Friday, January 31, 2014

Fourth Grade Geography Comes to Life

I started writing this morning with a definite direction in mind, but then it changed. I should have edited the previous post more thoroughly -- like maybe reading the first paragraph again -- because that first paragraph is the beginning of where I want to go in this entry!  And I used to be an editor.

So I'll try to make this beginning a little different. But really the first paragraph of the last one belongs here! In fourth grade we drew maps of Africa.  I remember mine, because after I drew the map, I cut it out, pasted it on another piece of paper, and cut out a border around it. Even then I was doing borders on things......

When the opportunity to visit Capetown was presented to me, I said that the three most important things for me were the penguins at Simons Town, the Cape of Good Hope (because of 4th grade geography) and Robben Island. That last part will be the subject of it's own post -- it was a very powerful experience that deserves standing alone.

Drew and Sara's friend Deidre arranged a full day tour that went to both the Cape of Good Hope and the penguins, as well as other side trips during the day. It was a very full day -- I was picked up at the hotel at 8:30 in the morning and didn't get home till 6:30 at night, dead tired, but with a night of partying with Drew and friends still to go.  Oh well, I'll sleep on the plane home, maybe.

There were 10 of us on this tour, in a white van, not much bigger than my minivan. We were an international group -- there was a couple from Switzerland, one from Greece, one from England, one from China, me, and another man doing what was called an educational tour (he was preparing for employment as a guide by the company).

The first stop was to see a place where seals hauled up on the rocks -- mostly male seals waiting to mature enough to mate with the females.  Kind of like a fraternity house!  The waves at Seal Island in Hout Bay were pretty fierce for the boats, but the seals didn't mind at all!
Seal Island

Next was a leisurely drive down the coast to the Cape of Good Hope. That part of South Africa is sparsely populated (by people at least, but there were lots of signs warning of baboons who would steal your food, open your car doors, and cause all sorts of mayhem, but we didn't see them), mountainous, but with fairly flat beaches. Some of the beaches are sandy, some are rocky. It is an undeveloped coast, and is now part of the Table Mountain National Park, so it will stay that way.
On the way to the Cape of Good Hope

My 4th grade geography says that the Cape of Good Hope is where the Atlantic and the Indian Oceans meet, but this is not quite true. That takes place a little farther around the coast to the east and a place called Cape Agulhas. But I'll stick with my 4th grade geography and say -- close enough!! It was a calm day, the ocean was a beautiful blue, the sun was shining, and I couldn't imagine ships having a hard time getting around the cape. What a day to make it to the Cape of Good Hope, destination of my imagination.
With flat Owen -- a project for my grandson Owen's class at school. 

Cape of Good Hope coastline
After a lovely lunch it was fun to walk around the walking paths at Cape Point. This is about 1/4 mile from the actual Cape of Good Hope, but it's where the visitor center was placed. A little bit of retail therapy (gifts for folks back home) we were off to see the penguins.
Cape Point, with Cape of Good Hope just over the far cliff. 

I added this attraction to my life list when I first made plans to come to Africa; who could resist the opportunity to see penguins in their natural habitat? And what a habitat it is. They live on a sandy beach, surrounded by rocks, scrubby bushes, and the most beautiful blue water that I have seen since the Mediterranean. The most fun was watching them swim toward the shore, ride a breaking wave in, and emerge from the water. There was quite a colony there -- perhaps 150 or more penguins just in this protected spot.

After a stop at the Kirstenbosch Gardens (I had tea there with the English couple) and a stroll through some of the exhibits, we came home to horrific traffic, and a one hour trip to drop people off at their hotels. Tired, but happy, Drew and his friends Deidre and William met me, and off we went for a lovely dinner overlooking the beach and the sunset, a pomegranate mojito, and several glasses of wine. Dead tired, we arrived home at 11:30 and collapsed into bed....zzzzz.
The sun sets on Deidre and William, and another beautiful day ends. 

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Capetown, South Africa

Back when I was in fourth grade, I remember studying Africa in geography, especially the Cape of Good Hope -- that terrible place where ships foundered and sank, and whose passage was only achieved with great skill and seamanship.  I was particularly interested because my Aunt Mary, who lived with us for a while, had lived in Africa (today's Tanzania) and told stories about it. She also sent us some art pieces that my sisters and I were not allowed to play with, but that we found very tempting to at least pick up and examine. Never in my mind back then did it occur to me that perhaps I would get to see this continent for myself.

I spent this past week in Capetown, South Africa. What a fascinating, beautiful, modern but with some quirks (my son has a term for the quirks -- TIA -- This is Africa!!).

Day 1 was filled to the brim with sights.  Early in the morning I bought a ticket for the city-wide tour bus. This is a red double-decker with no roof, so if you climb to the upper deck, you get a beautiful view of your surroundings. You also get a set of earphones so that you can hear the descriptions, in about 8 languages.  (You get to choose the one you understand best.) The best part of this tour is that you can get on and off the bus wherever it stops, all day long, as often as you like. So if you see something that interests you, off you go, explore a bit, then get on the next bus that comes along. I did that several times.
Traffic is not so different from other cities.

