Thursday, December 29, 2011

J'burg Lion Park

The Lion Park allows for driving through various areas to see the animals roaming freely, as well as a place to pet the lion cubs.

Giraffes have VERY long, agile tongues, don't they.
I love the zebras - very photogenic:
One of the white lions, apparently a teenager.
Ross easily wrestled a lion cub into submission:
Does he look hungry? He was about to pounce so Sammy stepped on the gas. It turns out he was just looking for another tree to lie down under. Scott says that lions sleep 20 hours/day.What a fabulous day and I think this is just a taste of what we're going to see in Kruger Park.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Visiting Soweto

To me travelling to other places means learning about the history and culture of that place and in South Africa much of that is embodied in the township of Soweto. Today we arranged a walking tour with Ntombi, a tour guide who lives there. She met us at the Orlando Police Station and as we walked through the streets she explained how the township grew and developed.
We walked past many, many small and barely liveable shacks, many roadside businesses such as barbers or hair salons and spazas - little 'stores' that sell mostly stuff like pop and chips. It seemed curious but apparently during apartheid, they weren't allowed to have businesses in this area so, despite so many thousands (millions?) of people living there, there are no real 'shops' unless you go to the main roads.
One of the many roadside barbers:

On the way, groups of children suspended their road soccer game to come running afer us, posing for photos and holding our hands. Some of the children had marks on their foreheads which Ntombi explained was still a custom in some tribes - cutting the skin ensures that the child will grow.
Ntombi invited us to enter one of the houses, which turned out to be hers. She recently purchased it and shares it with 2 others. It had a small living area, 2 bedrooms, and a bathroom - probably less than 40 sq. meters - and she served us refreshments (coke, biscuits) around her small table.

After walking past Desmond Tutu and Mandela's houses we visited the Hector Pieterson museum. Hector was the 12 year old boy shot by police during the 1976 student uprising. Following the lively and vibrant community of the township, the museum was quite stark and sobering. The reason the students were protesting was because the government was requiring that all their schooling be in Afrikaans, which none of them spoke, including the teachers. This amounted to the same thing as giving them no education at all. Several hundred students were shot by police that day, some as young as 7.

A ride on a mini bus took us back to the police station and the end of the tour. Mini buses in South Africa are an interesting form of transportation - more about them later! We did arrive safely in case you were worried.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Riverside Christmas

This year we had to postpone our traditional Christmas Eve fondue in favour of Sam's sister Kate's wonderful dinner, eaten outdoors beside the pool. After dinner Kate and Nic sent a paper lantern aloft.
Present opening took place Christmas Eve (apparently their tradition but to our dismay!) Scott got the most presents for the first time in his life - apparently Mike generally gets more. The stack of presents quickly outgrew the space under the tiny tree so we moved it all into the middle of the room. Sammy was in charge of distribution.

When Sam said we were going to spend Christmas day at her uncle's 'weekend home' by the river I hadn't pictured this beautiful mansion.
There were about 25 of us eating an out door feast with ham, lamb and even turkey.
We later had a sunset boat ride down the river to cap off one of our more unusual Christmases. As you can see by this photo some people actually do get into the spirit of things.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Getting in the Christmas spirit

Not the only decoration I've seen but this is pretty typical of the extent of the decorations I've seen around South Africa. "Why don't we throw a piece of tinsel over this vase of bullrushes?" This was in the train lounge in Cape Town.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Premier classe

Hopped on the train from Cape Town to Johannesburg - a 26 hour train ride through the Karoo desert which wasn't all that scenic as you can imagine. The food was well prepared and since it's the only train in South Africa with a spa, Sam and I managed to fit in a massage. It was all pretty classy except for one minor problem - they lost electricity about 6 hours into the trip which meant no ice for the drinks and no air con. The lights started to flicker on and off while we were inside the longest tunnel in South Africa. Fortunately the electricity was repaired just before we headed off to bed. I can't say sleeping on a train is my favourite thing but definitely better than the plane.
The train ride out of Cape Town also highlighted the great contrasts that are South Africa - shacks on one side of the train, golf course on the other.
The train station in J'burg was a complete zoo - plus there was some kind of blockade going on in the nearby streets but we managed to make our way to Sam's mom and dad's place and enjoyed a nice cold one by the pool.
Scott took this picture just before we boarded - you'll see Sam and him in the reflection.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

The top of the bottom of the world

Weather here has become stunning - mid 20s with a slight breeze. So we took advantage and went to Cape Point yesterday - it's quite a ways up so Scott and I climbed while Ross took the funicular (little train thing). Wildlife alert - we saw some zebras, elands and dassies (little furry creatures related to elephants) but the dangerous wild baboons were nowhere to be seen. A bit further around the bay was the penguin colony, thousands of penguins from one breeding pair in 1982!

