Archive for the ‘Africa’ Category

Sudan

Tuesday, June 10th, 2008

We didn’t visit the Sudan on this trip, nor even come across people from there.  I did however manage to read two great books about the recent history of the area, and both left a powerful impression on me.  Given that we’ll be visiting Auschwitz tomorrow, it’s an appropriate time to post about these books.

The first is a short book called The Translator, by Dauod Hari.  I would read this book every night, and summarize it each day for my family.  It’s about a young man growing up in Darfur who eventually becomes a translator for journalists from the western world covering the atrocities inflicted on the Darfur tribe by the Sudanese government.  It’s a book you can read in a short time, and it’s very, very powerful.  It makes the horrors that the people of Darfur are experiencing quite tangible. 

The second, longer book is What Is the What? by Dave Eggers, about a different young man growing up in the Sudan.  This boy has the improbable name of Dominic Valentino Achak Deng, and it will make you cry to follow his life history.  The horrible trajectory of his life includes being one of the “lost boys” who walked for months across Sudan to escape, temporarily, to an Ethiopian refugee camp.  After a few months there, the refugees are run out of Ethiopia, back to Sudan, and then walk for months to a different refugee camp in the most desolate part of Kenya.

In Kenya, Achak lives there in a shanty-town refuge camp for ten years, incredibly.  He eventually is selected for deportation to the United States, hoping for a better life.  Things in the U.S., though, don’t go all that well, and a center plot line of the story is how he’s robbed at gun point in his Atlanta apartment, bound, beaten, and abandoned, finally be found by a friend more than a day later.

Both Daoud and Achak made it out of the Sudan to the U.S.  And both have dedicated their lives to helping their fellow Sudanese.  It’s painful and quite emotional to be thrust into the middle of each boy’s horrific life.  And it’s so shocking, and horrifying, to think that a genocide of this scale (about 500,000 are estimated to have been killed and some 2,000,000 displaced) is happening during all of our lifetimes, with little done by the U.S. government to bring it to a halt.

Quickly Through Kenya

Thursday, June 5th, 2008

Kenya 006 We had a very brief lay-over in Nairobi, spending just a day there.  We were originally scheduled to spend two weeks in Kenya, but lost all confidence in the itinerary that had been planned for us.  So we turned two weeks into twenty-four hours, and will have to return to Kenya at a later date, since I’m sure it’s a fabulous country to visit.

Tanzania III 349We stayed at a great place, the Giraffe Manor House.  The grounds of this magnificent estate include a lovely country home, a wildlife educational center for the children of Nairobi, and about a bunch of giraffe and warthogs!  We got to spend lots of time with Daisy, Frank, Jock, Laura, and other beautiful giraffes, and everyone had lots of fun. 

Kenya 019 Gibson had his first kiss, and we all admired the beauty and grace of his tall, slender girlfriend Laura.  It was a bittersweet departure from Africa, though, for Gibson, who failed to lose a tooth in this continent after running up a five continent “losing” streak!  He has one loose tooth now, and we spend two weeks in Europe, so it’s possible he can add continent #6 to his list, but Africa will have to wait for a later day!

Tanzania III 369 We also visited a couple of museums in Nairobi, and re-grouped from our Tanzania debacle.  I wouldn’t characterize Nairobi as one of my all-time favorite cities, but like any large city, it has its corners of interest.  Anyway, the main thing is that we finished a great visit to Africa safe and sound, had a relaxing stop-over in Kenya, and are now off to London, which is one of my all-time favorite cities!!

Out of Africa

Thursday, June 5th, 2008

We had a fabulous time in Africa, and loved much of our visit to this great continent.  I’m torn, though, about how to report on our final couple of weeks there.

Tanzania III 022 Originally, we planned to spend two weeks in Tanzania, and the final two weeks of our trip in Kenya.  Yet, while we love wildlife and the African bush, we were perhaps pushing things a bit by scheduling almost three full months in safari Africa.  We were doing two, and at times, three game drives a day, and after a while, even a wildlife-loving family like ours is ready for a change.

Tanzania I 005 We had a great time in Ngorogoro Crater in Tanzania.  But the rest of Tanzania wasn’t all that exciting for us.  It was probably a combination of a) safari saturation, b) being in Tanzania the wrong time of year (you definitely want to play your stay here to maximize the likelihood of being here during a migration), and c) some particularly poor choices of locations.

Tanzania III 038 Net, net, we cut our stay in Tanzania short by a couple of days.  Our last location was particularly disappointing (someplace called the Lukuba Lodge on Lake Victoria, which gave us all the creeps).  Our itinerary had been planned by two groups (Small World Travel in Austin, Texas, and Abercrombie and Kent), so we weren’t exactly picking locations out of a phone book.  But the difference between the way these places were described, and the reality, was vast, and we weren’t happy with our guides. 

