Happy New Year! Welcome to 2023. Let’s make it a good one.
I don’t make resolutions anymore. I feel they just set you up for disappointment. And you have every day of your life to set goals and make your life how you dream it. It doesn’t have to be on January 1st. So wishing you a great progression of dreams and goals and prosperity and happiness and love.
Africa has been on my bucket list for a long time. It FINALLY happened and man, what a fantastic experience. I can’t wait to go back.
I saw the Big Five – Lion, Leopard, African Buffalo, Rhino and the African elephant within the first few days of starting our safari. My favorite, the leopard. WOW, which we were told, pretty much lets you see it when it wants you to see it. Otherwise, good luck. Thank you Ms. leopard, I was in awe.
There were thirteen of us in the group, not including Lucky, our tour guide extraordinaire. We called ourselves the Lucky 13. 🙂 In the group were my parents and 10 other Americans. We had this trip planned for 2020 but you know what happened then. The company we went with was OAT travel and I have to say that the interior of the trip (the safaris, the excursions, helping us with the visas, transports, hotels, etc.) was fantastic. But the exterior (the OAT online/ in office staff, the information, etc.) was not so great. We received different information every time we called, which we had to do because it took weeks to get back an email response. And because of that misinformation, my parents and I ended up paying about $1000 more because of things we needed to add – hotel rooms, flights. But that is all I will say about that because this post is about the fabulousness of our Africa experience.
First up is Kruger National Park. We were in three different National parks – Kruger in South Africa, Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe and Chobe National Park in Botswana. All of them were a bit different. OAT broke up each safari stop with a more restful place so it wasn’t all safari safari safari. We stayed in each place for three nights and then would move on to our next adventure, the trip in total (with our Cape Town extension) was almost a month long.
We flew into Nespruit from Johannesburg and stopped at a road side market on the way to Kruger Park. I bought some delicious macadamia nuts and a handmade carved wooden statue of a kudu. And I must add that I NEVER saw that again – the kudu statue nor someone selling the nuts. Some people didn’t buy anything because it was our first stop but later regretted it. So if you like something and especially if it’s a road side event, BUY IT. Don’t just think that you will see something like it again. Here are the two men who make the wooden animals. They were so happy to talk to us about their craft.
We drove inside Kruger National Park which is the largest of South Africa’s parks, with a total area of 7,500 square miles, Kruger is also one of the largest parks in the world. Bordered by the Limpopo and Crocodile rivers, the land spreads a stunning 200 miles at its widest point. Once inside the park we switched vehicles to take us to Buffalo Rock Camp. About 10 minutes from camp we saw a beautiful elephant just hanging out. The welcome committee! When we arrived in camp, we were shown to our tent/cabins where we had a little time to unpack. Isn’t it lovely? The bathroom with shower was in the back – it was outside but had a roof and walls that had an opening at the top.
Then we met back up for a drive out – Saw many impalas, a few warthogs, an African eagle and some hippos playing in a lake. Next, stopped for a sundowner drink of Amarula Liquor which is a cream liqueur from South Africa. It is made with sugar, cream and the fruit of the African marula tree. Then it was dark and we drove back with a spotlight on to try to see night animals. We did see two hyenas finally. It was cold! We all called it a night after dinner since we had a 5:30 a.m. wakeup call. We were given a hot water bottle (which they called a bush baby) to keep us warm. Since it was dark you must be escorted to your room by a person with a rifle and a flashlight. That night I heard some animal making strange sounds out there. The camp is completely open so animals can walk through at any time – hence the people walking you to your room when it is dark with the rifle. If it’s light out you can walk to the lodge yourself – It’s only about 75 feet away. Just be sure to give a good look!
The animal noises I heard at night were hyenas fighting. WOW. Such a strange noise. We left around 6:30 a.m. where one of our first sightings was A LEOPARD!!! OMG what a gorgeous creature. Simply amazing. He was perched on top of a termite pile and stayed there for at least five minutes while we were all trying to take pics and get a closer look with the binoculars. Just look at this beautiful creature.
So now we’ve seen three of the Big Five – c’mon lions and rhinos! We went back for lunch and headed out after that for some more sightings where we saw zebras, giraffes, warthogs, steenboks (they are so cute), hyenas and near the end we stopped to take a picture of the sunset and there was a HUGE baboon in a tree with lots of baboon family around. After about ten minutes they started heading down the hill towards us – we were outside of the jeep taking pics of the sunset!!! We quickly made our way back to the Jeeps and watched them move from the hill to the other side where it was higher and rockier. Really cool to see the whole family progression. Do you see the big guy in the tree? And some of the family too his right and the ground.
