SA Trip – Aug 26-31,2014

On Tues morning Aug 26, we were excited to head to the airport in East London for our noon flight to Joberg where we were on standby for our Lufthansa flight to Germany to attend Michael’s nephew’s wedding on Friday. After a boot shine for $4 and a smooth flight, we arrived in Joberg and transferred to the international terminal for our evening flight. Unfortunately, it was overbooked, and there was no way we would get on board flying standby. So we called Hector, owner of the Guest House where we had stayed on the inbound trip 3 months prior. When we discovered that Lufthansa was overbooked for the next several days, we needed a new strategy. Since we were now going to miss the Friday wedding, we decided just to go home. We booked our standby on Delta for San Diego on there single flight per day to the US and returned to the airport next day. Overbooked. Three times we returned, same story. By Saturday, we’d had enough. Shifting gears once again, we knew if we could make it to Germany, we’d have many options on Delta back to the States. We booked the cheapest flight we could find which was to Zurich, only 2 hours from Freiburg, and boarded Etihad (United Arab Emirates airlines) on Sunday to head to Europe for a couple of days of rest before flying Delta home from Stuttgart. One small glitch we encountered was that Michael had now overstayed his 90 day visa waiver by 2 days due to all the flight delays. It hadn’t even occurred to us, since we were just so focused on getting home. We’ll have to jump through some hoops at the SA embassy when we get home or he won’t be able to enter the country for 5 years. Small detail. Just glad to be in the air again headed to Abu Dhabi where we have a 6 hour layover before a 2 am connecting flight to Zurich. Outside of Freiburg is a mineral hot springs that I am soooo looking forward to visiting to soak for hours before returning to our standby status for our flight from Stuttgart to San Diego, via Atlanta.

The world feels more personal to me again since being on this trip. We had heard about Lesotho before coming to Africa but didn’t have a clue about it actually – the language, geography, resources, politics, wildlife nor the economy. We learned some things about it and saw some great pictures from the camping trip of our newfound American friends that we met in Glengariff, and that made us want to return next year to visit and explore the country. Then, while we were at Addo Elephant National Park, we met a young Dutch couple on a three week trip through SA with a stop in Swaziland and Lesotho. They had taken a 2 hours trek on horseback into the mountains, which made us want to return even more. (info about mountain, altitude, etc) When we were staying in a Guest House (B&B) in Joberg waiting for our flight back to that States, the house girl was a 21 year old from Maseru, Lesotho. We were struck by how sweet, soft spoken and humble Lirontsho is. She came here to be near her father, who is in his 50s and working in a platinum mine north of Joberg. Every two weeks on her days off, she visits her father about 2 hours to the north. When she talks about him, you can feel the deep love she has for her him, like a little girl very attached and devoted to her father. Her mother and siblings are still back in Lesotho, but she came here to stay close to her father. Her sweetness made it easy to want to share with her our experiences and photos, especially the elephants at Addo which she had never seen. Then on our last day, the News reported a military coup in Lesotho and said that the President had fled to SA. Hector, owner of the Guest House, was surprised and said that SA would send its troops there, because they don’t want instability in their midst. And he kept saying that he doesn’t understand why it’s a separate country anyway. The ties are very close, and Lesotho is surround by SA. Transit and exchanges across the border are very easy with SA. When I told her about the coup, Lirontsho was initially very worried for her family who live close to the military base, but seemed happier after calling and talking to her mother, one of the great human benefits of ubiquitous cellphones around the world. They really do serve people, communication and strengthening the love in the world. We were very happy to give her our leftover Rand and a very long hug.

Here we are in Abu Dhabi, Aug 31, Sunday evening waiting for our connection to Zurich at 2 am. IMG_6634 IMG_6635 IMG_6641Our plane with Etihad (UAE airlines) is a new Airbus 330, which carries 335 passengers, with all the latest technology, including the use of Wifi in the air, electrical connections to charge devices and personal touch screens, though not new. Lunch was delicious. The tray even included water, packaged in a small square package with a plastic cover that said ‘Natural Bottled Water.’ Interestingly, we had seats 34A & C; there is no B. No one could tell us why. The terminal is beautiful, circular in design and lined with all the high-end duty free stores.

The city is huge, encompassing over 375 sq. miles (population 921,000). Abu Dhabi International Airport itself is spread over an area of 60 square kilometres (15,000 acres). Its terminal spaces are dominated by Etihad Airways, the United Arab Emirates’ second largest air carrier after Emirates. Once our Etihad flight landed, it took us at least 10 minutes to reach the gate (I estimate about 5 miles). Just amazing. As we were landing, I was fascinated to see that all the lights in the city were yellow lights, best for reducing light pollution.

In the air again at 2 am, I met the gentleman sitting an empty seat away. Clearly Indian, turns out he is a monk, living in Melbourne, Australia and on his way to Cork, Ireland to visit a woman who treated him like a son during his early twenties. He had lost contact, and following an urge to see her, managed to track her down with a lot of creativity and Facebook. As a Hindu monk, he teaches spirituality at universities and to local groups. We enjoyed chatting about the several Dan Brown books we had read as he was now into Digital Fortress. Fun and joyous encounter.

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SA Trip – Aug 24, 2014

Sunday was our last great social event in East London.  Jimmy and Theone and their son, George, invited us to enjoy oysters and the buffet at the Restaurant at Crawfords Cabins overlooking the beach in Chintsa.  We were also joined by Rod (left), who invited us many times to watch the World Cup soccer back in June and July,IMG_1241

and his wife Ady.IMG_1240 We invited Mary and Steve, are new found American friends transplanted to Glengariff, near Chintsa.IMG_1238Mirjam and Anne were able to join us after their volunteer time at an orphanage in Duncan Village.IMG_1244

And on the way home, we were regaled by a double rainbow!  What a fabulous day.  We so appreciate the good times made possible by all our South African friends.  We will be back.Driving home from Crawfords at Chintsa.