Tanzania III 062 We lost so much confidence in our itinerary that we decided to skip our Kenya trip (all pre-paid :-( ), and get “Out of Africa.”  One thing that has always worked well for Elizabeth and me is that we have very similar perspectives on “cutting your losses.”  When we go to see a live performance, we make sure wePicture 336 have tickets on the aisle, and have no issue leaving after 15 minutes or so when it’s clear we don’t enjoy the production.  I did a careful  analysis of the venture industry and concluded it was in for a long period of economic challenge, and shifted gears professionally.  And we got a lot out of our time in Charleston, SC, but felt we’d been there long enough, and were off and running on this great trip!  So once we concluded we were getting bad advice about what to do in Africa, and felt we’d had a great experience here, we had no issue changing our game plan.

Tanzania III 196 We had one memorable experience in Tanzania prior to departure.  In the Serengeti, we visited a local Masai trival village and their local school.  It was an eye-opener.  We met several of the people living in a small local community.  I’d say maybe 40-50 people lived in a set of huts made of branches and cow dung.  We met a family in their hut, which measured about 4 meters by 4 meters, and slept eight!  Even more challenging, there was a constant fire inside the hut, meaning a substantial amount of smoke inhalation for its residents.  Few people know that smoke inhalation is one of the largest killers of children age five or younger around the world, many of whom are raised in uninterrupted proximity to a fire.

Tanzania III 070 We were amazed at how the Masai people lived.  Many of them, adults and children, were covered in flies.  And many of the kids looked to be quite ill, with open sores on their faces.  We learned that in this culture, woman face exceptionally challenging circumstances.  They do most of the daily hard labor.  One woman described her typical day as getting up before everyone else, milking the cows, fixing everyone breakfast, go out and find firewood, go to the local stream (often more than a kilometer away) and carry back water, tend to some farm areas, fix lunch, and on and on. 

Tanzania III 123 The marriage ritual was also particularly punitive for the Masai women.  As long as a man or his family has the dowry (generally twenty cows), a man can marry as many women as he wants.  And the current wife/wives have to build a new home for the most recent wife.  These Masai women often seemed cheerful, but we’ve learned over the course of this trip that appearance can be deceiving, and they clearly have a very hard life.

Tanzania III 069 The Masai men spend their day caring for the livestock (cows and goats, for the most part).  They go through a strange rite of passage ritual at age 16 where a Masai boy becomes a “man.”  I’ll spare you the gory details, but a boy gets circumcised by a sharp knife with no anesthesia, and is disgraced if he flinches or shows any sign of pain.  Many die from subsequent infection.  And, in their culture, it’s well known which young men have made that transition, and which “failed the test.” 

Tanzania III 210 We also visited a Masai school, which was better than no school, but not by a lot.  This school has almost 800 students, and just 11 teachers.  There are 70 kids per classroom, and four children to a desk.  They have no books and few supplies.  I know that some remarkable kids make their way through these challenges, get a good education, and go on to higher grades.  But most deal with a very difficult experience, and receive little real education.  Our kids were shocked at the circumstances of this school, and we all got a better sense of the challenges remaining in Africa’s educational infrastructure.

Tanzania III 203 So now we’re on to Western Europe to wrap up our trip, after a brief stop in Nairobi.  If anyone is ever considering a trip to Eastern Africa, we can tell you a lot about what not to do, and very little about what to do.  Oh, well.  We loved our first couple of months in Africa, and are on to new adventures!  And, while it wasn’t our highlight, we will soon have Tanzania photos you may want to check out.

How Quickly Things Change

Sunday, June 1st, 2008

We’ve visited so many places on our trip where things have changed, often dramatically, since our initial visit.  Tibet.  The Yangtze River and Three Gorges Dam area.  Myanmar/Burma.   And Alexandra, a suburb of Johannesburg.  In April, we visited Alexandra on a sunny day, and the community was beaming.  Less than two weeks later, it’s been the site of riots over racial tensions.  We’ve been following it from a distance, but I thought I’d include the update we received from Robin Binckes, who took us through Alexandra on our visit there.

 

Greetings from a place which is, I know, special in your hearts!  Thank you to all who have expressed concern for our safety and sadness at what has happened here in the last ten days.

As many of the people who have visited South Africa in the recent past have read the reports of the violence and trouble we are experiencing and have felt concerned for the safety of people that they met whilst here, I felt that it would be a good idea to send out this letter updating you on what is happening and to ask for your assistance in helping the people most vulnerable and most effected by this tragedy ? the children.

