Saturday, October 29, 2016

Wild Dogs!

It is my belief that a person can go on hundreds of game drives over the course of his or her life and never be bored. Hopefully the same applies to people who read a blog that contains frequent posts about game drives. Hopefully it does not become boring after a while.

I think game drives are like snowflakes, fingerprints and zebras in that no two are alike. Sometimes game drives are action packed with many different sightings. Sometimes they are thrilling as you may watch an animal stalking prey.  Other times, you may quietly watch an animal as it relaxes, drinks from a water hole or minds its babies. 

Recently we brought family visiting from the U.S.A. to the Ivory Tree Game Lodge in Pilanesberg National Park. It was the first safari experience for the group and I am happy to say everyone loved it. Happy because as SVP of Household Operations, I planned the whole holiday.  Our guide, Ryan, was excellent and we had many exciting and special sightings. 

On the first game drive after dark we spotted a leopard. Leopards are not something that you see everyday and we tried to tell our guests that but they were too busy being amazed to listen. Mr. Deep and I have heard stories of people who are desperate to see a leopard because despite years of trying they never have. 

Not a great photo.

Sometimes within minutes of the start of a game drive something fantastic happens, right out of the gate as they say, and that's what happened to us the day that we spotted a small pack of three African wild dogs

Ryan called wild dogs the "holy grail" of game viewing and he was so excited that we got to see them that he took out his camera out and was taking pictures. He said it had been three months since he had seen wild dogs.  When writing this, I couldn't remember why exactly wild dogs are such a rare sighting so I had to ask resident expert (on everything) Mr. Deep and he explained that they are endangered, have very large territories, move quickly and spend time hiding in dens. 

Ryan told us that the three that we saw broke away from a larger pack.  We watched them for a long while and eventually they came closer enabling some super photos! 

While the cheetah is the fastest land animal, wild dogs can run very fast (up to about 35 miles per hour) for long periods of time. Cheetahs cannot run fast for extended time periods. Wild dogs hunt in packs and are considered to be the most efficient hunters.

While in Pilanesberg we also enjoyed some more animal sightings.  

Hippo out of water. Another rare thing to see. 
Yes the birdman is still at it. 
Weaver bird building a nest. 

The family with ranger extraordinaire Ryan.

Monday, October 24, 2016

The Bubble

Just because I moved nearly 8,000 miles (13,000 km) from home doesn't mean I don't get stuck in my own little bubble sometimes. Poking a sharp object at the walls of your bubble requires constant focus and effort I think, no matter where you live. We all get into routines. We like to eat at the same restaurants over and over, we like to have friends who are similar to us and who think the same things are laugh out loud funny even if we've already laughed about those same things a hundred times before. 

In Joburg, being adventurous carries an extra element of complexity. Because of the crime problem, most of us, expats and non, spend a lot of time looking over our shoulders, staying put in our own neighborhoods and avoiding talking to people who could possibly be dangerous.  And that's the funny thing about moving to Joburg, you're automatically brave for doing it but you can easily end up living in a bubble surrounded by other expats, guards, gates and walls. 

Of course I want to be safe but I don't want to live in a bubble. So I try to take small steps on a regular basis to make sure I'm not getting too comfortable.  

Recently, I stopped to talk with a guy who has set up a "shop" on the side of the road near our house. He sells potted plants and paintings. I think his art was originally created to market the potted plants but it's my theory that over time he became more excited about the art than the plants because although the plants remain more and more paintings appear.

I had been driving by this guy almost daily for a while and wanted to stop and talk to him but there seemed to always be a reason that I couldn't or didn't. Back to safety for a moment, I don't consider stopping to chat with this guy to be putting myself in a dangerous situation as he is set up right along side of a busy road and of course I would only stop during the day, but I do think this is a good example of a situation that some others would avoid. If for no other reason than they might think we should not be encouraging this person to set up a make-shift shop on the side of the road in our nice community. Also, it appeared that he was living on the side of the road in a sort of lean to that he created out of found items. I am sure this is frowned upon by many of his permanent-dwelling neighbors. 

The man's name is Sisepho. He came here from Mozambique. I bought two of his paintings. The paintings are made on a white coated press board, similar to a shelf that you'd find in a closet. I asked him to sign the paintings and he said he didn't have a pen to do so, so I drove the three minutes back to my house, grabbed a sharpie and brought it to him. Even though he said his name is Sisepho he signed the paintings with another name which looks like S larlosmama. He explained why but I really couldn't understand the reason. He also wrote "30" in a few spots which I understood to be his age. 

The first painting I bought was clearly designed to help him sell plants. The second is a large painting of a snake which now proudly sits on the mantle in my living room. It's been about a month since I bought these paintings and I am loving the snake painting more and more everyday. To quote the TV shows on HGTV, this painting really "pops!" I asked Mr. Deep the other night if he didn't just love the snake painting and he replied that no, he really doesn't like it at all. 

