of elephants, including countless babies. The magical boat ride on the Chobe River, which borders Botswana and Namibia, was so much fun, we asked to go on it two sunsets in a row. We watched as elephants swam across the deep river, joined by large herds of Cape Buffalo, crocodiles as still as sculpture, and all types of antelope. Leaving Botswana, we stopped on the Zimbabwe side of Victoria Falls to watch the waters of the Zambezi River plunge down one of the widest waterfalls in the world, over a mile long. Then it was on to our last stop, Sanctuary Sussi & Chuma, overlooking the Zambezi on the outskirts of Livingstone, Zambia. We would spend our final day canoeing the river near hippos, warthogs, crocs, and impala. All vivid memories I won’t soon forget. 
 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 09/19/16 at 06:00 AM
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Monday, August 29, 2016

Off to Cape Town and Botswana

Talk to any experienced African safari guide and they’ll no doubt tell you that Botswana is the best country on the continent for going on safari. Along with Namibia, Botswana is one of Africa’s least populated wildernesses. The country’s enviable conservation philosophy endorses low-volume, high-revenue tourism, and significant benefits for local communities who live amongst the wild animals. Unlike Kenya’s Maasai Mara or Tanzania’s Ngorongoro Crater, which can often be overcrowded, head to Botswana and you’re not likely to see any fellow travelers out on game drives, walks, or boat rides. The Okavango Delta is a gigantic inland waterway, an island of green in an arid landscape. It’s home to large herds of elephants, some of the biggest lions in Africa, and enough variety of bird life to turn even the most dedicated big-mammal enthusiast into a bird lover. Tomorrow, Lisa and I are headed to Botswana on a 9-day safari with Abercrombie and Kent. We’ll be staying at four of their premier properties, Sanctuary Stanley’s Camp, Sanctuary Chief’s Camp, Sanctuary Chobe Chilwero, and Sanctuary Sussi & Chuma. After a 2-year renovation, Sanctuary Chief’s Camp reopened on June 1st and is now considered the Sanctuary Retreats’ flagship property. 
 
Before Botswana, we’re spending a week in Cape Town to pen stories and research the lodging, food, wine, art, and biking in the region. I’ll be back the week of September 19th with many stories from our trip. In the meantime, you can follow us on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook, where I’ll be posting photos and quick comments from our travels. Be well and keep active! 
 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 08/29/16 at 06:00 AM
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Friday, August 26, 2016

Insider Tips on Napa Valley

Guest Post by Kelli Hollingsworth
 
Your romantic getaway to wine country isn’t complete without a comfortable place to stay, top-tier cuisine, and laid-back entertainment. Stay at the property I recommend to family and friends, Solage Calistoga, which offers guests spacious suites, a sybaritic spa, geothermal bathhouse, and two complimentary bikes per room. With a Michelin-starred restaurant and bar on site, a trailhead nearby, and fabulous wineries just down the road, this resort is perfectly situated to savor the region. Nearby is Castello di Amorosa Winery where you can sample exclusive reserve wines paired with tasty appetizers and local cheeses. Unfortunately, you missed the last Calistoga Concerts in the Park, which is held from the end of June to the end of August. But if you visit next summer, be sure to spend your Thursday evenings at these free concerts, enjoying a boxed meal from a local restaurant, while sipping on wine from the featured winery of the week. When the hustle and bustle of everyday life leaves you feeling run down, there’s nowhere better to replenish the well than a getaway to gorgeous Napa Valley. Hope to see you soon!
 
 
 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 08/26/16 at 06:00 AM
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Thursday, August 25, 2016

Maine’s North Woods National Monument Is Now a Reality

Today marks the official 100th anniversary of the national park system. To coincide with the centennial, President Obama announced yesterday that Roxanne Quimby’s 87,654 acres located just east of Baxter State Park will make the list as the North Woods National Monument. On Tuesday, Quimby’s nonprofit, Elliotsville Plantation Inc., transferred her ownership to the U.S. Department of the Interior. Long a proponent of creating a national park in Maine’s North Woods, Quimby, the co-founder of Burt’s Bees skin care products, has been a contentious figure in the region ever since I’ve been reporting on Maine. In a Boston Globe Magazine story on the AMC entering the Maine woods in 2004, Quimby’s name came up time and time again. Locals were worried that the AMC would restrict land use for snowmobiling, logging, and hunting. That never happened. Instead, the AMC introduced Maine’s glorious interior of vast forest, mile-high mountains, secluded lakes, and long rambling rivers to thousands of people who never heard of it. This summer I had the privilege of joining forces with Northern Outdoors and Maine Huts & Trails to help promote the Maine woods. If creating a national monument helps to promote the region to the world and finally gives the largest chunk of wilderness in the northeast the recognition it deserves, then I’ll happily celebrate with a pint of Baxter Stowaway IPA. 

 
 
 
  
 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 08/25/16 at 06:00 AM
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Wednesday, August 24, 2016

A Fun Day at the West Baden Springs Hotel in French Lick, Indiana

French Lick, Indiana, might be best known as the boyhood home of basketball hall-of-famer Larry Bird. Pete Dye also helped to put the town on the map by designing a world-class golf course at French Lick Resort. But by far the most remarkable part of the area is the massive six-story domed atrium found at the West Baden Springs Hotel. We spent a night at the hotel last week before dropping our daughter off at Indiana University.  Dubbed the “Eighth Wonder of the World” when the historic mineral springs-based resort opened in 1902, the 200-foot-long atrium is a joy to view now that the current owner has poured in more than $500 million in renovations. Book a room with a balcony overlooking the atrium, like we did, and you’ll spend a good amount of time staring up in awe at the grand dome. Then walk the gardens, where deer can be found nibbling at the bushes around limestone buildings that once housed the therapeutic spring water. That evening, we took a short train ride over to neighboring French Lick Resort and grabbed birthday dinner at the wonderful 1875: The Steakhouse. Many of the travelers we met at the resort were from nearby Louisville, only a 75-minute drive from French Lick. 

 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 08/24/16 at 06:00 AM
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Longtime Boston Globe travel writer, Steve Jermanok, dishes out his favorite travel locales and provides topical travel information that comes across his desk.

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