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Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Here fishy fishy...

Today was one of those days I will never forget.

It started like any other day; we woke to clear skies, the storm winds of the past week had subsided and the weather was pleasantly warm. Breakfast was noneventful: I had tea and a rusk with a slice of papaya, Glenn had a thick slab of challah French toast with coconut and sautéed bananas. I wrote down a recipe for a friend and sent it off. We picked up our laundry and checked email, then Facebook.

Around 11:00 we headed over to the dive shop for an afternoon 'ocean safari'. In Africa, everything is called a safari. I've even seen city tours advertised as 'urban safaris'. We were told that there are whale sharks and giant stingrays just off shore, the largest in the world. If you're lucky you might see a dugong. Apparently, we just happened to time the humpback whale migration, where hundreds of these gorgeous beasts migrate along the Mozambique coast to calf. We would be happy to see any of them.

The ocean safari is part whale spotting and part snorkeling adventure. I was told that we would go out in a boat with two spotters and drive in search of one of the above… IF we happened upon one of these creatures, we would have the opportunity to hop in and snorkel about. It sounded fabulous. Not having been here before, I had no idea how likely a spotting would be. In my experience adventures such as these tend to oversell and under deliver, the formula for making $$$ off the sea. Whatever the outcome, we would at least get to snorkel for a couple of hours. And I have told you how much I love to snorkel haven't I?

Together we all pushed the boat out through the break, hopped in and headed out to sea. Well, it might not sound very eventful, but these guys seem to be of one driving school…a crazy one. They drive a boat much like they drive a vehicle, or a bike for that matter, haphazardly speeding like a bat-out-of-hell then suddenly slowing to a near stop and alternating between the two speeds in unpredictable intervals. We all hung on for dear life as we jumped and gunned our way through the waves in search of something.

Within 15 minutes we had a whale shark sighting. Somehow, I was the only one in the boat without the foresight to slip into my fins and mask beforehand. I guess I just didn't really expect to see anything. So while the other passengers were swimming wildly around, I was still in the boat gearing up. I hopped out of the boat into the water and just as I cleared the water from my snorkel I heard the captain say, 'There! He is right in front of you.' I looked down and saw most enormous creature I have ever seen. He was so close I could have touched him. He passed quickly by and began to descend. He was massive and so beautiful. I couldn't believe I got to see him up close.

We all got a glimpse of it, but were quickly summoned back into the boat in search of another. Again, within just a few minutes we saw the huge dorsal fin of another shark. Off we were like a pack of deranged seals, flapping about with hopes of a better sighting. But this time the whale shark didn't dive, she swam right on the surface, slowly and gently. I don't know how long we swam with her…20 minutes? 30? I was panting into my snorkel taking big gasps of breath so I could dive down and swim around her. Her movements were barely visible and I was flailing about like a wild person trying to keep up. She had a little companion, a stout tuna-like fish swimming just under her belly. I tried to gauge her size by measuring one of my boat-mates in relation to her. She was nearly 4x as big, maybe 30 feet long, or bigger. Her fin was as tall as I am and her mouth as wide as our boat. Our captain said they can be as large as 20 meters long! 45+ feet! That is a BIG fish. Eventually we tired, or she did and headed deeper. We hopped into the boat and repeated this scenario two more times.

The last fish was interested in the boat prop, so she stayed on the surface for a good 10 or 15 minutes with her nose touching the boat. Inspecting. We molested the poor thing, swam in and under and around keeping a few feet between us for the most part, but under water it is hard to tell. It was a lesson in self control for Glenn and me…we both fought off the urge to pet her (you know me, I wanted to hug her, but would have had a hard time grabbing on to such an enormous fish); it wasn't easy for either of us to keep our hands to ourselves. With only 1000 know animals in existence (300 of which live off of the coast of Mozambique), we knew better. Wild animals are ALWAYS better off remaining wild.

In total we spent at least an hour swimming with these gentle giants. Now I have had some incredible marine experiences in my life: I have surfed right next to a pod of dolphins, kited through a tangle of reef sharks (who actually chased me onto the beach) and over a whale, swam with penguins and played underwater with frolicking seals, as friendly in the sea as puppies are on land, but I have never felt such awe in the ocean. I was moved, touched, humbled. I loved it and shall never ever forget this day.

