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Wine Country. Cape Town, South Africa.

12 Jan

January 4, 2010

Made it to wine country. Let me tell you, it was short of amazing for I had to drive on the wrong side of the road, in a stick-shift car for lefties, without a GPS system, via the interstate highway system, all in the name of consuming large quantities of happy juice. I’m still amazed I made it. I was thinking I need a glass of wine to celebrate. And what do you know, the wine-lodge celebrates my arrival with a FREE bottle of wine. Welcome to South African wine country. And, Happy New Year to me!

Step back for a mili-second. I would have never made it here, if it weren’t for Jessy Lipperts with Extraordinary Travel. Let me tell you she is a top travel angel. She’s up there with Ha from Vietnam.

Bill Jones, National Geographic tour guide who led me through Bhutan and has traveled 140+ of the 190+ countries in the world, recommended to reach out to Jessy to help me plan my Cape Town travels. Thank you BILL! Another travel angel…

I emailed Jessy a few weeks ago, telling her I’m coming to Cape Town. I have little dinero. And, this is my story. “I want to learn to surf. Learn about South African history/politics.  Get my hair highlighted and cut. See the beauty of Cape Town. And, drink wine.” Other than that, I’m good. She hooked me up not only with a biking tour and a licensed hair stylist but also with NGOs working in South Africa.

I knew she rocked in her first email for it had a cute masthead and signature block. Got to love marketing! Then, she wanted to Skype to fully understand my needs.

I saw that she was blond, so I knew I was in good hands in the hair department. Plus, she wanted to meet me for wine. She was going to be in Zimbabwe over Christmas meeting her boyfriend’s family, but she would make a trip to wine country just for ME. Love that! My trip was in her hands. And, if you haven’t figured it out, she exceeded all expectations.

Kline Zalze

So, Jessy hooked me up in Stellenbosh, wine village outside of Cape Town, at a winery called Kleine Zalze. They are the ones that greeted me with a bottle of wine.

My room was called Pinot Noir #5. Like Chanel #5, right? Outside my door they’re growing the Chardonnay grape, one of my favorite wines. My room overlooked the mountains and more grapes. It truly does not get better than this. The fact I did NOT total my car, makes life even better.

Not much to report, except did the wine tasting gig. They have a wine called Pinotge. It’s a light red wine. I liked it. I’m not a wine person, so I call tell you is, it was yummy. Nice review, huh?

After Stellenbosh, I drove to the another wine village called Franschhoek. By far, my favorite. I could live there. Not kidding. And, not sure what I would do for a living, except walk the streets, hike the mountains, ride the horses and sip vino. The fact I found the place, was a major miracle. Signage on back wine roads, not the best. Let’s just say, I had to go to the bathroom when I started, and after 2 hours of driving 30 miles, I no longer had to go. It’s called the sweat option…

Got a ‘little’ lost. Stopped at a grocery store to ask directions, and got the “left, right, left, left” response. I repeated I was a clueless American tourist driving on the wrong side of the road, and needed much more than that. The manager of SPAR grocery store came out, and drew me a picture. Thank you travel angel!

His picture included four round-abouts, hills and stop lights. Again, sweat…

When I pulled up to Akademie Guesthouses in Franschhoek, I knew I arrived. Cutest B&B. Old Dutch house. Hard wood floors. And, all the rooms have art work either drawn by the family or purchased locally. My room was the size of my kitchen, TV room and bedroom back home. Yes, moving in was an option.

After arrival, I walked three streets to the main street, with all the cafes, restaurants, wine bars, shops and police station. It was here, where I started to feel melancholy. I’m surprised it was the first time I had the feeling of wanting a “fun, male travel dude” with me. Drinking wine alone is only so much f-u-n.

I looked around, and all I saw was couples or families. Old, young, ugly, hot, fat, skinny, drunk, sober – all kinds from all over the world were meandering down the street holding hands, pushing strollers….You get the picture. In my mind, they all looked like they were “in love” and having the time of their life. They all could be on the “most wanted” list for domestic offenders for all I knew.

