Archive for the ‘Africa’ tag

MKTG Rewards: The Key(s) to Happiness

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CDEach quarter, MKTG INC staffers select one lucky MKTGer for a reward trip to a destination of their choosing. Upon their return, winners are asked to report on their trip and make us all sick with envy. Here’s the rewards recap of Charlie DeCrescenzo, Account Executive, in MKTG INC’s New York City office.

Work travel can be exhausting. The early flights, the multiple hotels, kayaking in mangroves, hopping from beach to beach – we’ve all been there. Alright, so maybe this trip to the Florida Keys wasn’t exactly a typical trip through work. It was, however, an incredible experience that got me through one of the colder winters I can remember and I am incredibly appreciative for it.

I have to preface this by thanking MKTG INC and in particular, my colleagues, for voting me into such a unique opportunity. Being recognized by my peers for a domestic trip anywhere in the country is the greatest form of flattery I can think of. Thank you again.

When offered a free trip for you and a guest of your choice, it’s amazing how many long lost friends come out of the woodwork just to say “hi.” It’s also a challenge when both parents offer their services as travel companions, especially after a fellow coworker previously took his mom on a safari to Africa with his trip (thanks a lot, Jav). In the end, my best bud since kindergarten won the bid and it all worked out…I think.

Next was the decision of where to travel. At first we considered going somewhere unique to us, maybe Colorado for skiing or Alaska to explore the wilderness. But then this past winter happened and the thermometer was below freezing day after day. This made the decision pretty easy: the turquoise water and warm beaches of the Florida Keys was the clear answer.

We started our voyage in Ft. Lauderdale where the air temperature was a perfect 80 degrees and the water temperature was only 5 degrees colder than that. My friend and I just took the day to hang out on the beach and wait until our bodies figured out what this “sun” and “warm air” were. It was simple, but it was a great and much needed day of rest.

The next day began our tour of the beautiful Keys, starting with Key Largo. Best known for its John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, we took advantage of the opportunity and went kayaking in its famous mangrove water trails. An hour and fifteen minutes later we had conquered all available trails, fought some tough ocean currents, and we couldn’t lift our arms anymore. To deal with the pain we checked out the happy hour at a place called the Bayside Grille which, if you ever find yourself in Key Largo, I highly recommend. The combination of the sunset view, the seafood ceviche, the old timers Jimmy Buffet-esque cover band, and the array of koozies available to all customers really makes it one of my top picks from the trip.

After a night in Key Largo, we moved the convoy down to Marathon for a 2-night stay. Marathon is about the mid-point of the Keys so we felt it was a good location to spend the rest of our trip in. It also meant that we would be driving back and forth throughout the Keys, which isn’t a bad thing at all. The drive can be slow at times, but it really is one of the most picturesque drives you can take. On the way to Marathon we detoured to a famous pit stop called Robbie’s where travelers can feed the 5-foot long fish-monsters called tarpon. These tarpon were massive and would suck the fish right out of tourists’ hands as they leaned over on the docks. We didn’t end up actually feeding the tarpon, but watching fellow tourists get attacked by either a tarpon or an even more ferocious pelican was certainly a spectacle worth seeing. Seriously though, those pelicans were mean.

After dropping our bags off at the hotel in Marathon, we headed straight for a Saturday night in Key West. I mean you can’t be in the Keys without going to Key West, right? There we saw an incredibly talented street performer juggle fire and swords while balancing on a rolling board while doing push-ups (or something like that). We traversed the town by going from live cover band to live cover band at every bar until we found the one that felt right. We also came across someone dressed up as Darth Vader on the street who was playing an LED-lit banjo. Yea, Key West was a lot of fun.

The rest of the trip was mostly comprised of driving around discovering small hidden beaches, eating as much seafood as humanly possible, and trying our best to deny the fact that we were eventually going back to 15-degree weather with a wind chill of -75.

This rewards trip couldn’t have come at a more perfect time to mentally and physically escape the dark and dreary winter we had this year. It was an amazing opportunity to explore a part of the country I hadn’t seen since I was a child and allowed me to rub it in all of my friends’ faces as I sent them photos throughout the process. I want to thank MKTG again for providing me the opportunity to have such an incredible experience that I will not soon forget. For those looking to get away from it all, the Keys certainly know how to unlock the happiness inside.

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Lions & Tigers & ME…Oh, My!

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AfricaSafai_JavierPhoto Credit: Javier Cubria

I had the world in the palm of my hands, could spin a globe and choose anywhere to go. But I didn’t need a vacation, I needed an experience.

