Sunday, October 21, 2007

12. October On Safari

All photos by Maddie Pryor.
Sunday arrives cool, overcast and unusually early for us with a 6:30am wake-up call. The animals are generally most active in the morning, before the notorious African heat, so this is the best time to head out - this time in a slightly smaller 4x4. The rhinos happen to be in a pasture right near the lodge, so we are greeted with their prehistoric presence right off. These are white rhinos - a term that, interestingly here, has nothing to do with their skin color. “White” comes from an English misinterpretation of the Dutch/Afrikaans word for “wide” - they are also known as the square-lipped rhinocerous for the size of their mouths. They are tremendously near-sighted, with which I sympathize, however they make up for it by hearing and smelling exceptionally well.

Our truck plugs capably up a steep hillside of earthy 4’ - 6’ moguls, passing a herd of wildebeest in a short, scrubby forest. We’re told there will most likely be more on the high plain above us, so we don’t linger. Cresting the hill, we see Mossel Bay & the Indian ocean to one side of us and the game reserve to the other. There are herds of impala, including the black impala, specially bred here to supplement a species comparably rare to the white tiger. We also spot bontebok - another variety of antelope that were handily culled into a tiny population by both human & animal predators to due their highly visible dramatic coloring. They have highly contrasting white, deep brown and black in an evolutionarily unfortunate combination that practically create a target on their heads and tails.

In the next valley, we see more rhinos and another truck of gawkers at a good distance, and then the giraffes! Gracefully stepping through the shrub, a family of giraffes is breakfasting daintily on thorny trees - stripping them of leaves as efficiently as a kebab. In addition to the obvious neck length, their tongues are handy tools - about 20” long, and are colored bluish black to prevent potentially painful sunburn in a long days’ grazing. Wildebeest are munching peacefully right next to the giraffes, their long, dark coats glistening beautifully. They are understandably skittish as we drive past, herding their young away. We spend about 3 1/2 hours meandering through the backyards of these animals - passing by an enormous comined herd of impala, bontebok and some water buck on the way out. Our guide quipped that the proof water buck were the first animals onto Noah’s ark is the white ring of fur on their backsides - they were the first to sit on toilets while the paint was still wet....

Upon return to the lodge, arrangements have been made to move us into a “Family Tent” - which we’d originally reserved but had been unavailable upon arrival. The sun comes out, and the temperature goes up as we again pop in the riverboat, heading in the opposite direction to the last mini-dock in the estuary valley. Going across the meadow to our tent is a boardwalk with an eight-foot gap in it. This tent comes with a new warning - to be aware that rhinos sometimes feast in this meadow - the boardwalk gap allows them better access. [Ok, so we’re going on a safari and we’re going to watch out for 1. monkeys and 2. rhinos.)

We spend a lovely afternoon enjoying our new, slightly larger tent that has a deck with a hammock swing and a very cool dipping pool and head to the lodge for an elephant ride before dinner! There is a family of three elephants, Sam, Tsotse - meaning “naughty” and 2-month old baby Chimi, meaning “surprise” as Tsotse had never been expected to become pregnant. After a 2-year gestation period, Tsotse looks after the baby who is still nursing exclusively while Sam is now the only one taking riders - just two at a time. The earth burm and wooden platform to saddle up elephant-style is about 12 or 15 feet above the road. Maddie and I get onto a stretch-Harley sized saddle behind Joseph, the trainder. Originally trained in Zimbabwe, the elder elephants are tri-lingual, responding to commands in a native Zimbabwean tongue, French, and English. Chimi seems to speak the language of little critters everywhere, leaping about and jumping up playfully on the guide like an overgrown puppy. So, with an “Allez!,” Sam ambles casually forward - giving us an elphants’ eye view tour of the valley, stopping as he or Chimi want to snack, and as Chimi wants to rest. Upon our return, Finn jumps up on the platform - as excitedly as Chimi - ready for his ride. He deflates upon being informed that, despite our advance bookings, etc, this will be the last ride of the day, and tomorrow, our last day, is booked. Finn brightens somewhat at the possibility of feeding the elephants tomorrow instead.