Make you day happy wherever you are!
Big love,


Saturday, August 14, 2010


We are back in paradise. Tofo, Mozambique is watergirl's dream: azure warm ocean waves, tropical fruits galore and some of the best reef diving in the world. I am in heaven. Well, I am a little sick (Glenn gave me a cold) but I am recovering today so I can surf tomorrow, then I'll be in heaven. I have to admit, lounging beach side with a cold - under the coco palms watching Lovie paddle himself on a SUP through the break - is not to shabby. If nothing else, the warm Mozambique sun will bake these nasty little germs into submission and if that doesn't work, I am going to poison them later on with a good dose of citric acid and a splash of alcohol for good measure. Oh yah. I could get used to this.

Well, we'll actually get quite used to it, because Tofo is going to be home for a few days. GP and I plan on getting dive certified while we are here. There are not many places in the world where you can dive with the whale sharks and Giant Stingrays just off shore, so we have to do it. We've been meaning to get our PADI cert for years now, but for one reason or another we haven't, despite being in some of the most incredible dive spots on earth. So regret no more…we are going diving. I have always been a bit proud of my champion snorkeling abilities, so I can't imagine forsaking my first love altogether, but I am really looking forward to going deep. Besides, certification in the warm crystal clear Indian Ocean is a lot more appealing than getting certified in the cold murky waters of Hoods Canal!

Just now a man came by with fresh fire roasted cashews…Oh yes sir, I'll take a scoop of those little gems. Yummy! Obrigata!

We need a break from the car. Glenn and I have not slept in a hotel room since 'The South Africa Incident' where we were both permanently tattooed by a nasty little biting spider/mosquito (the perpetrator is still in question). Glenn received 5 perfectly round brown scars and I got one. Cheap hotels here aren't the same as cheap hotels at home. Here you're lucky to get clean sheets, forget about warm water and electricity those are mere bonuses. Besides, with a down comforter, and pillows and crisp cotton sheets our bed in the car is so much cozier than most hotels. And at this point, we're on familiar terms with the critters that live in the van; those we can deal with.

Yes, driving south for 4 days to reach the beach side village of Tofo was a slight violation of our pact to keep the Cruiser pointing north, but we are suckers for waves. I have to say, now that we're here, driving 8+ hours a day over pothole pocked roads has almost been forgotten, every bumpy kilometer was soooo worth it. We justified the setback by telling ourselves that we can either skip Zambia and Malawi or, we'll buzz quickly through much of the vast uninhabited stretches of  the Sudanese desert later on. Either way, we'll make up time somewhere. As for now, we're focused on the beach. And I probably should start focusing on some sunscreen…this white girl is not used to this kind of sun; I've been covered up for months. It is winter here and trust me, it gets COLD in southern Africa...but apparently not here in Mozambique. Ah, paradisimo!

With my toes in the sand I send you love,


Friday, August 13, 2010


The last of our kickballs. 
Entering a new country is scary, you just don't know what to expect; especially when the country in question is Zimbabwe, where media stories present the mind with more than enough fodder for fear. Collapsed economy. Failed State. Robert Mugabe. Food scarcity. Hyperinflation. No fuel. Looting. Nationalization. The list goes on and on. But what we found was a varied and beautiful landscape inhabited by the most incredibly resilient, friendly people who, despite a long history of hardship, have remained absolutely curious (and hopeful) about the world around them.

Of course, with a leader as inept as RM, the infrastructure of a once prosperous nation is absolutely in ruins; so much so that when you do come across a beautiful garden or village you stop and take pause. In a country crumbling to rubble, the aesthetic of a few resilient souls is illuminating.

A school on the edge of Lake roof, over 50 kids to one classroom and absentee teachers. Unfortunately, this is quite common in rural Zimbabwe. 
In the land fiasco (reforms) of the 90’s, businesses and farms were taken away from the colonists and handed over to native Zimbabweans, sometimes over night. Arguably some sort of reform was necessary in a country where the majority of the people were left hungry while 70+% of the best land was owned by 4000 white commercial famers. But handing working farms over to unskilled laborers proved disastrous. Food shortages ensued, the currency collapsed, shopkeepers were unable to supply goods and many people starved. Even today the fallout from these land reforms is visible to the visiting eye. One experience in particular stands out. One night we rolled into a campground that looked nice from a distance, but once inside you quickly discovered that the cottages were inhabited not by travelers, by the new owner’s extended family; the once beautiful thatching had disintegrated and fallen in, replaced haphazardly with scraps of plastic…a makeshift substitute for a roof. Goats had replaced tourists, the swimming pool, a veritable mosquito breeding aquarium, and the bathrooms resembled something you might find in a 3rd world prison. When the owner came over to tell us to be sure to secure all our belongings in the car or they would be gone by dawn, we left. Apparently one occupied camp site was too much to look after. But then again the fallen down electric fence and vacant guard post warned us as much. But these experiences are just a part of the whole of Zimbabwe, a country oozing potential…someday. And from what we can discern one only has to look as far back as the recent past to see what the future holds.