Through Friends of Alexandra we believe we can play a role in helping the +- 50 children who are being accommodated in the Police Station in Alexandra to protect them and their families from further violence.
But first let me try to update you in point form of the situation.
1. The violence started last Sunday (11th May) in Alexandra township.
2. It was reported to be violence as a result of Xenophobia & directed at immigrants who were taking the jobs of locals.
3. The violence continued in Alexandra every night last week.
4. Some South Africans in the township were also attacked.
5. Some reports indicate that criminals are now involved and that this has become an excuse for criminals to attack people and rob them.
6. The violence occurs at night. During the day, life has continued as normal.
7. My tours have continued into Alexandra after discussions with the Police Commissioner and last week I took over 60 people into Alexandra on three days and never witnessed an incident, nor felt threatened or in danger.
8. The violence has now spread to other townships and areas of extreme poverty. Once again the violence flares up at night. This weekend it spilled into the downtown area of Johannesburg, as well.
9. To date 42 people have been killed, hundreds wounded and thousands are seeking refuge and safety in Police Stations.

THE SITUATION NOW.
1. Last night was much more peaceful with the majority of townships having an uneventful night.
2. Reports on the radio this evening are that the Army is being called in by the Police to assist in controlling the violence.
3. Day times are peaceful in Alexandra- (I cannot speak of other areas, as I have not visited them)- I continue to take visitors there and Thursday & Friday I will be taking groups into Alexandra.
Today I visited the Police Station in Alexandra to see what the plight of the children was and what their short term needs are. This is what I found.
1. Men are being accommodated in tents outside the Police Station, sleeping on the pavements and tar, but under shelter. Water tankers are providing water. Toilets have been provided.
2. The men have no blankets or bedding of any sort.
3. Women and children are being accommodated in a hall upstairs in the Police Station. They have a roof over their heads and, like the men sleeping outside in marquees, are dependent upon NGO?s for everything else.
4. A total of about 800 people are being accommodated.
5. There are about 50 children ranging from babies in arms to children of about 14 years old.

HOW YOU CAN HELP ?FRIENDS OF ALEXANDRA?.
The children need blankets, sleeping- bags, foam mattresses, food, and other obvious items.
We need to purchase these items quickly, and provide them to the children.
I spent this afternoon on the telephone to some of the larger companies who I thought would donate the urgently needed items quickly ? (it is getting colder here and the weather forecast is for a drop in temperature. As you know we get down to freezing on a cold Winter?s night.)
Responses ranged from
?Sorry, do you know how many calls we have had from people like you??
?We will put your proposal before our CSI committee?
?We have already had meetings with Provincial Government officials and are sure that our contribution will reach the people you are trying to help? (Sometime?!)
?We actually don?t sell or stock lower end merchandise. All our sleeping bags are high end.?

That is why I am appealing to you!
THE EASIEST AND QUICKEST WAY TO HELP WILL BE BY DONATION (TRANSFER) INTO OUR BANK ACCOUNT. THAT WILL HELP US PURCHASE WHAT IS REQUIRED FOR THE CHILDREN. ANY AMOUNT WILL BE GRATEFULLY ACCEPTED.


Details are;
FRIENDS OF ALEXANDRA.
BANK ACCOUNT NO: 420951652
SWIFT CODE; SBZAZAJJ
BRANCH; SANDTON.
SOUTH AFRICA
.
BRANCH CODE; 019205
PLEASE IDENTIFY THE AMOUNT
BY YOUR NAME. IT WOULD BE APPRECIATED IF YOU COULD NOTIFY ME BY MAIL OF THE AMOUNT OF YOUR CONTRIBUTION THAT WE WILL BE RECEIVING.

My personal view is that the violence is a build up of frustration in the poorer communities as a result of unemployment, poverty, unfulfilled promises by Government and corruption. The immigrants are an easy scapegoat.
We will overcome this, as we have surmounted other and greater obstacles.
We are asking for your help for the children of Alexandra.
Warmest Regards.
Robin Binckes.

The Big Crater

Sunday, June 1st, 2008

Tanzania III 003Our trip in Tanzania started at Lake Manyara, and proceeded to the Ngorogoro Crater.  The crater was spectacular, and I’ll start with our time there.  Ngorogoro is an amazing place, and a must for anyone traveling to Eastern Africa.  You can see all sorts of great wildlife, all in a confined space, and enjoy beautiful views of this fascinating geology.

