Saturday, February 25, 2017

Down in a Hole

I love this sign that was displayed in the mine. I want to get one for my house.
This is part two of our adventure into the Cullinan Diamond Mine. Part one can be found here. 

When I last left you, Mr. Deep and I were in a metal cage-like elevator with six other tour goers, George, and a lift operator, descending 763 meters into the Cullinan Diamond Mine. While I was not scared to go into the mine and booking the tour was my idea, it was one of those moments when one wonders if one has made a mistake. I would imagine it might be like flying in a plane for the first time having that strange sensation that your body is doing something that your mind thinks might not be the best idea. I'm not sure how long the trip down took although it seemed like a while. Maybe it was three minutes? 

Me having just arrived 763 meters below the surface of the earth. 
If you've never been in a mine before let me tell you what it's like. First, it's dark. Not pitch dark because there are some lights (as you can see on the wall behind me in the photo above) and everyone is wearing headlamps but certainly dim. It's also warm.  From what I remember George told us the temperature was 26C (79F.) I didn't feel hot, sweaty or uncomfortable though even though we walked the entire time and I was decked out in the suit and the boots. It's also dirty. There wasn't litter on the ground, in that regard it was very clean, but it was dirty as in we were surrounded by rock and dirt being inside the earth and all. The whole purpose of the mine is to transport rock and dirt from one place to another. So there was a lot of dust and everything was a shade of grey. I think they gave us masks in our bags but none of us wore them. There was also a lot of water in spots which I think helped to minimize the dust. The water and dust formed a grey, silky paste on the ground. 

Walking through the mine.

The mine is also very loud. We didn't hear any blasting but there were train-like vehicles that moved through the tunnels. You can see the tracks in the photo above. The trains were smaller than regular trains and were comprised of a series, maybe six per train, of small dumpsters for the purpose of collecting and transporting the rocks. The trains themselves were loud as they squealed and gasped the way that trains do but things really got loud as huge amounts of rocks came pouring down through chutes to fill each dumpster. And we were standing right next to these trains. We were so close that if we reached an arm out we could have touched the dumpster. You can see below how we all stood to the side of the track. Except for George, he got up close and personal. 

We were told how the tunnels were created with explosives and here is proof. 
Standing as the train moves by. 

While at some points during our tour rocks were poured from above into the dumpsters, at another point, each dumpster was tipped and rocks were poured from the dumpsters through some large metal grates. After the pouring took place, we were able to walk back and view the grates and see the rocks that were too large to fit through. 

Standing near one of the chutes

During the tour, George took us into a refuge room. This room is used in case of emergency for workers to congregate. If you've seen the movie The 33 about the Chilean miners, they were gathered in a refuge room as they waited for rescue. Strangely, that movie was on TV the night we returned home from Cullinan. 

 Not sure if you can read this sign but it is a stern reminder that the refuge bay is "not supposed to be used as a tea room." Below while in the refuge bay, George showed us a map of the mine. 

One of the reasons I didn't find being in the mine scary is that there were so many workers there just going about their normal business. I managed to get a few photos of some of them. 

 Train driver

Woman working in the mine. 

Safety is obviously of critical importance and there were safety reminder signs everywhere. Also, the practice of having signs naming the employee responsible for certain areas continued underground. 

After about an hour and a half it was time to head back up to the surface. Some real live miners got on the lift with us and agreed to let me take their picture. I showed the photo to the guys and one guy, the lift operator with the glasses, said he wasn't ready when I took it so I took a separate photo of him.  That seemed to make him happy. 

The only time this tour felt like a tour was when we ended up in a jewelry store at the end. No the Deep's did not make any purchases. 

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Journey to the Center of the Earth

This is the third post in my adventure series. 

Last weekend Mr. Deep and I visited a town called Cullinan located in Gauteng near the border of Mpumalanga province about one and a half hours from where we live. While we were there we took a fascinating tour inside the Cullinan Diamond Mine.  Prior to this adventure my knowledge of mining was limited to what I learned while watching Coal Miner's Daughter. I had never been near let alone inside a mine. The Cullinan mine is well known because the world's largest diamond was found there in 1905. Today, pieces cut from that diamond are found in Queen Elizabeth's crown and scepter. The Cullinan Diamond mine remains operational today.

We booked our tour with a company called Cullinan Tours. They offer numerous surface tours (you stay on the surface of the earth instead of going inside it) throughout the week but the only time the underground tour is held on the weekend is on Saturday morning at 8:00 a.m. Even though Mr. Deep and I don't sleep all that late these days, it was still an effort to get from where we were staying about 35 minutes away from Cullinan by 8:00 a.m. When we arrived, we were also confused about exactly where to go and had to call the tour company for clarification. Luckily, we were just around the corner from where we needed to be and we managed to arrive by 8:00. When we got there they were just opening up shop and we quickly realized there had been no need to rush. 

