South African Safari

Safari 1

Recently, I was fortunate to have some business travel take me to Cape Town South Africa. Since I would be traveling 20+ hours to get there, my wife and I decided to take a short vacation in the Sabi-Sands area on safari. I didn't realize most people plan these months or even a year in advance. Luckily, with the help of a local agency, we were able to find some cancelations and spend a few nights at two different private game reserves in the area. While the resorts were over-the-top fancy, we were there for the animals. Every morning at sunrise we would head out for a couple of hours in an open topped land rover with a guide and tracker to look for animals. And then we would repeat again in the afternoon until sunset. 

We were very fortunate to be able to see all of the "big 5" animals (rhino, hippo, elephant, lion, leopard) over the course of several days. We also saw wild african dogs, hyenas and a large number of antelopes: impala, kudu, nyala. In some cases we would be 10-15 feet from lions, zebras or elephants, which was a bit uncomfortable. You definitely appreciate where you are on the food chain. Leopards would be further away, but we bought a new camera (Canon SX 60 HS) with a good zoom lens for the trip. (I'll write up a more detailed review of this camera later on.)

This was truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Here are a few photos...

Leopard 2

Lion 2

Giraffe 2

Zebras 2



Since the headwinds were strong along the coast, we went inland before St Tropez towards Grimaud and Gonfalon.  This meant a long climb with beautiful scenery and slightly more modest winds.  At this point, my quads are shot from hills and it took some extra Gu and caffeine to get me through the day.  We stayed in Brignole which is not much of a town, but they had beer, pasta and eventually ice cream.  You really can't go wrong with vanilla.  

It's fair to say that Brignole's beauty was greatly enhanced with alcohol and the ProHDR iPhone app.  This thing is amazing.  However, it did cause a net decrease in our traveling speed to an average of 21kph.  The ride from Brignole was very cold the next the morning (5F) but was quite scenic, especially in the afternoon as we got closer to Aix.  After 7 days of cycling and 700km, my legs were glad to be done.  It was a great trip and we were most fortunate to have good weather.


Côte D'Azur

Deux cafes

From Nice we cycled down to Ste Maxime, facing strong headwinds in the afternoon.  I was grateful to be able to draft behind M. Pavan.  Scenery was beautiful but temperatures went up to 28F making it a bit of an ordeal.  

We were grateful to find an excellent Vietnamese / French restaurant in Agaye for a late lunch.  Otherwise, many locations were "Fermé la saison."  To say we are obsessed with food would be an understatement. 

So Nice in Nice

Zack coast
It was a tough steep ride into Nice through Gourdon, but beautiful.  Weather in Nice was excellent with about 5 minutes of rain and mostly cool weather for the climbs.  Food was fantastic, as usual, and we stayed in the same hotel for two nights, which was a rare treat.  

That also meant that on our "easy" day we were able to drop about 5 pounds of bags from the bikes, making the climbs somewhat less taxing.  On this day, Mike and Pavan cycled the Col de la Madonne, a famous Lance Armstrong training ride.  Kaj and I cycled the Grande Corniche, then into Ventimiglia, Italy and through the Formula 1 Grand Prix Tunnels of Monaco.  Luckily Kaj had 2 beers at lunch that day and was fearless.  

Gorges Du Verdon

Vertical chart

One of the most scenic parts of our trip was cycling from Valensole to Grasse through the Gorges du Verdon. This was a beautiful and sceneic ride, but a long one: 150km, with 2,500m of vertical climb, following our first day of 130km from Aix.  Still, we got to stay in a castle in Valensole which was pretty cool.  

Nonetheless, it made for a long day and as a result of a couple of wrong turns we finished in the dark coming into Grasse. It was somewhat terrifying to be coming down steep mountain roads in the dark, but drivers are very good about watching for cyclists and we were grateful when we got near town and had streetlights to provide visibility.

Around Aix


We started and ended our trip in Aix-en-Provence which is about a 30 minute bus ride from Marseille airport.  It's a nice, friendly city with lots of excellent restaurants and cafes.  We have reservations here in Aix at the Hotel Du Glove and also at a castle in Valensole after the first day of cycling.  Otherwise we are riding without fixed plans. Since it is the low season, we figure we can find two star hotels pretty easily.

Around Reykjavik


Reykjavik, the capital of Iceland, is home to nearly 40% of Iceland's 320,000 citizens including a growing number of yak herders.  Here are some photos around the Reykjavik area, including the somewhat overrated Blue Lagoon, which is a massive man-made outdoor Geothermal spa created from runoff from a nearby Geothermal power plant.

And here's some local art including some impressive murals at a skatepark as well as post-modern pop art by controversial Icelandic artist Erró.


Don't Go Jason Waterfalls

Zack gregg waterfalls med

I don't know if Iceland has more waterfalls than any other country in the world, but it's ceartainly got some of the best what with Gullfoss, Skógafoss, Seljalandsfoss, Svartifoss, Goðafoss, Uberfoss, Yúdaboss, Dentálfloss etc. I'm not sure we saw all of Iceland's waterfalls, or whether we just saw the same ones two or three times.  It's hard to trust those guides.  

Nonetheless, the hiking in Iceland was fantastic.  While the weather was often cold, it was always beautiful and we were lucky with never having more than a sprinking of rain.  Hikes included mountain treks, explorations of volcanic lava fields, craters, geysers, beaches, glaciers and of course, plenty of waterfalls. Here are some photos:

Unfortunately, we did not get to see any of the famous Icelandic guard yaks.  I'm getting concerned that Kleiner Perkins might have been overly optimistic in their assessment of the potential for in Iceland.  Still, it could be a nice strategic fit with their Norwegian automotive investments.

What Part of Eyjafjallajökull Don't You Understand?


Iceland has about 130 volcanic mountains, 18 of which have erupted since settlement.  Some erupt every couple hundred years, some every 50-80 years.  Typically there's some kind of volcanic activity every few years.  Eyjafjallajökull (pronounced: "Eyjafjallajökull" just like it's written) erupted rather famously in 2010 interupting air travel in Europe for several weeks.  However, in Iceland this was considered a relatively minor event, dwarfed by a larger eruption in 2011 at Grímsvötn.

While in Iceland we explored the Eyjafjallajökull visitor's center and also hiked several craters and lava fields in other areas including Mt Laki and Hverfjall.  Some portions seemed eerily like hiking into Mount Doom on bad day.  Watch for the Yule Lads, descendents of mountain trolls.  Here are some more photos:

Local Jökulls

Glacier boat

I tell you, it's not easy getting away from the hustle and spin of Silicon Valley.  But I'm down with the whole #unplug thing while I'm in Iceland.  Heck, I'm not even sure they have the Interweb here.  So I'm making a point of being offline from cell phone calls, instant messaging, email, Blogger, Buzz, Digg, Facebook, Facetime, Flickr, Foursquare, Google+, Instagram, Linkedin, Myspace, Ning, Picasaweb, Quora, Skype, Typepad, Twitter, Yammer, Yelp, Youtube and every other productivity-enhancing social-networking unified messaging cloud infrastructure SaaS virtual distributed open source crowdsource system I've signed up for.  Yep, total silence.  Just me and my goold ol' Google Reader exploring the outer Yak Whispering regions of Iceland.

Nothing like exploring a glacier river lagoon to help get away from things. Here are some photos of local Jökulls at Jökulsárlón

One thing I forgot to ask the Kleiner guys just how many Yaks there are in Iceland.  They're hoping for some major revenue growth, so I sure hope it's big.