Can A Coup In Turkey Affect Your Travel Plans?

I am sure that everyone has seen the news reports of an attempted coup in Turkey and the temporary shut down of Istanbul’s airport.  The FAA has banned flights from Turkey landing in the USA until further notice.  Reports on Flyertalk show that Turkish Airlines has been very difficult to contact regarding upcoming flights.

Turkish Airlines is one of the members of Star Alliance and a popular redemption for people traveling between the USA or Australia via IST to Europe or Africa.  If you have an African safari booked and are depending on Turkish airlines to get you to your gateway airport you need to call your ticketing airline (UA, SQ, SA or ??)  immediately to see what the options are.  Award tickets issued by United are being rebooked on other airlines provided saver space is available.  If you are coming from the USA, try one of Ethiopian’s or South African’s USA flights or route through Europe on United, Lufthansa, Swiss or TAP.  Coming from Australia, try routing via Singapore or Bangkok to Africa and connecting to Ethiopian or South African.

This is a good example of why I always encourage people to build in a buffer day or even two before starting a prepaid Africa safari.  Travel insurance usually doesn’t cover “acts of war” and you could lose your prepaid safari if you can’t find other flights.

It’s impossible to predict world events that could affect your travel plans, especially if you are booking 11 months in advance to score those elusive award seats.  We are going to Africa next year and things I considered among routings and airline quality also included airline reliability and how they respond to emergency situations.  In the case of the FAA blocking TK from flying to the USA, you don’t even get the choice of using IST as a transit point should flights be restored.  Turkish Airlines has an excellent product and great in-flight service but their ground service and phone agent availability has been lacking.  In our case, we aren’t using a pre-booked safari and are arranging things independently but I still chose to go with Etihad to AUH (VA miles booked before devaluation), spend a couple buffer days in Dubai and use Kenya Airways (Flying Blue) to get to our first stop in Uganda.  If Etihad is delayed we just miss out on extra shopping in Dubai.  We arrive in Entebbe around noon and if this flight is delayed we would miss an afternoon of birding locally but we can still get to these locations the next day.

In this day and age, there are a lot of things to consider when choosing your flights so look at all the options and try to imagine the worst case scenario and what alternatives you would have if it happens.  Always build in a couple days buffer, especially if you have expensive prepaid travel arrangements like a safari or a cruise.

A “Godmother” Of All African Adventures?

Now that the Mother of all African Adventures is behind us, it seems my fascination with Africa isn’t over yet!  So what would I do for an encore?  If you’ve been reading this blog for the past several months, hopefully you enjoyed hearing how I planned the travel to South Africa, Mauritius, Madagascar, Ghana & Tanzania and saw most of my target birds.  But there is still so much more to see!

So what would be on my list if I do a “Godmother” of all African Adventures?  Here are a few places on my radar.

  1. Namibia – Peach-faced Lovebirds, Ruppells Parrots & more.  This would be a self-drive trip.
  2. Zambia/Botswana/Zimbabwe/Malawi – would choose the best of these for Brown-necked Parrots, Lillian’s Lovebirds, Black-cheeked Lovebirds, Meyers Parrots & more.  Most of these places might require using the car/driver option which is not my preferred method so I would be looking hard for national parks I can get to with public transport & taxis.  So far, these are looking like the most expensive for lodges so I need to do the most research here.
  3. Ethiopia – the layover wasn’t enough, I’d like to get to Menagesha NP for Yellow-faced Parrots, Black-winged Lovebirds & more.  Easy day trip from Addis Ababa or spend one night there.
  4. Uganda – I think my odds for African Grey Parrots are better here than in Ghana.  I’d use public transport to Fort Portal, then a taxi to Kibale.

IMG_3193WHAT DO I NEED?

Short answer – United miles as Star Alliance is by far the best alliance for Africa.  I could supplement with some Avios to get from Namibia to Livingstone, Zambia via JNB.  So looks like Chase will be my best friend for a while longer!

Why You Shouldn’t Check Bags, Especially In Africa

The video I found on YouTube shows exactly how easy it is for crims to get into your checked bags, steal what they want and make your bag look like it hasn’t been touched.  His friend was robbed but you don’t have to be!

Although the man making the video recommends a hard sided bag, my solution is far simpler – don’t check any bags at all!  Use carry-on bags/backpacks such as the E-Bags Motherlode and bring a Scottevest so you can put any heavier items in the pockets if your carry-on exceeds the weight limit.  Some airports do weigh carry-ons so be prepared!