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SA Trip – Aug 16-24,2014

Being with elephants is definitely a mystical experience.  Actually, being in the vastness of nature with all the plants and wildlife is the most soul-connecting-welcome-home experience I’ve ever had. Rounding a corner to find a mother elephant and junior grazing on the bushes next to the road is heart stopping.  IMG_6218 IMG_6246Then out of nowhere, the huge male comes lumbering out of the bushes,IMG_6309 only to disappear in front of your eyes on the other side. You never know what’s just inside the bush beyond the first layer.  The thrill of discovery is noticing the cork-screw horn of a kudu in the bushes long before you see the body.IMG_6037IMG_6055IMG_6047 It’s very difficult to put this experience into words, so mostly I’ll just post the photographs with only some comments to point out behaviors and dynamics that a still just can’t capture. The first morning of our game drive, we saw the elephants from a distance only, IMG_5828 but with my lens, I could still enjoy some ‘close’ looks. IMG_5835There were several babies in the first fairly large group of females and calves that we saw. From a beginning of Addo Elephant National Park in 1931 with only 11 elephants who survived the concerted effort to exterminate all elephants in this region, and introducing some bulls from the Kruger for more genetic diversity, there are now 600+ elephants in Addo, and they looked very healthy. The park covers a vast area of 1,640 km2 (630 sq mi) with abundant scrub for all the various animals,IMG_2298and it’s managed well by rotating areas to preserve the food supply, as elephants can be quite destructive. Our first day was cold (I’m talking 4 C or 39 F), damp and overcast (and we weren’t dressed at all warmly enough; thank goodness for blankets),IMG_1206 and the light for photographing was just ‘ok.’ We had a great guide, David, with Crisscross Adventures, (the middle two are Menno and Jorike from Holland)IMG_2292IMG_2294 offered by Chrislin African Lodge outside of Addo Park IMG_2345  IMG_2341IMG_1192where we stayed in a mud hut (ours is on the right).IMG_2343IMG_6526IMG_6529View from our window in the am.IMG_5770 Can you image riding in an open Land Rover on the main country road at 45-50 mph in shirt sleeves (Michael) and a light sweat shirt jacket (me)? I could hardly hold my camera when we got to Addo. Lesson learned.  Anyway, David was very knowledgeable and passionate about educating us about the animals he loves. This showed up particularly when we drove past an adder which had been run over. IMG_6005He was quite disgusted and upset that anyone would do that within the park and notified the rangers. It was unconscionable to him that someone would kill an animal in the park. Elephants, kudus, Burchell’s zebras, jackals, warthogs and various birds, which I’ll name individually later, were the main wildlife we saw on Tuesday. Besides encountering the animals themselves, the thrill of a game drive in an open Land Rover is the ‘discovery’ or ‘sightings,’ actually spotting the animals in the bush, perhaps even up close.IMG_5895As I said, you just never know when elephants will come out of the bush to cross the road or be feeding next to the road around a blind corner.IMG_6321 IMG_6305 You drive slowly! The kudu, called ‘ghost spirits’, by the locals here, are magical, because they suddenly appear and just as suddenly disappear – now you see them; now you don’t. Exquisite animals they are! IMG_5897IMG_5899These young Nyala females below were spotted outside the park on our way up the Zuurberg Mountain Village. Notice the short horns in the juvenile in the second picture.IMG_2276  IMG_2273 Watching elephants at a distance is ok, but up close is much better. The first day, we saw close up only a solitary male or two at one or two different watering holes,IMG_5928 or small groups of females and their calves just leaving.IMG_5921 The second day was a completely different experience. The skies were clear; it was warmer and dryer (better for photography), and we were in our own car, at our own pace. It was fantastic! We watched elephants up close for over an hourIMG_6410IMG_6400 IMG_6406 and a solitary old bull who took a mud bath at the watering hole.  IMG_6419IMG_6427He had to make sure he got is facial mud pack also and then rub it off his horns. A yellow mongoose is visible crossing in back of the buffalo only on the video I took (but it still counts as a siting!). Then a Black-backed jackal showed up to drinkIMG_6442IMG_6454 and a young female whom the bull would not allow close to his herd.IMG_6461 Then more thirsty elephants came running down the hill for their turn to at the waterhole.IMG_6480 Later, we saw a huge herd of about 50 buffalo just leaving an area as we arrived.IMG_6269 But when one event is over, another begins. Warthogs were everywhere, and very curious,IMG_6073IMG_6497 and more zebrasIMG_6285 One way to anticipate the elephants in an area is fresh dung on the road, and with this, you can expect the endangered Flightless dung beetle (wings have fused together). IMG_6248IMG_6254There are numerous warnings in the Park not to drive over the dung because of these beetles and their endangered status. In addition to the baby elephants, we spotted a baby zebra.IMG_6137IMG_6142 IMG_6148 IMG_6147 IMG_6158 Termite moundsIMG_6213Webs built by moths IMG_6215 IMG_6214 A Leopard tortoise just at the side of the roadIMG_6508 One great joy at the watering hole where we spent so much time watching and photographing elephants, the old buffalo, a yellow mongoose and the jackal (this sounds like an African tale) was meeting Joan Young,IMG_2330 the photographer, ecologist, as we watched the buffalo come to the waterhole. What a special lady, living out of her car to travel, photograph and educate about the wonders of nature. Her blog: She guides game drives (safaris) also, so if you ever want to visit Kruger or the many other parks here, she’s the one to contact. Of the Big Five (Elephants, Buffalo, Lions, Giraffes and Rhino), we only missed seeing the rhino. Next time. And then there are the birds we spotted in the Park: Bokmakierie.IMG_5807They sing the most beautiful duet.IMG_5793Common Fiscal (shrike) were all over the park .IMG_5806IMG_6204 Grey HeronIMG_5949 Black headed HeronIMG_6273 Cattle EgretIMG_6383 Southern Chanting Goshawk IMG_6196 African HoopoeIMG_6364 IMG_6368Blacksmith Plover IMG_5877 Crowned lapwingIMG_5998Speckled MousebirdIMG_6125 Robin chat (Cape Robin)IMG_6014that fans its rufous tail feathers. IMG_6009 Cape SparrowIMG_6120 Pied Crows on a mating flightIMG_6173 Masked WeaverIMG_6100and its basket woven amongst the thorns.IMG_6134Fork-tailed DrongoIMG_6206Greater Doubled Collared SunbirdIMG_6239 IMG_6236 On way back home to East London, we stopped in Alexandria as we had been told about the Quin Sculpture Garden. We were not disappointed. Now in her mid 80s and internationally renowned, Maureen Quin is a remarkable sculptor.IMG_6548Her styles are varied and all exquisite. IMG_6533IMG_6536IMG_6550  IMG_6547IMG_6539IMG_6543I especially love her ability to capture facial expressions and moods. IMG_6546 IMG_6545  IMG_6540  IMG_6538   IMG_6535  IMG_6537 An amazing trip overall and fitting end to our South African exploration. Our appetite for this vast and amazing country has only just been whetted. We still have several places on our list for the future: Kruger Park, Lesotho, Soweto township, the Karoo, Cape Town…shall I go on?

