Adventures with the Animals: Part One

A highlight of our time in South Africa was our road trip east, along the Garden Route, capped off by 3 days at a game reserve. We decided on Schotia Safaris Private Game Reserve, a beautiful family-owned expanse of wild land and the animals who live there.

We stayed in a lovely thatched roof lodge, very spacious and comfortable, which was luxurious and  rustic at the same time. Although there was electricity, there was exactly one light fixture; the rest of the light was provided by oil lamps and candles, which made for a wonderful evening. On the other end of the spectrum, the bathroom was one of the most elegant we have seen in our travels, with a walk-in shower as well as a large tub. (Ironically, South Africa is in the midst of a drought, and guilt prevented us from taking advantage of the many deep soaking tubs in our hotels.) We hadn’t realized that we would be the only overnight guests at the nearly 4,000 acre property on our last night – we felt like the kings of the castle!


I could try to describe the beauty of the place, and the stunning wildlife, but it’s much better to simply get to the pictures, isn’t it? Here they are.

The Elephants

The elephants at Schotia are stunningly beautiful and healthy. Here is the first one we met, ambling down the road to take a look at the visitors.


Our guide Edward referred to this fellow as the Boss, for obvious reasons.  Edward reassured us that he was a very calm elephant and there was nothing to fear, but as he came within a few feet of us sitting in our open truck, I had a sense of his enormity and power, and sincerely hoped Edward was correct in his assessment of the fellow’s peaceful nature.


He hung out with us for a bit, munching grass. He would scrape at the grass with his front foot, pull some out with his trunk, and then tap it against himself to knock off the dirt before popping it into his mouth.


After a bit, he circled around the truck and ambled off. It took a while before my blood pressure returned to normal.

ele eats

We also visited the nearby Addo Elephant Park, which is part of South Africa’s impressive system of national parks.  Although there is a larger herd (currently 750 elephants, which originated from a herd of 18) at Addo, many of the elephants have undersized or no tusks at all, due to the relatively small gene pool in this isolated community. It was enthralling to watch the herd gather at the watering hole for a drink.




The babies! Just so adorable!

As I mentioned, in Schotia we were not constantly bumping into other groups; not so in Addo.  As we watched the elephants drink, we had to jockey for position with at least a dozen other vehicles. An animal sighting would cause a traffic jam as everyone tried to get a good view from their cars.  (Under no circumstances are visitors allowed out of their cars at either reserve. They’re cute, but they’re wild animals!)

Back at Schotia, one morning we discovered a large branch of an acacia tree blocking the road. Edward told us this was the work of the elephants, who regularly knock over trees for a variety of reasons. As a brilliant means of natural elephant repellent, the Schotia folks placed bee hives around the trees, because elephants are afraid of them. Ridiculous, right? But apparently effective.


e;e wrest;e

On one of our game drives, we passed the carcass of an elephant.  A couple of years ago, this elephant was constantly breaking out of the reserve, and was teaching the other elephants these bad habits as well.  This is dangerous for the neighbors, and ruins crops on their farms. Sadly, the elephant had to be killed. The body was left so that the carcass could provide food for other animals as it decomposed.

elephant dead

I didn’t take this picture intentionally, but I decided to include it here because this is how Craig and I spent our days. Our guide probably wouldn’t recognize us without out cameras against our faces.  We each took thousands of photos in just a few days – thank goodness for digital photography!

ele mirror

Another real highlight of our time at Schotia was seeing the lions.  There is an older male lion, and his two children, male and female. The first evening we spent at the reserve, we heard them roaring in the distance – it was exhilarating to hear! (The reserve is divided into a couple of very large sections, and there is no chance of the predatory animals reaching the guest housing.)

The Lions

Papa Lion shows his age in his hind quarters, which are much thinner than his son’s.
lioness face
Isn’t she stunning?

The lioness had a successful hunt one evening while we were there. All of them had a big meal, and then didn’t want to move the next morning!

The huntress has not yet cleaned the blood off her paws.
lion nap
Father and son, having their postprandial snooze.


The Warthogs

I got a real kick out of watching the warthogs.  They are such comical looking animals! There were loads of them at Schotia, and they mingled in with most of the other animals. I really don’t see how they manage to close their mouths, with those tusks sticking out!


I’m going to sign off for now, and I’ll come back soon with more animals: hippos, giraffes, and antelope. Here’s one last picture for today:

croc eyes
More about this fellow next time!

A Look Back: One Year of Being Homeless, Jobless, and Uninsured

On June 28, 2018, my husband Craig and I packed our bags into a rental car and drove away from Doylestown, PA, our home for the last twelve years. One year later, it’s time to take a look back.

A quick recap of our journey, geographically speaking: we visited friends and family along the east coast of the US, and then boarded a plane in Florida and headed to Ecuador. A couple of days in Quito, and then our long-awaited trip to the Galapagos Islands. We spent nine days on a small boat, sailing from one island to another, viewing the different species, snorkeling, and getting seasick (one of us, anyway.)

The Pacific Ocean in a tranquil moment.

Next, another road trip along the Avenue of the Volcanoes in Ecuador. I had no idea there were so many volcanoes in the world! I also had no idea how high altitude (13,000 feet) can sap the strength from your body and the oxygen from your lungs. We next visited a stunning waterfall and a town known for its hot springs. Cuenca saw us settle in for a month, followed by another month in the beach town of Olon.

