Sunday, October 3, 2010

Check it out! My live interview on the XETV Channel 6 morning show.

Here's my live interview with Lynda Martin of XETV Channel 6, which aired on Monday, Sept. 27, 2010.  We talk about about the book, family travel and eating guinea pig.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Rancho Santa Fe Review article about my book

The Rancho Santa Fe Review, along with the Carmel Valley News, Del Mar Times and Solana Beach Sun, ran an article about my new book on Sept. 16, 2010.  Click on the links below to view the pdf's of the article (it's on two pages).  The article was written by Catherine Kolonko.  Thanks to both Catherine and the Review for this great article!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Waka Waka

Netherlands fans celebrate and dance to the song, "Waka Waka (This Time for Africa)" at an outdoor cafe in Cape Town, before the group match between the Netherlands and Cameroon.

King of the Jungle

A short video clip of a lion at Kruger National Park, as seen during a sunset bush drive from Satara Camp.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Listen to my interview with Gabe Wisdom

I was interviewed on "Financial Wisdom" with Gabe Wisdom on the Business Talk Radio Network on Tuesday, Aug. 17.  Listen or download podcast here.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Cameroon penalty shot

This snippet from the June 24th Netherlands-Cameroon match in Cape Town shows Cameroon scoring on a penalty shot.  It was their only goal, and they lost the match, 2-1.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

African penguins at Boulders Beach

About an hour's drive south of Cape Town on the Cape Peninsula can be found the scenic villages of Kalk Bay and Simon's Town. Just past Simon's Town is Boulders Beach, home to a colony of 3,000 African penguins. We caught up with these guys while walking on the beach.

(As a side note, Google seems to be having problems with its slide show software. Until it's sorted out, the South Africa 2010 slide show can be found at

Street Party

Orange fans celebrate in downtown Cape Town before the June 24th group match between the Netherlands and Cameroon. The Netherlands won 2-1, and of course, went on to play in the final, where they lost 1-0 to Spain.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Whale Watching in Hermanus, South Africa

During our trip to South Africa in June and July, we watched a Southern right whale right off the coast of Hermanus, a small town on the Atlantic Coast near Cape Town.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

The Book is Here!

"Dear Guests, Beware of Wild Monkeys" is now available for purchase at, for $14.99.

I'm very excited about the release of my first book, which offers tips on planning and executing a family world adventure, along with a travelogue of our own world trip in 2005-06. The 6X9 softcover volume includes a section of black and white photos, and excerpts from my daughter Salome's travel journal, to provide a child's-eye-view of our journey through South America, Europe, India and Southeast Asia.

Click on the above link to read an excerpt, or to order a copy.

Below are the cover and a brief synopsis. I will soon be adding photo galleries of both the world trip and our recent trip to South Africa.

"If you’ve ever fantasized about quitting your job and setting out to see the world, this book is for you.
Learn how to plan and execute a family trip around the world, from choosing an itinerary to arranging for home-schooling to finding the best travel and health insurance.
We’ll also bring readers along for the best of our travel experiences in South America, Western and Eastern Europe, India, Thailand, Cambodia, Hong Kong and Tokyo.
We came within 10 feet of a wild tiger while riding in an open jeep in India and experienced a serious “electrical malfunction” on a jetliner at 35,000 feet.
We ate roasted guinea pig and fried crickets and dined on a floating restaurant in a bay in southern Thailand.
We danced on the tables at Oktoberfest in Munich and became stranded in the middle of Lake Titicaca, between Peru and Bolivia, when the engine of our dilapidated tour boat died.
When it was over, we’d visited 19 countries on three continents, snapped 5,000 photos and gathered countless memories on our journey of a lifetime."

Thursday, July 22, 2010

The Soweto Township

We began our tour of Soweto, Johannesburg's largest township, at the top: what our guide called the richest part of the enclave that home to four million souls. The homes were made of brick, had tidy and attractive landscaping, and new model cars parked out front.

Eric, our guide, himself a resident of Alexandra township, pointed out an interesting difference between this upscale section of Soweto and other neighborhoods around the city - and around South Africa. The homes were surrounded by walls, but lacked the barbed wire, electric fences and barred windows found in nearly every other place we visited.

