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Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Home is where you lay your head

Whether or not you agree with this statement it certainly is cause for thought. We are entering our third month of life on the road and we feel like we haven't even begun; how can this be? Two and a half months away from our fluffy bed, our little flock (both feathered and not) and the delights of a home where you have dug in your roots, is a long time, but it doesn't feel like it…to either of us. Maybe Gypsy blood does run through our veins, as my Nana likes to say, or maybe it is because home is something bigger than a place. Perhaps, home is something you carry with you: the origin of nostalgia, culture and comparison. Home certainly links me to a small town in Oregon, but I also feel at home here with Glenn, out on the road. Maybe I carry it with; home just may be where I lay my head.

Two and a half months in and we haven't even begun to scratch the surface. We have explored nearly every inch of South Africa's coastline, and broad swaths of the interior, but when you're talking Africa as a continent, this is a tiny little slice of pie. Yet we have eased into Africa with most of the modern conveniences of home. Our bed here is also fluffy, despite camping, my kitchen is dialed (a sharp knife, a julienne slicer and a larder full of South Africa's finest) and we have all of our fancy electronic gadgets to keep us sufficiently distracted. We are ready. It is time to hit the open road. When we run out of Rusks there might be some problems, but until then we feel like we have made the best of our time here in the Republic of South Africa. Life here, as a tourist, is easy. We have fallen in love, made friends and sucked it all in like a greedy little pigs, but it is time to get some dirt under our nails and hit the open road.

As I type this I am listening to hippos 'talking', that certainly doesn't happen in Hood River, but everything here feel vaguely familiar: store sell relatively the same stuff, convenience foods have taken over and 'real' food is best sourced at the market stalls. Oh, the hippo talk has just been drowned out by the clattering of Glenn hacking away at some fire wood with his new machete, which isn't a typical activity, but despite the nuances, he is my constant…my little slice of home. If it is true that home is where the heart is, then my home is both here and there.

Missing those of you who make our lives so incredibly vibrant,


Monday, April 19, 2010

Photos on Picasa

The site above should link you to our online album. Enjoy! 

Glenn’s Big Day

On the eve of Glenn’s Birthday we pulled into Umkhuze National Park to check out the animals and spend the night. We were instructed as to where to camp, nodding politely, as the ranger rattled off the list of park rules. It was 4:30, the park gate closed at 6:30. Cool, we would have 2 hours of prime feeding time before dark. Since this is a relatively unknown, small park at the end of a long gravel road, it appeared that we were the only visitors.

Not more than a few feet beyond the guard post we came across a vast meadow filled with kudu, grey duikers (deer and antelope kin), impalas, zebra, warthogs and wildebeests. Well, two hours turned into three or maybe four. It was well after dark and we were getting really tired. Since we were miles from the official campground, we thought it would be dangerous for us (and the animals) if we continued driving [insert sarcasm here], so we turned down a gravel road to find an unofficial camp. We set our alarm for 5:30 and bedded down.

By 6:00am we were packed and ready to roll. We’ve been told that the animals are most active in the early mornings and just before dark; since we had seen hundreds of animals the night before we were looking forward to seeing the early birdies. We were just minutes away from camp when we saw our first rhino. I can’t distinguish between the two rhino species, so we’ll call it a blackie, as the white rhino’s are quite rare, although they are in the park as well. Glenn was driving and seemed to be on a mission that morning. He wanted to see a leopard hunting for its breakfast. For those of you who grew up watching Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom, you know the scenario he was envisioning. We had been driving for about 20 minutes and hadn’t seen much, which is unusual for this park. I thought maybe we should slow down a bit; driving at this speed, I figured we weren’t going to see anything but blurry specks in the woods. Just then we rounded a corner and came to an intersection. We were stopped in the road consulting our map as to which way to go when Glenn said, “hey, what is that in the road up ahead?” 

“Umm, a Big kitty.”

Afraid that we would startle it if we moved closer, we just watched from a distance. Of course I had just taken the zoom lens off of the camera that morning. I knew it would be pointless to try and get a photo from this distance, so we just watched this gorgeous leopard warm itself in the morning sun. What an amazing sight. We’ve met locals who have never even seen a leopard…most people don’t. Slowly, we began to drive closer. I was frantically digging out the zoom lens, hoping to get a shot, but not wanting to miss this wonderful moment. But this leopard wasn’t in a hurry; it slowly got up, looked around and sauntered off into the tall grass. WOW. What a fantastic birthday present! I was hoping we’d be lucky enough to get a glimpse of one of these majestic cats, never mind the opportunity to actually watch them for a few minutes. Yeah. My first African kitty is a leopard!