Nope, not Switzerland – Ecuador!
Olon is a popular surfing spot.

In late October we caught a flight to Guatemala, and spend a wonderful couple of months in Antigua. Here we learned that explosives are an integral part of holiday celebrations in the area. It was all fun and games until a roof caught fire and burned down four or five buildings on New Year’s Eve.

Most of Antigua was destroyed by a powerful earthquake in 1775, including this beautiful cathedral.
A beauty queen at the Kite Festival in Guatemala.
Iglesia San Pedro Apostol

A highlight in the New Year was a brief visit to Cuba. Our cruise ship stopped in Cienfuegos and Havana just long enough to give us a taste of the island, and we promised ourselves we would return for a longer visit.

Yes, there are loads of old American cars in wonderful shape.
Che Guevera is a beloved hero.
The Havana Opera House.

Post-Cuba, we flew home for a visit to our families in New Jersey. It was a lot of fun to see friends and families, and to enjoy our grandson, a precocious three-year-old. Then off to Portugal for six weeks – a month in Lisbon followed by a road trip to see the smaller villages in the north.

A whimsical gargoyle

Bulgaria was one of our more eclectic destinations, and we enjoyed it thoroughly. Only thirty years out of communist domination, it was telling to see the difference in the attitudes of the people of different generations.

A typical massive statue from the Communist era.
The businessman who displayed this statue did not have a very positive image of America.
A small portion of the artwork at Rila Monastery.

We had originally planned to spend time pet-sitting in England, but that fell through for a variety of reasons. We then decided to also change our plans of spending a month in France helping out at a chateau, and we reworked the next part of our trip completely. We’re very glad we did, as France is now experiencing record-breaking high temperatures. I would never have survived 114 degree heat.

Instead of Europe, we chose to spend a block of time in South Africa. We’ve been in Cape Town for five weeks, and also took a road trip east along the Garden Route to visit a game preserve.

Table Mountain as seen from the roof of our first apartment in Cape Town.
Even the food trucks in Cape Town serve excellent coffee.

So – what’s it been like to live out of a suitcase for an entire year? One thing I can tell you, I’m pretty sick of my clothes! Since we changed plans mid-stream, this rendered the contents of my suitcase at best inappropriate; at worst, ineffective. We hadn’t expected Portugal or Bulgaria to be as nippy as they were when the sun goes down – gosh, I wished I’d brought a hat and gloves, and I got really sick of this blue sweater.

I’ve only used my swimsuit in the Galapagos, but at the price I paid for it, I’m certainly not leaving it behind! On the other hand, there were a number of items I jettisoned along the way: pants that were too baggy after I lost twenty pounds; a shirt with bloodstains I couldn’t remove (he was three years old and crying after a terrible fall – you’d have picked him up too), my beloved gypsy shoes that were so worn the leather split at the sides. (No worries – I found an identical pair online!)

And shoes – I miss my beautiful shoes! As any traveler knows, shoes are the thing that weigh the most. Airlines nowadays are merciless about the weight limit on bags, so I’m currently carrying only three pairs: low boots, nice-looking sneakers, and leather slip-ons. It’s hell, I tell you!

WhatsApp is a lifesaver, and if you don’t have it on your phone, download it immediately.  It provides high quality video chat capabilities for free over wifi, and often works on data as well. This has saved me a fortune, since calling home costs 25 cents per minute. That doesn’t sound like much, until you FaceTime with a three-year-old who spends the time giggling and saying “Poop, poop, poop” for the entire call. Potty humor is more palatable when it’s free.

Looking ahead, we are visiting the Zimbabwe side of Victoria Falls, and Chobe Park in Botswana, in mid-August. Then it’s north to Ethiopia to tour the Omo Valley and Lalibela, home of the ancient rock churches. I’m really looking forward to that! This will be followed by a month in Montenegro, on the Adriatic Sea, and then an extended visit to Italy, which we have yet to plan. (I’m open to suggestions. And visitors.)

I wrote the following on January 2019, as I reflected on our time away from home.

Being away from home for Christmas is weird. Being someplace warm for Christmas, although admittedly pleasant, is weird too. Being a pastor who just retired, and not having any worship leadership responsibilities on Christmas Eve, is even more weird. Not being with the kids, and not being immersed in the chaos that is Christmas with the DiMeo/Hammell/Leith family is – simply not right.  It was a very odd holiday indeed.

Couple that with the fact that Craig and I were both felled by colds that lasted from Christmas till beyond the New Year, and you’ll have an accurate image of our holiday.  Craig didn’t seem to mind it all too much, but I was fairly miserable. Here we are on January 15, and I feel as though the world didn’t have a Christmas season this year.

Not doing that again! I have insisted on a trip home for Christmas, because it is simply too awful to spend the holidays without family. At that point it will have been seven months since we were in the US, and that’s long enough! Craig is lobbying for a year’s extension added to our two-year trip, but I’m not agreeing. I want a home. Stay tuned.

Meanwhile, here are a few more photos. The next blog post will highlight our safari adventures.

Another section of Rila Monastery.
Assisting his owner in earning a few coins.
feather eyes
A photoshoot in a park in Coimbra, Portugal.
Close-up of a fresco at Rila Monastery

Yesterday we visited Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens – they are stunning!