The Last Blog – Zinkwaze South Africa and Kelsey Graduates!

Our beachside home

Our beachside home

Alas, my African sojourn has come to an end. My last few days on the Dark Continent were spent on the beautiful Kwazulu-Natal coast of South Africa north of Durban in an opulent beach house owned by Anne’s sister-in-law who lives in Capetown.

We knocked around there for three days, filling up only a tiny bit of the large residence (“Which living room should we sit in this evening?”) and enjoying sun bathing by the pool and daily forays to the beach.

On Zinkwaze beach

On Zinkwaze beach

What a journey from my simple lifestyle for six months at Sega school in Tanzania to my busy month working on the Girls Negotiation project in Zambia, followed by the varied tourist adventures of the past few weeks in Zimbabwe, Botswana, and Namibia, with a final exit point of total luxury in South Africa. My head is spinning!

Zulu basket

Zulu basket

While at Zinkwaze beach, I admired the Zulu baskets that were part of the home’s décor along with the lovely paintings by Anne’s late father in law, all of which appealed to my interest in art collecting and interior design.  I wanted to buy an open Zulu basket to display the ostrich eggs I’d brought from Namibia but the place to buy them, Ilala Weavers, was a two hour drive north of where we were staying and this amount of excess driving didn’t fit with our focus on relaxation.  Anne even spent some time in the hammock de-stressing from the excess excitement we’d had in Namibia.

Anne nap time

Anne nap time

We mostly cooked for ourselves as Zinkwaze is a residential beach community with little commercial activity, especially at this time of year when most of the homes are empty, waiting for their owners to visit during school holidays over Christmas.  The majority of the human activity in the area is the multitude of African hired help who protect and care for these vacation homes and are evident walking and biking to or from the home in their care.

After Zinkwaze, I flew to Montreal to attend Kelsey’s graduation from McGill. I had a house exchange banked from a few years ago so my dad, Gail, and I lived in comfort in a lovely Montreal home in the leafy neighborhood of Westmount.  It was cold and rainy at first which was a bit of a shock after so much African sunshine over the past several months and I was woefully underprepared, especially in the footwear department as I had only sandals and a pair of running shoes.  Luckily, I was able to borrow one of Kelsey’s roommate’s Hunter boots, a life saver.

The graduate

The graduate

Kelsey graduated this afternoon.  Congratulations Kels!  It was a beautiful, sunny day and the graduation was an efficient, well-oiled event that lasted exactly two hours.  Afterwards, we hosted a party here at our nice exchange home for Kelsey, two other graduating girls, their families and many of Kelsey’s friends.  It was fun to meet everyone and celebrate such a happy event.

Kelsey returns to Berkeley in a few days to start studying for the MCAT’s in August.  In October,  she is off to the Virginia Hospital Center in Arlington, VA to intern with Dr. John Garrett, a heart surgeon, for eight months before applying to medical school next summer.  It’s fun to finish the blog this way since it started when I dropped Fraser off for his first year at Drexel University in Philadelphia and it’s ending with Kelsey’s graduation from McGill – nice symmetry!

There is the possibility that I will go back to Africa soon as the folks running the Girls Negotiation project in Zambia have asked if I would return to manage it through to completion, which would be at least until the end of this year and possibly through the middle of next year, but I’ve made no decision. I’m just very happy that the time I had in Africa over the past eight months was rewarding and interesting, the people I met were warm and welcoming, and that I come away with a knowledge of new places, an awareness of different cultures, the experience of two wonderful projects, and several new friends.

Thanks for reading the blog and I look forward to seeing you soon!

Namibia!

Big Daddy dune and Dead vlei

Big Daddy dune and Dead vlei

I’ve come to the end of an exciting and varied nine days in this beautiful, sparsely populated country. With only 2.2 million people (to Tanzania’s 45 million), Namibia has the lowest population density of any country in Africa and the second lowest in the world (after Mongolia).  The emptiness and open spaces combined with the variety of natural landscapes is a unique and wonderful combination. In addition, the tourist infrastructure is quite good so there are terrific places to stay.

A Rough Start
However, this chapter of my travels had a hard start. My friend Anne arrived the day after I did and we had a lovely first dinner at NICE, the Namibia Institute of Culinary Education.

Dinner at NICE

Dinner at NICE

The next morning, a Sunday, Anne had her purse stolen (interesting story how it happened but not how I want to spend my blog time) so we had to spend an extra night in the Windhoek to file police reports and to allow Anne to go to the US Embassy to order a temporary passport.