The reason, Eric said, is that the area is considered much safer than other residential areas of Joburg, or Jozi. Neighbors in this area band together and respond to any type of crime en masse, sending the criminal packing or maybe giving him a beating.

We had expected to see abject poverty on our tour, and we saw plenty of it, but we had not anticipated the upper-class area, which Eric said is populated with retired sports stars and business executives.

Across a small ravine from this pleasant neighborhood - where streets are blocked off most weekends for weddings, funerals and parties - were the bleak row homes called hostels, where whole families cram into single rooms that don't have running water or electricity.

We learned about Soweto's role in South Africa's democratic transformation. It was there that in 1976, students protesting the government's education policies prompted harsh retaliation from the police, and a 13-year-old boy was shot to death by an officer. That incident sparked a popular uprising that spread across the country.

Later on our tour, we drove past Soweto's middle-class area, which included small four-room brick houses. We also saw the former home of Nelson Mandela, and the current home of his ex-wife, Winnie Mandela, and the home of Nobel laureate Bishop Desmond Tutu.

So much history in such a small geographic location.

Perhaps the most moving part of our tour came when we visited a shanty town of tiny, tin-roofed shacks. Residents working for tips show visitors like us around, and we were also brought inside one of the shacks to talk with the woman who lived there.

The woman was in her 50s, and lived in the shack, no more than 10-by-10 with two daughters and several grandchildren. The family cooked on a paraffin stove, and had a coal stove for warmth. A bed took about half the space.

The woman said the problem facing her country is a lack of jobs, and she spoke somberly, in a low voice. While the family doesn't have to pay any rent for its shack, they are barely able to scrape together enough money for food and cooking fuel.

The residents get their water from a central spigot, filling up plastic five-gallon buckets and hauling them back to their shacks.

When I asked the woman whether she is better off since Nelson Mandela was elected as the country's first black president in 1994, she said that although people are glad to be rid of the oppressive apartheid government, economically things haven't changed much.

Our last stop of the day was at the city's impressive Apartheid Museum, where the displays of photos and videos chronicled the rise and fall of what one British politician denounced as an "evil, repulsive" system.

To us, the museum conjured similar feelings as the Holocaust museums we have visited in Los Angeles and Washington, D.C. - disbelief at the cruelty people are capable of inflicting on each other.

The Apartheid Museum is across the street from a mega-casino, and next to an amusement park. As a condition of approval for the casino and amusement park, the developers were required to pay for design and construction of the museum, and to cover operating costs for two years. They did a first-class job, and the museum is well worth a visit by anyone coming to Johannesburg.

Today is our last day in South Africa, and to kill time before our evening flight, we went to the movies. We saw Leon Schuster's "Survival Guide to South Africa," a candid-camera style flick on a World Cup theme. Very funny and highly recommended if it is available on Netflix.

That's all for now, as we head to Oliver Tambo Airport for our 15-hour flight to Atlanta!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Photo album

Salome; a giraffe feeding at Kruger; the Three Rondevals at Blyde River Canyon

Photo album

Joe with the jawbone of a hippo that died after a fight with another hippo; the hippos are watching; Ava, Salome and I with our guides.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

What to do if you're attacked by a wild animal

On our bush walks in Kruger National Park, our guides, who carried loaded rifles they jokingly referred to as "walking sticks," advised us not to run if an animal charged toward us. That's right, we were not to run from an angry lion, leopard or hippo coming right at us.

"If you run, the animal will chase you, because animals instinctively go after something that runs," said Vusi, our guide for a river walk at Olifants Camp. "If you run, we will not be able to protect you."

Instead, the guide said, we should hide behind a bush or drop to the ground, depending on his instructions.

Fortunately or unfortunately, we never had to test this advice, because on our walks, we never came face to face with any large animals. As we walked along, I did wonder to myself whether I would be able to control my impulse to run, even while knowing I could never outrun one of the above-mentioned animals. But it never came to that.

On one walk, a wary wildebeest tracked us from a good distance. We also observed elephants feeding maybe 100 yards away. We did get very close to hippos submerged to their eyeballs in a river, and had a nervous staring contest with them. I say nervous, because they were all looking at us, and we were certainly watching them, especially after Vusi told us hippos will sometimes charge from the water.