Tanzania I 403 Ngorogoro’s crater bed is about 110 sq. miles in area, and from a technical geologic perspective is a caldera, not a crater.  Geologists estimate that some 4 million years ago, the mountain here blew its top, leaving a steep approach, a crater rim, and a big, flat, open area at the bottom.  Small streams flow down the craters sides into the bed, creating accessible pools of water.  The sides of the crater have lots of shrubbery and trees, and the area is a protected national conservation area. 

Tanzania I 006 What’s astounding about Ngorogoro Crater is the abundance of wildlife in a large enclosed area, offering great viewing opportunities because it’s flat and open.  We got great looks at lions, the very endangered white rhino, various types of antelopes (Eland, Thompson’s, Grant’s), Zebra, Wildebeest, Buffalo, and Warthogs.  The area is also teeming with birdlife, and is physically beautiful.

Tanzania I 180 The one morning we spent at Ngorogoro started on an exciting note.  We encountered two prides of lions.  One group earlier in the morning had brought down a baby Buffalo and several of the lions were feeding on it in a shrub-covered area by the side of a stream.  Meanwhile, another pride were on the prowl, clearly wanting to keep up with the Jones!  We watched the mother  and a cub lay an ambush for an Tanzania I 304unsuspecting warthog.  As the warthog ambled into our view, the two lions took positions behind trees on opposite sides of the warthog’s path.  The mother pounced, a few seconds too soon, and a short chase ensued.  Against the odds we would have posted, the warthog escaped, and the lions returned to their napping.  But it made for a great start of the day!

Tanzania I 473 We also got some great looks at the endangered Black Rhino.  The ones we saw look light in color because they had been rolling in the mud earlier that day.  Ngorogoro has a number of these rare animals, which have been hunted to the point of extinction by poachers looking to use the horn of the Rhino, either for Chinese medicinal purposes or as dagger handles (popular in the Middle East).

Tanzania I 381 In all, we spent an afternoon and the following full day exploring the crater.  It’s unlike anything we’ve ever seen or experienced, and we’d highly recommend it to anyone in the area.  It’s a must for a trip to Africa for anyone interested in wildlife.  Check out our Ngorogoro photo album for lots of great wildlife shots from this remarkable part of the world!

Mad About Madagascar

Tuesday, May 20th, 2008

Madagascar by Gibson 563 If someday you find yourself way off the beaten path, then manage to take a few wrong turns and get even more lost, you may well end up in Madagascar. The world’s fourth largest island, Madagascar lies off the east coast of Africa. It’s a country that seems at least fifty years behind the times, with an unusual blend of French and African cultures. This destination isn’t for everyone, but we had a fabulous time here, focused on finding some of the world’s most exotic wildlife, including the chameleon above photographed by Gibson.

Madagascar 377 The smartest thing we did in arranging our trip here was to coordinate our visit with Chris Raxworthy, Chris has spent over twenty years exploring Madagascar while holding down prestigious appointments elsewhere. Since the year 2000, he’s had a very senior position at the American Museum of Natural History, focusing on herpetological (reptiles and amphibians) research and education. Having the world’s foremost expert on the wildlife of Madagascar was an incredible opportunity for us to immerse ourselves in this country’s astounding fauna and flora.

Madagascar 525 We spent time in two different locations in Madagascar — the Masoala Peninsula and Nosy Mangabe in the rainforest of the northeast, and Perinet Reserve in the southeast. The first thing you have to get used to here are long names — really long names. The cities and towns have names like Manjakandriana and Antananarivo. Also, the two primary languages spoken here are French and Malagasy. The country claims to have a population of 16 million, although its capital has just a million, and almost all the regions we passed through seemed sparsely populated.

Madagascar 105 The country seems to have almost no tourism industry, and little else in the way of industry or development. The country’s President also is CEO of the country’s largest company, a company that has been expanding rapidly through a series of acquisitions. The hotels we stayed in were extremely basic. Forget about internet access — even electricity and hot water can be hard to come by. The roads here were surprisingly good, but in many ways the Madagascar infrastructure seems to be moving backward over time, as the airport for one of our destinations reflects.

Madagascar 223 Our typical day in Madagascar was a) breakfast, b) morning hike, c) painfully prolonged lunch, d) some homework, e) late afternoon hike, f) painfully prolonged dinner with even worse service than lunch, and g) a night hike (generally in the driving rain :-( ). During our hikes, we played a collective game of “Wildlife Where’s Waldo?.” We’d scrutinize trees and thickets, looking for chameleons, snakes, geckos, frogs, birds, and lemurs. Their sizes range from small to tiny, and their camouflaging is generally excellent. Largely with the help of Chris Raxworthy, we saw over forty reptiles and amphibians during our week here, many so spectacular and bizarre that the pictures seem hard to believe.

