Thursday, May 28, 2015

L'Agulhas: It's Only 6:00 p.m.

Today my parents and I flew to Cape Town, rented a car and drove to L’Agulhas. L’Agulhas is a small (very) and quiet (very) seaside town. It is the southern most tip of Africa where the warm currents of the Indian Ocean meet the icy cold currents of the Atlantic.  Many people think the Cape of Good Hope is the southern tip of Africa but that’s not the case. The turbulence caused by these ocean waters led to many shipwrecks from the time when Europeans were trying to find new routes to India and China. In the late 1400’s, the Portuguese decided that the best route to India and China would be around the coast of Africa, not across the Atlantic, the route the Columbus was proposing. L’Agulhas or Cabo das Agulhas means the cape of needles in Portuguese. Right now, you might be thinking about your elementary school history of the explorers and wondering if Vasco da Gama had anything to do with the “discovery” of this area. Funny, because we can’t find even a mention of Vasco in any of the books in our apartment. And trust me, we have a lot of time on our hands to conduct some thorough research.

Before we arrived, we were a little concerned when, after booking our accommodations online, my mom received an email stating that payment would only be accepted in cash. My parents and I have slept in some bad (very) motels and firehouses over the years and my mom and I are a little scarred. My dad however, has a motto that “you’re not going to spend any time in the room anyway except for sleeping” so he was not worried at all.

Lucikly, the Agulhasbestview apartments are very lovely, clean, charming and really do offer the best view of the coast from high on a hill. We have two rooms, a kitchen and a balcony.   

When we arrived we met two ladies, Frances and another woman, whose name we can’t remember. They are the caretakers and were very welcoming and enthusiastic, showing us the entire property and telling us all about the town.  Frances and her friend told us that two women own the apartments, both of whom are artists, and there are lovely mosaics, paintings and photos all over the property.  

We were really hungry after traveling all day so we walked down the hill which has a path that is covered in a lot of brush. Not to worry, one of the women told us the snakes are sleeping of this time of year. What a relief!

We went to a small fish and chips restaurant/market and had a deep fried lunch extravaganza and then walked down to the water. None of the three of us had seen the Indian Ocean before!

Beach rocks and a sponge
View from our apartment at sunset
A wall made with bottles 
The bottles up close

The question is now what do we do? We're not hungry, there is no wifi and no TV. There are no other guests and possibly no one else in this entire town. While this is probably a popular summer time destination that draws a lot of tourists, right now it is winter so it is quiet, dark and kind of cold. So we are sitting on one of the beds writing this post together.
Our feet

Thursday, May 21, 2015

The Real World

For the past 24 hours I have been thinking about two things. First, the Mad Men series finale which Mr. Deep and I finally watched last night. Second, a township called Diepsloot which I had the opportunity to visit yesterday.

I'm not going to say much about the Mad Men finale other than we both really, really liked the way it ended and that I am going to miss that show. I have loved every episode. The clothes, the smoking, the drinking, the characters, the whole thing was fabulous. 

Instead, I'll share about Diepsloot which is not nearly as whimsical of a topic. So if you are in a bad mood or feeling down, you might want to skip this one.

Diepsloot is not a cute town with a clock shop like Dullstroom. It is a township located about 20 minutes from where I live. It is a slum that looks like a refugee camp that you would see on the news. It's not a refugee camp though, it's people's permanent home. 

First, I need to confess something that I haven't written about before that relates to my visit to Diepsloot. I have a maid that comes and cleans our house twice a week. I know that is completely and perfectly ridiculous. I don't have a job and I am able bodied. I should be able to clean my own house. I could tell you that having help at home is very common here, I could tell you that we were told when we moved here we would be helping a poor person by giving her a job as a maid. I could tell you that I really, really like my home as clean and organized as possible. All are true but you might still think it's total BS and I wouldn't blame you. 

The "domestic worker" as it is called here, I'll call her Mary, has been cleaning the house that we live in for years. The person who rented this house before we did emailed Mr. Deep to recommend Mary and ask if we would hire her. He said she was kind, trustworthy and did a great job in the years that she worked for him. The former tenant had her coming in three days a week. I reached out to Mary and told her that while I really couldn't have her come three days a week, I wanted to hire her to come in twice a week. I increased her salary a bit to try to offset the reduction in working days. 

