Like Duck to Water, thats how I have taken to life :). This blog is the saga of love and adventures of a small duck in a large water body called LIFE....

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Monday, May 31, 2010

BTFYA 8 - South Africa and Mauritius

Last but one post of the Back-to-five-years-ago series. This actually happened 5 years and 3 months ago in Feb 2005, but well, I couldn't really put up this in Feb, as things were beyond my control then. Well, better late than never :).

One of things you do after you get engaged and are about to get married is decide where to go on your honeymoon :-D. Well, my first choice was and is Switzerland (still haven't gotten that wish :-p), but any place in Europe is no fun at all in the month of Feb ;-). I hadn't been outside India except for a Nepal (Kathmandu and Pokhran) trip with my parents, so I said anything was fine. When Sri suggested South Africa, I have to admit I thought it strange. I mean I had never had SA in my have-to-see-in-my-lifetime-tick-mark list :-D. But well, as I found out more about it, the more I was excited :). So we thought we'll head to South Africa and then to Mauritius for a couple of days.

Not only that, when I met Sri I told him that I want to bungee jump once in my life. Well, his wedding gift to me was a bungee jumping chance in SA :-D. We decided that we'll go and then take it from there. We never told either set of parents that we were even considering anything like that :-D. The secrecy was fun and if we didn't jump, then they would never even know about it ;-).

We got married on Feb 4th, spent the next couple of days in Hyderabad (where we had another reception ceremony) and were back to Bangalore on 12th. We had the flight to Johannesburg the very next day on 13th.

I always say that you don't know a person until you have lived with him/her. So basically we learnt each others' quirks only on this trip and it was enlightening to say the least :-D. On the flight (I think it was 5 hours long), I woke up to see that Sri wasn't in his seat. After waiting for more than half an hour, I started getting worried thinking he maybe having some stomach problems. Then I get up and look back and guess what I found. My hubby found some empty seats and was sleeping quite comfortably :-D, hehehee :)). Yeah I did try to strangle his neck once he got up, just because he got me so worried ;-).

We landed in Johannesburg on the 14th of Feb and flew to Capetown from there. We took a walk around the hotel and we visited the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront at the Table Bay. The table bay faces the huge Table mountain and its simply a beautiful place. The waterfront was like any pier you see in US, but since I was seeing a pier for the first time, everything was fun. I think we had lunch at a Thai place, another first :). All in all we roamed around the place for quite a while. Another surprising thing then was that the sun didn't set till about 7:30 Pm which was a big deal for me than. I remember being so thrilled that the sun is high up in the sky at about 6 PM :-D.

The next day we went on a tour of Capetown and surroundings. Our first stop was the table mountain. The mountain is named so, because it has a level plateau (of about 3 km side to side) and has cliffs named Devil's peak and Lion's head. You can see 3 main things from the top - almost the entire Cape town (with the table bay), Robben island where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for almost 27 years and Signal hill which acted like a lighthouse for many years there. The signal hill is famous for the noon gun (which is fired at precisely 12 in the noon).

We climbed on to a rope-way and got to the top. The weather was another plus point of SA. It was very pleasant even at the top and we spent a long time walking around and seeing the views all around.

After that we got down and went to the Cape point. We took the Flying Dutchman Funicular (an uphill railway) to an old lighthouse and then had to climb steep steps to get to a place where the Cape point could be seen. They even had markings in various directions showing how far it was to various places in the world from there (I remember New Delhi being one of the places, but I certainly don't remember the distance :-D).

From there we got down and moved a short distance to get to Cape of Good Hope. Unlike what many people think, the cape is not the Southern tip of Africa (we thought wrong too!), but it is the extreme southwestern tip of Africa. The cape point as well as the Cape of Good hope are both in the the extreme southwestern peninsula of Africa, while Cape Agulhas is the actual southernmost tip.

I felt pretty proud to have visited one of the most talked about places in history :). We went on to visit a penguins colony in Boulders beach and then had lunch there near the beach. Spent some time near the beach and just like that our tour of cape town was over :).

On 16th Feb, we rented and car and started driving (well, actually Sri rented and drove the car :-D). Our plan was to drive to Port Elizabeth and visit a couple of places on the way.

I had never been on a self-driving trip before and didn't really get the charm of it until we did this. The comfort of stopping anywhere you want and visit any place for how much ever time you want to is something else and somehow the trip has been the basis for all the driving trips we have gone on here in the US (hope to continue the same once we are back in India). We stopped for lunch at a place called Mossel Bay (Point B on the map) and spent some time at the beach there. Then drove to Oudtshoorn (Point C) where we'd stop for the night.

The hotel at Oudtshoorn was named La Plume and right opposite to it across the road was an ostrich farm. The big tall birds were majestic and they were oh so curious about the two of us (we were the only people lurking around). We knew that their kicks are pretty powerful and wondered whether the fences could actually stop them ;-). Still I wanted to pet them :-D. Well, I did get my wish the next day :-D.

Next day, 17th Feb early morning we headed to the Cango Caves. The caves were beautiful and we had loads of fun since we took the adventure tour of the cave.