Madagascar 053 My personal favorite from the trip were the chameleons. They ranged from good-sized to tiny. In the wild,we saw the Parson’s Chameleon, the Horned Leaf Chameleon, the Short-horned Chameleon, the Nose-horned Chameleon, and the Panther Chameleon. These lizards are very smart, extremely hard to find in the wild (at least for me!), and endlessly entertaining. They will walk all over you, jump great distances, and snap their tongues over two times the length of bodies to catch an insect.

Madagascar by Gibson 421 As hard as chameleons are to find, the “Where’s Waldo?” game would escalate with the Leaf-tailed Gecko. When we saw our first one in the wild, I could easily have spent five years looking at the tree without figuring out the location of the gecko. See if you do better in the picture on the left!?!? [Hint: the gecko stretches for most of the bottom half of the light-colored tree trunk on the right. At night, in the dark, even with a flashlight, you can't tell it's there unless you have a sixth sense for these things!!]

Madagascar by Gibson 045 We saw a bunch of different frog species here, ranging from tiny to fair-sized. Many were just so amazing in color patterns. We were fortunate to catch this Tomato Frog (see right), and its coloring left little doubt as to the origin of its name. And we saw some really astounding tiny frogs as well.

Madagascar 462 Among the herps we saw, the kids’ favorites were the snakes. We saw three different snake species in the wild, even though we were visiting Madagascar in early winter (a poor time for snake-hunting). The big favorite was the Tree Boa (left), which is even more impressive in person than in the photo. This snake is quite young and will get three times this size as it matures. I should add, though, that the snakes were not quite as big a hit with Elizabeth, who kept them at a safe distance.

Madagascar 260 Madagascar is famous for its lemurs (small primates), and we saw several species in the wild. These animals are fabulous acrobats, and often would jump distances of thirty feet or more in going from one tree to the next. They are just adorably cute, and a real highlight of our wildlife viewing here.

Madagascar 194 A wildlife surprise for us was the level of bird activity here. Birds weren’t our focus, and we weren’t really here at peak bird season. But we all expected to see a fairly broad and diverse set of species during a week in the wild here, and ended up seeing just 25 species, including the Red Fody at left. Some were spectacular, but it was a pretty slow bird spot for us.

Madagascar 481 On the morning of our last full day here, we stopped by Perinet National Park, hoping for some interesting wildlife activity. In just an hour in the park, we found (with the help of the local guides) a Tree Boa, an adult and juvenile Parson’s Chameleon. And while holding the chameleons, we were visited by an Indri Lemur! It was a fabulous conclusion to our stay in this interesting country.

Madagascar 645 Many of the places we’ve visited on our trip reminded us of somewhere else. Not Madagascar. It’s so distinctive, and so interesting. On our last day, we drove several hours across the country en route to the capital of Anantananarivo, and got a better feel for the beauty and unspoiled nature of the country. A typical scene is captured in the photo on the left, when our car on a major highway passes a man running in front of his cart, which is — believe it or not — carrying two pigs!! It’s not your everyday tourist location, but we were thrilled to have spent time here, and particularly appreciative of the insights we got from Chris Raxworthy.

Check out our Madagascar photos for some of the most amazing animals you’ll ever see!!

Charming Cape Town

Tuesday, May 13th, 2008

Cape Town 209 We settled in for almost five full days in Cape Town, and spent most of the time with our relatives Caroline Hazard (Elizabeth’s sister) and Jim Goedhart.  It was fabulous to see them and get caught up, a real highlight of our stay anywhere.  They live in Seattle, where we’ll be living in the fall, so we had even more than usual to catch up on.

Cape Town 016 On our first full day in Cape Town, we explored the coast south of the city, and made it to Cape Point.  The most striking thing about the drive was how absolutely stunning the coastline is around Cape Town.  We passed through many rustic towns and long expanses of completely undeveloped coast.  It was inspiring to see this much beauty here in South Africa.

Cape Town 113 We also got to see the African Penguin, which was a real treat. We’ve now seen penguins in four different continents (Australia, South America, Antarctica, and Africa), and it’s a real favorite of ours.  We had a great picnic lunch on the beach where the penguins hang out, and really had a great time there.

Cape Town 040 We also saw some great wildlife in this area, including some spectacular birds, like the Orange-breasted Sunbird and the Cape Sugarbird.  These birds are the closest thing to a hummingbird you can find in Africa.  Many of the animals here are endemic to the Cape and it made it fun to see wildlife we’ll never have a chance to see elsewhere. 