Secretary Bird (Sagittarius serpentarius)

The Secretarybird or Secretary Bird (Sagittarius serpentarius) is a very large, mostly terrestrial bird of prey. Endemic to Africa, it is usually found in the open grasslands and savannah of the sub-Saharan region. Although a member of the order Accipitriformes, which also includes many other diurnal raptors such as kites, buzzards, vultures, and harriers, it is given its own family, Sagittariidae.

They are probably one of the coolest birds around with their head quills and they hunt snakes.  Anyone who helps rid the world of snakes is OK in my book!

IMG_6920 IMG_6922 IMG_6918 IMG_6914 IMG_6925Secretary birds have a huge range and can be seen in just about any of the popular national parks in Africa.  I have personally seen them in Kruger, Kgalagadi, Masai Mara, Serengeti and most recently in Ngorongoro near Ndutu.

secbird

LEARN MORE ABOUT SECRETARY BIRDS

Wikipedia

Birdlife

Siyabona

National Geographic

VIDEOS

Sort clip from a documentary.

Another snake bites the dust!

Did I Achieve My Birding Goals In Africa?

During the planning stages of “The Mother of all African Adventures“, I was targeting areas in which parrot species could be found along with many other bird and mammal species.  I will copy the targets here and give you the results to show how goal planning can affect your trip.  Of course the trip will be blogged in detail over the next few months.

I have copied below the parrot species I was targeting which represent 17 out of the 24 species that are found in Africa and the neighboring island nations.  Successes will be highlighted in lime green.

PARROT SPECIES FOUND IN AFRICA

1. Rose-ringed Parakeet – Psittacula krameri.  We have seen them in several places in India and feral populations in Europe.  Not a priority but may see them during the trip.

Result:  Not seen on this trip.

2. Mauritius Parakeet  – Psittacula echo.  Habitat in Black River Gorges National Park, easily driven from hotel in Mauritius.

Result:  Seen well in Black River Gorges National Park.

3. Gray Parrot – Psittacus erithacus.  Has large range but many places difficult, expensive or possible unsafe to travel to.  Easiest place to see them near Star Alliance airport is in Ghana at Kakum National Park.

Result: Only a pair seen flying at a distance in Kakum National Park.

4. Greater Vasa Parrot – Coracopsis vasa.  Madagascar endemic, easiest place to find them near Star Alliance airport is Andasibe National Park.

Result:  Seen well at Ankarafantsika National Park.

5. Lesser Vasa Parrot – Coracopsis nigra.  Madagascar endemic, easiest place to find them near Star Alliance airport is Andasibe National Park.

Result:  Seen well at Ankarafantsika National Park.

7. Black-winged Lovebird – Agapornis taranta.  Found in Ethiopia.  Slim chance to see them if there is a long layover at Addis Ababa.

Result:  We had a scant hour of early dawn light to try to find them on a brief layover and failed to find any.  Needed more time!

8.  Red-headed Lovebird – Agapornis pullarius.  Habitat not easily accessible, best chance is in Ghana.

 

Result:  Poorly seen in dense foliage at University of Ghana, Accra.

11. Fischer’s Lovebird – Agapornis fischeri.  Found in Tanzania, targeting them in Arusha, Tarangire and Serengeti.

Result:  Seen well near Ndutu Safari Lodge on Serengeti border.

12. Yellow-collared Lovebird (Masked Lovebird) – Agapornis personatus.  Found in Tanzania, targeting them in Arusha, Tarangire and Serengeti.

Result:  Seen well at Tarangire National Park, Tanzania.

14. Grey-headed Lovebird –  Agapornis canus.  Madagascar endemic, easiest place to find them near Star Alliance airport is Anatanarivo’s Tsimbazaza Park.

Result:  Seen at Ankarafantsika National Park.

15. Red-fronted (Jardine’s) Parrot – Poicephalus gulielmi.  Targeted in Arusha National Park and possible Ghana.

Result:  Seen at a distance at Arusha National Park, Tanzania

16. Cape Parrot – Poicephalus robustus.  Southern coast of South Africa.  Will try to find them as close as possible to Port Elizabeth.

Result:  Seen well in King William’s Town, South Africa.

17. Brown-necked Parrot –  Poicephalus fuscicollis.  Subspecies of Cape Parrot.  Have seen in Magoebaskloof, planning on return visit.

Result:  Seen well at Magoebaskloof, South Africa.

18. Brown-headed Parrot – Poicephalus cryptoxanthus. Easiest to find in northern Kruger National Park.

Result:  Seen well at Pretoriuskop Restcamp, Kruger National Park.

19. Red-bellied Parrot – Poicephalus rufiventris.  Found in Tanzania, targeting them in Tarangire.

Result:  Seen well at Tarangire National Park, Tanzania.

