Africa 2015

22 family members arrived in Johannesburg on June 26 early morning – some straight from San Francisco while most had enjoyed some days in Amsterdam. Olivia, John and the girls flew in from Athens, Greece – more on that in a different post.

From Johannesburg the family flew to Maun in Botswana where they connected to smaller planes able to land on the airstrip near the first of two camps – Xigera. The property, located in the Okavango Delta, is owned by Wilderness Safari and overall this was the first Africa trip in a while where the family didn’t stay at AndBeyond properties.

The transfer process and security procedures in Maun were rather chaotic but all made it out of there in time in three separate planes and arrived at Xigera Camp mid-afternoon just in time for a quick game drive which at the end brought a head-to-head with a (luckily) friendly elephant bull – close enough that the trunk came inches away from a couple of faces. Nature at its best.

The following four days were spent around the delta and in it. Part of the time were in traditional open safari vehicles but the water was the main attraction and the family came to spend a fair amount of time in makoros and in the fast boats through what seemed like an endless maze of little water ways that somehow all found their way back to the main waterway that will let you reach Maun in approximately eight hours.

The camp itself it built on stilts above the wetlands below. The animals are free to roam throughout the camp and sand traps revealed the presence of nightly visitors every morning at sunrise. Some were spotted “in person” – elephant and hippo. Hard to hide. Even at night… The camp was beautiful and built in a nice tent style. The staff was wonderful and took very good care of all.

John’s birthday was celebrated on the last evening at Xigera and the staff not only celebrated him with song and dance but had also left him a couple of presents in the room; which was a very nice touch.

It was time to pack up and continue the journey June 30 and three planes picked the family up mid-morning before making the two-stop journey back to South Africa. The first stop to go through customs and immigration while the second stop was for refueling. After almost five hours the planes arrived at Londolozi airstrip where the last two family members – Andrew and Lucy – joined for the remainder of the trip.

Londolozi – a Zulu word that roughly translates into “protector of all things” is an icon amongst all the African safari camps. It has been around for years and has been instrumental when it comes to wildlife preservation and rehabilitation. Their leopards are known world-wide although they did prove quite hard to find. The resort as stunning and and the whole camp is very professionally run.

The first game drive brought a pack of nine sleeping lions just about a mile from camp. The looked undisturbed but the crocodiles that they shared the water hole with. Three unrelated young lion brothers had killed a water buffalo kill – something that was revisited on several occasions reminding all the the smell doesn’t improve as the days go by.

There were many other sightings over the five days. Lots of giraffe, wildebeests, birds incl. fish eagles and Penny’s beloved lilac-breasted roller, elephants and water buffalo. There’s supposedly a lone ostrich that no one spotted, and rumor has it there’s a petition to get her a male ostrich to keep her company.

The leopards were hard to find but patience and some luck brought the good first sighting just as the light was disappearing on the third day. Good excuse to stop for a sundowner once the leopard had had enough of our company. The second good sighting actually happened on the way back from a morning drive with a leopard chomping on a fresh kill. Wonderful to see these precious cats in their natural environment.

After a great 4th of July celebration on the riverbed, it was time to start packing. The following morning it was off to Johannesburg with evening flight waiting to take most back to the US. Olivia left her wedding ring in the room but luckily she was staying behind in Johannesburg for a few days to see old friends so the ring and its rightful owner got reunited after a couple of days of separation.

As written before there is no place like Africa and it’s safe to say that all are looking forward to go back sometime in the near future.

For a more visual story there are some select photos from the trip here.

August 2015

Isabella came back from summer camp on August 15 and very much enjoyed a couple of weeks in Portola, CA together with new friends as well as the ones she made last year. 2015 was the last year she could participate so small traces of sadness but some of them are also off to boarding school, so we’re sure they will stay in contact and compare notes.

Once back Libby had organized an little party for Isabella and quite a few of her Saint Catherine’s friends showed up for some pizza and to catch up with what had happened over summer. All but Isabella were back in school and the little group of 36 students that followed each other for years are now spread all over the peninsula including San Francisco.

Olivia and John took Adriana to Las Vegas early August for her to experience all the craziness. She (obviously) loved every minute of it. Olivia and Adriana went to see Le Rêve at Wynn and fully enjoyed the show while John was busy taking a light painting class in Nelson 40 miles outside Las Vegas. Of other highlights that week was the High Roller observation wheel. It stands 550 feet (168 meter) tall and it’s 30 later by the time you get back down to the platform.

Pia is having a good time at Burlingame High School and on the cheer team. They performed this past Friday during the football game – as did Bella’s team – and Pia is enjoying it. Bella is currently delivering the news broadcast at the school. We uploaded the inaugurate newscast to our Vimeo account.

