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I’M GOING ON A SAFARI!!!!

A little over a year or so ago, I read about Gerry Van der Walt from Wild Eye Photo Safaris as being the one to watch on Periscope for wildlife. I started watching him on safari tours and it was amazing to see the lions, hippos, elephants, rhinos, big cats, etc ~ and all of it was live. But I became “hooked” when I switched over to Snapchat which is my preferred forum for seeing all the wildlife updates. Gerry posted lots of the baby animals. Seriously, what’s cuter than those amazing strong animals as tiny (and not so tiny) babies. Cue: Heart Melting!!

Gerry and the rest of the Wild Eye team are very consistent with updating their social media, so much so that when Gerry went quiet for a few days ~ I became worried something happened on one of the safaris. Those animals do get close to the vehicles. Turns out, I missed the snap where he said he was going somewhere without wifi and he would be off-line.

The photos and snap stories are so amazing and I shared many of them with my husband and daughter. Through Gerry’s instagram account, I found a youth photographer, David whose award-winning photo is now on exhibit at the National Museum of Natural History’s Nature’s Best Photography Exhibit.  If you’re in Washington, DC and have an interest in wildlife/photography, I highly recommend seeing the exhibit. The “Leopards” photo was taken while David was on a safari in the Timbavati Private Reserve.

photo-young-boy-with-winning-youth-photo

Youth Photographer viewing “Youth Photographer” winners at the Museum of Natural History

I’ve dreamed about going on a safari ever since those Wild Kingdom TV shows back in the day. Whenever my husband and I discussed going, it always came down to time and money. Mostly money. It seemed out of our reach. And I’m not a fan of being on tour groups where I’m required to be around a lot of people and on their schedule. I was overwhelmed with the logistics, money and basic planning. I didn’t want to go on a trip of a lifetime and not enjoy it because I didn’t know what or where to go. It seemed too daunting to tackle.

Things changed this past fall when one day Gerry asked on Snapchat “What’s keeping YOU from going on a safari?” My first thought was “the logistics” and secondly, I thought about the cost. It must be common to everyone because he immediately addressed how Wild Eye can organize a tour based on a budget provided by the guest.

I took a chance and emailed my per-person budget along with possible dates. Gerry wrote back within hours and asked pertinent questions about my preferences: which were the top animals I wanted to see, luxury v. eco-lodge, and did I prefer to be with other people or on a private guide. A few days later, Gerry recommended we go on a privately guided safari in the Timbavati Private Preserve in South Africa with Michael from Wild-Eye. Having already seen David’s (youth photographer) great photos from Timbavati, I was sold.

Timbavati borders Kruger National Park and, because there are no fences, the animals go back and forth between the park and the preserve. Bottom line, we wouldn’t be going on this trip if I hadn’t stumbled onto Wild Eye through periscope. They’ve made it too easy to plan such a fabulous adventure.

More on the details of planning in my next post but if you want to follow Wild Eye to see their fabulous wildlife images, you have your pick of social media outlets:

  • Gerry (Wild Eye founder) is on Instagram/Twitter/Snapchat as: Gerryvanderwalt
  • Gerry’s The Wildlife Photography Podcast is on Itunes/Soundcloud
  • Our guide is on Instagram and Snapchat as: Michael.Laubscher
  • For additional info on Wild Eye click here
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Despite the continued cool temperatures, I’ve been getting glimpses of spring. Most recently I saw the lambs at Mount Vernon. Such sweetness:

Lambs
Peeking around the corner

Lamb

Lamb III

The Rear View (lambs at Mount Vernon)
“Rear View”

Mount Vernon is requesting name suggestions for these adorable lambs. Go to their Facebook page here to give your clever names. Someone has already suggested Charles and Camilla in honor of the recent Royal visit.

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George Washington paid 18 shillings (a lot of money back in the day) for a camel to visit Mount Vernon Estate for Christmas in 1787. General Washington was known for his interest in all kinds of animals including the then rare camel. Mount Vernon continues the tradition by bringing Aladdin the Camel to Mount Vernon Estate for several weeks during December. I’ve enjoyed seeing him over the past few years and highly recommend it to everyone. Especially children.

