Monday, June 9, 2014

Baby on Safari - Johannesburg & the Lion Park

Hey look! A giraffe!
Over Memorial Day weekend, we decided to be brave and take the baby on a little trip to South Africa. We visited Johannesburg for two nights, and then stopped at Pilanesburg Game Reserve for two nights on the way back to Botswana.

Lion Park!!
While it was a tons of fun to expose the baby to tons of new experiences (petting lion cubs! going to an antiques market! getting up close to a giraffe!) the driving portion of the trip wasn't tons of fun. Lesson learned: Do not needlessly subject a baby to a fourteen-hour round trip car ride! That being said, we got some amazing photos out of the trip and got to have The African Experience one last time before we depart Botswana in a couple of months.

We drove down to Joburg the first day of our trip, of course stopping at McDonald's in Rustenburg on the way. Believe it or not, there are no McDonald's in Botswana, which of course makes me crave it all the time, even though I never eat at McDonald's when in the U.S. Fortified by our double cheeseburger meals (and bottle for the baby) we continued on to Johannesburg and arrived at our absolutely lovely hotel, the Clico Boutique Hotel in Rosebank.

A romantic dinner for three.
I would highly recommend this place to anyone traveling to Johannesburg - it's centrally located in a nice part of town, had lots of charm and character, and the food was AMAZING! The hotel restaurant serves a delicious continental breakfast, plus anything you want made-to-order and it's all included in the quite reasonable room rate. We ate dinner at the hotel our first night, and were truly impressed by the quality of the food and the service. In particular, we appreciated how accommodating they were with the baby. When we had to cut the meal short to soothe the baby back in our room, the waiter didn't even blink an eye at our request to serve the rest of meal in our room. Neither did they put in an extra charge for the impromptu room service. Granted, they were probably relieved to have our (very vocal) baby out of their restaurant!

The morning after our arrival on Johannesburg, we headed to the Lion Park. I had been wanting to visit the park ever since hearing a colleague’s fabulous stories about petting lion cubs there, and thought it would be a really cool experience to take the baby and take some photos of him up close and personal with African wildlife.

We weren’t disappointed!

Did someone say lion cubs?
Visiting the Lion Park is a perfect activity for families with young children (even as young as ours) because guests can self-drive, preferable with kids because you don’t have to worry about them bothering other guests when you’re in your own vehicle. 200 rand (about $20) gets you admission to the park, all the self-driving you want, plus the lion cub interaction activity. The self-drive was pretty cool – we saw several adult lions and cheetahs. In another section of the park, guests can also feed giraffes and ostriches. Lots of fun!

But the best part was hands down the lion cub interaction. Here, you can take turns entering an enclosure where you can pet several cubs and have your photo taken with them! Not many people, and especially not many five-month-olds, can say they’ve pet a real, live baby lion.  I know the baby won’t remember any of the trip, but he (and we) sure will have fun looking at all of the photos when he’s older. "Remember that time you pet a lion cub?!"

More later on our visit to Pilanesburg Game Reserve's lovely Bakubung Bush Lodge.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Traveling to Botswana With a Two Month Old

This past February, we ended our lovely time at home for maternity leave and departed Florida for the long trip back to Botswana. The route – Orlando to Atlanta to Johannesburg to Gaborone – includes the second- longest single leg direct flight in the world. It takes almost 17 hours to fly from Johannesburg to Gaborone. 

Asleep, post-bouncing.
Although this was not our first time on this flight, it was certainly our first time on the flight with a baby!  Throwing a two month old into the mix made flying a whole new experience. Our typical pre-baby routine on other long flights we’ve taken between, for example, Atlanta and Johannesburg; Shanghai and Chicago; Hong Kong and Newark; Shanghai and Sydney; or Sydney and San Francisco has been:

Arrive at airport two hours early
Check in
Saunter around airport and buy magazines and candy for the flight
Board plane
Excited to finally be aboard the plane.
Watch a movie
Eat dinner
Watch another movie
Take Ambien
Sleep for 8 hours
Watch movie #3
Eat breakfast
Watch movie #4

– And voila! There we are in a new destination.

Enter baby and change the travel routine to:

The little traveler.
Arrive at airport four hours early “just in case”
Parent #1 struggles through the airport with five suitcases (two for each parent and one for the baby)
Parent #2 juggles screaming baby, diaper bag, and stroller
Parent #2 hands off baby to Parent #1
Parent #1 bounces baby (who is still screaming) to sleep
Parent #2 quickly grabs some sandwiches for the flight
Two parents lug baby and stroller and car seat and diaper bag and carry-ons and finally board the plane
Two parents spend 17 hours taking turns stroking baby’s cheek, holding baby’s pacifier in his mouth, changing baby’s diaper, intently watching baby in his car seat to make sure he really is sleeping, walking baby up and down the aisle when he gets bored. Parent #2 feeds baby every three hours (she is the female parent).
Parent #2 manages to watch half a movie during the 17 hour flight.
When the plane lands, two parents wait until everyone else disembarks, and then they lug baby and stroller and car seat and diaper bag and stroller off the plane.

Two parents collapse in exhaustion…

– And voila! There we are back in Gaborone. Easy, right?! :D

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Baby on Safari

I know, I know… I’ve sorely neglected this blog! Time has flown by and life has changed so much since my last posting at the end of September. 

Baby on Safari
Big Change Number One: We are now proud parents to the most adorable little baby boy who ever lived! Baby is five months old now and changing every day. He’s “talking” (baby talk), almost sitting up, and enjoying new flavors like banana and avocado in addition to his regular bottles. Since this is a blog about our life in Africa and African travel experiences, I should also mention that Baby has already been on his first safari! We took him on a game drive for his three-month birthday and he loved every minute of it. Zebras were his favorite, as they have black and white stripes, a pattern which is apparently very popular with young babies.   

Africa Baby
 Next weekend, we’re taking him a road trip to the Ann van Dyk Cheetah Centre, the Johannesburg Lion Park, and Pilanesburg National Park as our last hurrah in southern Africa before we depart to our next post. 

Which leads me to Big Change Number Two: We are leaving Botswana in early August! We have enjoyed many aspects of our time here but two years has been more than enough to experience power outages, water shortages, infrastructure challenges, poor customer service, and a stressful work environment. 

We are very much looking forward to our next adventure – a posting in Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina from July 2015-2017! Before arriving in Sarajevo, we will be back in Washington, D.C. for 10 months of Serbo-Croatian training. Our family is excited to spend some time closer to home for a little while, and then to explore Bosnia and surrounding countries from Sarajevo for two years. I have heard nothing but good things about Sarajevo – countless travel opportunities within driving distance; interesting and vibrant city; friendly people; and good food. Baby will certainly be a well-traveled little boy!

More to come later on our trip next weekend, as well as a post on Tips for Traveling to Botswana with a Two Month Old Baby. Yes, I'll be speaking from experience.

Thanks for reading and stay tuned!