Mr. Deep standing next to a replica of the Cullinan Diamond Mine.
Once the doors opened we were told that they were unable to accept a credit card for payment. They had a credit card machine but the lady there didn't know how to use it and so Mr. Deep had to run to the ATM so that we could pay in cash (tour cost was R550 per person.) Once all the tour goers arrived and paid, we got suited up. It likely won't surprise you that the main reason that I wanted to visit the mine was because I wanted to wear the suit. Each of us were given a jumpsuit with a big belt, thick socks, rubber boots and a hard hat. There were lockers to store our clothes and personal belongings. Once everyone was dressed and our items were locked up, we were told that we could not bring cell phones into the mine (it makes sense as they have explosives down there) so everyone had to go back to his/her locker to put the phones away. Next, we were told that we couldn't bring bags into the mine, so everyone had to go back to his/her locker to put their bags away. 

We were introduced to George our tour guide. Mr. Deep and I estimate that George is at least 80 years old. He said he worked in the mine for 38 years and retired in 1993 - thanks to Mr. Deep for his help with the math on this one. George is what Mr. Deep accurately described as a hoot. In addition to having a great personality George was extremely knowledgeable about the history and workings of the mine. He was the best tour guide I've ever had at any museum or anywhere as his presentation and the information he shared with us was not canned at all. The guide and the tour were 100% genuine. As we visited the mine we observed what would have been happening on that day had we been there or not. 

George gave us a short tour of the Cullinan Diamond museum and educated us about kimberlite, which is a blueish rock where diamonds may be found.
Finally, after about an hour of paying, dressing, locking things up and listening to George, we got into a vehicle and headed down the street to the mine. We had a quick tour of the surface before it was time to finalize our preparations and go in. 

Cullinan Diamond Mine. 
Every few minutes huge dumpsters full of rock are brought to the surface via these shafts. I am not sure how much rock they bring up each day but they get 65 carats from each 100 tons of rock. 
I told you this tour was genuine! 

As haphazard as things began with our tour, once we reached the mine, everything was extremely organized with tremendous attention to detail and safety. We had to watch a mandatory safety video to learn how to use the Afrox pack, a self contained breathing apparatus to be used in case of emergency. There are SEVEN steps involved in getting the Afrox pack to function. While it seems self explanatory that if a mask drops down in front of you while on a plane your going to "place it over your nose and mouth a breathe normally," trying to remember the seven steps involved to get the Afrox pack to work while you are breathing poison gas seems like it could be challenging.  Following the video an Afrox pack, encased in a metal box, was attached to each of our belts. We were also fitted with our headlamps. 

The Afrox pack.
The seven steps.
The Afrox packs are the silver boxes and the lights are the blue bulbs and the blue packs. Regarding safety, notice how there is a sign with the name a person who is responsible for maintaining the items on this particular rack. These types of signs were visible throughout the mine. I think it makes great business sense to clearly display who is responsible for what given that working in a mine is extremely dangerous.

Mr. Deep getting his Afrox pack. 
The Afrox pack. Step one is to open the box. I do remember that. 
George helping me with my headlamp.   
Ready to go in! 
This is the cage that took us down into the mine. 
We were going to 763 level. That's 763 meters down (2500 feet.) They are currently mining at level 763 and level 839 is still under construction.
Safety warning in the cage. While important it was a little bit funny. 
To be continued....

Monday, February 20, 2017

I got got got got no time

For years I have been asking Mr. Deep if he and I can start a business together. It's not that I have some great business idea that I think would make us millions but rather because I like spending time with Mr. Deep (most of the time) and I think our approach to accomplishing goals would lead to success. Mr. Deep and I also have complementing talents. Mr.Deep for example, could handle all of the accounting and finances for our business and I could not. For some reason Mr. Deep does not seem that excited about starting a business with me. I think it's because he has a fear of losing money. It's also possible, although unlikely, that he doesn't think working with me would be all that much fun. 

Strangely enough over the past few months Mr. Deep and I have found ourselves running a business of sorts. Although our business is not making a profit and our services are only available on a limited basis to family and friends who come to South Africa, working with Mr. Deep in this pseudo-business endeavor has proven my theory that we'd make excellent business partners. 

Like many important inventions of the modern age, the cotton gin, the printing press and the flat iron, our business concept, Time Pressure Tours, or TPT for short, was born out of necessity. The necessity of trying to plan meaningful, fun and exciting visits for people coming to South Africa for very short periods of time. 

Americans are very busy people.  Unlike Europeans who may take a holiday for the entire month of August or Canadians who take a whole year off for maternity leave, Americans like to work as much possible and they wear their busy-ness and workaholic tendencies as badges of honor. Ask an American what is new or how things are going and he will surely tell you just how busy he is. As an American, I shared these traits when I had a job. I found nothing more satisfying than working all day on Sunday only to be able to hit send on fifty emails first thing Monday morning thus hammering my colleagues with information, outlook meeting appointments and requests for analysis. I didn't even have to tell anyone that I worked all day on Sunday, but believe me, they knew. It's not only work that keeps American adults busy, it's their kids who seem to participate in an unfathomable number of sports games all of which the parents apparently need to view in person and in entirety. 

