South Africa Trip – June 13-20, 2014

Jun 20, Fri:  Michael’s birthday and another very windy day.  Michael took Rassie for a short walk in the neighborhood, while I finally started cooking.  I made my own hummus (much too expensive at the market given how much we eat, besides it’s so easy). I also fixed a nice light lunch, knowing we are going to dinner and will eat late. Roasted my beets.  I journaled and watched videos of Elon Musk.  In the afternoon, we went out to get wine to take tonite and a few other cooking items. At the Health Food Store, I noticed that there were several black Africans shopping, which surprised be a bit because the food is slightly more expensive and somehow I hadn’t expected them to be vegetarians or health conscious. When I checked with the woman who runs the store about her hours, I discovered she is closed on Saturday because she is 7th Day Adventist and that many of the people from her church and others around EL come to shop at her store, which would explain the situation.  We had a good conversation, and I found out that she is also a food scientist.

The dinner at Rod and Adele’s was wonderful.  We met their friends Theona and Jimmy, who is a jewelry designer and whose shop we’ll visit soon. Mirijam and Lee (her house guest) came a bit late, because she fixed the 1st course, Leek Quiche and two desserts, one a panna cotta with passion fruit and also a marble bundt cake for Michael’s birthday.  Rod and Adele served a wonderfully seasoned Lamb Stew for the main course.  This was all after we had sat around the fire talking for over an hour drinking wine. Mine was a wonderful Pinotage by Beyerkloof, which is from Stellenbosch, in the Cape Winelands of South Africa.Tasting notes from the website: “Primary fruit aromas lead to an abundance of plum and black cherries against mocha, cedar & sweet spicy notes.  Strong plum flavours with velvety tannins. Well structured, yet elegant and soft, medium-bodied with a fresh and superbly balanced finish.”  This is one we’ll buy at only $5!  Great food and wine, wonderful people and conversation.  Hit the pillow at 11:00pm.

Jun 19, Thur: The currents I mentioned yesterday also contribute to the tremendous wind this time of year.  Today winds are out of the west at 33 mph.  It was blowing like this the day I arrived, which made the flight pretty bumpy landing in EL.  The house here is surrounded by mature trees, so we hear and see the wind blowing wildly all day and nite long.  When it’s like this, we don’t walk on the beach. Not very pleasant with sand blowing in your face.  I spent the morning catching up on my journal.

Around 2pm, we went to get a new propane gas bottle for the heater, so while Michael was doing that, I browsed a 2nd hand store. There were some interesting old carvings that I considered getting, but then I remember I would have to ship them home.  May do it anyway. We did a little scouting around and found the Woolworth’s store which has both clothes and food.  It tends to be a more high end grocery where we can get speciality items.  It was in a huge mall with lots of good stores for shopping.

Then we visited Mirijam to see how she does her almonds.  Wendy was helping her package the candied delights in small packages.  Most of the work is very labor intensive, so if she hopes to expand, she’s going to have to automat in some way. The nuts are delicious whether simply candied, or chocolate coated or with hot pepper.  Yum.

On the way home, I noticed how many of the plants and bushes here are so familiar to us in So Cal:  bird of paradise, (called Strelitzia, a native to South Africa), giant bird of paradise, various palms, bougainvillea, agave, candelabra aloe, flame tree, and several different kinds of dendrons. I just googled ‘plants native to South Africa’ and selected ‘Images.’  Very impressive. Also, in our yard here, we have several large camellia bushes, both pink and red and a purple azalea.  The monkeys love the avocado tree.  Very nice sub tropical growing conditions at latitude 32.98 S, almost exactly comparable to Del Mar at 32.95 N. Sydney Australia is 33.86 S.  Very close. The influence of the ocean (which one it is) and coastal side of the land (north, south, east or west) also have an impact.

Spending the evening journaling and reading.  Tomorrow is Michael’s birthday, and we’ve been invited to a friend’s for dinner.  Mirijam instigated it with a few other friends.  With Michael, friends are never far away.

Jun 18, Wed: Sleep, sweet sleep.  Finally a full nite’s sleep.  Now I’m ready for that walk on the beach and my introduction to East London.  From our place in Bunkers Hill, we drove down to Beacon Bay through a very nice residential area and walked with the dog on the virtually deserted mile long beach of Bonza Bay.