It boiled down I was feeling lonely. I looked for other single travelers or randoms at cafes, for I would have joined them. Yes, becoming that person who talks to strangers in cafes. Frightening…

I could not spy any solo sitters. “They” say retail therapy and wine helps in these matters of the heart. So, I tried retail therapy and bought some key chains and baseball cap. Yea…didn’t work. I sat down at an outdoor cafe, ordered a glass of wine, and watched people walk by. My heart felt heavy. This is the perfect place to have a part-time-lover (PTL), boyfriend, husband or, even, friend. It reeks with romance, laughter, and togetherness.

I took my wine and walked across the street to a Dutch church to pray. Sat there for a real long time talking to God. Or, what the Buddhist call meditating.

Yes, I did take my glass of wine into the church. Protestants do support wine consumption. Mediating, praying, talking, drinking wine all seem to gel nicely. I walked out feeling 1000% better.

Needed that time of reflection, thankfulness… humbleness.

But, I did asked myself. Why am I feeling this way? Why now? I’m a girl. Very good at over analyzing the situation. Now, this blog is NOT the place to share my personal boy travel stories. That is personal. Plus, my father’s clients, mother’s friends and sister’s parole officer are reading this. Boy talk is sacred, while bowel moments are not…Have to dry the line somewhere.

The cliff notes version is I’ve hit the 6 month mark of traveling. I’m not tired, to say the least. If anything, taming my curiosity energizes me. I just wanted to share wine tasting with someone I care about.

And, there seemed to be little prospects in Franschhoek, South Africa. Plus, my B&B was filled with couples, and here I am some single traveler. When I checked it, they assumed I’m traveling with a man. I had to correct them. Nope, I’m traveling alone. I guess, I feel like an outcast. Like a reject. Rationally, I know none of this is true. But, emotionally, it was a different story.

Instead of pushing these emotions or thoughts down, I sat in them all day. Hence, I went to the church to talk. Later, I wrote. And, told myself to feel the rejection today for tomorrow, we’re moving on… Tomorrow, I’m horseback riding to wineries. Drinking and riding… Now, that is a new one. Today, I feel sorry for myself. And, trust me, I milked that emotion…For I found a kitchen shop and bought some wooden salad spoons, and I don’t even eat salad.

I did have a great laugh in the kitchen shop. Next to the knives, was a burlesque section of garter belts, bustiers, thigh-high stockings and sparkling underwear….

I just stared at it, trying to understand their market mindset. Is it common to purchase a carving knife and a leopard bra together? Does the mind make that link? “Oh, need to pick up something sexy and a garlic press, know the perfect place…”

I asked the clerk if lingerie was a “hot” item. She did not understand the question. I changed it to, “big seller…” She smiled and said, “yes.” I still don’t think she understood. I needed more than a yes. I wanted to know why. I don’t think she knew the “why.” I took a picture, and left with my salad spoons, and declined the crotchless underwear.

Next day was 100% better. I was in my element once again, on top of a mighty, powerful horse named Cindy in search of wine. Bad name for an incredible horse.

We cantered through vineyards in search of a winery. Found one, two..or three. I was riding with a cute couple from London. He’s from New Zealand, and she is from England. He’s a reporter. And, she’s in communications. Sounds familiar…

They just got back from Namibia and wanted to end their month long vacation with wine too. The day is what you imagined. Drinking. Riding. Smelling. Drinking. Riding. Smelling. Perfect-o.

As we untacked our horses, I bonded with our trail rider. She told me the tragic story of her horse being killed by a car. Her horse was tied up. The wind came. The rope came loose. She trotted off towards the road. She went running after her horse. Her horse looked back one last time before the car smashed her. Her horse died before her eyes. She was 17. And, her horse was her soul mate. I get it. There is something powerful and knowing about horses. I get it.