Actually, the best glimpse we got of the big cats - lion, leopard and cheetah - came during a wildlife film shown one evening at Skukuza Camp. (We did get a very good view of a male lion during a sunset wildlife drive.)

We have now left Kruger and are staying in Graskop, a town in the Drakensburg Mountain escarpment. For those in the San Diego County area, think Julian. Graskop is a mix of the rustic and touristic, with lots of cozy lodges and bed and breakfasts, and plenty of restaurants and souvenir shops.

This morning, we drove north on Route 532 to God's Window, a ridge with splendid views of the pine-covered hills rolling away in the distance, and the Sabie River winding far below. We also visited natural rock formations called Bourke's Luck Potholes, named for the man who found gold there in the 1800s. We also drove up along the Blyde River Canyon, with has magnificent rock formations hewn over the millenia from rust- and copper-colored rock.

Before I sign off, a very happy 92nd birthday to Nelson Mandela, South Africa's first black president after years of the oppression of apartheid. While not an official public holiday (although it may become one) today, Sunday, July 18th, is a day when South Africans are encouraged to spend 67 minutes doing public service, in honor of the years that Mandela spent trying to better his country.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Wild Beasts and Braais

Well, it has been a long time since the last post; no Internet access for more than a week. Of course, the world watched as Spain beat first Germany in the semi-final in Durban (which we attended), then finished off the Netherlands on July 11 to win the championship. Congrats to Spain fans.

We have been in rural areas of South Africa and Swaziland since leaving Durban on the 8th. First, a stop in St. Lucia, a small resort town on an estuary where hippos lounge on the beach and occasionally take a stroll through town. (We saw the former, but not the latter.)

Then, to Big Bend in Swaziland, where farms and small ranches line the road, which is definitely less well-maintained than in South Africa. Very nearly busted an axle on our Fiat rental car on a few of the yawning potholes.

We reached Kruger National Park on Sunday, and have been feasting our eyes - and bellies - on wild game since then. Today we completed our "Big 5" sitings when Ava spotted a leopard while driving on a dirt road. (She is the best spotter of our bunch.) I saw a flash of beige, and poor Salome did not see it. But we still have two more days!

The other Big Fivers include rhino, elephant, buffalo and lion, all checked off, thank you. Plus hippos, giraffes, zebras, wildebeest, baboons, vervet monkeys, lots of birds and many, many antelope and deer.

The bush walks were especially interesting, although we didn't see a lot of game up close. But the warnings of the guides, who carried loaded rifles, kept us on our toes, and we definitely felt out of our element.

Our experience with African game has included mealtimes. We grilled wildebeest skewers on our "braai" or barbecue at our bungalow (very tasty, and similar to beef) and the restaurant at Oliphants camp served roasted impala last night, also delicious. (We felt a bit guilty when driving by a herd of impala this morning.)

ASAP, we will post new photos.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Photo Album

Here are some more photos: Spain vs. Portugal match; Cape Town botanical garden; Addo Elephant National Park; settlement near Mthatha.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Durban at Last!

We finally made it to Durban this afternoon following five days on the road and about 1,800 kilometers. The weather here is warm and breezy, and we are staying in a funky boutique hotel behind a popular restaurant and night spot called Bean Bag Bohemia. (The hotel is called La Bordella and was once, reportedly, a house of ill repute.)

Reaching the hotel was a bit harrowing, as we pulled off the freeway and found ourselves in the midst of a crowded market where hordes of people just walked on the street in front of cars, lots of honking, shouting, etc. We felt like we had been transported to a street in Delhi.

For the past five days, since leaving Cape Town, we have had a chance to see many small towns and large cities, rural areas, coastal beaches and steep mountain passes. We followed the N2, a national highway, the entire route. The highway went from six lanes down to four, down to two, and back again along our route. We contended with people walking across and alongside the road, along with sheep, cows, goats, slow-moving trucks, careening mini-buses, and sudden turnoffs with minimal signage.