There is also one last lion tour today, and they’ve been freshly fed this morning. We take the enormous 4x4 up to the lion enclosure. The gate is already conveniently wide open when we get to the top, from the first dinner, er, viewing truck already there. The lions are feasting heartily on the disemboweled horse carcass. It’s a disturbing sight for those not used to oversized carnivores in the wild. Maggie's Farm it's not.

It IS a game lodge, so dinner is a bizarre menu that includes many of the animals we had seen in preserve - stuffed wildebeest, impala/buck venison sausage, crocodile tail, ostrich steaks.... Not for the faint of heart. We sampled a bit of everything - when in Rome - and settled in to watch the Argentina-England rugby quarterfinal match. Quite bushed, literally and figuratively, from our day, however, we left at 40 minutes (halftime) for our tent.

Once again, we take the truck to the landing, to the boat - this time, mandatory, as the tent is on the opposite side of the river from the lodge. Our escort is one of the many 20-somethings that probably make internship wage at the resort and he putts cautiously upriver - ostensibly to alert any wildlife in the meadow of our arrival. At the dock, we hear a shuffle of large hooves. With little help from the mini-spotlight attached to the boat, Bailey and Finn at the bow can just make out the large hind end of a steer-like animal. Our guide jokes that he’ll make a distraction as we run across the dark meadow, through the gap, remember, and into the woods to our tent. He then calls a trainer to come investigate. We all wait in the boat. The trainer arrives with one paltry flashlight and pronounces the coast clear, leading the way across the meadow - roughly the width of a football field. Just past the midway gap, we hear a warning snort, that must be 20 feet away, tops, but sounds closer. “Wok fastah” says the guide, in front. We sprint for the tent. We offer to have the guide stay to wait it out, but he declines. We don’t hear any stampeding or screaming as he walks back through, so all ends well enough.

11. October Mossel Bay - Botlierskop Game Reserve

After a very civilized breakfast on the stoep of “Le Franschoek” and a morning swim, we head east - up and over the pass where we are treated to an eagle-eye view of the charming village of Franschoek. We drive along the N2 through this breadbasket of SA - gently rolling hills and endless fields of wheat, and probably also hops & barley, dotted by the occasional ostrich and sheep farms. The road runs through open prairie & farm area along a fantastically craggy mountain range, giving us a tremendous sense of deja vu when we crest a hill to be greeted with a 3000 foot rockface bursting into sight just a few kilometers away. It was one scenic turnout and a continent shy of the feeling of cresting the last hill on Rte. 36 West out of Denver to suddenly find Boulder & the Flatirons dead ahead.

We pass through Mossel Bay - a relatively nondescript area which appears to have a larger segment of middle class in both town & township - and on to our final destination - Botlierskop Private Game Reserve. You really can't visit Africa without going on some type of safari. For brief tours like ours, it’s been recommended to visit the private reserves rather than the large national parks, like Kruger, as we’re more likely to actually see a variety of wildlife that might otherwise take weeks to view in their enormous natural habitat. Botlierskop is a “mere” 30,000 hectacres (over 74 thousand acres) that touts themselves as being located in the “malaria free” and “crime free” Western Cape. Hm.