I let her talk. And, told her how much I understood. She talked about her horse being her only friend and it has taken years to get over the pain. Again, I get it. I listened. We talked. She cried. I cried. I told her how blessed she was to have known her soul mate, even if it was short lived. Many walk this earth and will never meet, or let alone be open to, that kind of bonding, connection and trust.

She cried more. I cried more. I believe in my heart that God wanted me there. To listen. To share. And, listen some more. It made all my “don’t have a man” talk the day before seem trite.

I felt privilege to be in this girl’s presence. Privileged she is sharing. And, privileged I could be a blessing, even if it meant just listening. When I left her, I saw a different light in her eyes. A light of gratitude. And a light of relief.

I climbed back into my car made for lefties, and forgot where I was. Almost took out the gate while making a left hand turn. Having a problem judging distance, you think?

Headed back to B&B to pack and pack and pack for my flight to Dubai. Oh, sooo don’t want to leave Cape Town. Or, South Africa. My heart tells me, I will back.

US Consulate, Again? Cape Town, South Africa.

12 Jan

Yep. I’m back at the US Consulates office. By the time this rendezvous around the world gig is up, I will be well versed in Passport/Visa hell.

Step back. In Hanoi, Vietnam had my identity stolen. Passport, Visa, credit cards, dinero, license… You name it, gone. US Consulate office in Hanoi issued me an emergency passport with 4 pages. Why do pages matter? Good question. Who knew that to enter South Africa you need 2 pages. Australia and New Zealand asks for 2 as well. Rumor has it, US asks for 3 pages. Now, what the border patrol babes do with these pages is another matter. But, a rule is a rule. The other rumor is they won’t allow you into their country if you don’t have enough pages for their measly stamp.

For those who have trouble adding, I now have 4 pages. But, I need 6 pages and a possible extra for Dubai. So, I’m in a crumple. Tall US lady in Hanoi told me that Cape Town US Consulate office could issue me a “real” passport, but they need 2 weeks for turn around. Oh, the real passport is“free.” I laughed when she said that because Hanoi US Consulate office charged the girl with no cash, me, $135 US dollars for an emergency passport. Don’t get me started.

So, I emailed Cape Town US Consulate’s office to make arrangements about my “free” and “real” passport. Paula in Cape Town responded and said the US Consulate’s office is closed on December 27th for a national holiday. What national holiday? Found out later in South Africa, if Christmas falls on a Friday or Saturday, you get the Monday off as well as December 26th, Boxing Day. And, Boxing Day is a holiday to box up your gifts, not to smack people.

Anyway, Paula said, I need to come to the US Consulate’s office on the 28th. But, I would not be able to get a “real” passport in time because offices are closed New Years Eve. Little did I know at the time, I would have had time for a “real” passport for the US Consulate’s office express mails your “new” passport to any location in South Africa. Paula was a sharp one.

Paula recommended to issue another emergency passport, so I can use both. That’s cool. They know what they are doing, right? Right…

I hire a taxi on the 28th. It costs me $40 US dollars to drive 24 minutes. People in Cape Town believe anything more than 8 minutes is FAR. By the time we get there, it’s noon. Unlike Hanoi, the Cape Town US Consulate was on lock-down alert. Three security guards escorted me inside. They called the back office. It rang and rang and rang and rang. They called everyone on the list. NO one was there. All at lunch?

They pass me a laminated piece of paper that says, “Starting January, all US citizens and inquiries will need an appointment. Times: 8:30 am – 11:30 am.” I smiled and said, “It’s not January yet…and I pay taxes.” The two security girls laughed. I just smiled, getting annoyed.

It’s approaching 12:30. No one is picking up. One of the security gals meanders ever-so-slowly to the back office to take a look. She saunters back 15 minutes later and says someone will call me. The front desk phone rings. I pick up. A woman tells me, I need to come back tomorrow and schedule an appointment.

Anger. I mean, I could feel tears welding up for I was about to loose it.

Me: “I’m a US citizen. All I’m doing is dropping off my passport so you can make another emergency passport….I’ve been emailing Paula about this…”

US govt worker: “Paula is out of the country. On vacation. You need to make an appointment. Paula was to tell you about the appointments.”