Cape Town 217 On our drive back, we stopped by Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden, one of the world’s truly great botanical gardens.  The land was given to the community by Cecil Rhodes, and everything about the grounds is immaculate and fascinating.  We walked throughout the grounds, and learned a lot about the botany of South Africa.

Cape Town 127 We ran into our first real batch of lousy weather in Cape Town, after nine months of almost uninterrupted sunshine.  So we can’t really complain.  But our top priority was to go to the top of Table Mountain, and by our fourth day there, we were beginning to think it didn’t really exist.  We didn’t have non-stop rain, but it was pretty soggy, perhaps a good “warm-up” for Seattle.  We shifted our game plan, and focused on more indoors-oriented things, including a fairly pedestrian aquarium.

Cape Town 136 We spent one day exploring Cape Town’s District 6 Museum and some of the local townships.  District 6 was once a thriving multi-racial community where everyone seemed to co-exist peacefully.  Tragically, the South African government, during apartheid rule, razed the community, and re-located all inhabitants to “racially pure” locations.  Since the community had many mixed-race families, that meant sending the father to one location, the mother to a second, and the children to yet a third location.  There is now a museum dedicated to District 6 telling the story of this tragedy. 

Cape Town 160 We then visited a couple of Cape Town’s townships, which are the acutely poor areas of Cape Town.  We saw row after row of shacks without running water, electricity, or heat.  The juxtaposition of the charm of Cape Town, and its affluence, with these surviving townships would have been shocking to us if we hadn’t seen it before in places like Charleston, South Carolina, or Boston, Massachusetts.

Cape Town 253 We also met with some of the local entrepreneurs, including a gentleman named “Golden” who has developed a business making flowers out of discarded cans, a group of enterprising men and women who have formed a company called Street Wires, who make animals from beads and thin wire, and a group of women who take the remnants from a local tee-shirt factory and turn them into fine blankets, aprons, and table clothes.  It’s clear that such entrepreneurial businesses have the potential to transform the poorest areas of a place like Cape Town.

Cape Town 178 The sun broke through on our last full day in Cape Town.  In the morning, we took a boat to Robben Island, where there once stood one of South Africa’s most imposing jails.  The conditions there were incredibly harsh.  And prisoners, even if they could break out of their cell, faced frigid water, a long swim, and Great White Sharks if they wanted to get to the mainland.  Needless to say, no escapes were recorded in recent history.  We saw the jail cell of Nelson Mandela, who was at this prison for sixteen years (over half of the twenty-six years he spent in jail), and got a tour of the prison from a former political prisoner, who told of his experience in the prison from 1986-91. 

Cape Town 204 In the afternoon, we were able — at long last — to make our way to the top of world-famous Table Mountain.  Table Mountain can only be accessed in two ways — by foot or by cable car.  Given our schedule, walking wasn’t an option, so we bought our tickets and were waiting in line for the next cable car.  They have a fairly modern system, with circular cars holding 65 people that rotate 360 degrees on the ascent and descent.  After a twenty minute wait, our group was waiting for the next car when . . .

Cape Town 004 Much to our amazement, the cable cars froze in their tracks.  After waiting fifteen minutes, we decided this wasn’t our day and left.  The two groups suspended in place ended up being stranded in mid-air for almost an hour (!!!) before they could be moved to the termination points.  And all subsequent ascents were canceled for the day.  So we shifted gears, headed to a couple of the lower nearby vista points, and headed back to pack for the airport.  We figured that we now have a great rationale for returning to Cape Town.

Cape Town 282 We, especially our kids, had been searching for the Cape Dwarf Chameleon during our time in Cape Town, without success.  On the last morning, we got a great surprise when our fabulous guide, Craig Barrowman (highly recommended), showed up at our hotel with a Cape Dwarf he had somehow tracked down the night before (not easy at all!!).  Our kids were on cloud nine, and had a blast with this little reptile for the rest of the day.

Cape Town 134 We really loved Cape Town, despite the weather.  Our relatives Jim and Caroline spent a day exploring nearby wine country, and also loved that.  There’s a lot to do here, it’s a charming city, especially beautiful in the sunlight, and one of the world’s most beautiful cities.

Yawn-a-Lotty

Saturday, May 10th, 2008

Jabulani 404 We had a great time on safari in Southern Africa, but it ended on a subdued note.  We stayed at a place called Jabulani, which abuts Kruger National Park.  It was only relatively short distance from Mala Mala and very similar in what kind of wildlife you could see there.   But it was a lot less interesting on the wildlife front than Mala Mala.  Jabulani’s facility was terrific, and the food outstanding.  But the time out on safari was largely a yawn.

