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Henry’s Happenings – Safari to Kenya

March 26th, 2015 by

Into Africa: Part 1

Henry Dennis

In November, I traveled to Africa at the invitation of Jim Holden, President, and Kim Severini, Vice President of African Travel, Inc. I was part of a select group of AAA travel agents who traveled on an educational trip to Kenya with a stopover in Dubai. Over the next few weeks, I’ll share a piece of my journey with you. I hope you will enjoy being along for the ride!


Once I received my official confirmation, I began preparing for the trip. Going to Africa is very different than taking a cruise, going to the Caribbean or even to Europe. Not only do you have a much longer flight, but you also have to think about visas for entrance to the various countries, vaccinations, and the most difficult of all: packing!


I flew from Charlotte to Chicago. From Chicago, I flew Emirates Airlines to Dubai where I had an overnight stay. The flight from Chicago to Dubai was 15 hours and an overnight flight. After a short overnight stay in Dubai, we flew Emirates from Dubai to Nairobi. This was another 5 hour flight.

Coming home, our flight left Nairobi at about 12:30A and arrived in Dubai five hours later at 5:30A. We left Dubai at 9:45A and got back to Chicago fifteen hours later around 2:45P. I cleared US Customs/Immigration very quickly in Chicago using my newly acquired Global Entry membership.


The visa part was actually very simple. Dubai (United Arab Emirates) did not require a visa. Kenya requires a visa but you have a choice to submit your passport/visa form to the Kenyan Embassy and get it in advance or you can get it at the airport on arrival. I chose to get mine on arrival. Kenyan immigration officials have a visa desk at the Nairobi airport. It is the first stop you make when you arrive. You must have a valid US passport with at least 6 months validity after your travel date and pay the visa fee which is currently $50.00, payable in cash. If you have traveled to any countries that have yellow fever present, you must also have a yellow fever vaccination certificate.


Top 10 Sightseeing Experiences in South Africa

March 9th, 2015 by

African Travel, Inc.’s Top 10 Sightseeing Experiences in South Africa
Safari Specialists name their top picks

1. City and Regional ToursChapman's Peak Drive with Hout Bay in the background
“I would definitely recommend taking a private half-day tour of Johannesburg if you have a layover in Johannesburg or are staying in the city. I enjoyed seeing the sites of downtown Johannesburg, including Constitution Hill, but the highlight of the tour for me was definitely the Apartheid Museum. This moving and provocative experience educated me about the plight of the South Africa people through this tumultuous time in South Africa’s history. I highly recommend anyone the tour to everyone.”

“I really enjoyed our Peninsula Tour that took us to the Cape of Good Hope and included a trip to Boulders Beach. It was thrilling to see the Jackass Penguins up close! Hearing our guide, Mark, comment about the history and culture of the area was enlightening and truly added to my appreciation of the area.”

2. White Shark Projects
“White Shark Projects (SWSP) has been on my bucket list since I was a child. In this thrilling experience, cage-diving with the world’s most feared marine predator is coupled with sincere educational efforts from experienced marine biologists. We received numerous briefings from the staff, and by the time we reached the dive site I had a basic understanding of shark behavior as well as migration and eating habits. The cage was about 8’ tall, 3’ deep and 12’ wide and fit a total of six divers. I learned that South Africa has an Aquatic Big Five – whales, sharks, dolphins, seals and penguins) , and witnessed seven sharks ranging from 12’-16’. I would recommend the morning run, as opposed to the noon trip, as the seas are likely to be calmer at that point. WSP provides wetsuits, booties and a mask – all you need to bring is a bathing suit and your courage!”

3. Table Mountain Aerial CablewayCable-Car-View-onto-CPT_300
“The Table Mountain Aerial Cableway is an important experience for Cape Town visitors. Definitely plan on doing it in the morning, as the wind picks up and often the afternoon trip is canceled. Also, try to get there earlier rather than later if you can because the queue gets long very quickly. We arrived about 9:30 a.m. and by the time we got to the Gondola, the line had tripled from the arriving buses.”

4. Robben Island
“Robben Island, located just 11 kilometers off the coast of Cape Town, has a long and harsh history as a place of banishment for those deemed to be a threat to the ruling society. Those imprisoned here over the centuries have included Khoikhoi leaders, exiled Muslims from the east, African chiefs opposing Dutch and British imperialism, as well as petty criminals, lepers and the criminally ill. At one point during World War II, it even served as a military base. If you are fascinated by the real history of South Africa – and not just its gorgeous, serene landscapes – this tops the list as a ‘must-see’ experience.”