Me: “She didn’t, or else I would have scheduled an appointment. I paid $40 to come out here…”

Govt worker: “We don’t take walk-ins. And, you’re not eligible for an emergency passport.”

Me: “I’m sorry. Can you repeat that? And, tell me what does Paula do here?”

Govt worker: “I need to put you on hold…”

By this time, I’m thinking I’ve been emailing with the janitor, instead of an authorized, trained consulate worker. I was at my breaking point. Could feel it. But told myself, who has the power here. They do. Calm down. Relax. It’s not the end of the world. Plus, her putting me on hold may mean she’s sending security to toss me to the curb.

Govt. worker: “We can provide you extra pages. But, you need to make an appointment. We changed the policy a few weeks ago. Paula should have told you this. There is no one here…”

Me: “I’ve been emailing Paula since December 13. I have records of our emails. She said I’m eligible for an emergency passport, and mentioned nothing about appointments. It says you take an appointments until 11:30 am. I was here a few minutes after, yet no one was here. Can I please just drop off my passport?”

Govt. worker: “No. You need a stamp from the cashier to process your passport. And, the cashier has left for the day. It costs $80 for extra pages…”

Me: “Well, why didn’t you say so. Of course, the cashier left. And, Of course I need a stamp…”

The govt. worker appeared behind the wall. She handed me a card with an internet address and email and told me I needed to go ONLINE to make an appointment. They do not schedule appointments over the phone or in person. My response, “Of course you don’t…”

I got back in the taxi and was miffed. At the Hotel Lady Hamilton, I told my story to my new BFFer, front desk worker from Zimbabwe. Guess what the first thing uttered out of his mouth. “That’s discrimination…What about the US citizens who don’t have a computer or access to a computer or internet? What about the US citizens who can’t read? Or, can’t type? What about the poor, who don’t have $80 US dollars for pages? Your country is telling you only those people with money, computer, internet and can type can make an appointment to their country’s consulate’s office?”

I thanked him profusely for making me angrier. I didn’t even think about it in those terms. Now, I was super-fired up. How dare they!

Yes, I’m blessed for I have a netbook and money to PAY for hotel internet connection. I logged on to the US Consulate’s website. No mention NO where on how to make an appointment for Cape Town’s consulate’s office. Johannesburg, Yes. Cape Town, no. So, I fired off an email requesting a time for tomorrow. The same govt. worker emailed me back saying “I gave you a card with the website address. You must do it online, not by email.” You’ve GOT to be kidding me.

Now, I more than fired up. I took screen shots of their homepage and client services pages and indicated their webmaster/marketing department has NOT updated their website since they’ve made this policy change only minutes ago, hence my email. The only way to access the appointment page, is through Johannesburg. Last I checked, this was Cape Town. I recommended she forward this email to the webmaster so they can create links appropriately.

Then, I secured my 9:30 am appointment. Another forty dollars down the drain, I arrive at 9:20 am. And, they see me around 10:30 am. All I had to do was sign a form and pay. I waited for the cashier for a good 30 minutes. She decided to take a cig break. I mean, she is leaving at 11:30 am and must have a break. I paid. Smiled. There was no use of even complaining. They are not going to change. Government workers are the same, regardless of country. And, many exude the same dispassionate energy. Though, Hanoi was different. Thank you travel angels for Hanoi!

After paying $80 for additional pages, I walked over to the DHL desk (express mail). US Consulate makes it clear they do NOT want you back. So, you have to pay more money to express mail your passport to your location. Well, I’m moving every other day, so how does this work? The woman was very nice and we came up with some contingency plans. Passport to wine country was an option…

I walked out praying. Praying, once again, for passports safe arrival. Man, this passport should be considered holy paper, considering all the praying I’ve done about this little blue bound book. Oh, did I tell you, it looks fake? Even Cape Town US Consulate’s office looked at it strangely. I bet it’s my photshoped picture. No wrinkles. No bags under the eyes. No spinach in the teeth. They just don’t recognize me in person. That MUST be it. That, and the purple lines and smoggy marks running through the picture.

Got the passport in wine land. Came with extra pages, that looked more stapled than glued. It looks even worse. Need to continue praying for the passport.  I hope they let me in Dubai…

Happy New Year! Cape Town, South Africa.

12 Jan

New Year’s Eve

What did I do on New Year’s Eve? Well, I blew dried my hair. Applied make-up. Put on a NEW pair of leggings – recently purchased at Woolworths – and went to dinner with ten interesting people at a fancy-smacy restaurant where they only have one seating.

Ate seven courses in 4 hours. And, rang in the New Year on the rooftop terrace of a friend’s apartment, watching the fireworks light up the Cape Town harbor.

Woke up at 4 AM to a big fight outside my hotel window. Put the pillow over my head. Popped Advil for “just in case.” And willed myself back to sleep.

Happy to be here. Happy to be alive. And, Happy New Year!

Biking. Beauty. Kabul? Cape Town, South Africa.

8 Jan


“OMG. You live in Kabul? Tell me, why are we in Afghanistan? I’m American. We talk in sound bites.. Help me here…”

So, that was the first thing that spewed from my mouth after meeting Suzanne and Gustav. Poor people. Suzanne is German and is married to Gustav, a South African who owns Bike & Saddle, a leading eco-active travel company based in Cape Town. They married ten years ago, and she works for the World Bank. They’ve lived in DC and Madagascar. She now lives in Cape Town and commutes to Kabul – eight weeks on and two weeks off.

Earlier that day, I did ANOTHER bike tour with Gustav’s company. This one was around the Cape. More strenuous stretches up mountains, down hills, through canyons to explore the beauty of South Africa.

The challenge was the gale force winds. Can’t ride a bike up a mountain when you see birds flapping their wings, going backwards. They call the winds the “South-Easterlies.” I call it bad for biking.

I can not put into words the beauty of Cape Town. It’s California and France’s

Stadium built for World Cup

coasts on crack. Plus, it has a cosmopolitan flare with its robots, organic supermarkets, and Woolworths.

That’s right. Woolworths still exits! I was shocked. I thought it went bankrupt. I have fond memories of going to the Winter Park Mall and eating grill cheeses with my grandmother at Woolworth’s cafe. It’s not the same in South Africa. No selling of plastic flowers and toy guns. Woolies, as the local’s refer to it, is equivalent to our Whole Foods and any upscale department store.

Back to biking. Gustav’s travel company had a bus follow us as we attempted to peddle. Short story, longer. We opted to put the bikes in the van and see the sights from the confines of a sheet metal to better protect us from sand, wind or fire.

That’s right. Fire. The mountain next to my hotel was burning. The firefighters managed to get it under control with the help of four helicopters and a reservoir.

That evening, Gustav asked if he and his wife could join me for dinner. I have no friends here…. So, guess what was the answer? They picked me up from the Lady Hamilton Hotel and off we went to the waterfront to dine. It was there, when I asked Suzanne what she did for a living. She said, “I work for the World Bank in Afghanistan. I’m based in Kabul…” That was when, I hurled a zillion questions at her. Poor lady. She thought she was going to have a very nice evening. Nope. Not with the inquisitive Tallgirl…

All I wanted was a soundbite. I mean, I’m American. And, we Americans, don’t have patience for details.

You have our attention for 45 seconds on a good day. So, what is the value proposition here? Below is an edited recap of our conversation – for the wine flowed and consumption was the name of the game.

Suzanne: “There are 26 or 27 countries in Afghanistan, some with only a few thousand troops.”

Me: “Whose running the show? Americans?”

Suzanne: “No one, really. That is part of the problem. The countries who are there have their own territories they are monitoring. So, their focus is just on that area. For example, Italians are in one providence and when they invest $$ or more troops, it can only go to that area so they can get credit for it back home. It makes it difficult to make decisions from a global sense.

The Afghans are tired. Back in 2001, they welcomed Americans and the international communities’ help. They wanted to kick out Al-Queda. They were tired of being under their control. Kabul used to be a cultured, polished, worldly city. The Afghans wanted it back. The international community promised a lot.

Afghans waited and waited and waited. Then, Iraq happened and all attention, resources and promises went to Iraq. Once again, Afghans were left holding the bag, with nothing. History repeats itself. Their trust evaporated, and they went back to trusting Al-Queda.

Now, we’re at 2010 and, promising a lot, yet at the same time, telling them we’re leaving in a year or two. Why trust and work with the international community when they are going to leave again – leave them with nothing. It will take more than a year, two or even ten to bring any sense of stability to the region. This is a long term investment….

In the meantime, you have complications with Pakistan. Then, there is India. And, you have a country – Afghanistan – that is mineral rich and, possibly, oil/gas rich. The Chinese are buying up mineral rights now. They see Afghanistan as a long term investment. Chinese have a different sense of time. They can wait 50 to 70 years, without a problem. China is in Afghanistan. So, is the US Geological Service too. All trying to understand what lays underneath the country’s surface.

What is hard to understand is there are sooo many brilliant American minds? So, many who have studied at the War Colleges. Tremendous experience. Yes, they forget Afghan history. Or, neglect to examine past mistakes.

And, then there is this void. No one wants to make decisions. And, it seems, some are more concerned about their careers with the Obama administration than the long term health of the country. This makes it hard to move anything forward. There is no clear direction, from nobody.

Afghan people are beautiful. The country is breathtaking. One day, it will be a tourists paradise with its mountains and vastness. The people find it hard to trust….

————————————————

Suzanne continued to share much more details about how complicated it is. But, our conversation left me sad. Sad there is a void in leadership. And, it’s unfair. Unfair to the people of Afghanistan and to those countries investing in a better Afghan future. Unfair because innocent people are dying for no one knows who is on First, Second or Third.

And, what are they risking their lives for? Can you imagine being in the US military. On the front lines, and every week or day you hear a different reason why you are sacrificing your life? Irritated, to say the least. Can you imagine being an Afghan and every week or day, you hear a different reason why you’re being occupied. Irritated, to say the least.

Boils down to communications. Can’t trust, if you don’t understand. Can’t understand, if you don’t communicate.  And, can’t communicate, what you don’t know… Why do we make things so hard…. Why?

The Over-Served Cure. Cape Town, South Africa

8 Jan

Had only two glasses of wine last night. Woke today with make up still on the face and brain cells swimming in a purple haze. Looked for IB Profin, and saw they’re all crushed.  Crushed? Smart me carried the pills in my pockets while horse riding. Day after day of bouncing pulverized the pills.   Yea, I’m prepared to surf today…

Avis man dropped off the rent-a-car at 10 am.

Me: “Thanks…Where is the GPS mechanical-thingy?”

Avis: “Oh, we ran out. No more. GPS.”

Me: “Are you kidding me? You expect me, an American, to navigate this country not only while driving on the wrong side of the road, but without a GPS? Are you mad?”

Avis guy laughed. I’m not finding it funny at all. I’m feeling hazy. Feeling confused. And, feeling tears weld up in the back of my head out of frustration. I mean, really?

Me: “You must have a GPS. I mean, World Cup was here a few months ago. Thousands needed GPS maps, right?”

Avis: “For World Cup we outsourced our GPS map service. Last month, Avis decided to move it all in house.”

Me: “Well, how’s that working out for you?”

Avis guy laughed again. Again, where is the humor?  I calmed myself down. I mean, prior to GPS in cars, people used maps. I will be fine. Fine. Fine. Fine. It is out of my hands. Need to give up control. And, asked the travel angels to get me to Muzeinburg in time for my surf lesson. I have 45 minutes and have no idea where I’m going or what I’m driving.

Avis guy walked me to the car. Very cute, small Hyundai. I peered in the window. It’s stick shift. My heart stopped. Not only am I clueless about where I’m going, but now, I need to be ambidextrous to drive. OMG.