You would think that it would be hard top seeing a sleeping leopard in the road, but I must admit, I liked seeing the giraffes even more. I have never seen giraffes in the wild until this morning, and I guess it has been so long since I have visited a zoo, I was completely gobsmacked by just how huge these incredible creatures are. I was caught off guard, as I didn't see them from a distance. I was looking out the driver’s side window at a big group of impalas, when I turned to look out my window, I think I yelled something profane, because not  10’ from my window stood the largest animal I have ever seen, a humongous male giraffe. I was in love. I have never seen anything so majestic. He was so, so beautiful.

Since that first day, we’ve seen tons of giraffes, but I remain awestruck. They have a gentle inquisitiveness about them and when you are standing among them they envelope you; it is the most incredible experience.

It has been a week since I wrote the above post. We must admit, that we have since properly identified our ‘leopard’ as a cheetah. Oops. Either way it was an incredibly gorgeous kitty. Just a few days later, we stumbled upon three cheetahs feasting on a freshly captured impala. We watched them for at least an hour; it was magical to see them so close. I’ll post photos. The animals up here in Zululand are fabulous.

Big love and kisses,

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Under the Transkei

 We’ve been quite busy sorting through all of the details involved in crossing Africa, but it is hard to believe we’ve already been gone 2 months. We have driven much of South Africa’s coast line and have ended up in St. Lucia, just south of the Mozambique boarder. St Lucia is so beautiful. There are loads of wild places within an hour’s drive from here so we’ve decided to make it home for a few days. Known for its National Parks, sub tropical beaches, extensive coral reefs (Dave there is good fishing here), lakes, caves and estuaries teeming with hippos and crocodiles, St. Lucia is a nature lover's paradise. The day we arrived we saw a huge pod of hippos in the wild…fantastic!  So today we’re off to find some crocks.
We spent the past week in an area known as the Transkei, a lovely part of Africa comprised of tiny villages connected together by a network of footpaths and dirt tracks with a few paved arteries feeding into the cities. We have steered away from the National Highways for the most part, sticking to secondary roads, as we usually do when exploring new places. You see wonderful things when you hop off the beaten path. As soon as our tires hit the dirt, we could feel the landscape unfold before us. Large, sprawling towns with their houses tightly packed and streets littered with garbage give way to green space, dilapidated sidewalks to foot paths and the cities nervous buzz fades into children’s hoots and laughter. Gardens appear. The shabbiness of ‘city’ life is immediately transformed into a vivid palette of colors, flowers and houses in every  shade of pink and orange, turquoise blue and endless shades of green. Open spaces appear. Metal roofs become thatch. Oh, how we love the back roads.
The Transkei is where I first felt that we had discovered the ‘real Africa’; whatever that may be. I guess it is a place that exists in my own mind (likely in all of our minds) an image formed long before I set foot on African soil, a place where the rhythms of life are less dependent upon European settlers, reparations and pity and more upon hard work, community governance and a sense of belonging in a particular place. Although that may be an idyllic vision, it seems truer here, if that makes any sense at all.
We are getting into the groove of life on the road, not that it took too much work, we’ve had practice. Glenn, having been here before, said that from here onward is where we will begin to discover the mysterious bumps and itches that are inherent to tropical places. When I started typing this post a few days ago I had just discovered one such itchy spot; one week later, the tiny bump on my calf has turned into a full blown, festering, purple infection that seems to attack the glands on the same side of the body. Glenn has them too, and naturally, is the first to notice their possible symptoms. He says it will only get worse…eventually we’ll be covered in mysterious rashes and spots; sweet. I have, however, taken the opportunity to experiment so my pustule is being subjected to a daily dose of teatree oil, while Glenn is staying pure and simply airing his out. We’ll post photos. Although mysterious rashes and itches are a minor inconvenience, we are still prepared with an arsenal of goos, salves, sprays and oils to deal with them. I am sure I will whine about this for real, at some point, but for now we are relatively spot-free and completely willing to subject our fragile American skin to Africa’s insects…within reason. Oh, and we just entered our first Malaria zone, so wish us luck.
I hope all is well wherever you are. We love and miss you like crazy,

PS: As I was signing off the most beautiful Blue Monkey (appropriately named for their bright, turquoise blue, ehm, balls…they could have just as easily been called red monkeys, but that is another story) just hoped onto the patio to eat the remnants of breakfast. If you haven’t grown up here do you ever get used to having monkeys in the trees?