Our first week in Zim we toured Hwanke National Park, Victoria Falls, Lake Kariba and Mana Pools. From there we worked our way south through Harare and down to The Great Zimbabwe Ruins, a 15th century fortress perched among giant boulders where a powerful kingdom once stood. Once home to over 20,000 Great Zimbabwe is Africa's largest archeological site south of the pyramids. Environmental degradation and over population eroded the once great kingdom and by the 18th century (when the whities happened upon it [I won't saw discovered it, as the locals had known about it for centuries]) only a handful of people remained living among the stones. It was breathtaking. We loved it. The name Zimbabwe hales from this site, meaning great stone house.

And we loved the company we met along the way. Good experiences are magnified through good company. Thank you Pantelis (Greece), Jordan (Vermont), Carolyn (Hawaii), the brothers from Lake Oswego, Trevor and Derek, you are bright stars in our hearts. Where else on earth could you sit amidst ancient ruins partaking in debauchery (beer shotguns) with a posse of kids young enough to be our own then wake to a holy Christian revival led, ironically enough, by the spirit of a dead American Zionist preacher from Tennessee. Ever heard of William Marrion Brenham? No? Neither had I, but apparently he has a large following in Zimbabwe and we have a new set of acquaintances because of him.

The following link will take you into the ruins of Great Zimbabwe, our Christian revival and our first days in Mozambique (you can distinguish these photos by the palms).
We love having you along for the ride. We are halfway through our journey, but nowhere close to Cairo. So we've decided to step up the pace a bit. When we saw a sign pointing south the Capetown 1,000 miles and north to Cairo 5,000 miles we started to panic. We might skip Zambia and Malawi, but then again, we might not. From here (Tofo, Mozambique) we're headed north up the coast in search of tropical warm waters and coco gelato in Isla de Mozambique. From there we'll decide where-to-next.
Big love and coconut kisses from us,



Sunday, August 1, 2010

Spiced Smashed Potatoes

I was introduced to a Muslim spice merchant in Cape Town, so naturally I stocked up. Even before we signed the papers on the car, I had boxes of kitchen gadgets, bags of spices and a case of wine ready to go. Priorities. Although I was tempted, space limitations prohibited me from bringing my favorite cookbooks from home. So this trip has been all about improvising…and I must say, I have created some really yummy dishes based on what's in the veggie bin. With a spice container the size of a large cereal box, the possibilities are limited only by imagination.

Here is my dressed up version of smashed potatoes, Indian style, a tastier (and healthier) alternative to the classic mashers with butter and cream.

Spiced Smashed Potatoes

Ghee or butter
½ teaspoon cumin seeds
½ teaspoon mustard seeds
½ - 1 chili pepper, diced
3 onions, diced
5 garlic cloves, chopped
3 bay leaves
1 teaspoon ground coriander
2 sprigs of curry leaves
¼ teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon leaf masala or garam masala
2 large potatoes, washed and diced
1 large cinnamon stick
½ teaspoon salt
¾ cup fresh or frozen peas
½ bunch cilantro, chopped
½ - ¾ cup yogurt

In a sauté pan over medium heat combine cumin and mustard seeds, shaking the pan until the mustard seeds begin to pop. Add the chili and onions; cook until the onions are browned.

Meanwhile combine the garlic, bay, coriander, curry leaves, turmeric and masala in a small bowl and set aside until the onions are nice and golden. When the onions are ready add the spices and cook for 2-3 minutes, stirring continually. Remove from heat and set aside.

While the onions are browning steam the potatoes in a saucepan with a lid. In order to retain nutrients, steam the potatoes using as little water as possible, usually 1/3 cup will do it. Add the salt and the cinnamon stick and cook just until they are tender. Drain off any excess water, toss out the cinnamon stick and add the peas. Cover the pan and let it sit for 5 minutes, or until peas are warmed through. Add the spiced onions, cilantro and yogurt to the potatoes and peas smashing the mixture with a potato masher. Leave it fairly chunky. Salt to taste and serve drizzled with additional yogurt and sprinkled with salt and extra chilies (if you like it hot).

This makes a fantastic meal on its own or you can try it served over a savory waffle, folded into a tortilla and pan fried or piled on top of a grilled portabella.