Monday, July 16, 2007

At Safari Camp on dial-up internet

Hey, guys.

I can't post any photos or videos because I'm using dial up right now.  I'll have to post new photos and video when I get back.  We start heading home tomorrow and arrive back in Atlanta early Wednesday morning.  Yesterday I was able to write a blog that actually contains a little more thought and time as opposed to the other blogs of late.  Thanks for reading my blogs and sending me your warm and thoughtful messages. Y'all are truly awesome.


Today is Sunday.  We are now at our safari camp, Kings Camp.  We arrived yesterday afternoon and right after being shown our room (which is AMAZING) we immediately jumped into a jeep, with our safari driver, Monet (as in the painter), and went on our first safari drive.  The goal is to see "The Big 5," which consist of lion, leopard, rhino, elephant and buffalo.  We didn't see all of the big five on our first drive but we saw two of the five, and several other animals.  We saw a pride of lions eating a buffalo they had killed the previous day.  The females, along with two cubs of different ages, were separated from the males.  The females kept trying to get to the buffalo meat (which was mostly a carcass at that point) but every time a lioness approached, a male would growl at her.  The two males were lightly napping beside of the carcass, but obviously still guarding it.  It was quite a thing to see.  By the way, the African buffalo does not look like the American buffalo—they look very different from each other.

We also saw a herd of elephant bathing in mud.  It was pretty hot yesterday afternoon so the elephants put mud all over their bodies to keep cool.  They were pretty funny to watch.  They saw us and made noises.  The guide said they didn't feel threatened in any way, because they are very use to seeing the jeeps.  The sounds they were making were more of a "Yeah, and what's it to you...." kind of gesture.

We saw several warthogs, some hyena, impala, several different bird species, a giraffe and a small school of hippos.  About 3/4 way into the safari we stopped for a cocktail—it was around sundown.  Awesome!  I know, right?!  Who woulda thunk it—a glass of Shiraz in the African bush.  The sundown drinks are called sundowners—go figure.  Anyway, after the drink we hopped back into the jeep and began our way back to the camp--taking the long scenic route.  When we started the drive it was about 80 degrees, but right after we got back in the jeep and started driving, the temperature dropped drastically, like 30 degrees, then another 10 degrees immediately after that.  Can you imagine that?  It went from nice and toasty to mother-fucking freezing in like 6.8 seconds.  We had an hour to go to get back to our camp.  We made it but I just about froze my ass off.  Unlike a crocodile, I'm not able to lower my heart rate to only a couple of beats per minute and survive freezing-cold temperatures.  I'm an American.  Central heat and air, along with Showtime and HBO are essential to my survival.

Once we made it back to camp, we hurled ourselves out of the jeep--it was like the jeep itself had somehow just flicked each of us from our seat.  I was never so glad to see the interior of a solid structure.  Since it was dark and we are in the wilds of South Africa, we have to be escorted to our room by a guide.  The guide comes equipped with a flashlight and walky-talky in case wild animals approach.  Little does he know that I would be long gone by the time he was able to reach someone on the two-way radio.  He would need to use the radio to dispatch a search and rescue team for me, if we were to encounter a wild animal en route to our room.

Once in our room, we found two robes had been laid out on the bed for us.  I went over to admire them and to my delight, there were hot-water bottles placed inside the folds of the robes.  I can't tell you when the last time I was so happy.  I jumped on the bed and placed one hot-water bottle (we'll call it Johnny—as in Depp) close to my stomach, took Mike's hot-water bottle (we'll call it George—as in Clooney) from his robe, placed it in my lap then curled into the fetal position.  There I lay for the next 45 minutes.  When they dropped us at our room, we were to prepare for dinner which is served at 8:00pm, about an hour after we returned from the safari drive.  At 7:45pm, Mike started nagging me that it was time to be escorted to dinner.  Could he not see the bond that had been created between me and my new loves?  Did he not care?  I felt torn--go with my husband or stay with the nice warm hot-water bottles—Johnny and George.  I was suddenly faced with Sophie's Choice.  I wondered if I could some way sneak the hot-water bottles out of my room, on my person, while we ate dinner.  Alas, I felt an obligation to leave the bliss of the hot-water bottles and have dinner with Mike, and just fantasize about how the Johnny and George felt against my body while we ate.

