Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The airport experience!

Am back on the road (air?) this week! Living the airport life again. When you travel as much as I do, you start to see and experience airports very differently. Since I am visiting multiple cities and doing meetings at different times, I end up spending a lot of time at airports waiting for my flights. Over the past three years, I have probably spent hundreds of hours at over twenty different airports in the US.

There is some amount of comfort in the homogeneous look and feel of a large American airport. The tan/beige/brown carpets, the incredibly uncomfortable chairs, the flat screen monitors displaying flight status, the large steel trash cans, the consistent signage - ah! Feels like home! Even the people look the same. You have your high flying road warriors in suits with a bluetooth phone stuck behind their ears barking instructions to no one in particular. There are the power hungry laptop/cell phone junkies that manage to find the rare power outlet that is typically hiding behind a large pillar for the much needed charge for their electronic gear. You also get your share of the noisy families with yelling and screaming children fighting over pizza, burgers and shakes.

Window shopping is another way to kill time at airports. Most airports now double as malls and you can buy virtually anything at an airport. You can see high end stores like Mont Blanc at the bigger airports like Chicago. But the shops that are more fun to browse are those that sell quirky souvenirs.

If you are hungry at an airport, do not panic for there are usually options available for everyone. Of course these options depend on the airport you are at. Wendy's may be the star attraction in Binghamton but don't be surprised if you see Wolfgang Puck or other gourmet eateries when you are passing through JFK.

Saturday, July 03, 2010

The Safari Experience

An African safari is an adventure of a lifetime. The starting point of ours was the small town of Arusha. We started daily by 8am and usually returned between 3pm and 4pm. The safari vehicles were customized and specially outfitted stretched Toyota Landcruisers that seated seven adults. The hard tops can be pushed open upwards creating enough space for one to stand upright in the jeep. Our driver cum guide during the entire safari was Paul - an experienced, knowledgeable and highly enthusiastic fellow who added to our overall experience.

Once inside the national park, we would open the hard top and get ready with our camera and binoculars. The jeeps drive on trails, which are rough dirt and mud roads through the plains. It can get dusty when you have other vehicles directly ahead of you. There are a few designated spots in the parks where the vehicles will stop and we could get down to take a closer look and shoot pictures. Lunch on a safari is usually a box lunch and we stopped at various picnic stops along the way for a lunch break during the safari. The weather in June was not bad as it was approaching winter in Africa but it did get fairly hot in the afternoons.

An animal crossing is always an exciting event during a safari. This happens when an animal or a group of animals cross the trail in front of or behind your vehicle. During our safari, we had zebras, giraffes, wildebeest, elephants, antelopes, baboons and cheetahs cross the trail in front of and behind us.

We also went up in a hot air balloon in the Serengeti during our safari. This is usually an early morning affair and you must take off just after sunrise. Viewing wildlife and the landscape from a hot air balloon is an exhilarating experience and offers a completely different perspective.

Blogging from the bush

We just returned from a 12-day trip to Tanzania that included a 6-day safari. What a trip! This was our first visit to Africa and we were eagerly awaiting it for many months. We knew it was going to be an amazing vacation and it was.

Our African safari was an experience like none other. While all of us are urban folks, we love nature and wildlife. We spent almost a week traveling through the major national parks in Tanzania including Tarangire, Lake Manyara and Serengeti and visited the Ngorongoro crater, which is a conservation area. It is impossible to capture the safari experience in words and photos.

We spent days in the midst of thousands of migrating wildebeest, racing mindlessly across the plains. We encountered families of elephants within twenty feet of our jeeps. We came across several muddy lakes filled with hippos and occasionally sighted crocodiles at the banks. Thousands of zebras and different types of antelopes dotted the horizon wherever you look. Majestic giraffes were always an exciting sight. We managed to spot a pride of well-fed lions sunbathing on the plains and a leopard relaxing on the branch of a tree. A couple of cheetahs crossed our path (literally!) in the Ngorongoro crater. And there is an incredible number of species of birds and we had a lot of fun bird watching.

Spending a week on expansive savannahs and grassy plains and encountering magnificent animals in their natural habitat is quite a thrill. You experience a range of emotions together - awe, fascination, curiosity, humility, anxiety and wonder! You are reminded of that you have been given an incredible gift of this unique planet full of life!