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SA Trip – Aug 11-15, 2014

IMG_2223Michael has been spending a lot of time at the pool, both putting the finishing touches on the wall and testing the water. We all know he’s a bit crazy, so no surprise that he took his first morning dip at 16 C degrees (61 F) and undeterred, continues daily at 20 C (68 degrees).IMG_5656

Monday we had lunch at our favorite Sanook and tried their veggie, thin crust Pizza. Fabulous – from one who doesn’t usually eat pizza. When we sat down, inside this time, someone said, “They don’t serve Americans here,” and laughed.  Rod made us feel so welcome, asking when we’re coming back and commenting that it’s so surreal for us to be here for a time and then be gone.  Very sweet.

Tuesday was the best day ever. Mary and Steve invited us back to Glengariff for lunch and a walk on the beach.  And, of course, I collected more shells. We have found kindred spirits!  Meeting people newly with whom we resonate is one of the real pleasures of travel.IMG_5389 IMG_5390IMG_5387I handed him the camera because it was getting heavy and he always takes pictures of me.IMG_5415Steve calls this guy ‘the quiet man,’ because he never utters more than a brief, “good waves today.”  He’s a good surfer though.IMG_5400IMG_5419Sheer joy on the beach, one of only two groups there that day.IMG_5399 IMG_5410Of course, Michael found two girls more than willing to pose for him, under the watchful eye of their mother sitting on the rocks.IMG_5407Steve himself actually built this stone walkway across a rough spot on the walk to his surfing spot.IMG_5413Their house, right off the reef, has the best view ever.   IMG_5428Over a great lunch of pizza (2nd day!) and salad, we were introduced to Castle Milk Stout, which Steve says only the blacks drink here.  We loved it and will have it again. This was followed by a fabulous wine, not found in the markets, called Tamboershloof, a very rich red with a lot of depth and light tannins. Quite generously, they handed us a bottle as we left.
After lunch and sitting staring at the ocean for a while, they showed us a slide movie of their trip by camper van into Lesotho, or the Kingdom of Lesotho. Stunning.  I had no idea it was at such a high altitude.  It’s actually known as the Mountain Kingdom or Kingdom in the Sky “Lesotho covers 30,355 km2 (11,720 sq mi). It is the only independent state in the world that lies entirely above 1,000 metres (3,281 ft) in elevation. Its lowest point of 1,400 metres (4,593 ft) is thus the highest in the world. Over 80% of the country lies above 1,800 metres (5,906 ft). Lesotho is also the southernmost landlocked country in the world and is entirely surrounded by South Africa.” Wikipedia.  After seeing these images, I came away enchanted by the stories of people working cooperatively at subsistence agriculture and by images of the stark beauty of mountainous areas as geologically extreme as our Grand Canyon, definitely wanting to return to southern African to see it for myself.  Wanting to add some facts and details, I checked out Wikipedia, and my romanticism hit reality.  40% of the 2 million+ people here live on less than $1.25 per day (but can we apply such a monetized scale to a society in which 65% live off the land?)  It’s as if our values say that something is wrong with living off the land and not entering the “financial economy.”  An 85% literacy rate is pretty high. Diamonds and water (shipped to South Africa) are it’s main natural resources, and with the income, the government devotes 12% of its GDP to education.  Infant mortality if 8.3% (that’s high) and prevalence of HIV/AID  is at 24%, one of the highest in the world, although the annual rate is falling due to a program of the Clinton Foundation.  The garment industry employees 50,000, mostly women, and ships to US brands and retailers Foot Locker, Gap, Gloria Vanderbilt, JCPenny, Levi Strauss, Saks, Sears, Timberland and Wal-Mart. “In 2007, the average earnings of an employee in the textile sector were $103 per month, and the official minimum wage for a general textile worker was $93 per month.” And we get our clothes cheap.  The world is a complicated place, and wrapping my head around all of this, I’m reminded of Moral Man and Immoral Society, Reinhold Niebuhr’s 1932 study in ethics and politics.  With a deeply tragic view of human nature and history, he talks about our inability to imagine the realities of collective power; the brutal behavior of human collectives of every sort; and, ultimately, how individual morality can mitigate the persistence of social immorality.  That tension between individual morality and social immorality is a stark theme when traveling, whether in developing or developed countries.  And I still want to travel and see it and enjoy the breathtaking beauty of nature.