Dinner was served in a Boma—which is partly open to the elements (the center is open) and partly roofed.  Imagine a circle and along the curve is covered with a thatched roof and the center of the circle is open.  It's much like a donut.  We ate dinner in the donut—and it was good.  They served us a wonderful soup, ostrich (which I did not eat), an African staple much like chicken in the U.S., stir fry (which I did eat) with chicken and vegetables, and a desert.  After dinner, I quickly sought out our escort and eagerly walked back to our room.  Johnny and George were still there, waiting on me, and they didn't even hold a grudge.  They just got back into position and helped me to a good night's sleep.


Thursday, July 12, 2007

Short update

The internet connections have been horrible.  Right now I'm in the business center of my hotel, paying $5 for 15 minutes of dial-ip internet.  I've been writing blogs but I can't post them.  I should be able to post more about our travels tomorrow night, when we get to Johannesburg.  We're in Zimbabwe right now.  I've never felt more white in my entire life.  The country is literally falling apart and the people are running out of food and fuel.  The hotel I'm in is such a contrast to its surrounding area.  Women outside of the hotel grounds are carrying firewood on their heads and women inside the hotel grounds are getting massages (I'm not one of them, though).  It's all very bizarre.  I'm happy to be here to see this part of the world and Victoria Falls but at the same time I feel guilty.  It's all very confusing.

I'll post more tomorrow night.  Until up on the goings on in Zimbabwe.


Sunday, July 8, 2007

Updated African blog with new photos and video clips

First off, let me just preface this blog by letting you know that I look like a big fat cow in the pictures because I am donning like three layers of clothing--it's winter here. I know that doesn't explain the fat in my face, but just go with it, please. When I return home Holly has promised to help me get into shape.;-) Eating the food has not been a problem--eating too much of the food has been a problem.

Wow! I have seen and experienced so much over the past couple of days. I believe I left off letting ya'll know that we were going to Robben Island, which held the prison camp where Nelson Mandela spent 18 of his 27 years as a political prisoner. Well, we made it to the island. It was a short boat ride from Cape Town to Robben Island--about 30 minutes.

The island is still inhabited by the people who work on the island and a few others. The majority of the island is inhabited by African penguins (also called Jackass penguins because of they sound like donkeys) and lots of large rabbits. They are doing construction on the prison cells where Nelson Mandela was kept, so we weren't able to see his cell, but we did a good idea of the conditions. The tour guides are all ex-convicts of the prison--they were all former political prisoners.

It was really interesting to get a tour of the prison from a person who actually lived through the experience (although he was there after Mandela was moved to another location). Here are some photos of the island, our guide from the prison, the penguins and the rabbits.


We visited Table Mountain on Monday. It was absolutely spectacular. The day started off cold and cloudy. We were afraid we weren't gonna be able to see anything but the weather cleared as the day went on and we had fantastic views. It was a nice cable-car ride up the mountain. Here are some photos from Table Mountain.

We did something odd and off the beaten path Monday night--we had dinner with a local family in their home. This dinner was organized by our travel agent. It's supposed to give visitors a "behind-the-scenes" look into the local culture and community. Our gracious hosts were Ann and Reggie Johnson. Reggie was involved in the political movements and they both clearly remember Apartheid.

I want to mention something about race. Race is still very much part of the culture here in South Africa. And, to talk about race here is not taboo like it is in the states. People are very aware and proud of their race, but they also still classify each other by race. For example, there are three races in South Africa: whites, colored and blacks. None of the classifications have derrogatory meanings. The differences between the races can be defined as follows (according to Ann and Reggie): Blacks are the native Africans--they have prominant facial features such as full lips, high cheekbones and small ears; Colored people are people of mixed races--they have brown skin and hair more consistent like white people; whites are people of mostly European decent--most of them are not of mixed race and they are clearly white. I find the classification of people a little awkward to listen to but I not only heard it from Ann and Reggie (who are colored) but also from tour guides (blacks and whites) and store clerks and so forth. It was all very bizarre.