The national park is home to 147 species of land mammals—the highest number in Africa—including all of the “Big Five” (lion, elephant, Cape buffalo, leopard, and rhinoceros). Thousands of zebra roam Kruger as well, but no species can keep up with the impala, which number more than a million here. On this day the park was having a few free to the public days so the park was a bit busier than normal but the cars needed to be out of the camp by sundown. We were driving around 6:00 pm and there were cars driving by us so fast. Why? They needed to leave! It was almost sundown and they were going to be fined. But as karma has it a huge pack of buffalo were crossing the road and just stood there. They were not going to move out of the road so they were definitely going to be late.
OAT Travel likes to include discussions about sometimes difficult topics. That night we gathered at the lodge for an enlightening conversation about gender stereotypes in South Africa’s game lodges—and how more and more women are challenging these outdated stereotypes that still exist in the game lodge and conservation world. The conversation was led by a female game ranger at Kruger. We learned that less than 30% of entry-level nature guides in South Africa are women—and in more specialized roles such as trail guides, less than 8% are women. And just 13% of head chefs in South Africa are female. She shared what it was like for her to break into this traditionally male-dominated industry. Kudos to her for being determined and fighting for what she wanted.
More animal noises last night! Wake up call person said to be a little careful because there were hyenas and possibly a lion in the area! Yikes. That got my attention. This was our last day in Kruger and we still hadn’t seen a lion or a rhino. But Lucky said he was feeling lucky. 🙂 We headed out again at 7 a.m. and within fifteen minutes we were rushing to see another leopard! As I’ve said, they are not that common to see so it was a treat. She was beautiful. Hanging out on a fallen tree for about five minutes before she decided she was tired of us.
Then not even thirty minutes after seeing the leopard we found ……. A pride of around 8-9 lions gathered around a buffalo kill. AMAZING. There were two large male lions and two female and then a few cubs which were around 3-4 months old. Just chowing on the buffalo (sorry and thank you mr buffalo). The older males were fighting a bit about whose turn it was to get a bite with a vulture circling overhead. They were about 90 feet away and in the brush so it was hard to get a really good picture but so cool. And the sounds!!
So luck was on our side. Next up, a rhino. The guides knew where they liked to hang out. It was about an hour or more drive but it was worth it. Because there it was, the first one was pretty far away walking through large bushes but I got a picture. The other was by a watering hole but it just wanted to rest in the shade and show us its backside. The Big Five – CHECK.
And that was our adventure in Kruger National Park. We arrived back at Buffalo Rock Camp around 3:00 where we relaxed until 5:30 – it was hot! Then it was a discussion about elephant dung (which was EVERYWHERE). It was actually very enlightening. Here are a few uses for elephant dung: If you forget insect repellent you can burn a dried piece of dung to keep insects away. You can also burn it and inhale the fumes to get rid of a headache or a nosebleed. Lucky actually did this because he had a headache and he said it went away! And as it turns out, elephants are a great source of biogas. This is due to their herbivorous diet and the large amounts that they excrete daily. Their dung produces gas for stoves, heat and can even generate electricity. Good job elephants! How about a picture of one from Kruger for you.
A HUGE thank you to everyone at Buffalo Rock Camp, especially JB and Nico – you made the experience so nice with your warm hospitality and happiness. I love that the place is powered by solar energy, leave the smallest possible foot-print in this pristine wilderness. That night we had a dinner under the stars, good conversations, some wine and went to sleep dreaming of the all the beautiful animals that we had already seen.
Nobody likes to talk about it but it is out there. The C word. Cancer.
I was diagnosed with breast cancer earlier this year and I thought I would share my experience to help people going through it. Maybe to help them with the steps, or feelings, or advice, or questions.
Sometimes I treat this blog as my diary. Sometimes I think of it as a way to get good information about things I have experienced. Most of my experiences have been quite enjoyable with traveling and eating! But this latest experience has not been so enjoyable but I thought my story could maybe help someone who is in this situation. So here, is my breast cancer story.
First of all, I live in Spain, Mallorca to be exact, so my experience is with Spanish medical professionals. Sometimes things are done differently in other countries, just in case you think it might have the exact same procedure in the USA, for example.