Like this, captured when leaving Glengariff: IMG_5479 IMG_5483 IMG_5502 IMG_5513 IMG_5525 IMG_5567 IMG_5639The Grey Crowned Crane’s dances were stunning.

This day was pretty hard to match, but on Thursday we headed out to the Lion Park, just outside of EL.  It was pretty disappointing – more like a zoo – after visiting the vast, open game reserves. But there were a few treats.  A local school was having a field trip and enjoying the park like playground.IMG_5665 IMG_5669Weavers were abundant. IMG_5685 IMG_5696And I finally got the Mousebird up close in the sunlight. IMG_5713These Bengal’s are not from South Africa, but because they are such an endangered species, they are being distributed around the world to preserve the species.  The white one is a genetic variance, like the white lion.  Magnificent cats! IMG_5730 IMG_5731 IMG_5734

I find momentarily my enthusiasm for photographing is at a low ebb.  I’m saving myself for the Addo Elephant National Park next week.  Can’t wait.  And my thoughts are turning homeward, even with the interim trip to Germany.  I miss Gavin, Aariel, Ryan, Daireus and Nicole.  Soon.

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SA Trip – Aug 8-10, 2014

Saturday was such a special day with our personally guided tour of Mpongo Game Reserve.  Annie, daughter of Mirijam here in EL, was home for the weekend from her internship as a game ranger at Tyityaba Game Reserve. IMG_1162We spent four delightful hours being driven around in our own vehicle informed by a knowledgeable friend who loves the animals.

Mpongo is only 30 minutes outside of EL.  According to the brochure, “The reserve takes its name from the Umpongo River, which features prominently in Xhosa history.  Legend says that Nonkosi, who was one of the instigators of the ‘national suicide’ of the Xhosa Nation, lived in the area, and relics of her kraal are found in the reserve.”  The reserve covers 3500 ha (8,650 acres) with an abundance of game and birdlife.

Because I had so many photos of the Blesbok from Inkwenkwezi, I took very few of them here, although they are abundant.  I also took only a couple of the lionesses because they were in a fairly small enclosure, and I have so many from Inkwenkwezi.  But there were plenty of new animals to photograph.

The Lodge at Mpongo

Our first encounter: IMG_1153Hippos with Terrapin (fresh water turtles) using them as a rock to sun themselves.IMG_5296IMG_4826IMG_5305IMG_4834  IMG_4862IMG_4852

They get along well with the Egyptian Geese.IMG_4861Egyptian Goose

Beautiful lionessLionessIMG_4883And then off on the road for our game drive over 3500 ha of open space.  It’s one of the best parts of being on a reserve.  Something primal gets engaged out in such vastness.IMG_2148Brown-hooded KingfisherBrown-hooded KingfisherBrown-hooded KingfisherBrown-hooded KingfisherCrowned HornbillCrowned HornbillImpala enjoying the grass.  Annie commented that it is very dry this year.  It normally rains in the summer here, and the fields turn green.ImpalaImpalaIMG_5221

Juvenile Impala, so curious.Young ImpalaPlenty of Blesbok.IMG_4940BlesbokWaterbuck. Someone commented that it looks like he sat on a freshly painted toilet seat. WaterbuckWaterbuck

The Giraffes are a favorite.  These are an adult male and female in front (hiding) and their two offspring in the back.IMG_2160The big papa.IMG_5111Papa taking junior to safety.IMG_5127His hide looks silky soft in the sunlight.IMG_2174Momma Giraffe

A small herd of ZebraIMG_5228

We wondered why this Zebra and an Eland were hanging out together and then realized that they are both pregnant.IMG_5050IMG_5039This Eland, as with some other antelope, somehow look out of proportion. Her body looks a bit like that of

a Brahma bull.IMG_5048IMG_5045Mid-day and all is quiet.  The Eland is eating/hiding in the thicket while the Blesbok rest.IMG_5229This beauty is an old Nyala.  Again, his head seems disproportionately small compared to his massive body.Nyala BuckNyala BuckNyala BuckWarthog familyIMG_5232IMG_5234IMG_5223


It took a while to identify her, but this is a juvenile African Crowned Eagle, at 60 cm (24 in).IMG_5155She was crying most of the time even though we were at quite a distance, and she was well hidden.IMG_5191IMG_5200In this last shot, I noticed what looked like a wound on her front-side. Can’t imagine what else it could be.

When we finished the 4-hour drive, we enjoyed the petting zoo before having lunch.IMG_5290Guess what?IMG_5288These Vervet Monkeys are my favorite.  People actually used to call them Blue Balls for good reason.IMG_5248IMG_5250IMG_5255IMG_5266The old boy.IMG_5257We got into the dining room before the crowd and enjoyed a nice lunch to end our very satisfying day.IMG_1181

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SA Trip – Aug 6-7, 2014

For some time now, I’ve wanted to know the difference between ale, lager and dark beer.  So Wednesday we had a tour of a local brewery, and now I know. Yay.  This was no ordinary brewery; it was built on a local farm, 30 minutes outside East London, that also raises sheep and cattle on a huge property.IMG_4709 IMG_4707 IMG_4706IMG_4666

I love a good success story that goes ‘man loses construction job and turns hobby into a business.’  Chris originally supplied the Barefoot Cafe in Chintsa with 50 Liters, an entire batch, of his home brew, and when that sold out in a day, he knew he had a market.IMG_4653