Today we took a day-long tour of the Penninsula. It was absolutely breathtakingly beautiful. We visited the Cape of Good Hope, took a short boat ride to see the seals, went to the top of the cape, and finished it off with a visit to Boulder Island where lots of African penguins call home. I'll have to upload some more shots and videos of the various places, but here is a small sample:

We finished our shopping today in Cape Town. The store clerk that followed us around (as they do in all of the stores) asked me where we were from and I told him. I then asked where he was from. He asked, "why?" I told him because he had asked where we were from. He then told me Uganda. I took a gulp--having just seen The Last King of Scottland not too long ago. He then asked me if I had heard of it and I told him I had. He asked if I had heard about the genocides and I said yes. I then asked him if he was there during the genocides and he said yes. He said that he lost several family members in the killings, even his mother. I didn't know what to say to that. My heart hurt for him, so I told him so.

Here is another musician playing along the waterfront in Cape Town. Check out his guitar.

This morning we visited Victoria Falls. The falls are about three times as large as Niagra Falls. Victoria Falls is considered one of the seven wonders of the world. They were absolutely amazing. We had to wear rain ponchos to keep us dry because of all of the mist from the falls. Hippos and croc's apparently like to live a little upstream from the falls but we didn't see any. Because the animals are wild here, they are free to roam wherever they like. However, some elephants and zebras used to get too close to the falls so they put up a wooden, makeshift fence to keep them out. Our tour guide told us that as a kid he used to see many elephants at the falls--which is very dangerous for the elephants.

Our tour guide was named Ntando and he is from here--Victoria Falls. He went to primary and secondary school here and then traveled to Bulawayo for his education in tourism. He said his professional education lasted three years. He was a very good tour guide and spoke about a major concern he and others in his country have--the fact that Americans won't purchase ivory. He said that elephants are so abundant in Zimbabwe and Botswana and surrounding areas that they are actually harming the environment. The elephants pull down the trees and drink up all of the water in the watering holes other animals depend on for survival. Animals cannot live in the trees and hide themselves from predators. There are over 150,000 elephants and thousands are being born every year. The people in the countries use the ivory from the elephants to make sculptures and other ornate souvenirs for visitors. The problem is that the visitors aren't buying the ivory because they think the elephants are being killed just for the ivory. Apparently there is another side to the coin I didn't realize existed. I still didn't buy any ivory, though. Here is a photo of Ntando (pronounced Dando).

We went for a sundown cruise on the Mighty Zambezi River tonight. We were picked up at our hotel and driven to the boat dock--which mainly consisted of a large pontoon boat tied up to a tree. We were greeted by native dancers/musicians. One of the dancers/musicians boarded our vessel and provided us with on board entertainment after the sunset. Before sunset, I spoke with him at length about his life. His name is Admire Mutinhima and he is the leader of the dancing group called Idwala Elikhulu Theater Production Services. He is from Harrare, the capitol of Zimbabwe. He went to school but never sat for his final exams, so he does not have his diploma. He created the entertainment troupe and began traveling, hoping to find success.

Admire Mutinhima:

Since Zimbabwe is virtually collapsing, he and the troupe needed to leave the capitol for more greener pastures so they traveled to Bulawayo--another large city in Zimbabwe. They found a little work there but nothing to really sustain and support them. A person they met there invited them to Victoria Falls--the tourist capitol of Zimbabwe. The group, Idwala Elikhulu, has been dancing for The Boma a famous local restaurant that tourists flock to for a taste of the local life. The Boma proved to be one of the highlights of the trip to Zimbabwe--although I wonder how much of it really was local and how much was produced for the American tourist--or any tourist, for that matter. There was dancing, bongos, and everyone was draped with a local cloth upon entry, local cuisine and just a jolly good time.

