Monday, December 30, 2013

Touring/Wineries

Like the good tourists we are, we decided to do a hop-on hop-off bus tour of the city this weekend. On Saturday we boarded at the waterfront and made the short trip to down town and Greenmarket square. Historically this was a vegetable market but today is crammed with hundreds of stalls selling trinkets, beaded items, drums, carvings, artwork. It’s a lively, energetic place and while we sat and ate lunch several musical/dance groups entertained us.  There’s a LOT of street music in Cape Town - some very young children dancing while their mother (?) drummed and sang, a troupe of older boys dancing rather suggestively, an older gentleman with a Louis Armstrong voice duetting with a guitarist performing songs from the 60s.

The rest of the trip took us up to the Table Mountain cable car (we didn’t go to the top this time) and then out around Camp’s Bay which is a very popular beach area. Although surprisingly not many people were swimming because the Atlantic ocean is just too cold here. Apparently it’s colder in the summer than the winter due to winds and currents.

We hadn’t realized it but we found out that there’s a second tour that goes to 3 wineries so we extended our bus pass to another day. We planned to get off at the last winery and make our way back to the other two. The first part of that plan worked fine, but by the time we’d had lunch (with wine of course) and done the wine tasting (5 generous portions) at Groot Constantia, the oldest winery in the area dating from 1685, we were ‘wined out’ and decided it would be wise to skip the other 2 wineries.

This picture is the consequence of getting a random stranger to take your picture. Perhaps there’s something special about that window that I wasn’t aware of.

We hopped-on the bus and this time the bus meandered all the way down to Hout Bay and then back through Camp’s Bay. The coastline is really picturesque especially from the top deck of the bus.

As it was a beautiful, sunny day during the Christmas holidays, the beaches and roads were jam packed and it took us several hours to wind our way through the narrow roads and traffic. This is one of several beaches along the way. If you click on it to enlarge you'll see lots of sunbathers but very few swimmers!
Today (Monday) Scott and his friend Phillipe joined us for a golf game at the Metropolitan Club right in the middle of Green Point in the shadow of the stadium.  It’s a beautiful setting and you can also see Table Mountain in the background in this picture. It’s a 9 hole course with 18 different tee boxes and 14 different greens, so it makes for an interesting course. (Fortunately Phillipe has actually used a camera before.)

So far no plans for New Year's Eve but, as always, if I'm lucky I'll make it to midnight!

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Christmas Eve in Namibia

Back when we were booking our trip to SA/Namibia I didn't think it would make much difference where we were at Christmas - after all it's just another day and you make it what you want. Now that it's upon us, and we're here far away from snow, gaily decorated trees and most of our family, something doesn't feel quite right. Christmas in Namibia is not a particularly spectacular event, like it is in Canada.  It's a holiday and it will be celebrated but much like any other holiday would be.  I think the thing I really miss it that all-encompassing joy that everyone feels at home, whether shopping, cooking large dinners or just chilling out, there's a certain feeling that's missing.

We left Etosha Park today and unfortunately our high expectations of large cats and elephants was not met.  We did see PLENTY of wildlife however and although we didn't realize it, it's the rainy season.  The animals have no need to come to the waterholes at this time of year.

The first night our chalet was right by the water hole and this beautiful black-faced impala wandered by for a drink.  Later on, after dark, 2 black rhinos came in. Fortunately the waterholes are flood-lit.


On our first day we saw our only lions - 2 young males leisurely sprawled beneath a tree.  They had been there for a few days, digesting their latest meal.


At one point we saw hundreds of zebras gathered together.  This one was a bit frisky, I'd say (although it was short-lived in case you were wondering!)


Giraffes were plentiful in the park.  I hadn't realized that they'd have to do the splits to get a drink of water though.

It wasn't unusual to see hundreds of springbok in a field at one time.


We also saw oryx, red hearebeast, steenbok, one very angry and close elephant that just about upended the car in front of us, and many many more animals. Too many photos! The accommodations in the park were first-rate and thanks to Sammy for looking after all the bookings!