Operating as a business only since 2012, he now has a 12,000 Ltr capacity, although his production is currently at 5,000.IMG_4642IMG_4644IMG_4647IMG_4648

What we particularly like about this beer is that they follow the German Purity Law, written in 1516, which specifies that the beer be made with only 3 ingredients: Barley malt, hops and water. No additives, although they do add their own yeast.  And they use only rainwater collected off of the corrugated tin roof to provide the yeast with the only mineral it must have: zinc.IMG_4663

Their hops are from the Southern Cape or the US, and the barely (which has it’s own enzymes) is malted, which is a process of soaking the barely until it sprouts and then cooking it to lock in the proteins and sugars that are created.  A dark roast is used for the darker beers. IMG_4656

So here’s what I found out. Ale (special yeast) ferments fast at a low temperature for 14 days, while lager (different yeast) goes for 21 days and at a higher temperature.  And because Ale has no residual flavors because of the fast fermentation, it can be served at a lower temperature (even room temperature like they do in England) and taste good, while lager is served colder to mask any of those flavors.  Ale is milder than the stronger lager. The darker beer has more depth of flavor because of the roasted malted barley used.

After the tour, we enjoyed a great sandwich and a flight of 3 beer samples.  We enjoyed the dark one the most and ordered another glass.IMG_4655

Yalli made a great gourmet sandwich and served the beer.IMG_4649

When the tour and lunch were over, we just wanted to hang around in the fresh air and open space, and I got a chance to photograph some of the local birds.

The Brown-hooded Kingfisher was beautifulIMG_4705 IMG_4702as was this colorful Black-collared Barbet, which I’ve photographed before but not so close. IMG_4673This bird of prey was circling overhead for the longest time. I finally figured out that it is a Palm-nut Vulture morphing from the juvenile to the adult.  My bird book says it’s a ‘rare visitor and local resident.’ I feel privileged.IMG_4695 IMG_4693 IMG_4685 IMG_4683On our way leisurely back to East London, a couple of other birds of prey caught my eye. IMG_4719

This Jackal Buzzard (different from what we know as a buzzard) is probably the female, because when I got too close, she flew across the road to what looks like a juvenile, who stayed only a short while and flew away.    IMG_4741IMG_4759IMG_4755

Further down the road, before we turned to go to Glengariff, I saw this Long-crested Eagle. I’ve seen it twice before but never got to photograph it until today. IMG_4778 IMG_4775IMG_4784

The small community of Glengariff is stunning!IMG_2053IMG_2072 IMG_2069IMG_2090

As we turned around to leave, we waved to someone on his porch and acknowledged, “This is paradise.”  We exchanged greetings and info on where we were from – San Diego.  He had lived in Poway!  “Do you want to come in.” Sure, and we spent a delightful 3-4 hours with Steve and Mary, who was baking ginger cookies, and swapped stories about our world travels.  This is the view from their house.IMG_2113IMG_2112IMG_2110IMG_2108IMG_2098IMG_2099IMG_2095

And two more birds on the way home, a Speckled Mousebird and a Cape Weaver.IMG_2079 IMG_2075

Just about 15 minutes outside of EL, we were delighted to see where our veggies come from.IMG_2049  IMG_2046IMG_2047

Another full and rewarding day.

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SA Trip – Aug 2-5, 2014

Sunday we headed back up the coast to Inkwenkwezi for the Jekelezi Festival, almost like a country fair where everyone parks in the field.  On Saturday we had bought some souvenirs down on the Esplanade where the African traders display their wares, but John, from Kenya was out of the special thing that I wanted.  We found out in conversation that his wife, Ruth, would be at the Festival, and we could get it there.  What a sweet woman. IMG_4192IMG_4185They have two children born here in SA, but they took them home to Kenya to be with John’s mother so that both he and Ruth could work and have money to send home. What a life; we are so lucky.

There were all kinds of rides for the kids.

IMG_4195  IMG_4203IMG_4189

The Mama Tofu Dancers were a treat.  IMG_4210IMG_4215The pictures don’t do them justice without the movement and music, which was a drum played by one of the women accompanied by their singing. IMG_4237IMG_4224IMG_4266   IMG_4269  IMG_4264  IMG_4250IMG_4336IMG_4295 The star was certainly the oldest girl who was incredibly athletic, and all eyes were on her. We later saw them in the tent where the local crafts were displayed and teased the mother, “This one will be trouble!”  They all enjoyed a laugh while the girl demurred.

We left the Festival and went over to Chintsa and the most amazing beach, like Nahoon at the mouth of a river, which was wider and longer than Nahoon where we walk but with no reef.  From across the river and above in the fog, you get the idea.  IMG_2037I never pass by an African vendor without buying something; they have nice things and need to eat.  This man from Malawi has the biggest dreadlocks I’ve ever seen.IMG_4406IMG_4418
We met several students from New Mexico and California who were staying nearby and doing a veterinary internship at a local reserve.

Nearby, the (Southern) Masked Weavers were very busy weaving their hanging basket nests.IMG_2020 (1)IMG_2016

Monday started out as an ordinary day, monkeys running through the trees, an Olive Thrush right outside my window,IMG_4183a gecko on my wall, IMG_4182

except that I left a small open container with several pieces of cooked chicken meant for the dogs (in small bits) on the counter. When I wasn’t looking, Tommy reached up and woofed it down in one gulp, bones and all.

With low tide at 2:44 pm, we headed to the beach for our daily dog walk at 12pm; plenty of beach and growing.  As we approached the end of the walk, I missed a beat and didn’t put Rassie back on the leash soon enough. He totally ignored my calls, and off he went into the bushes.  It was 1:15 pm, and we were hungry. As time passed, we decided to get takeout from the Blue Lagoon Hotel next to us, eat on the beach and wait.