By mid-morning Monday, we were once again ready to head off. Within an hour, with me driving, we had a very scary car accident that included several 360’s on the B1 southbound highway, a damaged vehicle, but luckily no injuries. My fault, I’m afraid, and Anne decided she needed a couple days to recover and regroup so she headed back into Windhoek. Meanwhile, with a new 4X4 from the rental company, I proceeded to Zebra River Lodge in the dramatic Tsaris mountains.

The Tsaris Mountains
My drive was a long one and for the last hour and a half of it, I was driving in the dark (and I mean totally dark), a “no-no” in an area with a lot of wild game that come out at night. Attracted by car headlights, they cross the road as though they have a death wish. One rabbit and two kudu ran in front of my vehicle and while the rabbit would be just a nauseating thump if I hit it, the kudu could have been a life or death experience (and I’d already had one of those that day).

Hike to the quiver tree in the Tsaris mountains

Hike to the quiver tree in the Tsaris mountains

Luckily, as I’d been warned, I was on the lookout and therefore quick enough with the brakes so that all three animals that ran in front of my car made it across the road.  The next morning, I took a guided hike and got a good look at the geology of what was an ocean a long, long time ago resulting in the amazing layers that make up the mountains.

The Desert
Leaving the mountains, I drove a manageable hour and a half to Desert Camp, my “glamping” (glamour camping) home for two nights near Sossusvlei, the area filled with beautiful, sculptural mountains and dramatic orange dunes for which Namibia is so famous.

Tiny pool at Desert Camp

Tiny pool at Desert Camp

Many springbok, the South African national animal, and oryx, a much larger antelope with two long, straight horns, live in this area, along with the funny ostrich with very strong legs that allow them to outrace cars if they so choose along the highway.  My dinner each night at the Sossusvlei Lodge featured numerous kinds of game meat I could choose to have grilled for me including eland, oryx, springbok, ostrich, kudu, crocodile, and zebra.

A dune near Sossusvlei

A dune near Sossusvlei

At 6:30am the next morning, I was off on a tour of the dunes and they really are spectacular. The orange color is due to iron oxide and is found only in this area.  After driving by and admiring many dunes, we continued on to “Big Daddy,
the tallest of them all at between 350 and 400 meters and climbed part way up.

After our climb up and run down the dune and some time spent in Deadvlei with its 600-year-old petrified trees, the guide drove us to Sossusvlei itself where the trees are green as they are fed by a vast underwater stream that is 150 to 200 meters below the surface (imagine those roots). He set up a luxurious breakfast for the five of us on a white tablecloth covered picnic table. What a treat after all that climbing.

Anne with seals

Anne with seals

Happily, Anne had by now recovered her nerve, gotten her replacement passport, and arrived at our next stop at Swakopmund on the Atlantic coast.  While I drove for many hours on a washboard dirt road to get there from the desert, Anne had a wonderful kayaking trip surrounded by hundreds of seals and flamingos.

The next morning, it was time for my sand-boarding adventure. It has been at least three years since I’ve snowboarded but I hoped it would come back to me enough that I could enjoy the stand up boarding and not just the sliding down on the stomach version. I did five runs on the snowboard, meaning I had to climb up the dune five times (phew!) and one run on the stomach board (hitting 68 km/hr). Both were really fun and while I didn’t manage a clean run on the snowboard, I was able to carve lots of decent turns. I know that if I’d had a few more runs, I would have gotten it down! The dunes in which I was boarding were gorgeous, though not orange, lacking the iron oxide of the Sossusvlei area.

Dune boarding!

Dune boarding!

Anne went off and looked for desert insects while I sweated up and down the dune.  Ironically, Beth, who runs the boarding operation and has lived in Namibia for 18 years,  is from Marin county!

The Erongo Mountains
The last stop on our tour before returning to Windhoek was in the Omaruru area to stay at a spectacular place called the Erongo Wilderness Lodge. Situated amongst huge boulder strewn kopjes (rock hills), the lodge is made of luxurious tent cabins perched on top of the rocks. The main lodge has a restaurant area, decks, a pool built into the rocks and all surrounded by the dramatic views. It’s a place to remember and clearly well managed by owner manager, Roger, who happened to be present during our visit.

Erongo Wilderness Lodge, our cabin in lower left of photo

Erongo Wilderness Lodge, our cabin in lower left of photo

Between my guided morning hikes and the evening game drive, I saw a host of game and birds including a large group of Hartmann mountain zebra, a family of dik-dik (small, charming antelope with big eyes), klipspringer (rock jumping antelope), lots of baboons and dassies (hyrax), go away birds, rosy faced love birds, double banded sand grouse, crimson breasted shrike, a Damara hornbill, African hawk eagle, and the freckled nightjar.