The town we're in tonight is called Otjiwarongo, which according to Wikipedia means place where fat cattle graze. We have a dinner booking at a restaurant called C'est si Bon and we're staying at a very nice guest house called Bush Pillow.  Tomorrow it's off to the capital of Windhoek and we'll fly back to Cape Town on the 26th.  A memorable Christmas to say the least and we're very fortunate to be able to share the time with Scott and Sam.

I hope your holiday is just as memorable and Merry Christmas to all of you!

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Sossusvlei

Daisy is a tame springbok that roams around the grounds of the lodge we're staying at in Namibia.  She has a tendency to head butt visitors so her horns have been clipped.
This brave ostrich tried to outrun our car. It may have been possible on these rough roads and 200 km from nowhere we eventually had in a flat tire that Ross and Scott bravely changed.  It's always handy to have a man about when encountering a flat or a big spider!
 The lodge also has rescued some big cats that were in danger of being shot by the local farmers.  The female cheetah was quite tame although I was a bit shyer than Ross at approaching it. We also went in the cage with the caracals (African lynx) but didn't get close to them, and observed the leopard in its cage.
Sossusvlei is an area of Namibia that has the highest sand dunes in the world - the largest over 300 meters high.  We could drive all the way except the last 5 km where we had to hire a 4x4. On the way in we had to stop for a vehicle that had become stuck so our driver helped them out of the rut they had dug themselves in.  The sand on the dunes was quite hot by the time we arrived although we saw a few hardy folk that had climbed right to the top.  We declined that experience.
The vlei, or clay pan, is a old marsh area that has dried up - without any water the acacia trees didn't just die and rot but petrified which makes them look quite eerie. The contrast between the orange dunes, the black trees, white salt pan and the blue sky was quite striking.
Again, we saw quite a few animals including our first zebra.  It may appear that it is chasing this oryx but Scott thinks they were perhaps just running from a common predator. 

First Day in Namibia

[Note- we've now been in Namibia for a few days but due to being isolated I was unable to post this]
If it’s not called the “Land of Emptiness” it really should be.  We travelled yesterday for 6 hours through mostly dry, scrubland on our way from the capital city of Windhoek to our lodge near Sossuvlei.  It was gravel/dirt road and to say there wasn’t much scenery to look at is an understatement. 
These buck must manage to find enough to eat to survive but it never looked all that appealing!

There was one town in 300+ km, aptly named Solitaire, with a garage and a rest lodge.  Things appear to be overrun up by the sand and desert here.


Even though we’re not technically on safari we did see the following animals all along the way today: warthogs, oryx, goats, baboons, springbok and an african cat (maybe it was a caracal) which made it worthwhile. The oryx have beautiful markings and didn't show any notice of us.


Tomorrow we head to the world's largest sand dunes at Sossusvlei.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Remembering Mandela


It has the air of festivity that a soccer (football) match might have - people carrying flags, dressed in shirts blazoned with the same name, lots of groups singing as they walk along - and it is a celebration, a very special memorial for Mandela, taking place in the Green Point Stadium in Cape Town today.  Our apartment balcony faces across the street to the stadium and early this afternoon they started blocking off the roads in front and the crowds started streaming in.

The view from our balcony as the setting sun reflected off the stadium:

The stadium, built specifically for the 2010 World Cup, holds about 64,000 and all tickets were given away free.  It was hard to find out exactly what the program for the day was but it goes from 4:00 - 11:00 with performers such as Johnny Clegg and Ladysmith Black Mambazo. We can hear bits of sound wafting over the noise of the taxis and vehicles right in front.

They even have their own mounted police.
It's hard to imagine that the world will ever see someone of Mandela's stature and influence again. Apparently over 100 heads of state attended yesterday in Johannesburg. As we listen to the sounds of *Ladysmith Black Mambazo singing "Homeless", it's certain that he will not soon be forgotten in a world where 15 minutes of fame (or less!) is becoming the norm.

*Ladysmith Black Mambazo was the group that sang with Paul Simon on one of my favourite albums of all time, Graceland.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Stuff on the Road

The last part of our trip to Newfoundland has taken us up the northern peninsula to the spot where the Vikings arrived 1000 years ago.  Along the way we kept our eyes peeled along the side of the road for, of course, the fabled Newfoundland moose, of which there are 'supposedly' 4 for every square kilometre. The land was definitely moose country, swampy little ponds with stubby little trees - we would surely see many!

In St. Anthony's we had jams and desserts made with 2 local berries I'd never heard of before - bakeapple and partridgeberry.  Bakeapple are similar to raspberries, although they are yellow when ripe. They grow on small plants in bogs, one berry per plant so very time consuming to gather and expensive to purchase. Patridgeberries are small, bright red, round. Both are delicious.

As we were driving we noticed, for hundreds of kilometres, huge stacks of firewood, piled by the side of the road. We later found out that the wood is brought out in the winter, piled there by individuals, then used for firewood the next fall/winter.  Each person has their own pile! We also noticed small, fenced in vegetable gardens adjacent to the highway.  Apparently, their yards are too rocky to grow anything, but beside the road, in the middle of nowhere, where the road building machines have dug up the earth and the peat, the conditions are ideal for growing potatoes, cabbages and a few other items.



Another interesting sight beside the road are the big red chairs.  Seemingly randomly placed throughout Gros Morne National Park (to avoid being redundant I won't say in the middle of nowhere), they are just there for you to enjoy the view. So that's exactly what Marj did to watch the sun starting to set!



Well wouldn't you know it - hunting season started a few days ago. So guess what all the moose are doing?  However, we did see many slow driving (or stopping right in front of us!) pickup trucks driven by men with bright red hats.  Even saw a few men obviously working on a carcass by the side of the road, another on top of an ATV being hauled into town. We had almost resigned ourselves to the fact that we wouldn't see one. Then suddenly, Marj spots something in the distance, we back up down the road and sure enough, loping off through the woods:

Sunday, September 08, 2013

Mowing the Lawn

There's one thing you can't help but notice when you visit the Maritimes - big, big lawns.  Every stately looking white clapboard house is surrounded by an enormous, grassy, park-like expanse of green which brings one thought to mind "who mows all this?" Well today we found out.  We were travelling through northern New Brunswick (near Shediac) into Pictou County in Nova Scotia. Most of the way we travelled the "Sunrise Trail" which follows the Northumberland Strait coastline. All along the way we saw lots of the red, white and blue of the Acadian flag; many houses had a large black or gold star hanging by the front door which is also a symbol of Acadian culture. Nowadays, Acadians can be found in several places in NB and NS as well as Maine and Louisiana.

So it must have been 'lawn mowing' day in the Maritimes - everyone was out on their ride'm lawn mowers sprucing up their estates. We must have seen several dozen in just a couple of hours. Of course, out here, it doesn't look like watering is a necessity so I guess it's just as easy to grow grass as anything else.  And as we get closer to Cape Breton you can hear the accents start to thicken: "Have a noice day".

Friday, June 28, 2013

It's called Re-tire-ment for a Reason

Although I don't know what the reason is.

It's been exactly one year since I put down the pencil, closed the books and handed in my school keys. Except for the keys those are actually metaphors since it was all online - no pencils or books.

Things that I do in my retirement

-get to know all the people on daytime CBC radio
-wonder what all those retired people who are so "busy" do all day
-answer the phone to telemarketers who, somehow, aren't there
-less multitasking - doing one thing at a time uses up more time
-watch bread dough rise (not as fast as paint drying but equally as fun)

Things I don't do in my retirement

-read, at least not any more than I used to
-clean house (I told my housekeeper I'm not one of those crazy people who retire then decide they can clean their own house.  The reason I had a housekeeper when I was working wasn't because I didn't have time to clean, it was because I DON'T LIKE IT.)
-get fat (not yet anyway)

Well I googled it and I guess this is the reason it's called retirement.

Exploring Haida Gwaii

Haida Gwaii (formerly known as the Queen Charlotte Islands) proved to be quite a contrast to my recent trip to Croatia. The number of touris...