After countless “best places to go” Google searches, recommendations from friends and coin flips, I finally decided to choose a once in a lifetime trip and head to South Africa for an African safari. To avoid the looming rainy season, I had to quickly make up my mind on who my traveling partner was going to be. Despite receiving some pretty appealing offers from friends, I think I made the right choice…my mother. I’m pretty sure she had an amazing time and I’m very sure I’m now the favorite child. Either way, it’s only fair to share some of my experiences with the masses, so…

I’d love to jump right into my safari experience but there’s no way to ignore the ridiculously long flight to South Africa.  Despite how many episodes of Modern Family I watched (5), Sudoku puzzles I attempted (0 for 9), or terrible movies I tried to sit through (MIB 3, Rock of Ages, Man on a Ledge) I couldn’t put a dent in this 16-hour flight.  My mom was uncomfortable, I was uncomfortable and the rest of the plane seemed to be equally uncomfortable as our ears were plagued with the never-ending sound of flight attendant call bells and groans from fellow passengers.

Miraculously, the minute we touched down it felt like everyone on the plane was reenergized. We put that long flight behind us and were ready to take on anything Johannesburg could throw our way. This lasted all of five minutes, when we realized the baggage handlers at the airport were on strike and there was no way of telling when we’d get our luggage.  Thankfully, just a mere two hours later the conveyor belts started to move and my safari experience was ready to begin.

My accommodations were set at the Thorny Bush Game Lodge, located about 300 miles North East of Jo’Burg. Yes, that meant more traveling, but this was much different. My subsequent travels consisted of two connecting flights on tiny charter planes in-and-out of dirt paved village “airports” while flying over amazing landscapes and awe-inspiring panoramas. The fact that I could reach forward, tap our pilots on the shoulder and ask about some of the villages, mountain ranges and other scenes was already an incredible experience. Catching glimpses of animal herds in the distance and elephants washing at watering holes made me that much more excited to land and head into the wild.

The minute our four-seater plane landed at Thorny Bush, we were welcomed by Clement and “John the Best,” our respective guide and tracker for the next five days. We took our seats in the topless Land Cruiser Jeep and started to get the lay of the land from our local experts. The Lodge itself was a perfect mix of a luxurious design with an African outback look and feel. The stylish furniture screamed 5-Star Lodge while the wildlife running around actually screamed African safari.  We arrived late (no) thanks to the airport strike and, after being greeted by the staff, were rushed to our rooms so we wouldn’t miss the upcoming safari drive.

We followed a very structured and intense schedule every day. Wake up call at 5:00am, tea and coffee at 5:30am, driving safari from 5:45–9:00am, breakfast from 9:30–11:00am, walking safari from 11:30am–1:30pm, lunch from 2:00-2:45pm, driving safari from 4:00–8:00pm, dinner from 8:00-9:30pm, drinks (if so desired) from 9:30pm on.

In writing this looks like a simple routine when in reality it was anything but that. Each day was filled with new sights, sounds, smells, and as anticipated, experiences. Each day was different, from our first safari drive where within minutes we caught our first close-up look at some of the more plentiful animals such as impalas, zebras and kudus, to the last night where our tracker (who spent 90% of each drive staring at the ground for footprints and clues) was poised to find the elusive leopard to complete our “Big Five” sightings.

That being said, one thing was constant: our reaction every time we’d spot and approach these fascinating animals in their natural habitat. Besides the safari drives, these landscapes are ultimately untouched. My mom and I were truly in the wild. There was something very humbling about the fact that the carefree giraffes we witnessed munching on some greens could easily be taken down at any point by some hungry lions. Or the fact that my mother was awestruck by the beauty of a cheetah lounging in the shade while simultaneously appalled by one feasting on a freshly hunted impala.

As far as our “Big Five” goes, we experienced lions lounging around resting up for a long night of hunting, herds of cape buffalo cooling off in the mud, a leopard hiding out in the bush sneakily evading our trackers’ flashlights, rhinos feeding and tending to their young and, of course, parades of elephants playing, feeding, washing and pretty much destroying any tree in their way.

Now that the trip is over, I can say without a shadow of doubt that my choice did not let me down and truly exceeded my expectations. Take my advice when I say GO ON SAFARI!

Thanks to MKTG INC, that’s one less item on my bucket list that I have to worry about. Now, back to work…

Hakuna Matata!

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Written by Javier Cubria
Javier Cubria

December 5th, 2012 at 12:10 am