John and Ella spent the past weekend in Hong Kong getting a little time together before school starts. It’s a such a great place and although compact it still offers lots of diversity. They spent a couple of days in and around the city and made it Lantau to see Big Buddha – one of the largest outdoor buddhas in the world as well of Temple of 10,000 buddhas. What was meant to be a hike turned into a bus ride when heavy rain got in the way. They purchased a couple of umbrellas and continued semi-dry while the monks making their way up to the buddha got absolutely soaked.

The weekend prior to Hong Kong Olivia, Adriana and John spent a couple of days in Carmel Valley. It remains one of their favorite places on the planet. A Sunday morning hike brought sightings of 20+ whales feeding very close to the shore and the short hike ended up taking almost three hours with all the stops.

20150822 Adriana Olivia John Carmel Valley

Going to school 2,969 miles away

There are 23 school days left of elementary school for Pia and Isabella. Finals will soon be part of their days (Bella has already started her finals) and after that it’s mostly wrapping up eight years at Saint Catherine’s.

As mentioned in an earlier post Pia decided on Burlingame High School early on. Isabella applied to several (other) schools and on April 6 Olivia, John and Isabella visited the last school on her list: Kent School in Connecticut. It was in instant love affair although it was still cold and fairly gray. But the campus was beautiful and Isabella had a great day following students around the school while Olivia and John spoke to teachers and counselors.

It will be a big change for all but Isabella is excited and everyone around her is supportive. She’ll be back only three times during the school year, but we will obviously stay in touch and update the blog with news from her time on the East Coast.

Getting confirmed

Adriana took the front seat this weekend getting through her first communion. From now on she’s allowed to approach the alter during services but more importantly she can go to confession. We will see if it’s something she picks up. Overall there isn’t a whole lot to confess – she’s doing good in school and got first place in her spelling test today.

The ceremony started at 10:00 with Adriana and most of her classmates up front. She looked beautiful in her white dress and the service went without a hitch. Afterwards she treated 19 people to lunch at Il Fornaio in Burlingame.

Pia got confirmed the weekend prior to. It was not as big a deal at her first communion although it’s probably a lot more clear to Pia and her fellow students what exactly what going on.

20150502 Adriana Esguerra First Communion Burlingame 0030

Many Schools, one birthday and a trip to the hospital

There has been much activity around high schools. Pia has been accepted into Burlingame High School and is very happy with that. Isabella got accepted at Kent School (Connecticut), Santa Catalina (Monterey) as well as Burlingame High School and Notre Dame (Belmont) – about half of the schools she applied to. She already passed on Burlingame High School and even though she was supposed to give Notre Dame an answer this past Friday, she was given a one-week extension to make a more objective decision. She slept over at Santa Catalina on Friday to get a feel for it all and we’re off to visit Kent School on April 6. Big decisions and not easy ones for anyone involved.

Adriana’s been on a couple of field trips with Saint Catherine’s – one to a cookie factory and one to the Exploratorium in San Francisco. She’s still very active with her cheerleading but the season is slowly winding down. She turned eight since the last update and had a bunch of kids and Belmateo’s Bowling Centers. A total of 25 that Olivia somehow managed almost on her own.

Isabella was supposed to attend the birthday but ended up in the Emergency Room after she woke up with shortage of breath, strong headache and blurry vision. No fun, and quite scary and we’re now setting up appointments with specialists to find out what’s going on. Doctors think it might be migraine but nothing’s is of course certain at this point. On a more positive note all the girls had their annual checkup and passed with flying colors.

Pia is gearing up for her confirmation. They spent last Saturday at a retreat. Adriana is right behind with her first communion. She’s had a couple of trial confessions. Didn’t take as long as we all expected…

Return to Oahu

Isabella invited a couple of friends – Katie and Hannah – to Carmel this weekend. After spending Saturday morning at the Monterey Bay Aquarium and eating shrimp at Bubba Gump they spent the afternoon at Del Monte Mall buying little things for the closets at home. Nothing like resting in the hot tub after a day of shopping. It all got topped off with s’mores at Carmel Valley Ranch.

John and Olivia took off for Hawaii Friday February 20 and enjoyed five nights at the condominium there before they (sadly) had to return. Not too many activities planned – pure relaxation but they did madk it around the island. Lunch at Seven Brothers Burgers – definitely worth a stop if you’re heading that way. Olivia got a massage at the Kalaha Hotel while John made it to the top of Koko Head Crater – only 1,000 steps but still a hard climb.

John got stuck in New York only a few days later. Heavy snow fall made it impossible for planes to take off and he had to spend a vey short night in Times Square before finally making it out Monday morning.

Tough weeks for the school teams in Basketball. Both Burlingame High School and Saint Catherine’s are out after making it to the quarterfinals. So no more cheer this season except for Adriana who’s still going strong with her Premier team.

Famous people – at home and in L.A.

The end of January saw Pia and Isabella act as servers at the annual crab feed at St. Catherine’s. Put on by the Men’s Club it is a significant fundraiser for the school and for the first time it was help at the new gymnasium. Bella had the Burlingame High School Winter Formal dance that same evening.