City Hall -- it was from the balcony of the building on the left that Mandela spoke for the first time after being released from prison. 
My first stop was Capetown's #1 visited place -- Table Mountain -- which looms behind the city and cradles it between the mountain and the ocean. It was cloudy that day, but I could see the top of the mountain, which is reached by a cable car, so I went up. Oh my, if it had been clear, I think I could have seen all the way to Antarctica! Wandering around the paths on the top, I heard all those languages that were available on the bus -- English, Dutch, French, Afrikkans, German, Japanese, Chinese, and others in between that I couldn't identify. It was a great break from the bus, and I was glad to be on top. Did you know that recently a panel has chosen a new Seven Wonders of the World?  I didn't, but Table Mountain is one of those New Seven Wonders -- no surprise to me.
City from Table Mountain

Along the coast

One of the new Seven Wonders
After a bit more riding on the bus, we came to a place along the ocean called Camps Bay. I was getting hungry by now, and there were lots of little restaurants along the road, so off I got again.  While I was standing on the ocean side of the road looking across the street and trying to decide what to eat, I turned around and looked at the ocean again.

A little voice inside said "Sally, you should go down there and stick your feet in the ocean."
"No,"I replied, "it's a long walk over that soft sand, I'll get sand in my shoes, it's hard to walk on that stuff, I'll just stay here and look at it."
"Don't be stupid -- you know you'll kick yourself when you get home if you don't do it!"
"OK, I guess....."

It was a very delightful 45 minutes!  Yes, it was a long walk over hard-to-walk-in soft sand, yes I got sand in my shoes, and up my legs, and I got my pants wet, but I'm so glad I did it!  I found a little inlet where the waves weren't too fierce and where there were rocks to sit on, and stuck my feet, almost to my knees, in the water of the South Atlantic!

By then it was way past lunch time, and food (a Norweigan salmon salad Nicoise -- yum) was calling.
Colorful houses in District 6 -- that part that was torn down during the Aparteid years. 

ONe more stop for the day -- the Aquarium.  I love aquariums; when we lived in Hawaii about 25 years ago, my favorite activity was tide pooling, and this is as close as I can get. Capetown has a beautiful aquarium, and it was an hour well spent.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Where's the Guide?

Visiting National Historic sites in Botswana is not quite like doing it in the States. Yesterday Drew and I wanted to visit the ancient rock paintings at a small town called Manyana, about 25 miles from home. Gaborone is a city of about 250,000 people, but once you get outside the city, it's more like the Africa you imagine-- smaller homes, more widely spread, and nothing above one or two stories high. There are small villages with a small store somewhere near the center, often with a line of street vendors set up on either side of the store and people crowded around. Manyana was even smaller, a sleepy little village with small groups of people visiting in front yards under the shade of a fairly large tree.

Remember being chased by a moose in Alaska?  This time we weren't chased, but had to maneuver around cows, goats, and donkeys who thought the road belonged to them (and this being Africa, I suppose it does!)

The directions to the rock paintings were a bit sketchy -- go to the center of town and ask directions to the site, and if there is nobody there, go to the thatched hut in the middle of town and they will find I you a guide.  We found the middle of town and the thatched hut, but there was nobody at either place.  Now what to do?  We walked around a little, driving up side roads (all dirt), asked a few people, and finally a couple of young boys who spoke a little English came up to our car and asked if we wanted a guide. They offered to take us to the house where the guide lived.  In the car they got, and soon we arrived at our destination. A woman came out of the house and the boys told her what we wanted (she didn't speak English). She went back in the house and came back with several small children and a bag of pomegranates. Hmmmm. Offered us each one.  OK.
Our boy guides

How much, We asked?  No payment, but could you drive these children to another house where the guide lives.  What?   Total strangers, foreigners, and you are willing to put your children in a car with us and have other children give us directions? But this is Africa, and we really wanted to see the rock paintings, so off we went to Cina's house. These were her children, and she is a guide, but not on Saturday. So we dropped the children off and the boys took us to another house, the one where the Saturday guide lived. At last, someone who could get us to the paintings!
The  guide's house

Gamsbock and a tree
Can you see 4 giraffes?
Corn plants

not sure what animal this was

Justice wasn't finished though, there was more to see. This is an area where Dr. David Livingston settled and saw patients. A short way down another road is the Livingston tree, where he treated the locals. It's huge, and underneath it is cool, spacious, and very cosy! The tree is a wild fig tree, and both birds and other animals eat the figs, although they are tiny. We learned a bit more local history, wandered through the town (along with the cows, donkeys, and goats), but finally it was time to go home. What a day...unlike any I'd ever had in America!
The Livingston tree

Wild figs
PS.  The pomegranates tasted wonderful!