We arrive at Botlierskop too late for the afternoon safari, but in time for the Lion Drive. The lions are a group of 2 males, 2 females that had been rescued as orphans and hand-raised in captivity. They were taken in by the wildlife veterinarian owner of Botlierskop when the woman who raised them found her Lion Budget exceeding her Means. Other interested parties included “Canned Lion Hunt” operations - think “fish in a barrel” where the lions are drugged and/or fenced into a small area for “Big Game Hunter” trophies - an adventure that runs in the tens of thousands of dollars and up. The lions are now kept within a 100 hectacre fenced area on a hilltop at the edge of the valley. Now with only a 25% chance of survival in the wild, they are fed a fresh horse -older or lame and undiseased, and yes, fresh - approximately once a week, and made to run behind the truck for exercise. The lions are not allowed to free prey, as they would most likely get all hopped up on adrenaline and go right through the fence. They will go after truck tires, like dogs, but more successfully, as they can pop them. Dicey business. We travel in an enormous 4x4 that has open seating at least six feet from the ground and wood-covered metal gates along the side, but somehow it seems of nominal comfort. (That, coupled with the fact that the driver and guide leave the gate to the enclosure open when we drive in. And no, there wasn’t a second safety enclosure.) The lions are still nibbling at a bit of last week’s yummies - it looks like a leg bone. One of the lionesses begins to roar, and all the others join in. With some to each side of the truck, it is a stereophonic experience that you can feel in your chest. Ancient instinct sets your heart & adrenaline to maximum speed. The driver is more composed, of course, as he informs us that, in the wild, only the males, particularly the dominant male of a pride, would initiate the roaring. The second lioness is casually sauntering away from us in the general direction of the gate. She is still a good many yards from the gate when the guide hops out to shut it, but I’m sure she could close the distance handily if inspired. In nostalgic colonial fashion, we are served sherry on the veranda of the lodge overlooking the valley upon successfully arriving alive. Pip, pip.

Our tent is ready, we’re told. We take the 4x4 to the landing for a little, somewhat Disney-esque, riverboat ride to the platform tents. The tents are the reason I chose this particular reserve - they are fun and quite swank. Our letter of welcome reminds us to secure all tent flaps tightly against the monkeys. They tend to get in and loot the place - eating all the fruit and drinking the sherry. Again with the sherry. And, we’re told, the monkeys always pick up the tent phones. Apparently drunk dialing starts further back in the evolutionary chain than originally thought....

10 Stellenbosch & Franschoek - Wine Region & Farm

Photos by M.P.
We pack up on Friday morning and head north a bit toward the beckoning green hills of the wine region. The weather has turned over the past week to warm summer temperatures, and as we travel inland, away from the crazy cape winds, the mercury rises. Predictably, we stop at the very first vineyard we come to, just about 25 minutes outside of Cape Town, and a world away. The Saxenburg Wine Farm dates back to 1693 - a vintage fairly common to the region. Somehow, we are the only guests sipping wine early Friday morning, and so are able to have a great chat with young Herman, our pouring host. He gives us some interesting insights about the life of a young (white) professional in this still-adjusting country. Herman is a professionally schooled and trained chef who has spend time abroad - as many of his friends have - in London to perfect his craft. He would like to continue here in SA, but the payscale makes it impossible when looking to the future of a marriage, family, house..... He has a friend who has stayed in the chef biz, for the love of it, and works mad hours as head chef at a high end 5-star hotel for the equivalent of about US $25k per year. Needless to say, many of Herman’s educated young working/middle class friends are leaving the country for opportunities just about anywhere else - the U.K. and Australia are popular options. The exception, he says, are his engineer friends who are doing well, and the only people he knows able to afford a house. (For those with the not-so-mighty US dollar, the market is still a bargain, with condos on the beach of trendy Camps Bay available for about $50k, and for the housewarming party, the most expensive bottle of wine we’ve seen in stores and vineyards is about $60, with an average of about $6/bottle.) The Saxenburg wines are quite lovely, and we manage to walk out the door with just one bottle - sadly not the flagship 2003 Shiraz - sold out. FYI: 2003 was an excellent year for the South African wine region.