I had a mammogram (one of MANY) in November 2021. I actually hadn’t had one for about two years because of being lazy (not recommended) and COVID (not recommended either). Ha, see no need to always be so serious! And in Mallorca the patient usually picks up the report from the hospital and takes it to the doctor for them to review. Well, I read the results (they were in Spanish) and I thought everything seemed okay, like my past results. So I dragged my feet a bit to getting back to my gynecologist (Dr. Raas – thank you!) to show it to him. Well, when I did finally go back a few months later he told me that they found something with the mammogram and why did I wait so long to get back to him!? Well, I was a bit angry with myself and nervous. I was told to get another mammogram for them to look closer at the suspicious area. I did and when it was finished the nurse told me to wait while she spoke with the doctor. She came out a few minutes later and confirmed that yes, there was something there. But she said it may only be fibroids (non-cancerous growths) but I needed a biopsy next to confirm what this was. This really put my head spinning into nervousness.
Next up. Biopsy. Let me just be straight up about this. It was not fun. I had googled breast biopsy many times just to make sure I knew what was going to happen. I don’t always have an English speaking doctor when I go in, my Spanish isn’t horrible but I needed to make sure what was going to happen during the biopsy.
And I need to back up a little bit. Most patients can get a biopsy in their gynecologist’s office because the gynecologist can see the area with ultrasound. This was not the case for me. My gynecologist could never find my tumor because it was non-palpable, it wasn’t this solid mass. So because of this I had to have my biopsy done with the mammogram machine with the doctor being able to see it with the computer and knowing exactly where the needle needed to go.
So, the biopsy. I sat in a chair next to the mammogram machine where my breast was squished in the machine. Ladies, you know what I’m talking about. The doctor numbed it a bit but definitely not enough. I don’t know if this is normal for Spain but it was painful. A long needle is inserted into the breast to the area they need to take the sample from. Once the needle is in, another “pincher” is inserted to take the sample. This lasted a few minutes. I was stuck in the mammogram machine and trying not to hyperventilate and pass out. The doctor was trying to take my mind off the pain by asking me questions but I could only give short answers. Finally, it was over. I didn’t cry! But damn, not fun.
My breast was very bruised and sore for over a week.
Now it was waiting time for results. Again. Thankfully we had family coming in town for a big birthday celebration and that took my mind off things.
But then the results showed that yes, it was cancer.
Lots of things flooded my brain when it was confirmed. Places I still needed to see, experiences I still wanted to do, friends and family that I don’t see nearly often enough. But I put positive thoughts in my head and told myself that I would beat this and be strong.
Back to the gynecologist to discuss the results. It showed that it was both estrogen positive and progesterone positive (which means the cancer grows in response to those hormones). But we still needed to wait for the HER2 result, which is a growth-promoting protein that’s on the outside of all breast cells.
Now I had been doing some googling to get some answers and maybe more questions to ask my doctor and I saw that a triple positive or a triple negative are the most aggressive type of breast cancers. So I was keeping things crossed that my HER2 result would be negative. And lucky for me it was. So that was one good moment for me during this time.
Next up was a CAT scan, to help see better where the non-palpable tumor was located. Plus more blood tests and finally it was time to schedule the surgery.
So again, my gynecologist can’t see my tumor on an ultrasound machine so I needed a little more help from the nuclear radiation department. I needed the Radioguided occult lesion localization (ROLL), which is a relatively new method to localize and orientate the excision of non-palpable breast lesions.The day of the surgery I had to get nuclear radioactive dye injected into the tumor area. It involved the injection of a small amount of nuclear radiotracer under guidance by ultrasonography which helps the surgeons make sure they are getting all of the cancer removed. After getting the dye injected I had to wait in the hospital for about an hour while massaging my breast to help the dye work its way into the area fully. Then when my nuclear medicine doctor (Dr. Cristina at Juaneda – thank you!) said ok the dye is in the area, I drove to the hospital where the surgery would be done.
If you know Mallorca, I can recommend the hospital PalmaPlanas. All of the appointments needed – CAT scan, mammogram, biopsy, etc have been done there. They were always very professional and kind. So I parked in the parking lot and checked myself into the hospital. My room was a private room with a sofa bed if Felix wanted to spend the night. A sweet younger team of three came to take my blood pressure, ask a few questions and gave me that sexy hospital gown. About an hour later a guy showed up with a hospital bed and wheeled my down to prep for surgery.