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Life List #2 Victoria Falls

A long time ago I put Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe on my life list, never thinking I would actually go there, but more because it sounded so exotic. Maybe writing it down, or saying it out loud was the thing that made it happen (or more likely because Drew and Sara moved there, making it much easier for me).

Drew and me on our first game drive
Last weekend we went there for several days, adding in Chobe National Park to the itinerary. Part of the attraction in these Parks is game drives through the preserves.  They are much like our national parks: the animals are free to roam throughout, and beyond the park borders. There are no fences. The difference is that the animals are not bears or elk or deer; they are elephants, hippos, giraffes, baboons, and Cape buffalo. We saw all those on two game drives and a river cruise.  Can you imagine being 20 yards away from a pod of a dozen hippos in the river?  Or just as close to a herd of elephants about 30 strong?
Afternoon water break
Pod of hippos

Although they roam in this park, we didn't see lions or leopards this trip. The folks on the drive the afternoon before did though; we were on the river cruise at the time. 

There is nothing like the sight of several herds of elephants walking (quickly) down to the river for a drink, and an afternoon swim.  I had no idea that elephants love the water as much as I do!  To watch them play in the water, submerging themselves with just their trunks above the surface, and rolling around just like kids engaged in horseplay was an absolute delight! The matriarch kept an eye on all the activity, acting a bit more dignified, and deciding when they had all had enough and it was time to go back to the forest.
Fun in the water
Crocodile -- we watched him slither into the water

Cape Buffalo


Closer to the river were a whole lot of giraffes (probably about 25-30 of them). They graze occasionally, spreading their front legs so that they can reach the ground. It's a funny sight to watch; I'll bet they are more comfortable browsing in the trees.
Four of the many giraffes
grazing -- hard work!
Our guide made a water lilly necklace for Lila, then we all tried it on

Botswana branch of the Schneider family

The second highlight of this trip of course was the Falls. I hardly know how to describe them.  They are so long that you can't see the whole falls from one end to the other from any one place. The mist coming up from them is sometimes so thick that you can't see across the gorge from the walking path to the falls. On the walking path, it's like being in a rainstorm. Luckily it was warm and our clothes dried out pretty quickly. Cameras took a bit longer though.

The Zambezi river feeds the falls, and they are in Zambia, but the viewpoints are all in Zimbabwe as the gorge forms the border between the two countries. The river flows into what is a huge crack in the earth, so there are high ridges on all sides. It's not like so many other falls I have seen with a cliff down which the water cascades and fairly level ground at the bottom. You never get to see these falls from the base.
My first view of the falls brought me to tears. 

the main section

Sara in the mist

We were delighted by the antics of a troop of monkeys that hung around one of the viewpoints (the one nearest the restaurant) until we were eating lunch and one of the monkeys leaped onto the table and stole half of Sara's sandwich! She was most annoyed because he dropped it on the ground and scampered off when the restaurant staff chased him with a slingshot. He didn't even eat the sandwich! It happened so fast we couldn't get a photo!
The monkey is teasing Lila.
Sunset on the Chobe River, looking into Namibia

Now we are back in Gabarone, visiting some local attractions (and I'm getting some good granny time with Lila). Next week is Capetown and the Penguins and Robben Island and Table Mountain, and the weekend after that is Madikwe Game Preserve where Drew has promised that I'll see lions!  I can hardly wait!

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Good Morning from Africa!

It might take a long time to get here, and it's a pretty miserable trip (try sitting in a folding chair, OK a padded one, for 28 hours)! But I got off the plane in Gabarone, Botswana, and said to myself, Holy Cow, I'm in Africa!  Then I said it out loud--HOLY COW I'M IN AFRICA! I just never imagined that I would actually be able to go, but sometimes things just work out!

Drew, Sara and Lila met me at the airport, and after what seemed an eternity, we were HOME!  (Did you know they drive on the other side of the road here?!!)

After not sleeping much on the plane, I was pretty tired, but wanted to wait till a more reasonable time to go to bed. First things first, a swim!  It's mid summer here, and they have a pool, so Lila and I went swimming for almost an hour. That woke me up a little, but it didn't last long!

So in an effort to support that need to stay awake, Drew suggested a short drive through the local game preserve-- not long, he said, just a half hour or so. The Gabarone Game Preserve is only about a 10 minute drive from their house. It was early evening by then, a good time to see the animals feeding. Drew said they must have known I was coming, because they all came out to greet me!!  What a drive! Ostriches, impalas, zebras, monkeys, warthogs, elands, and they all had babies except the elands! I had seen pictures of monkeys running with their babies clinging to their chest, but last night I saw it in person!  The Ostriches had about 20 babies, there were at least 3 baby monkeys, lots of little impalas, and two baby warthogs who were nursing!  Imagine having that so close to home!

Time then for dinner, with another mother and her baby, then bed!  I thought I would read myself to sleep as usual, and I made it through 1 1/2 paragraphs before I was dead to the world!

Today is a new day, with all kinds of new things to experience!  I'm ready!!