5. Hector Pieterson Memorial & Museum with Antoinette Pieterson Sithole
Hector Pieterson Museum“The Hector Pieterson Memorial & Museum opened in Soweto in 2002, not far from the spot that 12-year-old Hector was shot in June 1975 during the Soweto uprising. Today, the museum is a symbol of resistance to apartheid government’s brutality. I even had the opportunity to meet and speak with Antoinette Pieterson, Hector’s sister, just steps from the famous photograph of her running alongside her brother in the arms of Sam Mzima. Antoinette gave us a stunning recount of the Soweto school children march, the tragic day that changed the course of South African history, and I believe every traveler should take advantage of being able to hear her firsthand account.”

 Photo: Antionette Pieterson and Anais Chavez at the Hector Pieterson Museum

6. School Visits
“I had the honor of visiting a local elementary school in the township of Langa, just outside Cape Town. The children were adorable, so happy to have visitors, and they entertained us with native songs and dances before we joined them on the playground. I was fighting back tears when we left as the children gave us big hugs good-bye and blew kisses as we drove off. This heartwarming opportunity to see Africa in its authenticity allowed me to truly connect with the destination and I plan on visiting again when I return.”


7. Kruger National Park and Private Game Reserve
“The first time I saw a leopard in the wild was during a game drive in South Africa, and the beautiful cat literally took my breath away. This was during my very first visit to a private reserve, one that lay along Kruger National Park’s western border. We were very lucky. These cats are one not only spectacularly gorgeous, but very difficult to find. Staying at a private game reserve as opposed to sojourning in Kruger National Park certainly has its benefits – and one of them is the ability to find reclusive game.

The other benefits are pretty important too. Within Kruger National Park (South Africa’s version of our Yellowstone), only closed vehicles are permitted to drive on the limited access roads. This is for safety, so when a car is surrounded by a pride of lions, ‘Windows up and doors locked!’ With nearly one million visitors a year, it’s easy to imagine how crowded the park road become. The facilities in Kruger are basic and not well-suited for international visitors.

Loding in a private game reserve, however, permits licensed park rangers to drive off the main roads during day and night game drives in an open (no roof) Range Rover. Walking safaris are allowed and the lodges and camps are superb! By staying in a private game reserve, you have a great opportunity to experience the African bush in an up-close-and-personal way. And like I said before — leopards!:

8. Bo-Kaapbo-kaap_cape town
“Visiting the colorful Bo-Kaap area of Cape Town definitely belongs on your bucket list, thanks to the richness of blended cultures. On my trip, we walked along the festive streets and ventured into a gorgeous little spice shop. We left, with some new aromatic additions, and went to the home of a local Bo-Kaap woman who instructed us on the art of making samosas – with a great deal of sass and charm, I might add. After cooking up a storm, we enjoyed the fruits of our labor. While every traveler might not be so lucky to go home to feast with a local, the charming area is definitely worth experiencing – and I highly recommend buying some spices.”

9. Whale Watching
“Few things in life are as magnificent as spotting a majestic whale and realizing it’s even bigger than you imagined it would be. Every year, from June through November, Southern Right whales migrate from the Antarctic waters into the Indian Ocean – and unlike many other declining African populations, these whales are quite plentiful. They also have a propensity to inhabit shallow waters, close to the shore, so travelers can easily sight these gentle giants from shore. I always highly recommend my clients partake in land-based whale watching during their stay, because it’s much more convenient and much less expensive than sea-based excursions. And let’s be honest – this is an unforgettable experience that you will cherish for the rest of your life.”

10. Franshhoek Wine TourWine Tram Tour
“I think the Franshhoek Wine Tram tour might have been my favorite experience on the whole trip, and it definitely belongs on any South Africa Top 10 list. This truly fun experience included tram, train and tractor rides with various stops along the way. Our favorite was at the top of the hill on the Red Line at Dieu Donne – we enjoyed fantastic views over the valley, sampled artisanal cheeses that went perfectly with the fabulous wine, and ventured on a nice little stroll down the hill to the next stop. Blue skies, green grass, yellow cheese and (for me) red wine – various hues of the rainbow paired with multi-million dollar views. Most stops offer restaurants, so you can make reservations as you go and plan your evening that way. I tell my guests, I was there! I did that! And I can personally recommend it’s something you’re sure to love as well.”

Top 10 Culinary Experiences in South Africa

February 4th, 2015 by

African Travel, Inc. asked their own safari specialists for their favorite top culinary experiences in South Africa and a below is a list of the top 10.

1. Sabi Sabi Earth LodgeEarth Lodge Cuisine

Dining in the wine cellar at South Africa’s Sabi Sabi Earth Lodge is truly an unforgettable experience. The cool subterranean wine cellar is romantically lit with soft lights and candles, creating an indulgent atmosphere long before the sumptuous meals are even served. Mouth-watering dishes are paired with a collection of more than 6,000 bottles of rare wines; dining at this venue is a must!