Overall, despite the very tough beginning to this week, I’ve loved Namibia, both because of the feeling of space and emptiness after the press of so much humanity in Tanzania and Zambia and, of course, due to the dramatic, picture worthy landscapes. I hope I’ll be back very soon for a more complete tour!

I’m now in my last few days in Africa, visiting Zinkwaze Beach on the Kwa-Zulu Natal coast of South Africa with Anne, and will be in Montreal by the end of the week for Kelsey’s graduation from McGill on Monday.  I will return to California next week – so I am almost “Out of Africa.”

Victoria Falls and Chobe National Park – Wow!

The first week of my three week southern Africa travel blitz is over. I spent some of it at Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe and some at Chobe National Park in Botswana.

The falls from above

The falls from above

Vic Falls, as people call it, is a hub of activity. The falls themselves are dramatic and beautiful and some of the action revolves around them but there are many activities that have nothing to do with the falls and are simply located there in order to take advantage of the tourist stream.

The Zambezi river serves as the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe and the first thing I did was to take a walk to see the falls on the Zimbabwe side since that’s the side where I was staying.  This was a wet affair as they are almost at peak flow right now and so the spray situation is pretty extreme. In fact, I could see the spray from the airplane as I was flying in to Livinstone, Zambia, the town on the other side of the border. Even though I rented a raincoat to wear, I still got totally soaked including my shoes squelching full of water.

An elderly Vervet gives me the look

An elderly Vervet gives me the look

Walking along the cliffside directly across from the falls was impressive and, in addition to the beauty across the way were many gorgeous creatures living in the rainforest including bushbuck, silver-cheeked hornbill, and lots of Vervet monkeys.

That afternoon, I crossed the border back to Zambia to take a microlight flight over the falls. On the Zimbabwe side there are only helicopter rides and I’d heard the microlight was more incredible so I chose that. It was an amazing experience, pretty much like being in a hanglider with a motor, and a pilot of course.

Microlight flight over falls

Microlight flight over falls

I had heart palpitations as we were going up but quickly got used to it and was able to enjoy the amazing views of the cracks in the earth (visible at left in photo) that resulted in the falls along with the falls themselves. The current location is the eighth for these falls and they can predict where the next one will be in 20,000 years or so!  I also was able to see giraffe, elephant, hippo and crocodile in and around the Zambezi river from the air.

The next day, I went on a lion walk with a lion breeding and release organization that uses lion cub walks with tourists as a way to raise money for the project. The lion population in Africa declined 90% between 1975 and 2002 so this organization, Lion Alert, is trying to help rebuild it. The two lion cubs I got to walk with and pat on the back, Thembili and Thuli, will never be released into the wild but they will become part of a pride that will have cubs that will be released.

Petting the nice lion

Petting the nice lion

The lions that have all the human contact resulting from the walks would not be able to make it in the wild but their progeny should be able to if they are not exposed to humans in this way. It was a new experience for me to be petting and walking with lions. You’ll note in the photo that I do have a large stick in my other hand, part of the safety procedures they employ in case a lion cub appears to want to gnaw on something – better a stick than a hand or a leg.

Kudu couple

Kudu couple

After all this activity, it was a nice change to get driven to Chobe Game Lodge in Botswana, located on the Chobe river and inside the Chobe National Park. It was a gorgeous and relaxed lodge with boat cruises on the river to see birds and game as well as those on land in safari vehicles. I took three boat rides and two land trips while there and saw several animals I had missed in Tanzania including a male lion with a black mane (gorgeous!), kudu (stunning) and many birds including fish eagles, giant and malachilte kingfisher, and jacana, also known as Jesus birds as they appear to be able to walk on water.

Holding a future croc handbag

Holding a future croc handbag

Back at Vic Falls for my last night before flying to Namibia, I took a tour of a crocodile farm. The farm has 30,000 crocs, which floored me. I’d expected a few hundred at most. What a production line they have and the shop sells croc handbags, belts, and pelts from other animals – not something one sees in Califormia!

So now I’m in Windhoek, Namibia’s capital, awaiting arrival of my friend Anne with whom I will drive around the dunes and the coast for the next nine days.  Can’t wait – sand boarding here I come!

Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow & Lusaka’s Cool Culture

Aside

Tonight is my last night in Lusaka.  Tomorrow, I start three weeks of travel through southern Africa starting with a visit to Victoria Falls, followed by time in northern Botswana and then two weeks traveling with my friend Anne in Namibia, ending at a house owned by Anne’s in-laws on Zinkwazi Beach on KwaZulu-Natal coast north of Durban, S. Africa.  I’m excited!

Yesterday was my last day with the negotiations coaches.

Emilia Week 2

Emilia Week 2

Emilia Week 4

Emilia Week 4

I was taken aback when I showed up for our final day of training together to find a large number of them practically unrecognizable due to hair changes on Wednesday, a holiday. I learned that it’s all about hair extensions, some from real hair but most synthetic.   For a mzungu (white person), it can be tricky to focus on the face instead of the hair in order not to be thrown off course.  I guess if I were here a bit longer, I’d get the hang of it.  One of the coaches even offered to work on my hair next time I’m in Lusaka, though no hair extensions for me!

Likando Week 4

Likando Week 4

Likando Week 2

Likando Week 2

Lusaka has turned out to be quite the culture and food find. In the past week, I have gone out to see some form of entertainment or out to dinner all but two evenings.

I have seen a performance art piece called Tujuka Must Die produced by The Barefeet Theater, a creative arts movement that works with former and current street children.

Tujuka Must Die

Tujuka Must Die

It started with the audience being led in the dark through a field in order to get to the performance space.  We had to sing a song in order to be admitted to the site.  It was fantastic and reminded me of something I could imagine at Burning Man, even though I’ve never been.  In fact, the purple tree you can see in the photo at left went up in flames at the end of the show.

The next night, I went to the Lusaka Playhouse and saw a play called “Not Even the Bible” by a group from the Copperbelt.  It made fun of a pastor who said he was trying to help a couple having financial and marital difficulties but his form of help was to have an affair with the wife, all the while saying “All sins will be forgiven.”

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Francine Week 4

Francine Week 2

Francine Week 2

The fascinating part about the play was the audience participation throughout – like nothing I’ve ever experienced. The night after that, I attended an event put on by InterNation, an Expat/Zambian networking group, with drinks, food, and dancing.  I met people from nine difference countries including, in addition to lots of Zambians, China (Tibet), Germany, England, Nigeria, and Canada. I was the only American.

Fantasia

Fantasia

On Tuesday, I went to Fantasia,  an acrobatic and musical event put on outdoors and well attended by Zambia’s white and Indian population but not so many black Africans.  In fact, looking around, I wouldn’t have known I was in Africa based on the audience.

As my friends in the Bay Area know, eating out is one of my favorite activities and I like knowing about new restaurants and where to go for what.  So, I figured I’d better check out a few of the Lusaka options.  Night before last, I had a delicious pepper steak at Marlin, and last night enjoyed tender slow cooked lamb Kleftiko at Eviva.  I’ve been to Smuggler’s Inn more than once and had tasty rib-eye and creme brulee courtesy of talented chef Jamie.  I’ve also been out for Chinese hot pot and had a delicious brunch so I’m back in my stride and ready to get back into the Berkeley, Oakland, SF food scene in a few weeks.

Baby elephant with bottle

Baby elephant with bottle

I also took a fun trip on Sunday to The Elephant Orphanage Project about 20 minutes south of the city in Lilayi.  This is only the second orphanage for elephants in all of Africa, the first being one in Kenya that has been operating for 30 years.  The one here is only a few years old but, like its Kenyan cousin, its goal is to reintroduce the elephants into the wild once they are old enough (10 years).  These babies are generally orphaned because their mothers have been killed by poachers.

As it’s been going only 6 years, its oldest elephant is 8 so there has not yet been a re-introduction.  The teenage elephants, age 3 to 10, move to another site in South Kafue National Park.  There are 5 baby elephants between the ages of 0 and 3 currently at the orphanage.  They drink their bottles of formula in under 10 seconds so I had to be fast with the camera.

Chomba Week 1

Chomba Week 2

Chomba Week 4

Chomba Week 4

It’s a world of difference between Lusaka and Morogoro on the culture and food front.  In fact, Zambia, or at least Lusaka, is experiencing an economic revival that folks tell me is fairly recent.  New malls, new restaurants, lots of action.  Some credit goes to changes at the government level, including tax policy, that is helping small businesses and creating an entrepreneurial spirit.

Many young Zambians who went to the US or other Western countries for university have decided to return in the last few years because they want to get in on the ground floor of this economic revival.  It’s an exciting place to be right now.