The first day Mary came to our home she told me that she has four children and some grandchildren. I don't think she is any older than I am but it is hard to tell her exact age. She said she was the breadwinner for her family and that she had no other job other than working for us.  As I've mentioned before unemployment is very high here so while I know she would like to find work for the other days when she is not here, it is likely not possible. She shared that she was building a house in Limpopo, another province about four hours away from here. Limpopo is where she comes from but now she lives in Diepsloot with her kids and the rest of her family. She showed me some pictures of her under construction house in Limpopo and pictures of her kids. I guess I figured that if she was building a house that somehow she must be doing o.k. financially.

Fast forward to Tuesday morning, Mary told me there was a taxi strike (remember the mini bus taxis I wrote about) but that she was going to walk to work. I told her not to walk, that it was way too far (not knowing exactly where Diepsloot was but knowing it was definitely not walking distance) and that if the taxis were still on strike the next day (yesterday) that I would come and get her. Wednesday morning she was able to get a taxi, but there were fewer available than normal so yesterday afternoon I offered to drive her home so she wouldn't be stranded trying to get a ride.

The first thing I noticed about Diepsloot is that it is packed with people. You know how you read about New York City back in the day when it was overflowing with immigrants living in tenements? Well that's what this is like - people everywhere. There are several small stores, and a car wash which is a guy with a handwritten car wash sign and a bucket, and people selling fruit and vegetables from little stands. There is a primary school on the edge of the town and all over the place there are little kids running around. Some roads are paved and some are dirt. All of the houses are shacks. I am not just calling them shacks, Mary told me "this is my shack." She told me that four people live in her shack. It is probably about the size of my garage. I couldn't tell if there was plumbing, electricity or running water. I have read that the townships do have these things but I am not sure in this case. I should have asked her but I didn't because I was practically speechless.  She wanted me to meet her little granddaughter and while there, I also met her sister in law and one of her sons.  I didn't take any pictures because I didn't think of it until I was driving away.

It's not like I haven't noticed massive economic inequality in the time that I've been living in South Africa. I've driven by townships before, I see people begging in the street. But when I drive into a township and see the shack that someone I know lives in, that is a whole different ball game.

Of course I know there is financial disparity in the U.S. also, but I'll save that comparison for another time.

If you are wondering, I didn't feel scared when I was driving through Diepsloot even though I am sure the people from our relocation company, who helped us with our move and our acclimation would completely F-ing flip if they knew about it. At one point when Mary was directing me to drive through these twisty, narrow little dirt lanes I did wonder for a minute if it was a set up and if she was going to have a bunch of guys show up and rob me or kidnap me and hold me for ransom. I did wonder how much I am worth and if Mr. Deep would mind paying to get me back. I also wondered if maybe she wanted me to see the horrible conditions so I would pay her more, or bump her up to working three days a week. That may have been her goal but a shack is a shack so it really doesn't matter what her motivation was. And the truth is I offered to drive her and she took me up on my offer. 

So now that I have been to Diepsloot the question is what next? How do I reconcile this situation? Do I just tell myself the world is an imperfect place? That South Africa and Mary had problems long before I got here? Do I give her some cash on the side? Do I have her come three days a week and clean a house that is already clean so that I can pay her more? Do I give her a raise, or buy groceries every week for her and her family? No matter what I do she'll still have to live in Diepsloot, at least until she can afford to finish her house in Limpopo and move there.

Here's a photo of Diepsloot I found online. 

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Dullstroom is Cuteness

My parents have come to South Africa for a visit. I am enjoying showing them around our neighborhood and the fun things that we've discovered such as the Bryanston Organic Market. This past weekend, we took the opportunity to visit a new part of the country, a town called Dullstroom.

Dullstroom is a three hour drive to the east and is located in the Mpumalanga (the M is silent) Province in a section known as the Highlands. This name is fitting because this town is at elevation.

Some of the unique things you can find in Dullstroom are, a clock store with the largest selection of clocks in the southern hemisphere (no, I'm not kidding), lots of streams - it's a very popular destination for fly fishing, a birds of prey rehab center, and some of the coolest temperatures in all of South Africa. It was still sunny and warm though.