We’ve been invited to lunch at the farm of (ATA) France’s parents - and suddenly it’s lunchtime. We scoot quickly through town and head out to the pass between Stellenbosch and Franschoek following signs toward the neighboring property “Rainbow’s End.” Past the security gate, (of course) and at the end of a loooong, gum-tree lined drive is the “farm” - a 1700s estate in the stunning classic Cape Dutch style: thick white stucco walls with thatch roofs and scrolled decorative extensions above the roofline. The lush valley in which it's set is surrounded by dramatic rocky hill/mountainsides that are designated parkland. We are welcomed with open arms and give our hosts the one bottle of wine we’ve purchased ---- most likely coals to Newcastle, but ah well. The Wilsons have laid out a beautiful luncheon outside on the trellis-shaded “stoep” (You may recognize the word stoop - anything from a large entry stone/step to a veranda.) Plied with a bottomless glass of wine, we spend the entire afternoon walking through the orchards, nursery, fields, pond, barns and studio. Maddie takes countless photos of the peacocks and geese roaming the property. The newer cottage and studios also have traditional styling with white exteriors and darker, woody & cool high-ceilinged interiors. Even the geese & goslings have a proper antique stucco poultry house with nesting niches built into the walls, open roof, and a cobblestone courtyard with a watering fountain in the middle. We head out reluctantly to spend the night at a posh hotel in Franschoek - a vaguely familiar layout with cottage suites sprinkled throughout a garden-filled courtyard with a pool at the center....

Saturday, October 20, 2007

9. October Cape Town Crafts

Today is dedicated to craft. Bailey continues to hone his own craft with interviews all morning, at the Cape Craft and Design Institute. Frances, an ATA friend, the kids and I get to check out some of the wares onsite at the Institute (CCDI) - including a finished version of Willard’s table & chair set in a cheerful lime green. Also featured: wire&bead radios, room dividers in a vibrant melange of recycled tid-bits, finely-cut retro style floral lampshades - re-purposed milk jugs, upon closer inspection....

And the afternoon is spent in a wonderful multi-colored parade of ATA/CCDI-related shops. The first, Streetwires, was a traditional South African bead & wire store & workshop with at least 75 people “on the floor” chatting away, music cranking, and such a lively atmosphere that Maddie wanted to jump in working then & there. Streetwise was busy filling an order for Anthropologie - a sizeable flock of half-scale beaded sheep and wire coatracks stating in rainbow cursive “it’s beautiful here.” Look for them soon in a catalogue near you. Next stop, MonkeyBiz - a favorite of mine. They feature funky monkeys, chickens, rockets & critters created from tire innertube, buttons and other recycled bits and more fantastical beasties and figures in beads - color, color! African Image is a more straightforward retail establishment featuring fun vibrant urban contemporary graphics alongside collectible antique traditional pieces - more color, color! We were told that the owner of the next shop, who clearly had an eye for design, made an effort to share ideas and act in a networking & soundboard capacity between designers and marketers, and the positive results were evident in her store at Africa Nova. Final stop, Frances’ friend Binky’s place. Binky (real name Rosemary) lives in a covet-worthy, and, it goes without saying, artsy loft above her wholesale warehouse space. She finds and commissions baskets, sculptures, folk art, antique beads, textiles.... fun, fun, fun & lovely.

Final stop, at Binky’s suggestion, a new restaurant at the Gold Museum. It seems every business in South Africa is new since the end of Apartheid has shifted perspective for the tourism industry, (perhaps prematurely)
but literally this is the restaurants’ second night of operation. The kitchen and seating is entirely open-air in the large inner courtyard of the museum, with an upper level of tables nestled on a deck in treetops. To Finn’s delight, dinner is preceded by a half hour of Drumming 101. We have a set menu of traditional African foods - tapas style - I unfortunately did not take notes on the names. There is a lot of use of squash, grains and spices, gamier meat flavors - overall something reminiscent of Indian food crossed with Native American...? Delish.
All photos by Maddie Pryor.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

7. October Cape of Good Hope

Today, we head South to the bottom of the Cape! The scenic route, via Chapman’s Peak Drive is still closed for the season, so we take the backup scenic route through the lovely Constantia winelands - resisting the urge to stop at several vineyards along the way - we’ll save that for next weekend.