2. StellenboschBites & Sites Classic Cape Cuisine Walk

Established in 1679, Stellenbosch is the second oldest town in South Africa and is arguably one of the loveliest. Taking the “Bites & Sites Classic Cape Cuisine Walk” is a fascinating (and tasty!) introduction to this vibrant university town. Enjoy a tea and rusk tasting, sample a variety of white and red wines from various award-winning estates, savor a trilogy of fragrant Cape dishes, and experience the legendary local sweet treats like koeksister, milktart and malva pudding – all while touring the town’s romantic oak-lined streets and outdoor art exhibitions.

3. Flagship

The Flagship is a celebrated restaurant that was recently taken over by Chef Duncan Doherty. The legacy of late Chef Bruce Robertson lives on in this innovative restaurant, which pairs a signature five-course chef’s table seafood lunch with wine for a superb “piece of culinary theatre.” The establishment is a firm believer in the Slow Food movement, which supports sustainable food by catching only the fish in the morning that they plan on serving for lunch, and their wine pairings are like a piece of heaven on Earth.

4. The Twelve Apostles Hotel

Twelve Apostles Hotel_ delectable platterThe Twelve Apostles Hotel is rightfully recognized as one of South Africa’s top places for wining and dining – and for good reason. The modern French menu is tastefully mixed with South African influences, and the menu is updated regularly. In 2013, the hotel made its debut into the coveted American Express Fine Dining Awards list and more than 95% of the items on the menu are sourced from the Western Cape, following the Hotel’s Responsible and Sustainable Environmental Policies. Don’t miss the amazing Champagne and Oyster breakfast, or their innovative Eggs Benedict. The Twelve Apostles also knows just how to do dessert – check out the delectable platter!

 5. Apprentice @ Institute of Culinary Arts

Stellenbosch is also home to the Apprentice @ Institute of Culinary Arts, situated among various other restaurants, art galleries and tourist shops. Owned and managed by the Institute of Culinary Arts chef school, the restaurant is run entirely by culinary students under the guidance of the Head Chef and Managers. All menu items are prepared and everything is made in-house, including melt-in-your-mouth, straight-out-of-the-oven bread baskets.

6. Ferrymans Tavern

Ferrymans Tavern, which opened in 1989, was the first tenant in the V&A Waterfront and it remains ever-popular. It has established a loyal following of regulars over the years, from Cape Town residents and – in many cases – those from much farther away. The establishment offers something for everyone, including an outside beer garden, children’s play area, jungle gym and big screen TV’s for a host of sports fans. The Tavern is bursting with energy, oftentimes with crowds of people dancing to an assortment of local bands.

7. Franschhoek Country House & VillasMonneaux Restaurant 261

The award-winning Monneaux Restaurant in Franschhoek Country House & Villas is luxury and charm at its best. The restaurant serves an inspired contemporary take on Mediterranean classics, influenced by local cape malay flavors and skillfully blended into signature dishes with compliments from fresh seasonal produce.  Even by the standards set forth by the food and wine capital, Monneaux is exquisite – the restaurant has been voted as one of South Africa’s Top 100 Restaurants for the past six years and was also awarded the acclaimed American Express Platinum Fine Dining Award. 

 8. La Petite Ferme

La Petite FermeBesides the amazing food, the heavenly views of the Franschhoek Valley alone make this a great place to relax and have lunch. La Petite Ferme also has one of the more intimate wineries in the Cape Winelands, crafting its wines using time as its artisan.


 9. Bread & Wine Vineyard Restaurant

Set in the Moreson Winery, Bread & Wine Vineyard Restaurant is a staff favorite due to its rustic charm and laid-back atmosphere. Gorgeous trees provide a shaded retreat to enjoy the exquisite food, including the best charcuterie in South Africa hands down. Bread baking is available for groups of eight or more, but one of the most exciting events in this establishment is February’s Blessing of the Harvest. Pick your own grapes and make wine the old-fashioned way – with your feet! 

10. The Twelve Apostles Hotel & Spa Azure Restaurant

Azure-Restaurant-12AThe Twelve Apostles deserves two places on our list due to its phenomenal culinary offerings. In addition to the fabulous food available through its other venues, The Twelve Apostles is home to the award-winning Azure Restaurant and its magical international and indigenous cuisine. Overlooking the Pacific Ocean, the incredible views are some of the Mother City’s best and it is an overwhelming staff favorite for sundowners and sunsets. Whales can often be spotted in the mornings and afternoons, breaching right off the coast. Azure offers a high-end selection of entrees, including seafood, meats, and local African cuisine. From the delicate fresh oysters to the massive seafood platter, guests’ taste buds are infused by the finest organic ingredients and brilliant flavor combinations.