I received an IV in my arm and waited with about 15 other people who were in the room either waiting for surgery or had just finished with surgery and the staff were waiting for them to wake up to take back to their room. One guy was full on snoring. Loud as could be. That put a smile on my face while I waited. I was a little nervous and very cold. They kept the room freezing so someone brought me a blanket. And then it was time.
I was wheeled into the surgery room where my Dr. Raas was waiting for me. There were also my nuclear medicine doctor, my doctor’s assistant, the anesthesiologist and a few nurses preparing things. Everyone was very calming. And then the anesthesiologist put me out. During the surgery (which was about 3 hours), they removed the cancer area from my breast and also some lymph nodes from my left armpit. They then sent those to the lab in the hospital to find out if they got everything or needed to cut/take out more. The lab said they couldn’t detect anything around the edges and the lymph nodes were clear. So I was stitched up and woke back up in the recovery room and then wheeled back to my room where Felix was waiting for me. I was so relieved for the surgery to be over.
Soon after Felix left for McDonalds. 🙂 I took a pill that they gave me to help me sleep and I did until 10 pm when they brought me dinner. I hadn’t had anything to eat for about 24 hours and the ham and cheese sandwich with a side of fruit looked like the best thing I’ve had in years. I scarfed it down, sent Felix a message and was back asleep until breakfast was served at 7 am. A nurse came in an hour later to give me more acetaminophen for the pain (in the IV) and then Felix came back at 11 for us to wait for the doctor to give me the ok to go home. Dr. Raas showed up, looked at the stitched up areas, changed the dressing on them and said I could go home if I wanted. I laughed and said does anyone want to stay? He nodded emphatically and I could only think of lonely people who wanted more time to be taken care of.
As soon as we got home I crawled into bed and took a three hour nap. Felix came to check on me since I had been asleep for so long and I slowly got out of bed. I took some more pain medicine (acetaminophin) but the pain was manageable, thank goodness. I was worried about that, I didn’t want to be in lots of pain and I only took pain medicine for about two more days. I needed to wear a sports bra day and night, even when sleeping. It was annoying but I tolerated it. During the day I wore one of Felix’s button down shirts which he would help me into and out of. So thankful that he was there and calming and helpful.
Next was the wait for the in-depth lab report to let us know if everything had been removed. It took about three weeks but when Dr. Raas called and told me that the margins were clear a huge weight was lifted off my shoulders. Plus a few tears as well. This was all such a stressful time and to hear that I was in the clear was a relief.
Still not done with things though. Now I needed to meet with the oncologist to decide what kind of treatment would be best for me – hormone therapy (HR), radiation and/or chemotherapy. He thought HR and radiation was the way to go. I started tamoxifeno 20 mg which I will be taking for up to seven to ten years. No noticeable side effects.
Finally, radiation was finished last week. After meeting with my radiation oncologist, she said that the 5 day radiation treatment would be best. This is a somewhat new way of doing radiation, instead of the 15 day treatment. I still get the same amount of radiation but in 5 days, not 15 and the results seem to be the same if not better. I had to get my radiation tattoos, four tattoos that ensure the radiation machine does the treatment in exactly the right place, every time. My doctor gave me some cream which I put on after every treatment. My breast was a bit red and tender and near the end I was pretty tired but by the next week I was feeling fine. So thankfully no horrible side effects from that either.
And that’s it. I will continue to meet with my oncologist and get regular mammograms and hopefully thanks to the advancement of science I will live a long cancer free life. If needed I will edit this for future things or write a different blog post.
I want to thank the doctors and staff and especially all of my friends and family for their love, support, messages, flowers. I would not have been as strong as I was without you all by my side.
And please remember to get your checkup! Do that breast self-exam (men too!), get that mammogram, get that colonoscopy. Take care of yourself and stay healthy.
It had been over two years since I have traveled up to last month. Of course, you know the main reason – Covid. But even when restrictions were released I didn’t travel. I didn’t understand this immediate need to get back out there. Sure I missed seeing new places and going back to my favorite spots but why the rush? Covid was (is) still a big problem. There were a new surge of Covid cases in Mallorca when tourists were allowed back (naturally) and I just didn’t get it the immediate need to get away.