Saturday afternoon my parents hung out at the hotel while Mr. Deep and I checked out a place called Wild About Whisky, a bar that contains the largest whisky menu in the southern hemisphere. They offer various tastings of numerous whiskey combinations served in small flights similar to a wine flight. I didn't have any whiskey, mostly because I don't enjoy vomiting in the middle of the night. So while Mr. Deep sampled I had some sherry (why I really don't know it just seemed like the thing to do) and played with the camera.

The whiskey tasting included a little pitcher with water and an eye dropper. After sniffing and tasting each Mr. Deep was instructed to open each one up by adding a bit of water and then tasting again. A picture of his favorite of all that he tasted is below in case you want to run out and buy a bottle.
My parents and me outside of the Highlander hotel.
Following the tasting, we all went out to dinner at a casual pub located inside the Dullstroom Inn. 

Sunday, before we headed back home, Mr. Deep and I went for a hike. At the top of the trail we were at close to 7000 feet!

Here are some pictures of the hike and the town.

not the best quality picture but wanted to show you a township off in the distance
I love this picture!
This is nice but why am I walking in such tall grass where snakes can hide? 
a partial bridge that we had to balance our way across
Autumn in May seems strange

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Madikwe Game Reserve - Part 3

this time a sunrise
Our final day at Madikwe we were again up early for our morning game drive. The search for wild dogs was forgotten and Gavin declared that we were going in search of lions. I think everyone who goes on a safari in Africa is hoping to see a lion.

Finding a lion may have been the objective of the day, but shortly after we set out we saw a leopard. This time, it wasn't a fleeting view of a leopard in a tree, rather it was full on sighting. Gavin took us off road and we tracked her (Gavin said she was female) for a while. At one point she took off in an attempt to attack an impala but she was unsuccessful. I also get the feeling she didn't give it 100% effort.

I mean seriously!
We felt really fortunate that we got to see a leopard close up and in action. Many people go on numerous game drives and will never see a leopard.

And we did get to see our lion. Don't you just love his aloof expression? 

It's like he's saying "o.k. move along"
After the lion viewing, it was time to head back. Before leaving Madikwe, Mr. Deep and 
I spent some final time at the water hole. We were thrilled when a whole herd of elephants showed up to drink.

Mom and baby
What do you think makes a great vacation? Relaxation, excitement, great food? Yes to all of the above? Tuningi Safari Lodge was an experience filled with all three and more. The more part was the people. Gavin and Heidi were wonderful. It is very evident that they love their jobs, the lodge, the animals and meeting the guests. Mr. Deep and I will definitely go back to Madikwe. There are other lodges in the reserve and it would be fun to try another lodge but I don't think Gavin and Heidi can be outdone.

Finally, we didn't end up with a pile of baboons in our cabin but we did see a whole group of them walking down the paved road right after we left the park. It was too fleeting to get the camera so you'll have to take my word for it.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Madwike Game Reserve - Part 2

I seem to be having technical trouble so I apologize if you receive this post twice. 

Saturday was a full day for us at Madwike. That meant we were able to experience two game drives. Game tends to lay low during the middle part of the day, so the first drive was early in the morning and the second was late afternoon/evening.

We met Gavin and the others at 6:00 a.m. for the morning drive. It was still dark and cold when we got into the truck and headed out. Mr. Deep and I sat in the back row this time. Gavin excitedly shared that we were going to seek out a pack of wild dogs. The pack had been sighted earlier in the morning. He was not only hoping to show us wild dogs, he was hoping we'd get to see a wild dog kill.

The search for wild dogs proved challenging. Gavin was a dog with a bone (ha ha) and he really tried to find them for us. A few times he got out of truck and walked around looking for tracks and signs. He'd then see something, feel confident he knew where they were, jump in the truck and speed off to search.

Gavin in search of wild dogs
Meanwhile, Mr. Deep and I were sitting in the back row in the "bounce zone." All of the wild dog searching took us through the brush and speeding down bumpy roads. By the time we stopped for our coffee break we were feeling pretty nauseous. We tried having coffee but that only made it worse.

We continued the morning searching for wild dogs. We didn't see them but we did see this character.

Upon return to the lodge at 9:30 everyone else went to have breakfast. Mr. Deep and 
I went back to our cabin to lie down and try to get the world to stop spinning. 