21. Meyer’s Parrot – Poicephalus meyeri.  Several subspecies spread out over southern and central Africa.  Best places to target them are northern South Africa and Tanzania’s Tarangire and Serengeti.

Result:  Seen well at Tarangire National Park, Tanzania.

24. Senegal Parrot  – Poicephalus senegalus.  Wide-spread in West Africa but easiest place to see using Star Alliance airports would be Shai Hills, Ghana near Accra.

Result:  Seen briefly at Shai Hills, Ghana.

By “seen well” I mean that the bird stuck around long enough to have a good look and get photos.  In some cases, all we could see were birds flying rapidly through the trees or scrambling through foliage.

FINAL TALLY

17 out of 24 parrot species targeted.

15 out of these 17 were seen.

11 out of these 15 were “seen well”

That’s actually not bad when you consider how unpredictable wild birds can be, and it only happened because I did TONS of research to give myself the best possible odds!

 

Just Returned From Africa – Exhausted But Exhilirated

This trip has been in the works for over a year and was originally planned for late 2015 and referred to as “The Mother of all African Adventures“.   I decided to bring it forward to Nov 2014 because it relied heavily on United Mileage Plus and I had concerns that a devaluation could either make the trip impossible or knock us back to economy and since these flights were really long I wanted business class.  I was also afraid that a change to United’s generous routing rules (better explained by Drew at Travel is Free) would kill my planned stopovers.  This routing required both an open jaw and a stop-over and cost 320,000 miles in J class for both tickets.

United redemption on BR, CA, SA, ET & TG

I used British Airways Avios for some local routes on their South African partner, Comair.

Avios redemptions

The only paid ticket was Air Austral from MRU to TNR.  The only way to get this route with miles is Flying Blue on Air Mauritius but the taxes make it poor value since it is not easy to get Flying Blue miles.  Also, they didn’t fly on a Monday and I had no flexibility as I had specific places to go birding in Madagascar.  I could have flown Air Madagascar but they have had so many problems with flight cancellations and long delays, I chose not to take the risk and went with Air Austral via Reunion.

Air Austral route

I did make great use of Flying Blue miles on Kenya Airways to get from Madagascar to Ghana, 35,000 for both of us!

Flying Blue redemption on KQ

HOTELS

Although most of the accommodation was in birding or safari lodges, I did burn through a bunch of hotel points in cities to keep costs down.

Port Elizabeth – Radisson Blu 38,000 points for 2 nights

JNB Airport – Intercontinental used Chase annual free night

Mauritius – Used Hilton Honors 40,000 points from each of our accounts for 2 nights at this newly renovated property.

Accra – Used IHG Rewards 20,000 per night for 1 night upon arrival and 2 nights post birding in Kakum for a birding day trip to Shai Hills.

Of course I will be blogging in detail about the travel and the fabulous birds we saw over the next couple months!

 

 

Photographer Of The Week – Arthur Morris

This is a old feature I am resurrecting.  Each week, I will highlight a gallery of superb bird photography by a professional photographer.  I am hoping to provide inspiration both for eco-travel and for us to improve our photography skills.

This week, I am showcasing the gallery of  African Birds by Arthur Morris.  Since I am planning a trip there in the near future, I am excited to see what can be achieved, even though I don’t have near the skills Mr Morris has!   His work is copyrighted so I will simply link to his gallery.  He has a lot of other galleries linked at the top so enjoy!

Should You Be Worried About Ebola?

We are going to Africa in the near future and my mother is in a panic.  She is convinced that we will get Ebola and die.  She is just one of many millions of people around the world who share the same fears.  So just how much of a threat is Ebola to tourists planning safaris in Africa?  This infographic from The Safari Company does a great job of explaining it.

ebola_infographic_631

.Ebola Infographic

I am not worried either of us will get Ebola.  To date, no tourists have been infected and there have been no cases in any African country other than Liberia, Guinea, Sierra Leone & Nigeria.  They’ve been doing a great job of containing it and keeping out of even the neighboring countries.

We wouldn’t be engaging in high-risk activities that involve exchange of bodily fluids.  We are in business class on the planes so will be seated only with each other.  We don’t plan on sticking around any city, we will be heading straight out into the bush for safaris.  We’re probably more at risk of Malaria than Ebola but we are taking Doxycycline for that.

I think there has been way too much hysteria fueled by the media.  Of course Ebola sells newspapers and promotes clicks on websites.  What I am more worried about is the hysteria driving ridiculous reactions such as this!

MORE EBOLA INFORMATION

The Latest on Ebola and Travel

Understanding the Risks of Ebola, and What ‘Direct Contact’ Means

Ebola Facts: How Many Ebola Cases Are Outside of West Africa?