Anyways, I turned the big half a century last month and I wanted to go somewhere to celebrate the big 5-0. I felt so bad for the people who turned 50 or had any huge celebration during 2020. I know that had to have sucked. We looked into fun places that would hopefully be somewhat warm. Felix, being European, still wasn’t allowed into the USA so we couldn’t go there. We looked into a cruise but after REALLY looking into it we found out that our stops, mostly in Italy, we wouldn’t be able to get off the boat just ourselves. We HAD TO go with a group. Well, that’s not what we wanted to do. In the end, we decided on Tenerife. Felix had been when he was eight (how cute!) and the flight there was a direct flight. So, alright Tenerife, show us what you got.
We chose the Gran Melia Palacio de Isora hotel which I may do a separate blog post about but just be careful if you choose this one, or it may be just the way things are in Tenerife. There are a few pros – friendly staff, the Bali beds looking over the Atlantic are nice and I liked the Clarins products in the room but sadly, the cons outweighed the pros – the restaurant situation is horrific, you need to book 2 or 3 days in advance if you want a table at a decent time, the service is slowwwwwww, the bars close at 6 except for the big main one which takes forever to get a drink. Again, a possible blog post. But I really didn’t want this one to be negative. But seems like it is so far, so let’s change that, shall we?
Alright, we enjoyed a few relaxing days renting a Bali bed, drinking some cervezas and swimming in Europe’s largest salt water pool. The lizards were fun to watch and I loved the red dragonflies buzzing around.
The cool breeze coming off the Atlantico was a nice feeling against the hot sun tanning our skin. One night we ventured out to a local Italian restaurant with great service and yummy food – Pepi Vintage Room Tenerife in Puerto de Santiago. Great food, wine and service. It is a bit small so I would call for a reservation at 673 72 56 61.
Close to the hotel was a black sand beach which seemed pretty hip with the locals.
After a few days of completely vegging out on the beds and swimming we decided to take a break from the Bali beds and rent a car to check out Teide and Masca.
The rental car was booked at the hotel, it was super easy and 60 euro for the day. Off onto our best day of the trip.
Teide National Park took us about an hour from our hotel. Teide is an active volcano but the last eruption was in 1909. I must add to this post that we were in Tenerife at the time the La Palma volcano was erupting. We tried to get a view of it but alas, it wasn’t meant to be. My heart goes out to the people who have lost their homes and belongings from the erupting volcano.
Teide National Park is the biggest park on the Canary Islands. A trip that should be at the top of the must-see list of everyone who visits Tenerife. And the island was busy! It was a four day weekend for the Spanish (un puente as they call it), plus a two week school break for the Germans, lots of people had descended onto the island. And the closer we got into the park the more you could see it. All photo opportunity spots were full and when we got to the area where you could take a cable car to the top, forget about it! There were at least 200 cars lined up. And you do need tickets for the cable car so book in advance if that’s what you really want to do. We drove a bit further and found a spot that seriously looked like Mars – so cool. We got out and walked around and took some advantage of photo ops.
Next we decided to check out Masca. Be prepared, the road to Masca is tight! If you are afraid of heights or get car sick, it might not be the drive for you. But the views are beautiful.
Until the 1960s, the picturesque mountain hamlet of Masca was only accessible on foot or by donkey. Nowadays, it is well connected to the rest of Tenerife by road. Winding roads lead to exciting hairpin bends and narrow corners. The trip will take you through deep ravines covered with lush green vegetation.
There weren’t any parking spots for a restaurant when we arrived in Masca so we continued on the curvy road and soon came across a cute restaurant overlooking the gorge. You can’t miss it, after passing Masca you will see it when the road starts heading back up. We stopped for a glass of wine and some roasted potatoes with mojo sauce. Super yummy.
It was so nice to get away from the hotel madness and actually have people attentively serve food and drinks! Seriously Gran Melia, you need to figure some problems out!
One more day at the hotel and we were looking forward to home and all the comforts one has at their home. And our six cats. 🙂
But one more thing.
When we first arrived there were a lot of plants under big tents that were on large plantations. I kept wondering what it was, they were even right outside our hotel window (see first pic). And then it hit me, BANANAS! B-A-N-A-N-A-S. This shit is bananas. Bananas are a particularly important crop, as Tenerife grows more bananas than the other Canary Islands, with a current annual production of about 150,000 tons. Nice.
In the end, everyone that we encountered in Tenerife were really friendly and the sights in Masca and Teide were gorgeous. I am glad to have experienced the island and seen the sights. I’d give it at least a chance if your travel plans allow for a stop there. It’s always a nice to change your scenery view even with a few bumps in the road.
There is never a bad trip! Unless you took some bad LSD. Don’t do that.