We recovered in time to have lunch at 2:00 and then we went down to the water hole to take a look before we had to leave for the afternoon drive.

impalas at the water hole

Interesting how a giraffe drinks
Gavin was still keen on finding the wild dogs when we headed out for our afternoon drive. Mr. Deep and I were smart enough to sit in the middle row this time. Much better! Finally, after a few hours Gavin had to admit defeat. In his words, "wild dogs 1, guide 0." 
We did end up having some great animal sightings on Saturday afternoon.

First, we saw a leopard, which is very rare. There is a saying we learned when you go on safari, "you may not have seen a leopard, but a leopard has seen you." They are lurking in trees! 
Can you spot the leopard in the tree? 

Gavin and another guide on foot trying to track the leopard after he bolted from the tree. I wouldn't be walking around looking for a leopard but these guys are professionals.

That afternoon we also saw white rhinos and another stunning sunset. 

My last post about our trip to Madikwe will be published soon! Enjoy the photos below.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Madikwe Game Reserve - Part 1

Last Friday we traveled 200 kilometers to the northwest to Madikwe Game Reserve. Madikwe (pronounced mad-eek-wah) is one of the largest game reserves in South Africa and is located near the Botswana border.  Mr. Deep heard about Madikwe and the Tuningi lodge, where we stayed, from one of his colleagues who said it was outstanding and that we needed to go there ASAP. 

On Thursday, in preparation for the trip, we finally purchased a real camera.  Up until now we've been taking photos with our iPhones and the iPad. I tried to spend some of the time during the four hour drive to Madikwe reading the camera manual in hopes of figuring out how to use it by the time we saw our first animal. 

I quickly remembered that I am not very good at learning to work mechanical things. In fairness to me, I'm pretty sure it's easier to fly the space shuttle than it is to use this camera. I am not exaggerating when I say I could not even figure out how to put the camera strap onto the camera. 

While I was busy with the camera, we were pulled over by the police.

There are a lot of stories about corrupt police in South Africa who pull people over and then try to collect bribes. I'm thinking the cop is going to see a nice camera, hear that we are American and then try to shake us down. I was so frustrated by the camera that part of me just wanted to give him the camera (and the unattached strap) and be done with it. The road block turned out to be nothing. Mr. Deep handled the situation and we were on our way, still in possession of our camera. 

We arrived at the lodge shortly after noon and the first person we met was Heidi. She is in charge of everything at Tuningi Lodge. Heidi gave us a tour of the lodge and showed us to our cabin.

One of the most spectacular things about the lodge is there is a water hole right on the property frequented by all kinds of animals day and night. Many of the animals will also walk right by the guest cabins on their way to the water hole. Maybe this is common at game lodges but never having been to one before, we were excited to spend our free time at the water hole. 

As I've mentioned before, where we live there is a huge focus on all things related to security. Features like guards and electric fences are common. Here it was completely different. There wasn't even a key to our cabin.  Heidi's one security tip was that we needed to make sure we closed the doors when we left our room because otherwise baboons and monkeys would come in looking for sweets. That information made me want to want to leave the doors wide open so we could come back to a room full of monkeys having a party.

We settled into our room and Mr. Deep spent five minutes figuring out the workings of the camera. He also successfully attached the strap. I swear the man is an engineer. This was a good lesson in why it's helpful to marry someone whose mind works differently (and perhaps better) than your own.

the human sitting area at the water hole
After lunch we headed out on our first game drive in an open air vehicle.  There were six people in total in the truck including our guide, Gavin. I'm sure all of the guides are very knowledgeable but Gavin was extra enthusiastic and excited to show us the area and lead us to the game. He spent lots of time leaning over the side of the vehicle looking at and analyzing animal tracks.

Following the game drive we all headed into the bar for a sundowner (happy hour.)

At night, the sky lit up with thousands of stars. If you have been way out in the country or on the water, far away from light pollution then you know what I mean. Of course, we are not advanced enough with our camera to get any star pictures so you'll have to take my word for it. It was like being in a planetarium.

Stories from our adventures at Madikwe will continue in the next blog post.  Enjoy the photos.

pregnant zebra

more buffalo the one on the left is quite old according to Gavin
our vehicle and Mr. Deep during our sundowner break out in the bush

About Me

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Hello and thank you for taking an interest in my blog. This blog tells the story of some big life changes. First, my husband and I have just moved to Geneva, Switzerland for a few months following a few years of living in Johannesburg, South Africa. The two places could not be more different. I'm excited to share our adventures, challenges and insights with you! My thoughts and opinions are my own.