In many cases, the road passed right through towns along the route, and we got a glimpse of the lives of Africans outside the big cities. Some of the town names were Grahamstown, Mount Frere and East London. The towns looked rag-tag, with unpainted storefronts, cracked pavement and trash strewn in the gutters and on the street. But they also looked prosperous, with people flocking to supermarkets, small shops and streetside stalls, carrying their purchases any way they could, from bundles on their heads to carts they pushed in the street.

The views along the route were often incredible; looking off into the distance, we could see farmland, pristine river valleys and forests.

Along the way, we stopped at Addo Elephant National Park, where we drove our small rented car along the park's paved and dirt roads. The park's 500-plus elephants were on display all around us; drinking at a watering hole just a few feet off the road, and feeding on the abundant greenery. Many of the females nursed babies as young as a year old. Also on view were many warthog families, and different species of antelope, such as kudu.

During a night drive on an open bus with the park's rangers, we saw porcupines, different varieties of fox, jackals and an owl. Unfortunately, we didn't spot any of the park's 10 lions, or its buffalo, but we are hopeful to see more wildlife when we visit Kruger National Park next week.

Yesterday afternoon, following a drive of about 150 miles, we arrived in the medium-sized city of Mthatha, which doesn't have much in the way of tourist interest, but was a convenient stopping point along the road to Durban. Unfortunately, our road atlas isn't much help when we arrive in a city, and we are roughing it without GPS. No one answered when we tried to call our guest house, which was a few kilometers outside the city center in a residential neighborhood.

We stopped at a gas station to ask directions, and several people came over and conferred with me as I tried to figure out which way to go. One of the people, a man in his late 20s or early 30s, said he was heading in the general direction an we could follow him. He ended up leading us around the neighborhood for 20 minutes or more, stopping to ask directions several times, and finally led us right to the door of the guest house. We were touched and gratified by his willingness to help.

We are looking forward to our third and final match on Wednesday night, the semi-final between Spain and Germany. After all of the surprises in the quarter finals (Brazil and Argentina getting knocked out, Uruguay's outrageous hand-ball to block Ghana's sure winner), we are ready for anything!

People here are quite upset about Uruguay's blatant foul, and the players' celebration afterward. One newspaper headline called it "Hand of the Devil."

Anyway, Salome and Ava are rooting for Germany, but I'm sort of on the fence right now. I will root for Holland over Uruguay in Tuesday's semi-final, however. And I'm pretty sure the winner of our match on Wednesday will prevail in the final. But of course, we shall see.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

And still more photos!

Photos of Hermanus and our whale-watching experience.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

More photos

Here is the second batch of photos, see the previous post for descriptions.

Sunshine and Storm Clouds

Today in Cape Town the skies are dark with heavy clouds, the air is cold and the wind is blowing hard. Rain is forecast for tonight, when we will join the throngs of fans for the Round of 16 match between Spain and Portugal.

But overall, we have been very fortunate weatherwise. The past two days have been magnificent: warm, sunny and mild. Yesterday we hiked to a waterfall above a lush botanical garden at Betty's Bay, and watched a Southern Right whale lolling for 45 minutes in the shallow water just a few yards off the coast of Hermanus. It literally looked like the 30-foot-long whale was sunbathing as it rolled on its back, waved its fins and tail, and spouted. We were mesmerized as we watched it slowly swim out to sea.

Our time in Cape Town is growing short, unfortunately. The past eight days have gone by so quickly, and we leave on Thursday morning for our drive along the Garden Route and the Wild Coast to Durban, where we will see a semi-final match on July 7.

The photos in this post (and the next two) in no particular order show the apartment building where we are staying in the Cape Town suburb of Milnerton, views from the apartment, a crowd of people watching the South African team, Bafana Bafana, on a giant digital screen at the V&A Waterfront, views from the summit of Table Mountain, the Hermanus coast and the Southern Right whale.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

U.S. Blues

I was down in the dumps this morning in the wake of Team USA's loss to Ghana, and quick exit from the round of 16. No more Star Spangled Banner at the beginning of a match in this World Cup. (As I write this, the future of Mexico's anthem is also looking pretty grim.)