By 3:30, we were a bit worried when he still hadn’t come back, especially given the stories we had heard about people setting traps for the dogs in the bushes.  But then someone said they had seen him way down the beach almost to Bonza Bay, very far from where he originally went into the bush chasing this plump little guy, the Hyrax, also called a rock badger. IMG_4441IMG_4450 So for the first time in the 2 months that we’ve been here, I drove (on the left side – right side steering like Australia) down to Bonza, and Michael stayed in case he came out of the bushes.  No Rassie.  When I got back, walking down the steps, I was thinking that we would have to leave soon as we lost daylight and that I would hate to leave without him.  And there he was, just walking up the steps towards me as if it were a normal day. So relieved.  But then, where was Michael?  It took another 30 minutes for him to show up as he had walked down to Bonza on the beach. This crazy day ended with a big glass of very nice wine!  We were doubly thankful he had found us when we had a huge, loud thunder storm and rain that night.

Tuesday we went back to photograph several birds who come to fish as the day is waning. The Pied Kingfisher IMG_4567 IMG_4551A White-breasted Great Cormorant IMG_4518The stunning Black Oystercatcher IMG_4479 IMG_4470 IMG_4469 IMG_4459and the ever present White-fronted Plover IMG_4458and in the bushes IMG_4607the male (above) and female (below) Scarlet-chested Sunbird IMG_4588And so ended another successful day.

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SA Trip – Aug 1, 2014

Thursday nite we went to the “Tribute to Johnny Cash” concert produced by Center Stage at the Guild Theatre.  Great concert.  We especially enjoyed that people could bring drinks to their seats, which all the 30-something-buff-Rugby-types did quite voluminously.  One guy down near the front must have gotten up to replenish drinks in rounds of 4 at least 5 times!  Dancing in he aisles a must.  People around the world love Johnny Cash.IMG_1027


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SA Trip – July 29-30, 2014

Apartheid – Township – Coloreds: I’ve heard all the words, but what does it look like; how does it feel, what does it mean today? These were constantly riding on my mind as we sat in the mini bus for our Township Tour on Wednesday. Five learning-discovering-feeling-seeing-tasting-listening-processing hours through two areas just outside of East London. Our driver, Velile, was very informative and neutral as he talked about the practices during apartheid and with some pride for what the government has been and is now doing to improve life for the black population. It’s been 20 years since the end of apartheid, and great improvements have been made in this country of 54 million which is one of the largest economies on the African continent. south_africa_provinces

Within the Eastern Cape in yellow, outside of East London, is the Township of Mdantsane which was a major focus of our tour.  It is the second largest township in South Africa after Soweto, which is outside of Johannesburg. These were places where the black Africans, Coloreds and Indians were relegated to keep them out of the main towns and cities.IMG_4149We also visited Duncan Village and a part of Buffalo City before heading out to the Township which Velile quoted as having a population as 1.6 million but all other resources say 160,000. Regardless of the accuracy, it’s huge.  Here is a map of our 5-hour tour.

First some context in numbers of (what I consider) some key development concerns. In the Eastern Cape province,
the poverty level is 56.8% (58,6% female as compared to 54,9% for males).
71.5% have access to electricity.
71.2% have improved sanitation while 9.4% have none.
Nationally, 90.8% have piped water.
The national unemployment rate is 25.5% while in some areas it is 50%;
inflation is at 6.6%.

So I have to ask myself, how would I be?  Who would I be?  How would I live and sustain myself and my family? It has taken me several days to wrap my head around everything we saw and experienced and the magnitude of the daily challenge confronting people living in poverty and then translating that to the government’s challenge.  Admirably, huge strides have been made in the 20 years since the end of apartheid, such as “providing basic services – such as water, electricity, sanitation and housing – to large segments of its population. But even with these concerted efforts to reduce under-development, together with a social welfare system that has enabled thousands to access education and food, a day in the life of many people living in South Africa still involves concerns, such as crime, health, and finding some form of income to make a living.” Stats SA ( There’s so much farther to go.  These initial pictures are from the area of Duncan Village, originally built for migrant laborers in the factories, where not a lot of housing improvement has happened.  When someone needs a shelter, they simply build it out of corrugated tin or wood from pallets.IMG_4106IMG_3860IMG_3858

Even in these conditions, kids construct toys and seem to create fun.IMG_3852IMG_3851IMG_3881Winds can be strong, and construction can be very flimsy.IMG_4004IMG_3878

You can see the electrical lines, many of which are illegal, stolen from the main lines.IMG_3861IMG_3874

Small businesses are everywhere; here’s a Public Phone and a Shoe Repair shop,IMG_3872

and this is called a garage or car repair shop.IMG_3871

There are lots of hair salons, and this guy has a small fruit stand.IMG_3870Onions, potatoes, tomatoes and oranges are sold everywhere.IMG_4001

These women are searing the hair off of a sheep head; it is then boiled.  People buy them, split them open and eat the bits (not the brains though) as a snack with beer, like we eat peanuts.


Nationally, nearly 91% have pipped water, even if it means in a shared area.  Laundry is a constant daily chore.  School uniforms must always be clean for one thing.IMG_4005IMG_4002IMG_4000   IMG_3999

In this area, we saw the Kwanda Community Worker Program. These are volunteers who get paid for 8 days of work though they work all month cleaning up the community. They are mostly women.  The distinction of ‘men’s work and women’s work’ has women doing most of it. If a man can’t get a job in the factory, he doesn’t chip in at home or consider lending a hand in the community because that’s women’s work.  Many of them just sit around.