The adventure tour was another extreme thing I have done in my life. It had climbing precarious steps, moving sideways in narrow spaces, crawling and sliding through natural rock openings. It was absolutely thrilling :-D. You can see the entire tour here on this page :-D.

We next went to Cango Ostrich farm, where I got to feed an ostrich :). The ostrich eggs are so strong that they can bear lots of weight on them (we both took turns to stand on a set of eggs!). Well, we could have also ridden an ostrich, but both of us said no to that (I wonder why now :-D).

We had a good time and then visited the Cango wildlife ranch which was right across the road from the farm. It was a pretty normal zoo except that we could pay and touch leopard cubs/tiger cubs if we wanted to. I really wanted to, but it was pretty expensive, so couldn't :-\. From there on we drove to our hotel in a place called Wilderness. The route from Oudtshoorn to Wilderness was on mountainous region, so it made for awesome views on the way.

We reached Wilderness in the evening and went to Knysna (point D) to take a sunset cruise at the bay there :). Knysna is pronounced "Nice na" which was apt for the place :-D.

We came back and stayed at Wilderness. Our hotel was right next to a beach and I remember going there in the dark, sitting on a couple of steps in light rain with Sri and feeling really blessed to be there :).

The next day was the D-day. We went to the Bloukrans bridge where a company called Face Adrenalin operates the world's third highest bungy jump (it was the world's highest when we went there - 216m). We didn't even know whether we'd do it until we went there. I remember seeing the bridge and muttering on the way to myself that I must be crazy :-D. We actually wanted to jump in tandem (harnessed together :-D), but sadly they had only solo jumps. We paid up and then there was no going back :-D.

I was the second person to jump off the bridge that particular morning, the first being a member of the operating team (Sri conveniently dumping the honour on me by saying "Ladies first" :-p). We were bound with harnesses while the team members told us how exactly the jump would happen. People have the tendency to hold their breaths and they told us that we have to try and breathe :-D. I remember being crazy scared all the time, I guess the expression on my face says it all :-D.

I still get goosebumps watching the video :-D. It has been the most amazing experience of my life so far. There is about 7 seconds of pure terror and when the rope (which is elastic) pulls you back, thats when you know you are alive and the adrenaline rush after that is huggggggge ;-). They pulled me up and I was jumping up and down :-D. Next was Sri's turn :).

I still tease him saying that he didn't actually jump, but the guys there pushed him :-D. Here's us all ecstatic :).

We didn't really know what to do with the adrenaline, so we immediately went to the Tsitsikamma National Park where we hiked it off :). We took the waterfall trail which is almost 3 km one way (so hiked for 5-6 km in total) and we had to literally climb rocks to reach the water fall. And it was beautiful. The water fall faces the ocean and it makes for a wonderful view. Here's me sitting in front of the ocean..

Sri was sitting facing me with the waterfall behind him, so you can imagine the scenery :).

Well, we went back to Wilderness for the night and next morning drove to Port Elizabeth. From there, we flew to Johannesburg and stayed the night there at a Casino (don't remember the name sadly :-D). Still don't know how or why it happened, but we were upgraded to one of the highest suites there :-D. And the suite was like a huge mansion. Man, some things you never forget :-D.

Next morning, 20th Feb,our 6-day SA trip came to an end as we flew to Mauritius. Somehow Mauritius felt like a letdown after SA, mainly because of the weather. It was very humid and sultry weather. Sounds nice ;-) :-D, but believe me, it was uncomfortable after being in such pleasant weather all over SA. We had a package tour for Mauritius which included stay in a hotel called Les Cocotiers which had a beach and a 3-day tour. The beaches there surprised me with the serene water and almost no waves. Its almost like the island is actually in a lake :).

The first day tour consisted of going to the Grand Baie (Grand Bay) which was a pier and had the typical attractions of a pier.

The tour had about 6 couples all Indian and all on their honeymoon :-D. Yeah it was a love fest alright :-D. From there we went to the Pamplemousses Garden, which is seen in most Indian movie songs :-D. We even saw trees planted by various Indian prime ministers and presidents there :-D.

And that was that for the day. The next day we went to several places. We saw Dutch ruins, a model ship making factory and a Lord Shiva temple. We also visited the Chamarel Waterfall..

And then went to a dormant volcano crater known as Trou aux Cerfs. Well it didn't look anything like a volcano :-D.

Supposedly this volcano could become active at any time within the next thousand years :-O.

Our next stop was the 7-coloured earth. This was fascinating - at first look it looked like a mud dump, but its actually volcanic sand reflecting off different shades of colours..

We do look tired, don't we? :). That was it for the day.

The next day was the pièce de résistance :-D. We were taken to this beautiful island called Île aux Cerfs (french meaning "deer") by boat. The island had beautiful blue clear water and white sands. We really enjoyed the water and the environment. Though it was crowded and there were no deer to be found, it was still pristine and lovely :). No photos though :(.