But our team did give us some great moments, and Landon Donovan has earned his place in U.S. soccer history with three electrifying goals.

My disappointment was put into perspective this morning when we took a boat ride to Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for 18 years. Our tour was conducted by a former political prisoner who frankly shared his experiences, from the brutal punishments inflicted by the guards for the slightest infractions, to the attempt to blow up a fuel depot that led to his arrest by the apartheid government.

Prisoners were forced to break rocks with picks and shovels in a limestone pit for 12 hours a day, only for the sake of demoralizing the men because the rock wasn't even used.

As disheartening as it was to learn about this sad period in South Africa's history, I felt some comfort that the island is now a museum, less than 20 years after the last political prisoners were released.

In the afternoon, we took the cable car to the top of Table Mountain and drank in the spectacular views of Cape Town, Greenpoint Stadium and the sparkling blue Atlantic.

I can't wait for Tuesday, when we will return to the stadium for the round of 16 matchup of Spain and Portugal.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Orange Crush

We attended our first World Cup match in Cape Town last night, and Orange was the word - as in more than 10,000 Dutch fans decked out in the team's bright orange hue. Some wore wigs, others painted their faces and a few wore formal orange suits and ties.

Cape Town organizers have set up a "fan walk" from the central train station to Green Point Stadium, about a mile and a half away, which was of course a pulsing orange river before the match.

Those who didn't want to make the trek had the option of jumping onto shuttle buses for the short ride to the stadium.

So far, support for the Netherlands has been second only to that shown for Bafana Bafana, the South African national team, at least from our experience. The affinity for the Orange apparently stems from the Dutch heritage of many white South Africans.

Cape Town's stadium was in pristine condition, with excellent acoustics and sight lines. We sat about midway up, above a corner of the field, with great views. My ears are still ringing from the constant trumpeting of the vuvuzelas, which at times reached a fever pitch.

The match itself had little consequence - the Netherlands had already clinched a spot in the next round, and Cameroon was already mathematically eliminated. But both sides played hard in the Netherlands' 2-1 win.

Many streets throughout downtown are blocked off to cars, so fans can browse stalls selling souvenirs or eat at outdoor cafes. While some skeptics wondered before the World Cup began whether security concerns would overshadow the fun, our family felt quite safe at all times both before, during and after the match, which ended about 10:30 p.m. local time.

The FIFA fan zone in downtown Cape Town is set up with several huge video screens where locals and foreign visitors mingled to watch matches, listen to live music and soak up the atmosphere. A Dutch fan proposed to his girlfriend on stage yesterday.

While South Africa is out of the tournament, interest by locals remains strong. Some of the South Africans I have talked to support Ghana and Ivory Coast, which are still playing, and even the USA after its thrilling last-minute victory over Algeria on Wednesday.

(A side note: What's with these refs? Another questionable call, this one an off-sides infraction, robbed the USA of another goal in the Algeria match.)

We are looking forward to cheering on Donovan and Co. as they take on Ghana tomorrow night, and our Round of 16 match in Cape Town on Tuesday, where we may be lucky enough to see Brazil, Spain or Portugal compete.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Bafana Bafana!

Greetings from the Rainbow Nation! Ava, Salome and I arrived in Cape Town late Monday after a brief stopover in Johannesburg. We spent our first night in S.A. at a private home in a suburb of Joburg because our hostel was overbooked. The home was quite nice, with all the comforts but we were put off by the wall topped with electrified fencing that surrounded the place. Back to the airport the next morning for the short flight to Cape Town.

World Cup fever is all around, from the throngs of international fans decked out in their teams' colors to the banners and signs posted everywhere. Schools have closed for the entire month of the tournament so families can take part in the celebration.

We spent Tuesday afternoon at the V&A waterfront which is a lot like Fisherman's Wharf in San Francisco, with loads of shops, restaurants and street performers. Massive Table Mpuntain looming overhead reminds us we're not in California.

And if you think the vuvuzela horns are annoying on TV, they are ear-splitting in person. Thousands of South Africa fans watched on TVs and huge video screens as "the boys" beat France 2-1, but the jubilation was tempered when they were eliminated by the points differential with Mexico.