IMG_3867 IMG_3866 Once an area is cleaned up, No Dumping signs are sprayed on the wall.IMG_3994

Garbage is collected regularly – one of the services provided by the government.IMG_4007

Local mechanics.IMG_3884

We stopped at a local primary school, and it happened to be a day they were practicing for a fundraiser for a trip. The song they were singing?  “We are the world!”  Left to right: the principal carrying spinach (what we call chard) for the lunch, our driver, Velile, Michael, Matt and Maria, both from Australia and also on the tour with us. IMG_3887  IMG_3885IMG_3988IMG_3886 IMG_3889

Velile helped out with “If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands” and I joined in for “Three little monkeys jumping on the bed.” See video  IMG_3909

All students wear uniforms; it obscures the poverty distinction. School uniforms match color of school, more so in the later grades.

IMG_3917IMG_3923 IMG_3925IMG_3954 IMG_3934 IMG_3932IMG_3896IMG_3936IMG_3960IMG_3958Meals are served daily.IMG_3970IMG_3974IMG_3973

This school started in this woman’s home.  She kept expanding and bringing in more students.  What an amazing woman.  IMG_3975She has also added day care for the preschool kids.IMG_3977IMG_3982IMG_3985
That would be me, not wanting to nap!

Since 2000, when the UN and NGOs defined the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) to be reached by 2015, South Africa has already achieved the #2 goal of universal primary education with a completion rate of 95%. While this is great, the quality of ‘education’ is lacking and shows up at the secondary level where only 44% of learners complete through grade 12.  They drop out in 10-12 because they are so poorly prepared in the foundational grades.  The government takes this very seriously and has committed 20% of the 2013 budget to improving education.

As we drove towards Mdantsane, the housing improved greatly, and Velile described the efforts of the government to provide good housing.  Nationwide, the percentage of dwellings are described as 77.7% Formal, 7.9% Traditional, 13.6% Informal, and 0.8 Other (Source: Stats SA).  Here in Mdantsane thousands of new houses have replaced the old tin ones and provide basic amenities. These efforts are continuing.  When Mbeki was President, he wanted people to think of the townships as suburbs to remove the stigma of the past, so they started paving streets and adding new street lights which we saw in many places.


There are two things to see in this next picture.  One is the park which was built as a youth effort of provide an after school place for kids to come and study, have a meal and play.  If they know they can have a meal, they will go to school.  The other is the clearing work just behind the park. Here the government will build temporary houses for people in transition to a new house.  They have to tear down the tin houses in order to build the new ones, so the people will stay in these temporary ones in the meantime.IMG_4015

Below, the housing in the background will be torn down and new ones built. In the middle here are long houses (that look like barracks) built during apartheid for migrant workers. The laborer stayed for free and could have his wife from the village visit once a month, but she had to pay.  The rest of the time, a local girlfriend could stay without paying.  This was one way the apartheid system broke up the families.  Later, after 1994, many of these men were ashamed to go home because their wives had done all the work while he stayed with the girlfriend.  They are destitute and broken men.IMG_4016

Another policy of apartheid was to build very nice houses for the civil servants to give them a superior status. They also built the railroad a distance away so that there was no easy access; they didn’t want blacks easily coming to town.  They also physically separated the blacks and coloreds (those of mixed race) to ostracize the coloreds and discourage further mixing; they wanted to preserve the purity of the white bloodline.  Giovanni who works for Mirijam is colored, very fair skinned, with strait hair.  He told Michael that the way they determined if you were colored was if your skin was light and your nappy hair would hold a pencil.  He escaped the designation and was considered white.  One colored town was called ‘Far Enough” which meant that it was far enough away to be ok.  The road that passes by Far Enough used to be called Black Road. Now it is called Death Road because at the end or first of the month when someone gets a paycheck, he buys booze, and lots of accidents happen. Velile had just lost a friend last weekend. Now there are many police checkpoints alone this road to try to change that.  I find all of these so difficult to wrap my brain around, how inhumanely we can treat other people, but it still goes on around the world in so many ways. We never seem to learn.

We had another treat along the way.  We stopped at an orphanage started by an amazing woman in her home.  She now has 18 children, some old enough to go college and one who now has moved on and works as a social worker.  We met 8 of the young ones.IMG_4027

Several people have volunteered and worked to expand the original house which was her 82 year old mother’s, build out this wonderful kitchen and contributed appliances.  Her electricity bill is R800 per month (about $80). That powers two refrigerators, a washer and dryer, iron and electric stove and lights.  She does have help.  We saw 3 other women working on laundry and on cleaning the children’s rooms.  2 and 3 of the small ones sleep together across the mattress.IMG_4028

Another room apart from the house used for after school play and studying was built by a volunteer and has been supplied by donations.


The Australian couple brought some supplies and lollies for the kids, so they’re all enjoying their treats.

.IMG_4056 IMG_4053 IMG_4052
The one in the middle above has AIDS and is on medication.  This little one also has AIDS. She is actually 5 years old but is very stunted in her growth.IMG_4062.

These guys are all personality.

IMG_4065 IMG_4064

At 60 years old, she’s a remarkable woman.IMG_4090

We went on to the town center in Mdantsane, past built stores, shipping container stores, makeshift stalls and an open market.