Mike and I met another couple, Debbie and Randy from Cincinnati, who were also staying at our hotel. Since we rode over together to The Boma for dinner we decided to share a table. Debbie worked for Delta and Randy was a high-school guidance counselor. They were both very nice and had just finished three safaris in Botswana. As we were talking and waiting for our appetizers (I mostly stuck with vegetarian-type meals) we heard Admire's voice. He was introducing his group and telling the fellow patrons about the dance they were about to perform. I could not understand his explanation, but I did get some short video clips of the group. Here are the videos:">>

I asked Admire if he has some sort of business card or a postcard advertising his group and he told me no, but he does have an email address. I found that kinda funny. Anyway, he gave me all of his information. He is looking to travel internationally and hopes that someone will want to sponsor him and his group. If you are interested, just let me know and I will give you his contact information.

There was also interaction. A different group of entertainers passed out bongo drums for each person and we were given instructions on how to play. It was a call and response form of music. So, here is a photo of us playing the bongos and also a short video of Mike, Debbie & Randy playing along. I know the video is a little dark--sorry. The Boma was dark--it's basically a hut with a thatched roof, and part of it is open to the outside.

I almost forgot, we saw some animals while on our sundown cruise. We came across some Hippos, a couple of elephants, some crocs, warthogs and several types of birds. Here are some photos from the cruise along with some of the animals:

Friday, July 13, 2007

Today we left Victoria Falls and arrived in Johannesburg. I'm glad we went to Victoria Falls, but I'm also glad we are gone. The hotel shuts off power for four hours each day. Today, the power was shut off a little after 8:00am. We were scheduled to leave the hotel at 11:30am; since I didn't wake up until 7:45am, that meant I didn't get to take a shower before we left. Mike took a very quick one--but guys can do that sort of shit. It also meant no internet before we left. So, we decided to walk over to the bridge and crossed into Zambia. As we walked, I took several photos of the locals and a few short video clips. Women and men both carried oranges and other things on their heads (can you imagine the strength in their necks?!). There were baboons roaming about freely. Once we reached the bridge, there were several Americans gathered around to bungi jump from the bridge. I caught a video of it. So, below are several photos and video clips from this morning.

This is the business center I used to get the internet:


Now we are in Johannesburg. We have internet in our room and it is such a luxury. I have tried to give you a taste of what my life has been life for the past week. We are going on safari tomorrow. There is supposed to be internet at the lodge but given the history so far, I don't want to depend on it. I'll try and blog again as soon as I can. Thanks so much for the messages several people have sent asking about my trip! Y'all are so sweet! It's late here so I'm going to close for now. I'll talk to y'all soon.

Saturday, July 7, 2007

My South Africa Trip - Blog 1

Mike and I are in South Africa. The flights were long and tiring. We flew eight hours from Atlanta to Dakar, where we landed to refuel and make a crew change. We weren't allowed to deplane. Several Dakar airport personnel boarded our plan and searched it for explosives and other contraband. Afterwards, they walked through the cabin spraying an insectiside, which they claim was approved by the World Health Organization (WHO). Afterwards, the plan left for Johannesburg, another eight-hour flight. From Johannesburg, we changed planes and flew a little more than two hours to Cape Town.

We arrived in Capetown on Friday around 8:15pm--which, given the six hour time difference, made it about 2:15pm EST. We will be in Capetown from Friday through Wednesday, July 11th. On Wednesday, we leave Capetown and head to Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe. Friday, July 13th, we leave Victoria Falls and head to Johannesburg. We will only be in Johannesburg for one night. Saturday, Juy 14th, we take a flight into the Timbavati Nature Reserve, which runs parallel to the Western border of the famous Kruger National Park. We will be on safari at Kings Camp until July 17th. We head back to Georgia at 2:00pm on Tuesday, July 17th, and arrive in Atlanta early Wednesday morning. This is going to be the trip of a lifetime!

Here is a photo of Mike in the Johannesburg airport. We were waiting to catch our flight to Cape Town.

In an effort to stay in touch, I thought I would try and blog pretty regularly while on this trip. So, if you'll forgive me, I'd like to start right before we left the house--on Thursday. Given the fact that I am a model consumer of highly-processed American food, I'm afraid my daily meals are going to be the main area of concern. I packed a box of Ritz crackers and some fat-free Pringles in case I can't find anything to eat. I also brought some Charmin mini packs because one never knows how to properly gauge the softness of toilet paper in foreign countries. A girl's gotta take precautions, you know.