The plant painting I bought.
If you know me, you might be surprised to learn that I'd put a painting of a snake in my house because I don't like snakes. But that's the whole point. The snake reminds me to keep getting outside my comfort zone. 
Snake painting. It pops! 

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Fabulous Franschhoek

Last January Mr. Deep and I visited Stellenbosch located in the Western Cape Province. About 37 kilometers to the east of Stellenbosch is another lovely area also known for its wine and beauty called Franschhoek. We were lucky enough to spend a day in Franschhoek recently with family visiting from the U.S.A.

The Franschhoek wine valley was settled by French people who came by way of the Netherlands in the 17th and 18th centuries. These French Huguenots brought to South Africa their love of wine and knack for producing it so many of the vineyards in Franschhoek are very old. The area also boasts lovely Cape Dutch style architecture.

But enough about history and buildings. We came to Franschhoek to taste wine and eat delicious food all while enjoying a views of mountains and vineyards. And that is precisely what we did.

Based on a recommendation from a friend, we chose the Franschhoek Wine Tram as a means to visit wine farms. This seemed like a good idea, as opposed to a private driver and tour, for our large group of seven people. Immediately after I booked I began to worry that maybe it wasn't a good idea. The word tram in itself reminds me of Disney and all I could picture were hoards of tourists (us included) drunkenly cramming onto the trams, pouring out onto the once peaceful wine farms and overwhelming the staff and the tranquility. Most of all I worried that if the tram was crowded and the visits to the wine farms rushed that we wouldn't get to taste enough wine. 

Driving to Franschhoek from Cape Town takes a little more than one hour. As we drove we noticed the area becoming more and more agricultural. Hawkers selling cell phone chargers were now hawkers selling fresh fruit. We drove closer and closer to a huge mountain range while cruising by bright green pastures with horses and cattle on the side of the road. I do remember thinking Stellenbosch was beautiful, but I think Franschhoek is even prettier although ideally if you are in the area you would visit both. 

When we arrived, we were dropped off by our driver at the Wine Tram ticket booth. We checked in and talked with a very helpful staff member who gave us all the information we needed for our trip. I had chosen the 11:30 a.m. departure on the red route (there are numerous routes of all different colors so you could go on the wine tram more than once and visit some new wine farms each time.) At the tram office the staff helped us to select which farms to stop at based on our wine preferences. People who prefer white wine may be directed to visit different farms then those who prefer red. Since we were a large group of varying tastes I asked that we be directed to the prettiest stops as well as the most intimate so that we could meet a few winemakers. 

I had strategically selected the red route at the time of booking because it contained the greatest number of wine farms of all the routes. I may not be good at math but I can count when it counts. When we checked in we learned we'd only have time to stop at five of the seven wineries on our route.  This was actually reduced to only four stops because one of the stops involved staying longer and eating lunch. And by the way eating lunch is key if you want to successfully survive a day of wine tasting. The price of the tram (R220 per person) included a free tasting at one farm and a free welcome glass of wine at another. All of the rest of the tastings we had to pay for but they were quite inexpensive (about R60 per person.)

Once we got on board all of my fears quickly disappeared. First, the tram is not that large and maybe holds 30 people or so at one time. So my concerns about hundreds of people crowding into a little tasting room did not materialize. Second, and most important, the wine tram is extremely well organized. The host stands up front with a microphone clearly announces the time guests will be picked up (it's always a minimum of an hour that you can stay at any one farm.) He also clearly announced each stop. Guests can skip farms that don't interest them or that they need to skip due to lack of time. Finally, the tram waits for no man or woman. If you aren't waiting at the bus stop at the right time the tram will leave you and you will be stuck at that farm for another hour. I love things that run on time and don't deviate from the planned schedule because why should people who are late slow things down for everyone else? As the group leader, using the tram made for a more relaxing day for me as I was not spending my time trying to convince our group it was time to move on to the next farm. They all knew the schedule and that we had to stick to it. 

The first stop was Chamonix. We sat outside a beautiful white Dutch Cape style building and were immediately greeted and given a tasting menu. We tasted three whites and two reds. I thought their wine was very good except for the chardonnay which was apparently award winning - even unoaked I don't like it. 

Dieu Donne', our second stop, wins the prize of the day for the most beautiful location. It is set high up on a mountain with amazing 360 degree views. We stayed for two hours and enjoyed a fine lunch at ROCA overlooking the vineyards while sipping some chilled white wine. 
The view at Dieu Donne'

Next, we moved onto Eikehof, which was my favorite stop. We had our tasting only steps away from rows of grapes on the vine and mountains in the background. We  were served by the husband and wife team who own the farm. The wife explained that farming these days is very difficult financially and so being part of the wine tram tour really helps to get people to the farm to give their wine exposure.