Jabulani 204 We did go to a conservation center focused on the Cheetah, but also with African Wild Dogs.  There is a Cheetah crisis in Africa, and the Cheetah population has dwindled.  This center takes in stray Cheetah, or breeds new cats, and then does its best to release them in the wild.  We got to feed a Cheetah up close, which was a bit scary but fun.  And the very misunderstood African Wild Dog, which we haven’t seen in the wild, was great to take in.   We’re still hoping, though, to see it in the wild sometime on the rest of our trip.

Jabulani II 063 We also took in a reptile center just outside of Jabulani, and got to see some very impressive snakes, chameleons, and lizards up front.  We loved it, although parts were sobering.  We watched a set of five Black Mamba snakes go after, inject venom into, and eat some soft, furry white mice.  My advice to you is to stay away from enclosed spaces with five Black Mambas!! 

Jabulani 344 They feature an elephant safari activity at Jabulani, and keep about fifteen elephants in captivity there.  This activity sounded great, but wasn’t quite as exciting as we hoped.  And we weren’t completely comfortable observing the way the elephants were treated.  We love elephants, but the elephant program at Jabulani won’t make our trip highlight film.

Jabulani II 140 We did get some great looks at lions in the wild at Jabulani, including some mother lions with their cubs.  And we ended up one morning in the middle of a Buffalo herd, which was impressive.  We picked up a few other interesting mammal and bird sightings, including the Sable Antelope and the Giant Kingfisher.  But after the tenth time that our Jabulani guide had pointed out to us a drongo (Africa’s version of a common blackbird) or spider webs, we were ready to push the fast forward button and get to Capetown.

Anyway, my advice to anyone planning a trip to this part of the world is to be sure to go to Mala Mala, and complement it with a stay in some place quite different in South Africa, perhaps someplace on the coast.

The Lion, the Child, and the Future

Friday, May 9th, 2008

Wednesday, May 7, 2008:  It was real and it was surreal.  My wife, two children, and I are in safari country — on the boundary of Kruger National Preserve in South Africa.  We’re staying in rooms that are separated by many meters, so the adults split up, and each sleeps with a child.  My eleven year old son is in my room sleeping next to me.  Earlier that evening, we were on a safari drive looking for lions, and the trackers believed that the alpha male was heading toward the camp.

That night, though, much of my attention is not on African wildlife.  I’m thinking about the two states in America — North Carolina and Indiana — holding primaries today.  During the past fifteen months, I’ve committed a large amount of my time to Barack Obama’s campaign, and am convinced that the future of the world hinges on America’s getting this election “right.”  These two primaries are quite important, and the polls show Obama losing Indiana by a large margin, and potentially losing North Carolina.  If he drops both states, his nomination is in jeopardy.  Our world travels have reinforced my belief that Barack Obama is the one candidate who can effect real change, and put things back on track for our nation and the world.  So I’m keenly interested in that nights primary results.

Jabulani 404 As I lay in bed, I hear the continual roar of the approaching lion.  We’ve seen lions roar in the wild, so I now have a good appreciation of the exertion required for such ferocious roars.  And this roaring sounds like it’s coming from right outside our window.  I can feel the vibrations, yet I’m far from afraid.  The lion, along with the other wildlife we’ve seen here in Africa, represents all that’s great — or could be — in the world — the gift we’ve all been given.  And, fortunately, Africa is proving effective at preserving its gift.  I’m wishing I could say the same thing about the United States.

Jabulani 376 My eleven-year-old son sleeps soundly next to me.  I hear his regular breathing, punctuated from time to time by a soft moan or cry.  I have no idea what he’s dreaming of that causes the cry, or whether it’s his reaction to the lion’s roaring.  But I know how important his future is to me.  Not just his, but all children’s.  And I know what damage our country has done to these futures in recent years.   His innocent breathing reminds me of the obligation that we have to help preserve a great future for our next generation, an obligation too few of us seem to take seriously.

Even though we’re in the bush, my blackberry can pick up — sporadically — a cellphone signal from an adjacent town.  It’s stronger at night than during the day, although erratic at best.  Nevertheless, I can use my blackberry to occasionally get an update on the decisions made by the voters of North Carolina and Indiana.  South Africa is six hours ahead of the east coast of the United States, though, so the polls don’t close in the two primary states until the middle of the night here.

Picture 312 At a little after three, I awake, perhaps in response to the roar of the lion, perhaps in response to a soft noise made by my child.  I instinctively pick up my blackberry, which sits on my bedside table.  I’ve gotten a New York Times newsflash e-mail indicating that Barack Obama has won North Carolina.  I know this means he ran quite well there, because the election was called quite early.  Thankfully, I know the worst case outcome from these primaries has been averted, and I try to go back to sleep.