We stop for lunch in Kalk Bay - a surfing hotspot. We wish we had knit hats and maybe an extra sweater. The wind is whipping the sand from the beach well into the parking lot. The black signal flag stands straight out from its pole -a friendly reminder that, although there IS a “shark spotter” on duty, conditions are such that it can’t be guaranteed that you won’t be on the Great White Menu. Despite all there are at least a dozen wet-suited tasty tartare a la surfboard riding temptingly high & long rollers....

And on to the tip. As we enter the park area, we pass numerous signs warning not to feed the baboons - so we keep our eyes peeled hopefully. On the coast and in the park, the lush of the vineyard valley gives way to dramatic cliffs and open shrubbed flatland. Many of the fynbos are in spring bloom - there are bushes filled with mini bursts of brilliant yellow firecracker flowers. The undergrowth is largely still an unblossomed silvery gray - the perfect cover for the baboons! We finally spot a family hanging out roadside, eyeing onlookers in annoyance. There is one little baby, maybe about 6 pounds worth, clinging to its momma. A couple of other, presumably male, baboons come along and casually pull at the baby until the mother decides to find a more peaceful location.

We continue on ourselves to the “emotional” southernmost point of Africa - the Cape of Good Hope. (The technical and geographical south is Pt Aghuilas to the east- but this one has the drama of rounding the first “bend” on the continent for battered sailor-explorers) The Atlantic and Indian Oceans and the cold West coast Beguela current and the warm East coast Agulhus current merge in earshattering and intimidating surf. There are 26 recorded shipwrecks in the area - the most legendary, the cursed “Flying Dutchman” of 1641. The doomed captain was said to have been so determined to round the Cape, that he swore, while sinking, that he would make it if it took until doomsday.... Be careful what you wish for -- many sailors, including the future King George V, claim to have spotted the ghost ship on stormy nights ever since.

We are closer, by half, to Antarctica - about 6000km away, than to New York - the furthest away of points marked on the Cape “direction sign” at 12 thousand plus kilometers! Precisely, we’ve gone from the ol’ 41 degrees north to: 34º, 21’, 24” south and 18º, 29’, 51” east.

6. October Violins & Snoek

The kids and I have at a few days of living as Hout Bay homeschoolers. In our own little neighborhood one afternoon, was yet another magnificent & complete rainbow that literally the closest we’ve ever been to one. We were nearly underneath it as it bridged the cul-de-sac. The kids were ecstatic and ready to go bounding over walls and through security systems to get at the pot of gold that was surely in the neighbor’s back yard.

We went to a few more ensemble sessions with the Hout Bay Music Project. The kids have learned a couple of new songs - traditional South African folk music. “Sawe” and, our favorite, “Jikela Moweni” which we’re told is sung at the end of the day and is about going home, climbing up the mountain - so the piece also includes singing and dancing. The Music Project ensemble itself includes violins, cellos, a 7-year old on drum, and, some days, marimbas! The marimbas are less frequent due to the fact that they are quite cumbersome and require lengthy set-up time. Because the Project doesn’t have a dedicated space, all of the instruments need to go into locked storage at the end of every session so cannot be left prepped for play.

Yesterday was warm and lovely, so we went to the beach downtown, where the kids found beautiful anemones and not just giant, but Enormous Kelp. It looked like the same variety that the didgeridoo woman used to make her dried kelp didgeri/horns.

Bailey returned from Mozambique late last night with, as always stories galore, with which I will let him regale you later. So today, we got to spend time as Family Tourists shopping the crafters stands on the waterfront. We found some antique wood masks from the Congo and, more locally, a Zulu piece. There were a number of more contemporary carved wood pieces as well - from little safari critters to chairs. As always, there was fabulous beading in jewelry and wire crafts, and plenty of weaving. There was also a woman selling crocheted lace “tablecloths” - although I can’t imagine eating on one - they each take her about 16 weeks to make.