Eikehof Wine Farm

For the final part of the tour we got off the tram and onto a train. The train tracks were built in 1904 and used until the 1990's. The tracks then went unused for years until the wine train began in 2012. We took the train to Rickety Bridge for our final tasting. 

An old Ford truck at Eikehof

Mr. Deep getting creative late in the tour with his wine tram sticker placement.

It was a perfect day. We had great weather, a wonderful lunch, met some nice people, tasted lots of wine and enjoyed a memorable time with our family. Mr. Deep and I definitely want to return to Franschhoek again either with friends or by ourselves for a weekend. 

Thursday, October 6, 2016

I Don't Trail

There is a phrase you hear a lot in expat life and that is trailing spouse. The trailing spouse is the person who followed the person whose job required him or her to move to a new place. I am a trailing spouse because we came here for Mr. Deep's job. 

But I don't feel like a trailer. 

I know that some people struggle with their role as a trailing spouse. Hopefully this post doesn't make it sound like I am minimizing their challenges. I subscribe to the walk a mile (or a kilometre) in my shoes mentality. I have no way to know what circumstances led other people to end up trailing or whether or not they wanted to trail in the first place. I only know my situation and I will describe it so you can understand it. There are circumstances which have led to my acceptance and love for my role as the spouse who came here with someone who had a job. 

First, I was part of the decision. Not just the decision to move to South Africa but the decision made years and years ago that we would be mobile and willing to move for a job opportunity. Mr. Deep and I knew that the company he worked for in the U.S.A. was global and that one of the best ways to move up the ladder was to accept an overseas assignment. Mr. Deep was asked on several occasions if he would be open to moving to another country. We discussed it and for both of us our answer was a resounding yes. 

A few relocation opportunities came Mr. Deep's way over the years but nothing ever came to fruition. Meanwhile, I was working. I had a good job. I was well respected, I liked the organization I worked for. I made good money. But I also felt trapped. I had worked for the same company for nearly 20 years. I was very busy with work, business travel and such and I felt like my life was passing me by. I was constantly in a rush at both work and at home. I thought about other types of work that I could do but I was too scared to do something that would cause me to earn less money.  I saw no way out other than having someone take me away and give me an excuse to start over. And then Mr. Deep told me he had a job opportunity in South Africa.

I have written before about that conversation but what I may have left out is that I told Mr. Deep (and I'm pretty sure my teeth were gritted at the time and I may have even poked him repeatedly in the chest with my index finger while speaking) "whatever you need to do to make this happen, you do it. I want to move to South Africa." I realize this makes me sound like a combination of Claire Underwood and Veruca Salt. But the way I saw it, Mr. Deep was giving me the chance to have a whole new life and I desperately wanted it. 

It wasn't about not wanting to work anymore because at the time of this conversation I didn't even know that wouldn't be able to work in South Africa. But I was attracted to the idea of living somewhere else, filling my days in new ways, meeting new people, trying new food and living in a different house. I wanted to push the reset button on my life.

The other thing that makes my situation different from others is that we don't have any kids. And let's all be honest: EVERYTHING in life is easier when you don't have kids. Except when you're old and you die and no one notices for days. But that's a blog post for another time. In our new life in South Africa I don't have to worry about whether any kids are happy or adjusting and I don't have to worry about finding schools and all of that. Of course I care about Mr. Deep's happiness but I don't care about it any more or any less than I ever have no matter where we have lived. It's the same as it ever was. And I believe Mr. Deep is pretty happy. 

Sure, I miss earning my own money. No wait, I miss having my own money, I don't necessarily miss the part where you have to go and earn it.  But Mr. Deep has never once made me feel like a lesser part of our relationship. He makes no comments when I spend money, he doesn't come home from work and ask in a sarcastic manner what I did all day. He doesn't roll his eyes when he comes home and I am in my grubby gym clothes sporting obviously newly polished nails. You might think well good he shouldn't act in a disparaging manner but I can't say that I would be so kind to the non-worker. In fact I know I would not be. There was a point in our lives when Mr. Deep didn't work and I did spend plenty of time eye rolling and worse.

Yes, there are things that I gave up in order to move here. We both did. I was the one who gave up my job but we both have friends and family who we miss seeing and spending time with. But as the "spouse who came along for the ride" I have gained so much more than I have lost. Having said all this when Mr. Deep tells me it is time to move away from here he will have to drag me kicking and screaming. 

"Maybe it's true that we don't know what we have until we lose it. But it's also true that we don't know what we're missing until we find it." - unknown.

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.