A little later, another noise awakens me, although I’m again hazy about the source — the wildlife outside me, or my son beside me.  I check my blackberry again.  This time, internet access has drifted in, and I can check some of my trusted news sites.  I learn little from CNN.com, as usual, other than Barack will win North Carolina decisively.  But www.dailykos.com tells me much more.  He’ll win NC by close to 15%, a decisive win in an important state.  And after trailing early in Indiana, he’s closing the gap, and the race remains too close to call hours after the polls have closed there.  My son remains in his trustful sleep, and the lion’s roar have now been joined by a leopard.

Botswana -- Stanley's 056 I’m up again around 5:00 a.m.  Still no e-mails from news sources reporting on the winner of Indiana – great news.  Barack Obama doesn’t have to win Indiana; Hillary Clinton has to win Indiana decisively.  No news is good news.  The lions and leopards are now joined by jackals and an occasional hyena.  The wildlife is beginning to resemble our political process :-) .

IMG_0620 At 6:30 a.m., my son awakens.  We talk about the calls of the wildlife.  We talk about his own noises through the night.  I report to him that the Red Sox won again, a great start to the day.  And I tell him that our country took a major step forward while he slept.  The nominating process is over, and Barack Obama is one step closer to helping to ensure a better future for my child and his cohorts.  And I realize how lucky I am, to have slept in the midst of a lion, a child, and a future I might just be able to believe in.

The Perfect Guide

Friday, May 9th, 2008

Malamala -- Panasonic 282 We just returned from over three weeks in the bush of Southern Africa.  During that time, we had Trevor Carnaby as our guide and host.  We’ve had countless guides on this trip, some good and some not-so-good, but I’ve yet to post a blog on any guide.  But we’ve yet to have a guide as outstanding as Trevor, so I thought I’d let you know how great he is, and encourage you to use him if you ever explore Southern or Eastern Africa.

Jabulani 233Trevor has been guiding for 14 years, but in his spare time he’s an author.  His first book is “Beat About the Bush:  Mammals”, which we referred to constantly on our trip.  Like Trevor, the book is insightful and interesting.  He is based in Pretoria, South Africa, but travels all over Southern and Eastern Africa.

Namibia II 019 For starters, Trevor knows more about wildlife than it would seem possible for any single human to know.  Whether we’d see a bird, reptile, amphibian, mammal, insect, or plant, he could readily identify it, and talk to us in engaging terms about what is so interesting about it.  Each day was like the best science lecture you’ve ever had!  He also has a keen eye, and regularly finds things (like chameleons) that no one else would notice.  He’s also an expert in South African history, photography, astronomy, and having fun!

Botswana -- Stanley's 422 Spending 23 straight days with a guide is not easy — for him or for us — but Trevor made it delightful.  He is considerate, a great conversationalist, and so funny.  At many of our dinners, my side would hurt from laughing at the stories he told.  If you ever meet him, be sure to ask him about Chad, Rupert, and the Miss Universe contestants. 

Botswana -- Stanley's 015 A couple of anecdotes will illustrate what Trevor Carnaby is all about.  Over the course of the trip, we reached the point where someone (usually Trevor) would see a bird across a lake on the far shore, eating something small.  Invariably, Sterling would ask him, “What is it that the bird is eating?”  And he’d almost always be able to identify it, and add a story about the predator/prey relationship. 

Malamala -- Panasonic 277 The incident that sticks out most in my mind is one morning when we were out exploring, and Trevor had arranged for us to have a breakfast cookout.  We learned how to build a fire without matches, got a hot fire going, set up a make-shift stove, and began the process of cooking breakfast.  They had packed pancake batter in a  metal thermos, and someone put it near (way too near!!) the fire.  When it came time to cook the pancakes, another guide passed Trevor Malamala -- Panasonic 322the Thermos, but had taken the top off, and were holding it by the insulated handle.  Trevor, not knowing it was sitting by the fire, received the metal container in his bare hand, never said a word, and gently put it down so as not to spill the pancake batter.  His hand blistered badly from the burn, but he never complained, and proceeded to help our kids chase down lizards!

Over the time we spent with Trevor, he became a fifth member of our family, and our children still talk about him many times an hour.  “What do you think Trevor thinks this is?”  “Where would Trevor look for a reptile here?”  “Would Trevor think it’s ok to pick this up?”  All of us loved being with him, and he made our stay in Southern Africa just unbelievably enjoyable, for which we are very grateful.  If you need to reach him, his e-mail address is tcarnaby@abercrombiekent.co.bw.