Well, the next 2 days we could do what we wanted, but we basically lounged at the hotel and relaxed. I wanted to go para-sailing and do another activity called undersea walking, but well, I twisted my ankle a bit when playing on the beach (it wasn't as bad as it sounds), so Sri absolutely refused the para-sailing idea :-D. Meanwhile we didn't have water shoes and the water in the deer island as well as our hotel had these sharp thorns (don't know what they were) and somehow Sri had these multiple thorns embedded into his foot. So he became a total baby about it and hence we couldn't go undersea walking either :-p. I spent one whole evening tending to the thorns in his foot :-p. Romantic, isn't it? :-D.

I have to admit, we did enjoy a couple of beautiful sunsets at the hotel beach :).

And then we returned to reality, hehehe :)). Back to Bangalore and to our lives together. But soon, we had to move to US and the initial years were something of a long honeymoon ;-).

I still remember how weird I used to feel when calling Sri my husband at that time - the word tasted so new and different :-D. And the phase certainly wasn't all fun - I had never been away from my parents so long, away from my country so long. There was also lot of initial adjustments to each other going on, so there were some weird phases around :-D. It was certainly a period of transition :). Also we did tell our parents about the bungy once we came back and got nicely scolded, hehehe :). I love telling people "We bungee-jumped on our honeymoon" purely for the shock value and the expressions on their faces, hehehe :))).

Writing this post has been more fun than I thought it would be. I had to research quite a bit because we don't have the itineraries anymore and we don't have photos of every place we went to. So I kept asking Sri, did we stay here or there. Did we go here first or there? :-D. Since Mauritius has a French influence, I didn't know the names of most places we went to :-D. With internet, its not impossible to find out stuff these days, thank God :). I loved reliving the memories and got all nostalgic. Has it really been 5 years already? And we have a toddler too! Time sure feels like a whirlwind sometimes :-\.

Well, I really wanted to write this post as this was a major part of our relationship. Once more post in the BTFYA series and I'm done. It should be up soon :).

Monday, May 10, 2010

New to Newport :).

No excuses this time, will straightaway start on the post :-D. We went to the Newport aquarium on a weekend about two weeks back. We have known about it almost since the time I have been here in Lexington. The reason that we are visiting it only now is because personally I am not too fond of aquariums. I am of the belief that once you have seen one, you have seen them all :-p. But well, having Snugli to cater for (;-) :-D), we have to come up with different things for her to enjoy (a zoo visit is long overdue :-D). Since she always loves the "fishies" in the doctors' office (the only thing she loves about those :-D), we thought she'd enjoy a visit to the aquarium.

And she did :). The only problem we had with the entire visit was a slow irritating drizzling rain that lingered that entire day :-p. Well, aquariums are indoor environments, so I can't really complain about the rain now, can I? :-p.

What with my photography experimentation, I wasn't always with Sri and Snugli, but we had a good time whenever I was able to catch up with them :-D. Sri was saying that Snugli would go to a fish tank and call out to the fishes "Fishy baa illi" (Fishy, come here) and most fishes don't really take kindly to human presence, so they'd promptly run away :-D. We did touch a sting ray together :-D.

Then spent some nice time in front of a hugggggggggge fish tank :).

The aquarium even had a children play area which Snugli enjoyed.

Actually I think I enjoyed it more than she did, because they had a frogger machine :-D. I must have gone back to it some 10 times, hehehehe :).

My favourite part of the whole experience was being able to touch a shark (it was not a full-fledged shark, but I digress :-p) :). I had never touched neither a shark nor a sting ray before that :). Sri didn't want to get his hands fishy :-D, while Snugli tried her best, but couldn't reach any of the sharks (the pool was a bit deep, even though it doesn't look deep).

And that was that. As for my photography, I researched quite a bit about photography in aquariums, but didn't get any concrete settings for a correct photo. So I had to experiment quite a bit (Manual mode, Aperture (f2.7 - f3.5), Shutter speed (1/125 to 1/13), White balance (Tungsten, Fluorescent) and ISO (400)). Most sites suggested a tripod, so I carried it with me (yeah didn't forget the plate this time), but hardly used it as it wasn't easy to avoid the glass glare while using it. Moreover high ISO resulted in noisy photos, so had to use some image manipulation (noise reduction, brightness/contrast settings change) which I am not too fond of (its a necessary evil sometimes, but not always - I'll talk more about my views on it in some other post). With all that, I am not very happy with the photos, need to do more research :). Here are some photos I am okay with ;-) :).

Loved this red fella (the photo is a little blurry, I wish I could have taken a better one) :).

The aquarium also had a small aviary, so took this one of a parrot (forgot to change the ISO, so the noise has been reduced :-D)..

Jelly fish - have to mention this, the music there for the jelly fish section was so apt for the way they moved :).

This is my best of the series I think - its a variety of jelly fish (took it in super-macro mode flat against the aquarium glass)..

The next 2 snaps are movement photos (the background is blurry because of the movement and the subjects are harder to capture this way, so I'm proud of myself :-D) - first one of a shark..

And one of a penguin - this fella was hell bent on doing tricks in the water to please the crowd of children watching :).

Hope you enjoyed the show. Want to write a set of posts within this week (as I said, we have camping, zoo trips within May and a long much-awaited trip coming up in June, so my to-be-written-posts-quota will rise higher and higher if I am not done with some stuff soon :-\), but lets see how it goes :).