Mr. Deep and I are thrilled that over the past year we've had numerous American friends and family members take time out of their very busy schedules to come to South Africa and see us. These visits are often very short, as short as one week, although our American guests will calculate the visit as longer because they like to count time spent on the plane as part of the vacation. 

At TPT we meet the needs of our busy and over scheduled customers by planning travel agendas that are relentless. TPT allows visitors one half day to recover from flying half way around the world but beginning the morning of the first full day visitors must fasten their seat belts for they are in for a whirlwind tour of South Africa that leaves no time for tardiness, dilly dallying, questioning of or revision to the agenda.  Guests "enjoying" the TPT experience fall into bed late at night thoroughly exhausted from such adventures as visiting Cape Town, tastings at wine farms, viewing wild animals, and going to school in Diepsloot. TPT travelers learn about Nelson Mandela's struggle to gain freedom for the South African people AND the intricate details of the mating habits of hippos, they feast on braais chock full of meat (at TPT we always make time for meals), meet people who were born and raised on this continent and take in gorgeous skies and awe-inspiring scenery all in a short window that might leave many begging for a break. 

Agendas are communicated to guests prior to arrival in an email detailing the activities planned for each day. Often, our guests are so busy, that they fail to read this email in advance of the trip and so upon arrival are surprised at the sheer volume of of planned activities. Under the guidance of TPT leadership (Mr. Deep and me) guests quickly learn that their agenda has been carefully orchestrated with no room for error. If guests want to stray from the plan or are taking too much time enjoying a particular activity, TPT management will firmly rectify the situation. This was best evidenced when we took Mr. Deep's family to Boulders Beach. Everyone was enjoying the waterfront and watching the penguins when Mr. Deep suddenly announced that in order to stay on schedule we had to leave immediately. He then began walking back to the van and everyone had to follow. Similarly, if the weather is conducive, we have been known to take guests directly from the airport in Cape Town to Table Mountain to ensure an opportunity to enjoy the view before the clouds inevitably roll in. 

Mr. Deep and I are efficient, decisive and we like to have fun. These traits combined with the limited time our American friends have to spend in South Africa formed the foundation for TPT which is proudly communicated in our succinct yet memorable slogan which we state repeatedly to ensure compliance with company policy "Move Your Ass!"

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Riversands Farm Market

As I look back over my two years of blog posts I'm surprised that I haven't written more about markets. Joburg is full of markets.  There are day markets, night markets, organic markets, flea markets, holiday markets, craft markets and more. I try not to compare South Africa to America but I am going to take a stand and announce that America needs more markets and when I say markets I mean markets in the South African sense of the word which I'll explain shortly. 
Interesting statue at the Riversands Farm Market
Meanwhile I haven't forgotten about the adventure series that I launched back in December. The purpose was to encourage me to explore my surroundings with a goal of writing 20 blog posts about adventures in and around Joburg. And so here it is the official post number two of 20 in the adventure series....The Riversands Farm Market. 

Back in the 1940's Riversands was a free range chicken farm in Fourways. This is back before free range was a thing and before Fourways was built up to be the the commercial, residential and traffic clogged area we know today. William Nicol Drive, now a main four lane road, was still a dirt road back then. According to the market website a woman named Granny LeMay made chicken pies and sold them on William Nicol Drive. Side note, when South African's talk about pie they mean something savory, not sweet. Something sweet that we might consider a pie would be called a tart. Anyway, Riversands Farm is no longer operational on the site where the market is held but it the market definitely has a farm feel. 
Old farm buildings still remain.

I love this homemade checkerboard. It was lying near the market area and I think some caretakers made it and use it.

Riversands only has a few vendors selling crafts, cheese and clothing. I also think there was one produce stand, but as I've learned in South Africa you don't need many vendors to make a market and you don't need produce for sale to make a farm market. In South Africa markets are all about vibe and creating a space where people will want to come and stay for a while. Each market has it's own vibe. The Riversands Farm Markets vibe is relaxed as there is lots of open space so it's not crowded. 
Live music

Riversands market also offers lots of food stalls, pony rides, live music, zip lining, a beer garden and supposedly a small little petting zoo (which we didn't bother to visit.) Many people bring their kids and dogs as there is lots of room to run. 

Mr. Deep with some rhino sculptures. We could tell these were black rhinos as we are now quasi-experts in the intricacies of African big game.

So what do I mean by a market in the South African sense of the word? First, a market is a place to hang out for a few hours or even the whole day.  Going to the market is not an errand one runs to pick up fresh fruit, It is a plan to spend to time with friends or family. 

Many times you can even book (reserve a table) and then spend hours sitting there at the table and no one bothers you or pushes you to order food if you just want to hang out. 

As South Africa is full of many cultures and tastes there is always a wide range of food available for purchase to eat on sight at the markets. Also, there is often booze for sale. Not just beer in a plastic cup although you can certainly get that. Many times these markets sell bottles of wine, champagne and even cocktails. 
Lots of space at the Riversands Farm Market

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.