Thrift clothingIMG_4116

Both oranges and pineapple are abundant in this region.IMG_4124  IMG_4120IMG_4128

And finally a place to eat South African style.IMG_4136IMG_4141
They’re eating Fat Bread, raised dough that’s deep fried, very much like a donut, and homemade ginger beer. It was way too heavy for me.
I noticed a girl doing what looked like homework, so I asked her what she was studying. She had actually finished 12th grade, and because she didn’t have money for university, she was doing adult education classes provided by the government to train and build skills, in her case, as a hospital aide.IMG_4140Someone had planted a garden next to the stand and was growing spinach, cabbage, beetroot, onions and tomatoes.IMG_4148IMG_4147

The last stop was at a local tavern that is usually full on the weekends.  You can buy meat in the store in front and braai (bbq) it inside the tavern.IMG_4169IMG_4172IMG_4170

I had noticed a hospital nearby, so I asked Velile a question. If someone gets sick and goes to the hospital or a clinic, do they also go the the medicine doctor?  Yes, many people do, but not everyone, not Baby, our house cleaner. And here is the Medicine Woman.IMG_3841IMG_3846 IMG_3840

Aloe vera for burns.IMG_3843The apprentice who explained several of the herbal remedies to me. This one is for the flu.IMG_3842

There are several more stories about dowry and circumcision and about how the Taxi system works and what amazingly resourceful and entrepreneurial people these are, but this blog is long enough.  It was a very full, mind blowing and amazing day.



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SA Trip – July 24 – 28, 2014


Amazing dinner last nite at Grazia’s restaurant. Forgive the picture taken with the tablet; it was just too dark inside with the brightness outdoors.20140727_172334

But here’s another taken two weeks ago when we could eat outside on the patio, even with the wind and cool temp, so you can see the ocean view.Lunch @ Grazia's with Franzi & Patricia (2)

Our menu: for starters, steamed mussels with white wine, toasted french bread and a beer bread muffin. For the main, we split a huge mixed seafood platter with individual side salads (caprese for Michael and mixed greens for me) with a great Merlot all followed by lemon meringue pie. Just fantastic. And the bill, with tip: R 512 or just $48.50!IMG_1081

We thought that going at 5 pm, we would be by ourselves, but within 20 min, the restaurant began to fill up with families, both black and while, with small children (who sat quietly with the adults), business men from local hotels (management and execs from the local Mercedes, BMW and VW car factories basically use Grazia’s as their diner away from home), black couples, white couples, young and older, a single black man, two white women, two black women, a real multi mixture. It was great to see. I guess I’m constantly asking, “how far have opportunities expanded since the end of apartheid?” This experience was a nice contrast to the fact that almost every store facing the street in East London has a locked metal grate door. One is let in. ‘Security’ guards watch your car for which you pay them $.50. When we first arrived, the whites we spoke with cautioned us about wearing jewelry or carrying my camera or other valuables in public, especially when walking on the beach, hence few “everyday” street pictures. The first day I walked on the beach with Michael, a police helicopter flew over several times. The last two days, police on horseback road by on the beach. There are stories about not letting your dog run into the bushes along the shore, because ‘they’ set traps and catch dogs and eat them, or about not going around the point at either end of the beach because you can get mugged. How much of this is true is hard to tell. But it certainly points to the pervasive poverty and disparity or to irrational fear that still exists here some 20 years after the end of apartheid. We’re cautious but not fearful, greet and talk to people when we can. It’s still very much an ‘us vs. them’ world here.

Baby’s the cleaning women who comes on Mondays. This weekend, she had been away from her house at a funeral, her cousin’s wife had died at age 38 of encephalitis leaving behind a six year old boy and twin babies, still nursing. The doctor said because they didn’t get to the doctor within 24 hours of symptoms, it was too late. She died within 1 week of her first symptoms. Ambulances are few in the rural areas and take a very long time to arrive. When Baby was sick with kidney failure a couple of years ago, it took them 3 hours to arrive and on the way to the hospital, they made two other stops to pick up others. Normally, people would have to take a taxi, which are plentiful, but if you make R 150/day house cleaning ($15) and a taxi costs R 20, many can’t afford it. Luckily for Baby, her employers, generous whites for whom she cleans, took care of much while she spent 2 months in the hospital. Few are so lucky. Baby says with a big smile that because she has her own house (left by her mother), a job and her children, she is a wealthy women here, and she is very happy. She walks about a mile to catch her taxi at the end of the day, and it’s a 35 min drive to her home. She had her one son when she was 30 (says her mother was very strict), didn’t want to marry the man (“he was not right for me”) and hasn’t wanted to marry since. She likes to have her freedom to do what she wants. Her sister died leaving two young children, so she has raised them also.

I’ve been collecting shells (obsessively when we walk on the beach) which Baby was admiring, so I gave some to her and asked if she every walks on the beach. “No, I don’t like the water.” “But it’s just walking on the beach; you’re not in the water.” “I don’t like the atmosphere.” Ah, they may be able to but feel very uncomfortable walking on the beach with white people. Although, we’ve seen a few black couples lately walking where we walk, it’s not common. I asked if she would like to go to the beach with us one day, and it was an immediate ‘YES.’ So goes life if our part of the world.

I wanted to see and perhaps buy some material that the local Xhosa use for themselves, so today after Baby finished work, we asked her to take us to the shop – which turned out to be a Factory Outlet shopping area – where we could find the South African made fabric.  There were bolts and bolts of fabric in so many colors and patterns it was dizzying.  Baby pointed out the ones that are used mainly for weddings and those that could be used after being married for 3-6 months. Tomorrow I will post pictures of several different ones.

On the way there, we stopped at the BP garage so Baby could buy more electricity, for which she spends R150 per week, a days wages.  In her house, she has a refrigerator, an electric stove, an iron, a TV which she doesn’t us much; no hot water.  She was 20 when apartheid ended and remembers the harsh treatment. She did attend school through 12th grade.  If the police found children walking around when they were supposed to be in school, they would beat them with a whip. She had experienced that.  But she says she doesn’t resent it. “It’s not good to hold onto those things.  You have to move on.”  After school, she worked for 11 years at a pineapple factory, but then they closed and moved away. That’s when she started cleaning houses, but people come and go, so right now she works only 3 days per week.  She’s a bright women and fun to be around. Picture next week.

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