Camel Alladin with Baby
Aladdin is very friendly. This baby giggled the whole time Aladdin slobbered kisses on her.

Camel Alladin

Patti and Alladin II

Camel and Leslie at Mount Vernon

After visiting with Aladdin, we took a tour of the main house. As many tours as I’ve been on, I still learn something new each time. Our guide Donald, retired from the Army where he was in the Pipe and Fife Band and he had a lot of interesting stories about the house. Another bonus when visiting this time of year is the lack of crowds. There were only 6 people on the house tour and the third floor was open. Usually it’s close because there are too many people going through the house.

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We woke up not knowing where we were going to spend the next two nights so I scanned the internet a bit, looked through the Lonely Planet guide and came up with Clonakilty. We took our time driving from Doolin (County Clare) to Clonakilty (County Cork). Drove down the coast to Killmer where we caught the car ferry to Tarbert (County Kerry). We stopped in Tralee for lunch which was not the best choice for us ~ I found Tralee to be crowded and a bit unfriendly. We thought about doing the “Ring of Kerry” which a lot of guidebooks list as a “must do” but we only skirted along the top of the Ring. We left that drive on the list for next time.

Shannon Ferry from Killmer to Tarbert (County Kerry)

Shannon Ferry from Killmer to Tarbert (County Kerry)

There was beautiful scenery the entire drive to Clonakilty.

County Cork Coastline

Ireland Coastline

And there were lots of tractors along the road. We even saw an accident between a tractor and a truck ~ thankfully everyone seemed fine.

Tractor Jam

Tractor Jam

I chose to stay at the Bay View House B&B because it overlooks Clonakilty Bay. Unfortunately, the tide was low during the day but it’s still a nice view. The owner of the B&B along with her daughter are wonderful hosts ~ it was a great place to stay. Only hiccup was the man in the room next to us who had his TV on max volume until 1:30am. I finally knocked on the wall which he then thankfully turned it off. I’m the only light sleeper in the family.

The town is full of shops, restaurants and has a rich history. Michael Collins, the commander-in-chief of the Irish Free State army, was born near Clonakilty. If you’re interested, there’s a map called “In search of Michael Collins” which you can get at the town’s tourist office ~it traces the key places in the area such as birthplace, school, place of ambush where he was killed, etc.

Bay View House B&B, Clonakilty, County Cork

Bay View House B&B, Clonakilty, County Cork

View of Clonakilty Bay from B&B

View of Clonakilty Bay from B&B

Clonakilty, County Cork

Clonakilty, County Cork

On the second day in Clonakilty, we woke up to sunshine once again so we decided to spend some time in the County Cork countryside on horseback. All the rides in Clonakilty were booked so we ended up riding in the Mealagh Valley which is about 5 miles outside of Bantry. Weather could not have been more perfect for the ride and we were treated to a gorgeous view from the top of the hill overlooking the valley and out to Bantry Bay. It was about a 45 minute drive from the B&B and the road narrowed considerably as we got closer to the horse farm. We were greeted by several creatures: cats, dogs & sheep. I got a very good feeling about the Bantry Pony/Horseriding and when I asked, I found out they “rescue” neglected/unwanted ponies and horses. We love to ride when we visit a new location but sometimes I don’t like the way the horses are handled. Thankfully with Bantry Pony Trekking, I could tell the horses/ponies are loved and seem very content.  I feel confident HIGHLY recommending this activity if you’re in the County Cork.

Road to Horseback Riding, Bantry, County Cork

Road to Horseback Riding, Bantry, County Cork

Cat greeter at the horse farm

Cat greeter at the horse farm

Sheep Greeter at the horse farm

Sheep Greeter at the horse farm

Horseback riding in Country Cork (Bantry)

Horseback riding in Country Cork (Bantry)

View of Bantry and the Bay during horse ride

View of Bantry and the Bay during horse ride

Mama and her twins ~ she was definitely "on guard"

Mama and her twins ~ she was definitely “on guard”

Cow in Bantry

Cow in Bantry

We had a late lunch at Tractors (yummy) in Bantry then it was back to Clonakilty for the night.