We watched a 20 foot Tonka-truck of a little fishing dory come in, and a small crowd gathered as the fishermen and local buyers haggled over the Price of Snoek (pronounced “snook.) It was a sincere and heatedly friendly interchanged that was narrated with chuckling punctuation by an older gentleman whose feathery white hair was barely contained under his knit cap. Snoek are long and thin - about 4 or 5 feet long with about an 18” diameter. They were tossed one by one unceremoniously from the boat to the dock pavement, many of them still wriggling, until there was a pile of about 30 or so. After the brief negotiations, they were tossed into a waiting pick-up truck lines with burlap and tarps. We were then allowed to buy one from the buyer - 40 rand, or about $6 for the entire fish. A nearly toothless woman wearing a headwrap and protective garbage bag down to her ankles cleaned the fish in about 30 seconds for an additional 5 rand. Maddie requested that we instead give her 10 - adding another 1.50 to the cost. We also picked up some enormous crayfish that would give legal-size lobster a swim for their money. So, we threw our snoek on the braai with some periperi and had a feast! (braai=barbeque, periper=spicy marinade)

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

An "Aha" Moment

I finally figured out how to share our mini videos on the blog. OK, yes, progress is slow, but it is progress. If you see any type of icon above this text (a little blue questionmark, perhaps), click on it, and you'll be directed to google videos. There are two more viddies that we wanted to share for their sound - definitely not for video quality. One is from the balcony our first morning in Cairo at 5:13am - the first of the five daily prayer calls. The lit building you can see across the street is a police station, which houses the closest loudspeaker. To the far right, looming unseen, is the Great Pyramid. The second viddy is an accapella street performance at the V&A (Victoria & Albert - ah those Brits were everywhere!) Waterfront in Capetown.
- And do check out the Hout Bay Music Project guys in the post below!

30. Sept. - 2. October Cape "Summer Winds"

Sunday saw us at another Crafters Market - blissfully set in a little protected glen on the lee hillside, as the wind is unbelievable. We saw some amazing art - lots of the South African specialty wire & bead critters & bowls, some amazing lace coverlets that seemed out of left field, shallow, hand-woven baskets, didgeridoos made from various materials, including giant kelp dried, sealed & fitted with a mouthpiece like a gothicrustic space trumpet. Finn tried out the didgeri.

Monday, very early, Bailey has headed out to shoot in Mozambique this week. He'll be checking in each night with the news in brief.

And Tuesday, we have a peaceful day. Where we just hear contruction in the distance and the funny little pigeon/doves with red-ringed eyes that sound like howler monkeys. For three days straight, it sounded as if there were a raging blizzard outside, despite the sun and balmy temperatures. Here it's a "South Easter": The solid galeforce winds must have hit at least 50mph and more in some crazy gusting. We felt badly for anyone out at sea, as the water here is choppy at best, anyway. This is common for weather on the cape - especially in springtime. We've watched the clouds roil up and around the mountains, sometimes hunkering on high & churning, other times settling into the valley below us like fog or smoke. It's quite spectacular.

From our perch here on the hillside, we often spot "The Rabid, Vicious, Man-Eating Chickens" - known to the rest of the world as wild guinea fowl. (But note the glowing eye in photo.) They amble into the yard and, of course, don't mind being fed. Maddie is enchanted. Today the kids found an enormous black, hairy spider in the neighbors yard, fortunately, and Maddie came running over squawking for a camera. The spider was later tentatively identified in a line-up as a "Babboon Spider" with a charming ability to jump AND bite! Excellent. The kids played with the neighbors for much of the day back & forth between houses as today was Birthday Party Day for Miss Kelsey Tuter next door.

Then, we scooted down the hill to catch the tail end of a practice day the Hout Bay Music Project. Just the senior students were left - a handful of 15 & 16 year-old boys, all of whom are positively incredible musicians. Anele tested out (Maddie’s) new violin from Peyer with a great piece: Kreisler’s Praeludium and Allegro. No sheet music, he just lived it. They went on to jam an assortment of pieces - including a great version of “Stand by Me.” Maddie captured some footage, check it out by clicking on URL above (may come up as "?" icon near the Finn pic), or by copying & pasting address below into another window:

More information on the Project at:
and an article for listening at: