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The Bushman’s Tale: The Lion and the Jackal

We are in the Kalahari Dessert camping under an incredible star-clogged sky.  Our guest silently walks into camp.  His name is not even writable in English, and is pronounced with a Click from the tongue popping from the roof of the mouth.He is tall and thin, with long bare legs sticking out from a western oversized fleece shirt.  He wears a little flashlight shaped like a large plastic sunflower around his neck.  His hair and small beard are greying, but his copper skin shows few lines and is pulled tight over high prominent cheekbones and hollowed cheeks.  He speaks quietly, exudes dignity, and smiles with his eyes.He is one of the San people, the Narrow San, specifically.  Known broadly as the Bushmen of  the Kalahari dessert who are scattered in small, tight communities here in southern Africa.  He is here tonight to tell us stories of his people. He explains that stories are to teach children the broader truths in the world, and to teach them awareness and caution.  And he tells us three stories from his people as we sit around the campfire on this beautiful night.  And he doesn't just tell the story.  The telling is full of gestures and sounds.   Expressions and inflections.  When a lion hunted through the woods our storyteller moved his arms in graceful rhythmical strides and made the Shhss Shhss Shhss sounds of a big cat moving powerfully.  When the ostrich laid her eggs he tilted his head back and closed his eyes and squatted down with an arched back and trilled coooo coooo coooo - the sound that ostriches make when they lay eggs.  And when the elephant drank his long arm became the trunk that reached forward and down to the pool of water you could suddenly imagine at his feet,

Tourist Tax (Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe)

"I haven't seen toyi-toyi since the demonstrations," a talkative South African who is joined us today said as we walked past a group of Zimbabwe musicians and dancers making music and singing in full costume in the parking lot of the national park. Of course I ask - What is toyi-toyi.  And the answer is surprising to me.  It's a dance that came from Zimbabwe but was coopted by South Africans during the demonstrations against Apartheid to intimidate the troops with all the foot stomping and chanting. And this is how Mom and I started our visit to one of the seven natural wonders of the world ... Victoria Falls.  Or, as the locals call it, Mosi-oa-Tunya, which means the smoke that thunders - and this is a much better name for it. I was hesitant to come here at all.  I've travelled enough to know that places like this that attract mobs of tourists are inevitably painfully touristy.  There is too much money coming in from international visitors to a country that desperately needs it, and where the people desperately need it - to expect to pass through easily and peacefully. My Mom and I came anyway, calling it the equivalent of paying a bucket list tourist tax ... we get to see the largest falls in the world but the touristy hounding and herding is the price to be paid. Not that people were unpleasant - everyone was exceedingly polite.  Everyone introduced themselves and gave us their name.  Even the people trying to sell us the worthless Zimbabwean former currency with notes worth over Five Billion with the enticement "You can be a billionaire!" were polite.  The old currency was abandoned by Zimbabwe in 2008 when they adopted the US dollar. The man who asked whether he could meet us outside the hotel to

More Amazing Animals: Photos from Chobe National Park, Botswana

Two young lion brothers greet each other with play and a roar.  This is one of three prides in Chobe - a park known for its lions and where lions have been known to take down elephants.This bull elephant is washing his watergrass carefully before eating it.  Elephants have molers, and when the teeth have worn down and they can no longer eat, they die.  So washing the mud off the grass extends their life.  The egret at his feet enjoys the bugs and fish the grass pulling dislodges in a symbiotic relationship.These elephants came down to the river for a long drink.  They line up and protect the young elephants in the center between the adults.The river itself is beautiful and full of fish and life - a huge estuary of shallow brown fresh water that grows grasses and flowers and makes a haven for many species of birds.  The African Spoonbill fishes in the river estuaryA bird perches on the neck of this young male giraffe eating ticks as the giraffe grazes on the treetops.Three female impala graze in the female herd.  It's breeding season, and the dominant male is frantically running around trying to impregnate his hundred or so females, and run off all the bachelor males with growls and lowered horns.  Most births happen in the span of about two weeks. A female who is impregnated late will eat a poison bush to kill the fetal impala before it is born rather than give birth too late outside the window.  The poison does not hurt the mother.  Once a year the bachelor males come back to the herd to try and take the place of the dominant male.  Typically he is replaced ... he's too tired to win the fights after all his duties of guarding

Amazing Animals – Photos from Chobe National Park, Botswana

The monkey made a break towards the open porch screen door.  A spit second later I see him running out and screeching, double-fisted with loot.  Another successful raiding mission accomplished at Chobe Safari Lodge in Kasane, Botswana.  Other monkeys took their share of the prize with squawking and hitting in a family battle.  And after the spoils were consumed and paraded around for the rest of the monkeys to admire ...  the next raid began, despite the efforts of the employee armed with the slingshot whose job is monkey deterrence.   The monkeys clearly are winning the scavenge war. Note to self ... we will be keeping the screen door closed to our room.  And no drying the laundry on the porch either as I prefer not to see a monkey trying on my undies.And with that, i knew we had arrived in the Africa of the movies and the storybooks.  We are in Kasane, a small town in northern Botswana that is primarily a gateway town for the Chobe National Park - one of the best wildlife parks in Africa known for being the home of over 80,000 really big African elephants, a large lion population and a huge diversity of other wildlife.Not that the wildlife knows where the park boundaries lie.  Besides keeping company with monkeys, warthogs and mongoose, a four foot long monitor lizard freely roams the grounds.  And the caution signs near the water warn of crocodiles and hippos - and they mean it.  Awesome.One of Mom's bucket list priorities was to visit Victoria Falls.  So we flew in to that airport in Zimbabwe, got a double entry visa, and promptly went to Botswana to spend a three days at Chobe National Park.   But we'll be back to Vic Falls before we leave.  In the interest

South Africa – short stories and photos

We leave the Cape of South Africa tomorrow morning for Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe and Chobe National Park, Botswana. The cape area of South Africa was different than I thought it would be.  And different from most of Africa. It was geographically stunning.  Sophisticated with its food and wine and art.  And racially diverse, while still feeling very separated rather than integrated.  It could have been parts of Europe or Australia or other places that feel very familiar. But we were treated universally kindly by everyone.  And had a very positive experience. I do think that many people in South Africa seem very concerned about what the world thinks of their country - and them - with all the turmoil that still leads the news over two decades after it has shifted to the New South Africa from the old.  While I heard everyone express some frustration with what was happening in the country, it's clear this is a country in the midst of an enormous metamorphosis. And from the perspective of an outsider they seem to be moving forward. I'm sharing some photos I liked with short descriptions.  This is a fascinating place - and a unique place in the world.*********************************************************************************Jeffrey's Bay:  A world class surfing site, today the beach was home to surf lessons to very enthusiastic boys rather than the 20 foot high tubes it's known for in the winter.The Protea Plant grows wild over the sides of mountains in the drier mountains of this country.  There were many dead plants and blooms due to the drought this year, but some blooms still emerged ... a florist's haven.HIV/AIDs impacts 15-20% of residents in South Africa - especially those in the black townships.  This display in the Knyssa township library reminds people of the health necessities - and the humanity - behind HIV/AIDs.

WAY Off the Beaten Path

Mom navigated, I drove.  The GPS had totally lost it ... trying to send us back down towards the main roads, in the wrong direction, and "TomTom" was turned off in favor of directions from the website.Directions:  Travel 18.8 km on the gravel road.  At the Y junction follow the main road left.  (The directions fail to mention the "4x4s only beyond this point" big red sign, though we noticed it as we bumped along in our little chevy sedan.)Drive for 6 km.  Turn right on the small gravel road.  You still have 5 km to go.  (This small gravel road started with a big sand pit, which I revved up and skidded through, and small meant one car wide.)At the next junction, turn right if you have a 4x4, left if you don't.  Drive past several buildings and through two gates. (This turned out to be farm from some hardy family managing to grow something in this arid area.  We never found the junction with the alternate road, but given we had to drive the car through a small stream I think it's conceivable we might have picked the wrong way).And finally we bumped in to Blue Hill Escape, a nature preserve and research center run by  friends of my mother who she met while volunteering on an Earthwatch Macaw research project in Peru.  Driving down another bumpy roadish path and through another small stream and we arrived at our cottage.  No electricity.  Wood burning stove for heat.  It was cold.  I was cranky and tired from driving all day. I was eyeing the sky which was threatening rain and planning our escape route - wondering how we were getting this little chevy back through two streams if it actually rained. I had an image of myself covered in mud

Emzini

Children singing at pre-school The woman in the chair is still in her pajamas.  She looked nervous when Mom pulled out her camera and asked to take a photo.  The hairdresser is curling her short, straightened hair under in tight curls. But the handful of candy and friendly banter from Ella, who runs Emzini Tours in Knyssa, makes this intrusion OK.  And more specifically, Ella, the charismatic black woman who lives here and who started this company with a white woman from Zimbabwe, makes this OK. And it probably also helps that much of the money from these trips into the township funds the charity work that Ella and Emzini undertake in this community.  And I suspect many people in the community know that, too. And so we spent a fascinating morning visiting a township that is very similar to many around South Africa ... and where so many black South Africans call home.  From afar, these communities look like a hodgepodge of shacks and small wood and block homes clustered up hillsides with splashes of color from laundry or paint.  They look run-down, and shambly and maybe unclean.  These are places we did not feel particularly welcome without an invitation. But with Ella as our invitation in, we were fortunate to be welcomed into this township graciously. What could have easily been a voyeuristic tour - and township "tours" are offered everywhere-instead was a warm and insightful visit. Mandela cement house with older wooden house ... And an amazing view The townships, she explained, were formalized after 1994 when Mandela took office and apartheid ended.  The government committed to build everyone a house.  The "Mandela Houses" are simple construction from cement blocks - one or two bedroom, indoor plumbing.  Some have additions.  Many replace the old wooden houses that pre-date them.  Some families keep their wooden house

What’s for Dinner? Exotic Eats in South Africa

Bless her heart.  My Mom loves dessert.The end of every dinner is the inevitable question.  "If I order something for dessert, would you have some?"  Why Yes ... Yes I will.  And I love to share it with her.  So off we go - to early dinner or late lunch - and we can always count on a little sweet to end the meal.Ostrich, anyone?And tonight, after driving to the start of the Garden Route in the tiny beachfront town of Wilderness, and tucking into a fabulous dinner and dessert, I've decided I might never leave here.  View from our guest house in Wilderness Because why would I?  With the beach out my window.  And delicious food and wine a couple of blocks away.  And national parks' worth of hiking and activities out the door, it really seems pointless to go anywhere else.We just made arrangements to stay here an extra day.  I'm pretty sure tonight's oysters and sparkling wine tipped the balance on that decision.After the first few days in South Africa with no appetite - it's hard for the stomach to know when it's time to eat on the opposite side of the world - I'm happy to report that the belly is back into to full-on food appreciation mode.We are now having a good breakfast every morning at the hotel, and then a nice meal out somewhere late afternoon or early evening.  We keep fruit and cheese and other noshes for in between.  And WOW.  Is the food here top quality.  Lots of fresh, organic, locally sourced.  Creative.  Inventive.  Just plain good.  Not to mention the wine.  And, honestly, we do not get the good stuff from South Africa exported back to the states.  In fact we were told that the stuff we get as exports is a

Leaving Cape Town

Left.  Left.  LEFT!Looking down at Stellenbosch from the passMy Mom has upgraded from chirps and grunts in the passenger seat to specific directional commands, which are much more helpful to me as the driver as we head through the Stellenbosch wine country and beautiful farmlands towards the coastal resort town of Hermanus east of Cape Town and near the beginning of the famous Garden Route along the Southern tip of Africa.We navigated our way out of Cape Town in a rental car.  On the Left side of the road.  In the rain.  In traffic.  We did not make it out unscathed.  As I drove the five blocks back to the hotel to pick up our luggage I couldn't find parking so attempted to turn around and ... scraaaaaape ... Oops.The green Mercedes parked too far out in the road was already missing paint off the bumper --- you could barely tell where I scraped it.  But I left a note anyway, being a good citizen.  And overcame my urge to ignore the incident and beat it out of town.  The rental car already had a scrape documented in that area when we rented it.  But there is nothing like having your mother in the passenger seat to keep you on the straight and narrow.  The rental car repair ... now that's probably going to cost me a touch.  But then that's why we bought insurance, and have back up travel insurance that covers what rental car insurance doesn't.So beyond frayed nerves, and the very embarrassing moment of walking back into the rental car office a mere 20 minutes after leaving with an unscraped car to file an accident report, we made it out of Cape Town alive and well and headed out on the rest of our journey.Driving got much easier

Perspectives – Conversations in South Africa

"It would have been impossible for me to own my own business ... or even just be a tour guide twenty years ago.  Before, only whites could be tour guides and interact with whites.  I can't tell you what a difference there is between now and before apartheid ended".  This from a woman of color - Cathy - who is not black - and who grew up in a coloured township with parents who had enough of an income to send her to school with lunch everyday and firm admonishments "not to take the free soup and bread and take it away from those who need it more."  Coloured was differentiated from Black under apartheid - they were the descendants primarily of slaves brought in from Asia and the near East - and they were treated better and held more privileges than black Africans under Apartheid - though were still marginalized."As a woman, I was forced out of my teaching job after five years with mandatory work limit rules before apartheid.  They hired a bachelor to replace me.  You see, apartheid went well beyond race.  It impacted everything - male, female, race, religion. Where you could sit.  Who you could marry.  Everything - much more than race."This from our white city tour guide, Andrea, who has lived in the country for over forty years, but still maintains her German citizenship and pays German taxes.  "Before the end of apartheid and during the unrest I kept my citizenship so I could leave if I had to.  Now it's just paper, but at least I can get a good pension in Germany if I needed to go back for it.  Here, there is no safety net." Both women acknowledge the problems still here.  Cathy sees promise, and acknowledges the problems still faced here

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