Bantry, County Cork, Ireland

Bantry, County Cork, Ireland 

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Dogs

It’s not a good sign when your laptop makes a sound as though it’s getting ready for take-off or when John asks “what’s that noise” and it’s the laptop 😦   I’ve been attempting to save all photos, videos and documents onto an external hard drive.  Came across some video of Maya with her friend Hoss.  It was a snowy October in 2008 and they both enjoyed romping in the snow:

Big as he is, Hoss was careful not to hurt Maya when they played:

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Grist Mill Dog Park

Ever since our beloved dog, Sport passed away, Maya has been a lonely dog. Since she has socialization problems dating back to her shelter days, I’ve decided to take her to the dog park as often as possible. I’ve been curious about the Grist Mill Dog Park every time I drive to Fort Belvoir but yesterday was my first visit.  It was a “D-” for Maya’s socialization test.  When we first arrived, there was a standard poodle mix there who wouldn’t leave her alone and slobbered all over her. The next dog that came in was even more “afraid” than Maya which caused the other dog owner to panic every time Maya went near her dog. 

Today was much better: three dogs at the park and Maya only growled at the French Bulldog trying to hump her.  The big difference was the calm attitude of the owners ~ proving the Dog Whisperer correct once again.

If you’re looking for a dog park in Southern Alexandria and one which is very close to Fort Belvoir, I recommend the Grist Mill Dog Park.  Pros: 1 acre fenced area with bluestone dust (gravel), a baby pool for those dogs who need to cool down, a water pump and water dishes, plastic bags, lots of trash bins, benches and a fenced entrance to leash and unleash your dog.   Cons: Not all the dog owners pick up after their dog so watch your step.  Also, a Fairfax County dog license is required for your dog.

Walkway to the Park:

Maya at the park:

Clean up bags:

Leash/Unleash entrance:

Lots of space:

For more information about Grist Mill Dog Park (4710 Mount Vernon Memorial Hwy ~ between Ft Belvoir and Mount Vernon Estate) and for other Dog Parks in Fairfax County, click here.

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Iconic Hotel with Canine Ambassador

During our stay in Quebec City, we stayed at the historic and beautiful Fairmont Le Chateau Frontenac.  The castle-like hotel dominates the Quebec City skyline.

The hotel was completed in 1893 but has had numerous extensions built with the latest one being in 1993.  Le Chateau is such a prevalent part of the city and visitors literally flock to it for a glimpse of history.  Driving the walled city with cobblestone streets made me feel like I was back in Europe and the hotel just added to the ambiance of Old World charm.  Our room was spacious, amenities were wonderful and, best of all, the staff were all very friendly and welcoming.  The prices in the restaurants scared us away so we went next door for breakfast at Le Petite Chateau and had yummy butter-lemon crepes. Hmm…my mouth waters just thinking about it.  

It’s possible to take a 50-minute hotel tour with a period dressed tour-guide but, because we were so limited on time, we decided we would rather walk Santol Canine Ambassador.

 

 

Santol is the Canine Ambassador for hotel, hangs out in the lobby next to the concierge and does a great job luring mostly women guests over to scratch his belly. This big teddy bear of a dog was originally trained as a service dog but he was so social and good with lots of people, the trainors decided to keep him as their ambassador. There’s even a nightly package guests can book which the hotel then donates $25.00 to the training of future dogs. Registered guests can also sign up to take him for a walk and, of course, I couldn’t resist.  First I walked him, then Favorite Girl and then Favorite Man. All I have to say is, for being such a tough Army dude, FM has such a soft spot for dogs and they take advantage of him. Both FG and I had no problem keeping Santol within the grassy areas of the park. As soon as FM started walking him, he decided he wanted to go up the stairs and into the more residential area. FG and I laughed long and hard when FM said to Santol “We’re not going that way” and the look FM got from Santol was “Really? You’re gonna stop me?”  Needless to say, we ended up doing a loop around the residential area 😉

There are tons of hotels as well as B&Bs scattered throughout the city and many looked very lovely but I would stay at the Fairmont again next time ~ the atmosphere was so comfortable.

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