I've been asking Mike about our flights and since you have to fly from one city to another here (because they are just too far apart), I was wondering if we would be on a plane with any chickens and/or goats. He just laughed and told me that I've been watching too many movies. Although, you have to admit, since we have to fly everywhere, I could definitely see the possibility of being on the same plan with someone transporting some livestock he/she plans to use for trade. You think? I'll be sure to let you know if there are any chickens or goats on any of our flights. I hope there is at least one, that way I can have the last laugh, not Mike. See, when you think of Africa and riding in planes, don't you think it's entirely possible that this little kid and his chicken could be sitting in the seat right beside of me on the plane? I do.

Anywho.....back to it. We arrived at our hotel last night and it's a nice hotel. We have an excellent view of Table Mountain right outside of our window. Here are a couple of pics that I took from our hotel window.

Breakfast was great. Since I'm such a picky eater I always wonder what they are gonna have that I'm able to eat. Seriously, I am the poster child for American high-fat, highly processed foods. When you depend on sugar and cabohydrates as your main form of sustenance, meals can be a major cause for concern. There were all kinds of foods from which to choose this morning. I'm always skeptical of eggs and meat at hotels, so I chose the more safe route. I had a roll with ham and cheese--nice. Question: if all chickens are more or less the same, and lay similar eggs, why are scrambled eggs more brown in foreign countries?

We thought it would be a good idea to just make it a light day today since we were still kinda tired from all of the travelling, so we decided to hang out at the waterfront and take in the local atmosphere. There was mall, much like our malls with several stores selling inferior products at superior prices. We didn't buy anything today but scoped out some definite gift possibilities. As we were walking about, we came across some young dancers performing for the crowd. Here is a little video I shot of them. They were young and full of energy. They looked a little too young to be moving the way they moved, but I guess that's how it goes. I'm sure it's just because I'm old and only getting older.

Right behind the dancers was a section of ground skirted off with several inflated animals and jump castles for the youngsters. The inflatable animals were from Atlanta's own Cartoon Network--they were of Scooby Doo and his pals. America is everywhere. As we were walking through the local crafts market (which very closely resembled an international market in the states--with lots of cheap trinkets sold by people who also offer to read your fortune and give
you a quick foot massage--we ran across an item that must be a foreigner's interpretation of true American culture. It was a coin-operated machine that seemed to promise the true American experience. It came complete the Confederate battle flag.

We also took a nice little stroll through the aquarium here. We watched a fish feeding and learned some things about sharks--particularly snaggle-tooth sharks. The message basically consisted of telling us that most people are ignorant about sharks and they are far less dangerous than we think. There was a creative educational video playing on our way out of the aquarium that did an excellent job conveying the mesage. I didn't record it, but I found this recording on YouTube.

To take a break from all of the walking we decided to see if there was a local theater--there were two: an arts cinema and a regular, mainstream theater. We opted for the arts cinema and saw the movie Shortbus. The film itself is very risque and it does show actual sex acts, but I do think the movie was very well done and it was interesting. Everyone in the movie was searching for something in his/her life and the common bond that united all of them was sex, whether it be with each other or by themselves. I love movies that show the vulnerabilities of everyday people in everyday situations. I think we often try to be more than what we are and when we don't live up to our expectations we feel depressed or disappointed in ourselves. Always wanting something more than what we currently have or had is an interesting part of human nature and I like it when
movies explore people's actions in trying to attain that something. This was one of those movies.

It looks like a travelling documentary film festival is also coming to Cape Town in a few weeks. So, if you're in the area be sure to check it out.

Tomorrow, we are going to Robben Island. This is the island where Nelson Mandela was jailed. We will see the actual jail cell where he was held as a political prisoner for over twenty years, finally getting released in 1990. After his release, Mandela was voted president in 1994, after receiving the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993. Even though Apartheid was legally put into place in the 1940's, the oppression did not really end until the election of 1994, with the appointment of Nelson Mandela. So, the end of segregation is really young here. But, enough with the overly simplistic history lesson. We're gonna get on a boat tomorrow and go to an island. We're also gonna get to see the African (jackass) penguins that populate the island--SWEET! You know, penguins are my favorite animals.

One final picture for you (from the waterfront):