The rescue of Roi

January 15th, 2015 by

On the 22nd October Richard Roberts from the Mara Elephant Project contacted us about the plight of a young milk dependent calf, approximately 10 months old, whose mother had been found dead on the plains of the Masai Mara that day.  Closer inspection of the dead mother revealed that she had been poached and died from a poisoned spear wound on her cheek.  She had been photographed by a visitor happily feeding with her little baby underfoot, both alive and well.  

The next day the tragedy unfolded and the same visitor found a very different scenario with the baby confused by her dead mothers side, but in the company of the rest of the herd, trying to come to terms with it all.  The little calf was then whisked away by the rest of the herd but not before she had said her painful goodbyes to her lifeless mother.  As a milk dependent baby she would have little hope of survival without being rescued as a lactating mother in the herd would never have enough milk to satiate two calves.  The tragedy was reported to the Mara Elephant Project and KWS. Everyone realized that her young milk dependent calf had little hope of survival without her Mum and that she needed to be rescued before the herd travelled great distances with her, possibly into Tanzania where the hope of any rescue would be lost forever.  The baby without sufficient milk would only get weaker and weaker and eventually be unable to keep up with the herd, and be left behind.

Coordinating together with the DSWT elephant Keeper rescue team, who had by now landed at Olare Orok airstrip, Richard Roberts of MEP had the unenviable fraught task of separating this baby from the herd before she was spirited away and lost.   With careful maneuvering the calf was separated by vehicle in order to enable the DSWT Keepers to quickly leap from the moving land cruiser and restrain the baby.   This took some planning as the matriarch was extremely protective of the young orphaned baby.  What had been observed in the meantime was when the orphaned calf tried to suckle her (She had her own calf a little older than the orphaned baby so was lactating) she would push her away, not prepared to share her milk and deprive her own baby.  The separation was done extremely effectively by the DSWT, so experienced in restraining elephants, and with so many others from the MEP prepared to jump in and help.  The little calf was wrapped and strapped and prepared for her flight to Nairobi, while the rest of the team from the MEP together with the DSWT funded Mara Mobile Veterinary Unit headed by KWS Veterinary Officer Dr. Limo went to do an autopsy on the dead mother to absolutely confirm her cause of death.  Her tusks in the meantime had been removed by the authorities.  

We named the little girl Roi and she was watched and cared for closely throughout the flight by the DSWT Keepers and given some tranquilizer to take the edge off what had been an extremely traumatic and heartbreaking day for her.  She finally arrived at the DSWT Nursery in Nairobi National Park after dark.  She was a very robust baby from the outset not having been without mothers milk for long, and thankfully very soon took to the bottle which made things simpler.   She was confined to a stockade for a couple of days but remained aggressive and clearly agitated when the others left her orbit for the day out in the Park.  We made the decision to let her out despite her not having tamed down as much as we would ideally like and this made all the difference.  She was immediately comfortable and content amidst the older orphans who paid her attention and provided her with the elephant love and affection she craved and missed.  She was hooked on her milk bottle so continued to gravitate towards the Keepers for her three hourly feeds.

As the days have passed little Roi has settled in completely and is now extremely attached to her Keepers, familiar with the routine and is playing once more and she appears to be genuinely  happy.

To foster Roi, please CLICK HERE

HOWIE’S Southern African Safari

August 15th, 2014 by

#1 – Cape Town

Meet Mark Bayman, our veteran Thompson’s guide who met us as we finally arrived in CPT via Dubai and Johannesburg.

Mark Bayman_Thompsons Guide

Mark works exclusively with Thompsons and frequently handles ATI’s important clients.  No, not me, but folks like the Klein’s from L.A. who were in the week before we were.  He’s licensed as a National Guide, which means he can take folks along the Garden Route as well as local sightseeing.

Mark is as good as they get…reads his guests well, knows more than Google about every aspect of his country and a most pleasant fellow to spend time with.  My wife, Susan, and I tend to ask a lot of questions, just ask Mark!  Many of them are political and economic questions along with the usual touristic ones.  He didn’t duck a one and his pride in the progress his country has made was palpable along with his honesty about the issues the country faces.

As we drove past the Cape Town window where Mandela addressed the crowd right after his release from Robben Island, he told us how he’d ridden his bike there that day not sure of what he’d experience.  First person insights like that sharpened our picture of Mandiba’s huge contribution to the country.

Accommodating doesn’t begin to describe him.  He was more than willing to get soaked with us as we braved the pouring rain for a classic Cape of Good Hope picture.  He informed us that the explorer who first rounded it called it the “Cape of Storms”.  However, the spin doctors in Portugal thought that wouldn’t be good for trade and tourism.

Howie and wife

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