Isabella has a final High School interview (Notre Dame, Belmont) on February 5. Now it’s a waiting game. Most will give her answers in the week of March 9 – exactly a month after her birthday. Speaking of which… Olivia took Isabella plus Isabella’s sisters and friends to Benihana for her actual birthday. She was lucky to receive cash, two pair of Lulu Lemons, rainbow slippers and a deposit for the Walton Grizzly Camp she (also) went to in 2014.

John was not part of the celebration as he had been invited to help document The Grammys. Lots of fun being on the red carpet! There are some picture of the celebrities here. He went to Boston right after and had to fly to New York and continue the journey using Amtrak. Like with many of his colleagues the snow disrupted travel plans, but he had a good time in the snowy and at times very cold weather.

Valentine’s Day was celebrated at the posh Hakkasan in San Francisco. Early dinner and back in time to turn the light off in the kids’ bedrooms. Fun to see so many people carry pillows around. The annual fundraiser is quite popular with no risk of harm other than the thousand of feathers left behind. Not sure why San Francisco is not following the International Pillow Fight day April 4.

Taxes are filled and for the first time in years John and Olivia ended up owing Uncle Sam more than they had paid. No fun but compared to Danish tax rates it’s a breeze.

We have added a link to our growing video library on the right side of the page. There is also a link here.

Winning performance

There’s no escaping that Pia and Isabella’s days at Saint Catherine School is slowly coming to an end. It was time for graduation pictures this past week, and they both tried to keep their balance on their four-inch heels early Monday morning.

It’s also been time for them to hand in their yearly science project. Both were presented to the judges who unfortunately gave the Grand Prize to one of their classmates. Pia had tested how to make the perfect pie crust while Isabella had tried to find the best way to build a kidney.

The two of them helped out at the school’s annual crab feed last night. Isabella had to run home afterwards to finish her application to Santa Catalina high school. The last of the bunch. Now it’s a waiting game until March 10 when the first schools will let her know of their decision.

Adriana’s cheer team cleaned house in San Jose last weekend, and for a while it looked like they were all off to Florida to compete in the Nationals. They’re instead off to Anaheim mid-April and will surely sporting their new exclusive uniform only given to the ones at the top of the podium.

She’s preparing for her first reconciliation and had her first scheduled confession yesterday. When practicing on paper she wrote “Please help me forgive my sister Bella for wanting to drown me”. We’re not sure of the details.

Bella went to Burlingame High School’s Winter Formal last night. She accepted the invitation after receiving a box of doughnuts – take that Kay!

Happy birthday(s)

Bella turned 17 on January 6 and was celebrated by classmates and family. Isabella’s birthday is February 9 and the extended family had her birthday dinner at Benihana last night – a little early, but conflicting schedules moved the festivities up a bit. Adriana is next.

John spent a bit of time in Las Vegas from January 3rd. The Consumer Electronics Show seems to get bigger and bigger even though the announcements weren’t that significant this year. Through Akamai he hosted 120 people on January 5th and oversaw all of Akamai’s activities there.

Last Friday Pia and Isabella went to the Junior high dance at their school and danced from start to finish together with the sixth and seventh graders. The Drama activities are in full swing and the production of “Shrek” is already taking up some of the afternoons. Isabella will once again be active off stage.

With the exception of Santa Catalina (Monterey) All the high school applications as done and so are the entrance tests. Now it’s a waiting gaming until early March.

Adriana, Pia and Bella are all active with cheerleading – Bella and Pia are cheering for the boy’s basketball teams for their respective schools.

Happy New Year

As with the previous years Christmas really came around with the Christmas performance at School. Last performance with Pia and Isabella – from hereon onwards Adriana will have to carry the tradition; which she surely is happy to do. Much of the show repeated itself on December 24 when Olivia plus kids were part of the Christmas mass. There are some pictures from the school performance here.

We celebrated Christmas with the rest of the Bellamys on December 23 at Adrian and Penny’s house. There was a total of 20 of us this time and the kids had a blast exchanging Secret Santa gifts. Some family members were off to Hawaii the days after – some to London while the rest decided to weather out the Californian rain storm.

Santa did come around again in 2014 and left quite a mess downstairs drinking milk and eating cookies and lettuce. Apparently for the reindeers. He forgot his glasses (again!) and must have several pairs in the sleigh. Santa filled the stockings and also left three girls a new pair of boots and Adriana an American Girl doll.

New Year came and went again without much notice. The three older girls hung out with their friends while John, Olivia and Adriana relaxed at the house. The three started 2015 with a long walk in Half Moon Bay enjoying glorious weather.

Finishing this post off with a note we came across earlier today:

Welcome to 2015.

With resolutions or without, with ups and downs, joy and sorrow, successes and mistakes, friends founds, friends lost, with passion or without, it will be the year that you make, the year that you decide, the year that you want.

Much of the above will happen but only you can turn them into positive experiences.

Happy New Year : )