Today we will watch the U.S. team as it seeks to advance with a win over Algeria and Thursday we will experience Green Point stadium (which we can see from our apartment in the suburb of Milnerton) when we attend the match between Holland and Cameroon.

Pictures to come soon.

Friday, June 18, 2010

We're on our way!

The bags are packed,the passports in hand, and we are off for an incredible journey to experience the wonders of South Africa and the greatest sports spectacle on Earth, the World Cup.

By this time tomorrow, Ava, Salome and I will be on our way to Johannesburg, our first trip to Africa.

We've been watching the first week of the tournament with interest: from the U.S.A.'s improbable tie with England, to Mexico's triumph over France. Today's U.S.A.-vs. Slovenia contest was action-packed, and the debate rages among pundits and fans as to whether the Americans' third goal near the end of the match was properly disallowed. (The consensus seems to be the ref blew the call big-time.)

Once we arrive in South Africa, we'll be posting dispatches from the road, photos, observations, etc., when time and Internet access allows.

And later this summer, check out my upcoming travel book, Dear Guests, Beware of Wild Monkeys, available at fine Web sites everywhere!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

World Cup One Month Away!

With the World Cup in South Africa only one month away, excitement is building among soccer, or "football," fans around the world.

The first match takes place in Johannesburg on June 11, between Mexico and the home-town favorites, South Africa.

Between now and then, watch for news of one of the greatest sports spectacles on Earth, played out for the first time on African soil.

I read recently that Americans have purchased about 118,000 tickets for World Cup 2010, the highest total of any nation other than South Africa itself. Next, with only about half that amount, is football-crazy England.

My guess is that U.S. interest in soccer is fueled primarily by the popularity of the youth version of the game. On any Saturday morning in the fall, droves of players and parents pack soccer fields around the nation.

The game is perfect for kids, who can play a very simple version when they are as young as 4 or 5, and improve their range of technical skills as they grow.

Excitement is certainly growing in our family as we anticipate our flight from Atlanta (via Los Angeles) to Johannesburg on Saturday, June 19. Our five-week trip will take us to Cape Town, along South Africa's Eastern seaboard over the Garden Route, to the Wild Coast, and on to Swaziland and Kruger National Park before returning to Johannesburg.

We will see at least three matches along the way, including a semi-final in Durban.

Our biggest apprehension at this point? We will be driving as many as 2,000 kilometers (1,200 miles) in a rental car on South African roads.

In addition to the perils of navigating unfamiliar territory, we will have to quickly adapt to driving on the left side of the road, and operating a stick shift stift with the left hand.

We don't know any other families who are making the trip, but I know you are out there and would love to hear from you.

Check this blog often during June and July for updates from the road, and post your comments, questions, etc.

By the way, the pictures above show the makarapa hat, popular across South Africa among football fans, people with the vuvuzelas, plastic trumpets used for making a cacophony at matches and South Africa's own Castle beer.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

World Cup 2010 - South Africa

A big question mark hangs over the 2010 World Cup - one of the most-watched sporting events on the planet. That is, will South Africa be ready for this massive, month-long celebration of one of the world's most popular sports?

South African officials say emphatically that the answer is "Yes!" and bristle at any suggestion otherwise.

My family - wife, 13-year-old daughter and I - are planning a trip to South Africa in June and July, where we will attend soccer matches in Cape Town and Durban, and enjoy the wildlife at Kruger National Park and other locations around the country.

Most of the South Africans we have dealt with have been helpful, friendly and efficient. But our experience with the national train service, Shosholoza Meyl, which translates to "a pleasant experience," has left me wondering what's in store after we arrive in Johannesburg.

Although we've been working on our bookings for accommodations, transport, match tickets, etc. for nearly a year, we were told by the train's reservation agents that bookings for the overnight tourist-class sleeper train had to be made no more than 90 days in advance. No information about any schedule or route changes was put on the train's Web site, or disseminated through its representatives.

Now that we are only 78 days from the start of the World Cup, on June 11, the train service has announced major changes to its routes, schedules and prices. It's as if the train's management just realized the World Cup is coming to South Africa!

One change is that all tourist-class service from Johannesburg to Cape Town - one of the most popular and needed routes - has been eliminated during the World Cup period.