Today we finally did Table Mountain with unbelievable views of the cape. Scott and Sam did the hike up (about 2 hours) and Ross and I took the cable car. When we saw the state most people were in when they reached the top we were extremely grateful for the cable car! In the background, to the right of my ear is the soccer stadium built for the World Cup - Sam and Scott live just a few blocks away. To the left you can get a glimpse of Robben Island.

Friday, December 16, 2011

So many wines So little time

South Africa has 100s of wineries, most of them are clustered in the Cape Winelands just an hour or so out of Cape Town. We spent a few days there, in a sleepy little town called Franschoek that was settled and cultivated by the French several 100 years ago. Unfortunately we were only able to do wine tastings at 6 different wineries due to the leisurely, though informative, pace of each tasting. Unlike the Okanagan, where you crowd around a bar for a sip of wine, the tastings here are quite a performance, with the server giving the history of the vineyard, the wine and each varietal that goes into the wine, all the while seated in comfy couches or elegant surroundings, perhaps with a platter of cheeses and crackers.
The final outcome was 13 bottles of wine purchased (not including the one consumed that night) plus a bottle of port for Ross. I thought the Mini was already quite full with the four of us and our luggage but Sam's impeccable packing made way for all the wine in the bottom of the boot.
Fortunately the rainy weather we had on our way up to Franschoek is behind us and we're planning a trip up Table Mountain today, now that the 'tablecloth' has lifted.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Robben Island

I recently re-read Nelson Mandela's Long Walk to Freedom so visiting Robben Island was high on my list. After a 45 minute boat ride we toured the island by bus then went into the maximum security prison where our tour guide was a former inmate. This is the jail cell where Nelson Mandela spent 18 of his 27 years in prison. Apparently there are penguins on the island but we didn't see any!

Parking in Cape Town - there are no parking meters in downtown Cape Town. Instead, on each corner, there are parking attendants who give you your ticket and take your money. I guess this is good for employment.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Santa flash mob

[Unfortunately I've had some issues uploading photos with my iPad, combined with Internet problems so my blogging has not been up to par. I'll figure it out somehow but in the meantime here's a bit of info.]

With an 8 hour layover in London, we hopped on the express train from Heathrow and were in Paddington Station in 15 mins. After a short tube ride to Picadilly Circus we came above ground in the middle of a Santa Claus flash mob. There had to be about 300 of them - having a jolly time and leaving in their wake a trail of empty beer cans and litter.

After Scott picked us up at the airport in Cape Town we settled into our apartment then went out for 'sundowners' - watching the sun set while having a cold one. This is a beach not too far from where had our sundowner.

On Monday we ventured down to the waterfront and did a bit of browsing through shops and enjoying some time looking around.

Unfortunately the weather isn't being too nice to us but we head to wine country tomorrow!

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

My Email to Harper Collins a few weeks ago

I still haven't received a reply.

Subject: Before I Go to Sleep
I recently wanted to purchase the Kindle version of this book so I found it on To my surprise the price was about $17.00 which was HIGHER than the paperback copy of the book which was around $10.00. This is absurd. How can you justify the cost of the digital copy being more than 70% more than the physical copy? On it clearly said something to the effect like "this price was set by the publisher".

Instead of purchasing the book, I found a friend that had it and borrowed it from her instead. Had the price been reasonable for the digital copy (reasonable means in relationship to the actual cost of producing a digital copy) I definitely would have bought it as I had heard that it was an excellent book (and it was!). As it was, you
lost a sale and I'm most likely not the only person making that decision.

Publishers such as you have learned nothing from the piracy that has surrounded the music industry for about 10 years. If you're truly serious about making your product available to consumers it must be at a fair price. If I don't think it's fair, it's possible I'll find other means of getting book, such as borrowing. Your policy also encourages a viable market for piracy. Of course, it's also possible that you want to curtail the growth of the e-book market by setting the price unreasonably high. Apparently your profits aren't as high on e-books as physical books so it's to your advantage to encourage people to buy the physical book. Although I'm not sure what your motive is by setting the price so high, I can assure you that it is leaving consumers such as me very disappointed in the publishing industry and it's ability to embrace digital technology.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

CHECK - still a week to go!

International Driver's Licence - CHECK
Dukoral Vaccine - CHECK
Suitcase partially packed - CHECK
Ride to the airport (thanks Garry) - CHECK
New carry-on bag for my camera - CHECK
Electric plug for 8 hour layover in London - CHECK
Remembering how to post to my blog - CHECK
Excitement mounting - CHECK

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