Beach at Bonza Bay

We had been warned by different people not to go around the point at either end (defined by the Nahoon River at one end and an unnamed point in the other direction) because we could get mugged.  The Bonza Bay walk was quite safe, although Michael won’t let me bring my camera yet for fear it might get taken.  The sand is so tan and fine, it’s almost like dirt.  In only one or two places, I saw a faint hint of black oil residue; otherwise, it was pristine clean.  As we walked, we came across rock outcroppings that looked a bit like basalt, but I haven’t been able to confirm that.  On the beach side in front of those rocks, lots of shells were smashed to smithereens, soon to become sand, but occasionally some new ones escaped and were unbroken. This is the position you’ll find me in when we find shells.

Prime shell collecting position.

Prime shell collecting position.

Shells from Bonza Bay Beach


We’ve been collecting some nice shells: limpids, chitins, drills, snails, oysters, mussels, and many I can’t name.










We met a man just preparing to fish for Musselcracker, which can weigh up to 75 lbs and reach just over 4 feet long.  The name derives from the food they eat: mussels, crabs and sea urchin for which they need their very strong teeth and jaw.   He said he had to wait for the wind to come up with the current which brings them from the west (see recirculation region on the map below).  There are also sardines and salmon off the coast, and Michael saw some dolphins in previous days walking on the same beach.  I checked on Wikipedia for a list of fish in this area, and it was way too long to recreate.  There are sharks and stingrays out there, though.

Apparently, in the winter, which is now, the warm current comes down the east coast from the Indian Ocean and is about 21 degrees C (70 F) at its center.

“The main near-surface ocean circulations near South Africa are shown in Fig 1. The Mozambique/Agulhas current is relatively warm, whereas the Benguela current is cooled by coastal upwelling along the west coast of S. Africa and Namibia.”

Fig 1. Ocean currents around South Africa (from (1)  (Wikipedia)SA Currents

What happens as a result of the main current’s core temperature being greater in relation to the near coastal current is a lot of evaporation, which can contribute to a lot of rain. From one paper I read so as to understand the local climate, in mid December, 1998, this phenomenon resulted in a storm from the west that dropped 500% of the annual rainfall on the western cape, and the next day, 150% of annual rainfall on East London.  It was accompanied by floods and tornadoes. Thankfully, we’re here from June – end of August.

After the beach, we headed to the Health Food Store where I was able to get most of my favorite ingredients.  I actually found Quinoa at the local supermarket (Superspar) along with Chia.  The HFS was out of Hemp Seeds, but will get them next week.  No almond milk – way too expensive – but we got a jar of Macadamia Nut Butter (delicious), some raw honey and, for Michael, some Gooseberry Jam.  I got my dry chickpeas, black beans and black-eyed peas for some of our staple dishes.

At this point it was noon, and I was famished. We had to leave Rassie, the little dog, in the car, but it was ok- not too hot.  Michael took me to a cafe called Sanook, just across from the Indian Restaurant where we had eaten Tue nite.  He had a Mexican Burger with chicken, and I had The Hippy – a grilled black mushrooms, eggplant, marrow (zucchini), feta and rocket (arugula) burger with salad. It was unbelievably delicious. These and two very nice local craft beers in 20 oz glasses (!) with tip cost us $20.  The Rand is easy to convert (200 R = $20)

We then continued our shopping at the Superspar, where we walked passed the prepared foods (a lot of people don’t cook much) and found lots of fresh vegetables (not organic) (it’s ok to eat raw vegetables, lettuce etc) and most of the ingredients I need for my normal cooking. By that time, it was 2pm and we headed home.
The rest of the afternoon we were on the computer, did the laundry, sipped our wine in the late afternoon, had a light ‘dinner’ and hit the sack at about 9 pm.  Another successful day.

Jun 17, Tue:  With only four and a half hours of sleep, I got up and had breakfast.  Back to my tea for the morning.  Michael took Rassie, the dog, for a walk on the beach; I’m not ready quite yet.  I want to feel rested.  So I walked around the property and had a treat.  The monkey’s Michael had told me about appeared in the trees.  We eyeballed each other, they finally overcame their reluctance and headed for the avocado tree.  So I pulled up a chair in the sun and watched them and the little birds at the feeder.  Very pleasant.  Now this is what retirement is about – time and leisure.

Indian leftovers for lunch and basking and warming myself in the sun next to the pool. Doozed slightly.

Jun 16, Mon:  The winds we experienced on the flight continued last nite, and again I slept on and off for 2-3 hours at a time, read my book and then continued to sleep until 12pm.  Even then I woke up groggy, so I forced myself to get up and downed 2 very nice cups of Espresso coffee, something I don’t normally drink.  But it did the trick, and I was fine the rest of the day.  Michael walked me around the house and the property to survey the garden, and he especially wanted me to point out to him how the overgrown plants should be trimmed, what stays and what goes.