So, instead of settling back to a relaxing train ride and watching the countryside roll by after flying nearly 16 hours from Atlanta to JoBurg, we'll be hopping on a two-hour flight to Cape Town. Not the way we wanted to start our trip.

My family and I can only hope that important infrastructure, from roads and stadiums to security and health facilities, will be better managed than the national train system, which to an outsider seems fraught with disorganization and unresponsive to visitors' basic transportation needs.

In other words, we are hoping South Africa is ready for its big moment on the world stage.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

About Wild Monkeys

First off, let me say I would never wish any harm to befall a monkey. They're really adorable and fascinating to watch, and monkeys provided me with the title for both my book and this blog.

That said, monkeys can't be trusted. When they're unhappy, they get cranky, and a cranky monkey is nothing to trifle with. If you don't give them what they want, they might try to steal it by stealth or force.

All of our wild monkey encounters have taken place in India and Thailand. Huge numbers of monkey families can be found at many popular tourist sites. My daughter Salome's most harrowing monkey moment occurred in Pushkar, India, on the rooftop of our hotel, where we ate breakfast each morning during our stay in that lovely city. We were feeding a group of monkeys toast and jam, and watching delightedly as they carefully licked off the jam before popping the toast into their mouths.

Then we ran out of toast. The ungrateful little buggers ran up to us, baring their teeth and hissing, forcing poor Salome to scream and hide behind a chair. (She was 9 at the time.) Fortunately, the hotel cook climbed the stairs up to the roof and shooed the monkeys away.

In Thailand, a couple of hours north of Bangkok, we visited the monkey temples in the town of Lopburi. Dozens of the pesky primates can be found at the two sites across the street from each other, and visitors can buy lotus flowers and seeds to feed them. But it's not only food they're after - Ava and I wrestled with monkeys that tried to steal my sunglasses and one of her earrings. I watched one aggressive male wait patiently as a man walked toward him carrying his lunch in a Styrofoam container. Just as the man reached his perch, the monkey lunged and screeched and nearly made off with the package.

The title of this blog, and my forthcoming book about our family's world travels, was inspired by a sign on the door of a ladies' room halfway between Delhi and Agra, India. We had stopped for breakfast on our way to visit the Taj Mahal, and the monkeys gathered around our bus, begging for food and intimidating the passengers.

So, the next time you run across a bunch of wild monkeys, enjoy their company, but beware - they just might try to run off with your lunch, or your valuables!

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Top 10 Kid-Friendly Things to See and Do - Part 2

This is a little backwards, I realize, but following is the second half of the list of Salome's favorite stops and adventures from our world trip. See the previous post for the first half of the list.

6. Mountain Hut near Schladming, Austria. A short hike up the mountain took us to the "hut," which was actually a small, very charming restaurant run by a friendly family. The food and drink were good, we toasted with shots of a local liqueur with Austrians who spoke little English, and after a while, the owner broke out his accordion and dancing ensued. But all of this doesn't explain why Salome loved it. Not only was there a pen full of rabbits and guinea pigs for her to play with, but she got to spend the afternoon with some kids her age, a rarity on our trip. She also loved to feed the donkeys on a nearby farm, until we ran out of apples and they brayed at us in what she took to be a threatening manner.

7. Estancia, outside Buenos Aires, Argentina. Salome looked like a natural in her bright red serape as she galloped along the trails of the ranch land about an hour outside Buenos Aires. We spent three hours on horseback in the morning, enjoyed a delicious barbecue lunch on the lawn outside the ranch house, followed by three more hours of riding in the afternoon. Salome loved every minute of our estancia visit, and had no thought of missing the afternoon ride in favor of a siesta in one of the hammocks that swayed invitingly in the sunshine. (I thought hard about it, but in the end went along for the ride.)

8. Feeding pigeons in Krakow's main market square. I never would have believed that Salome could spend so much time feeding pigeons. We bought pretzel rings from vendors on the cobbled square, which was surrounded by two- and three-story buildings on all sides, including Krakow's beautiful cathedral at one corner. Us adults drank coffee or beer, and watched the people and horse-drawn carriages pass by, as Salome got to know the pigeons so well she even named some of them.

9. Hyde Park, London. Lots of walking trails through woods, a lake with swans, a children's play area with all kinds of imaginative climbing structures, and even a Peter Pan statue. How can a kid go wrong?

10. Ranthambore National Park, India. There's not much to do in Sawai Madhopur, the small town outside the entrance to one of India's premier national parks, other than ride through the park in either open-topped buses, or jeeps, looking for elusive wild tigers. On our first two safaris, we saw plenty of monkeys, deer and bison, and even a crocodile, but no sign of tigers other than some prints in the soft dust at the side of the road. But on our third foray, Ava alertly spotted a flash of orange in the brush, and our jeep headed cross-country. We followed the tiger for a half hour or so, and at one point got within about 10 feet of her. She walked toward us languidly, yawned, and then turned away. Being in an open jeep, we were a bit nervous, but thrilled at the same time. We also watched from further away as she stalked a bison.

I'd love to hear about your kids' favorite travel spots, either in the U.S. or anywhere in the world.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

A Kid's Perspective - Top 10 Things to Do

I asked Salome to list her Top 10 favorite things to do or places to visit during our world trip, and following is first half of the list. (The second half will follow soon.) I look forward suggested additions, comments, complaints, etc.

1. Playground next the Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao, Spain. You may be familiar with architect Frank Gehry's creation of titanium-plated geometric shapes, but you might not know that right next door is a fantastic playground, which Salome has dubbed the greatest in the world. Kids can spin, slide, swing and climb on equipment painted in bright, primary colors, while their parents snooze on the adjoining green lawn. The park and museum sit alongside a peaceful river through the center of town.

2. MBK Mall, Bangkok, Thailand. Sure, Salome is a shopaholic, just like her mom. But if you can't find something you simply must buy in this multi-story shopper's paradise, you won't find it anywhere. On the lower floors are the typical department stores, but as you climb the escalators to the upper floors, you can find warrens of merchant stalls selling everything from jewelry and electronics to textiles and leather. Obliging sellers will burn copies of pirate DVDs, which customers select from fat display catalogues. And don't miss the food court, which features mouth-watering international delicacies, including Thai, Chinese, Indian, Greek, Italian and Japanese dishes, at incredibly cheap prices.

3. Galapagos Islands boat cruise, Ecuador. Imagine a string of islands 600 miles off the coast surrounded by the cool blue water of the Pacific. Each island hosts its own unique species of birds, reptiles and mammals, and all of the animals are unafraid of humans, who troop through their home on daily basis. Swim with sea lions, wade with rays, check out blue-footed boobies and their hatchlings, and snorkel with giant sea turtles. If you go, take one of the smaller boats with fewer than 20 passengers for an intimate, unhurried glimpse into the living laboratory of Charles Darwin (just make sure the boat has hot water and private bathrooms in each cabin!)

4. Mountaintop Park, Schliersee, Germany. Schliersee is a tiny resort village about an hour south of Munich by train. An hour's hike takes visitors to the top of a small mountain, which offers views of the town spread out along the shore of a lake. The park at the top features children's activities such as trampolines, a coin-operated roller-coaster and a luge ride that runs in a plastic half-pipe to the bottom of the mountain. A tram takes guests who don't favor a hike or luge ride up and down the mountain, and a cafe serves sandwiches and large glasses of Delicious German beer.

5. Oktoberfest, Munich, Germany. Okay, beer is the claim to fame of this annual Bavarian bash. But don't skip the attractions outside the beer tents, which are just as much fun. The midway includes thrill rides, games, and enough food booths to satisfy any fair-food connoisseur. The most unusual attraction might be the Devil's Wheel, a large, circular wooden platform that spins at high speed. Fair-goers crowd onto the wheel, which spins faster and faster, tossing off players like beanbags. Once the crowd is reduced to a few hardy survivors, the attendants swing a weighted bag, trying to knock them off the spinning wheel. Finally, they use rope lassos to snare the remaining holdouts. All the while, the audience screams and cheers from the bleachers surrounding the Devil's Wheel. Salome actually tried this and lasted to the end of the kid's competition.