IMG_2223 IMG_2224 IMG_2416IMG_2240 IMG_2246IMG_2420 IMG_2252

On the lawn, we saw an Ibis, a dark feathered one with a large black eye.  He tolerated us for a while, then flew away with a piercing graggy call.

Tonite we went to a very good Indian restaurant with Mirijam, the lady who sells the candied almonds.  She’s a good friend of Eva and Bernd’s and now Michael and I.  We’ll be taking care of her Giant Schnauzer for a couple of weeks when she goes to Germany.  Her daughter, who will be here in mid July, is a Game Ranger and has relationships with many of the Game parks around, so she can take us behind the scenes and introduce us to various people in several different parks.  I’m so excited!

After dinner, we watched some TV but didn’t find the World Cup game we wanted to see. I headed for bed at 9ish wanting to get onto a normal schedule.  Sleep didn’t come until 4am. Again, thank goodness for Inferno which I have now almost finished.  Never again will I drink coffee after 9am, let alone two.  I can’t handle the caffeine!

Jun 15, Sun: Siso, the maid, woke me at 6:30 for my 7 am breakfast before being driven back to the airport at 7:30 by Hector.  Michael had told me about the spread she prepares, so I had told her the nite before only eggs and toast, no sausage or bacon, please. Hector and I had some good conversations in our 15 minute drives.  He had graduated from the local university in business and had owned his Guest House for 6 years, and he said it’s mostly full in the summer season.  His family had two cars, a modest but nice guest house, and a maid who tended the rooms and cared for their two children while he and his wife work.  The family was nicely dressed, especially to go to church on Sunday morning.  I was getting a good introduction to the new South Africa, a far cry from my experience in Nigeria nearly 47 years ago.  I knew my mental images needed to be updated.  At the airport, so many stylishly dressed people, especially black African men and women, were traveling, and I had to let go of old ideas. One tall slender very dark skinned man was dressed in a silky, bright turquoise dress shirt with a black suit and looked very elegant.  I was ready to see a new Africa.

After a slightly bumpy flight due to strong winds, Michael picked me up from South African Airlines an hour and a half later in East London.  “I am so happy to finally be here.”  I, of course, mean that about seeing Michael.  This past two weeks has been the longest we’ve been apart since his work away with Gordon Bros.  But I also mean finally to be in Africa again.  I feel at home here, in no small part due to an experience I had of having had a past life in East Africa. It’s very real for me, and after all the resistance to leaving Gavin and Aariel, Ryan and Daireus, I feel like I’ve come home somehow.


Catching up with the time zone by the pool.

Jun 14, Sat: Michael had arranged for Hector to pick me up after an easy walk through customs to whisk me away to the Guest House in Kempton where Michael himself had stayed on his trip here two weeks prior.  The room was modest but comfortable enough for a shower and a nights sleep.  But it was cold.  The building was cinder block construction with no insulation and the 50 degrees outside sought what comfort I had inside warmed by a floor heater and an extra blanket.  I did manage to get 3 and 4 hour snatches of sleep with a few hours break in between.  Luckily I had bought that great book by Brown and kept myself entertained in those waking hours.

Jun 13, Fri:  After missing my standby connection from Philadelphia to Atlanta and spending the night at the airport “Minute Suites,” the next morning I made it to Atlanta, grabbed a good book, Dan Brown’s newest Inferno and settled in for the day. 11 hours actually went pretty fast.  Food at the airport has greatly improved with offerings of fresh salads and scrumptious wraps, although still overpriced.  To my good fortune, I got on the flight with 10 seats still empty. Sitting in the middle section on the aisle just in front of the bathrooms was perfect.  I didn’t have to disturb anyone getting up and not far to walk.  As we settled in, the South African woman in the middle seat introduced herself as Jacquie (with that wonderful pinched pronunciation) who I discovered was a chemist working for a SA company that makes coloring agents for the food and cosmetic industry.  She traveled quite a lot with her job, a very sweet woman.  When she left her seat, I leaned over to the man on the opposite seat to mine and introduced myself and asked if he were going home.  No, he and his family, across the aisle – we waved – were going to hunt.  Strangely I had nothing else to say after that.  Fifteen hours went fairly fast, especially with a good book and a commitment to rest my eyes and not watch too much video.  We arrived in Johannesburg on schedule at 5pm on Saturday the 14th.



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