He handed me the keys. And, a map of all of South Africa and walked off. The map was a marketing brochure with pictures and captions…. This was NOT a road map.  Where’s AAA when you need them?

I walked back to the Lady Hamilton Hotel and called Gary’s Surf Shop for directions. Gary got on the phone– loud South African man.

He said, “Don’t you have a GPS, Dammit?”

Yea, surf lessons with him will be pure joy.

I replied, “No. Avis ran out… And, you are talking to a clueless American who has never driven on the wrong side of the road. So, please make your directions very, very, very clear.”

He said, “I drove in New York City without a problem. So, that should inspire you.”

Gary gave me directions.  I started the car.  Prayed like a mad woman.  And put little red car into first gear.  Booom… I was off. Pulled onto the highway and almost took off my rear-view mirror on a road sign.

OK.  No distractions.  I turned off the radio. Even turned off the air condition.  I talked to myself the entire time. I mean, I talked outloud…”Great job Amanda!  Now, a stop light is coming.  This means to downshift. Use your left hand…”    So, I made it to Muzienburg. Even parked the car with the help of a homeless man. Gave him a $1.  Should have given him a $100!

Next was surf lessons. Gary did not have my name on the list. They did have the name “Amand-o” but not Amanda. Who is Amand-o? Never figured that one out.

Some little surfer girl gave me a wetsuit. I pulled the thing on and felt like a super-cool chick for all of 10 minutes, until I tried to carry the long surf board to the ocean in gale force winds. I almost took out a car and a bench when trying to cross the street. Yea, coolness and coordination are officially gone.

There were 10 of us in the “surfing for dummies” group. Our instructors were teens, and clearly had better things to do. They quickly walked through the safety rules. They included:

  • Paddle when we say paddle.
  • Stand when we say stand.
  • Don’t run people over.
  • If you hit your head or bleed, go tot the store. But, wait outside. No blood allowed inside.

A boy named Carl showed us how to stand up. He’s all of 5’7 and can jump up fairly fast. What about a 6-foot girl with little balance and coordination. We all practiced on the sand. The other tall girl from Belgium and I got special directions for we could not pop up so fast.

Carl told us to use our knees first. Then stand up. Right.

And, what about the gale force winds? These mamas are clocking around 30 to 40 mph. I mean people can’t walk on the sidewalk without going backwards. Birds are flapping and not moving… And, your’e telling me all I need to do is pop up from my knees?

In case you’re wondering, gale force winds, coupled with high tide and 50 to 60 degree water, cured being over-served the night before.  No IB-profin was needed after all… The purple haze lifted. And, cold salt water entered. I was alive.

The first couple of rides, I was able to get up on my knees. Quite frankly, I was fine with just that. But, Carl was adamant that tallgirl stood up. We went out farther and farther so I would have more time to stand up. Right now, the waves were breaking so fast, you were riding on sand in a matter of seconds.

After ten or more tries, I stood up for a second or maybe two. Or, maybe it was a nano-second. Whatever it was, my body went slightly erect and then I wiped out. So, now I was hooked. I was going to stand longer. I mean, I can do this!

Not really. By that point, my bod was exhausted from being bashed by the waves and my toes were going numb. My feet were red and bruised. I think the nano-second stand was it for me.

Carl was ticked off at the office for booking a surfing lesson surfing high-tide and in gale force winds. He said, “no one surfs in the conditions like this… And, did you know 5 people drowned yesterday?” All reassuring. I guess since I did not drown, it was a feather in my cap.

So, I can all check the box that I learned to surf in Cape Town. In gale force winds. During high tide. And, wearing a wetsuit two sizes too large. If I had any sense, I would have learned how to surf 45 minutes from home in Florida. But, what fun is that?

The Island. Cape Town, South Africa.

8 Jan

Went to Robben Island to check out the prison, where they kept Nelson Mendela.

Going to be kicked for saying this, but the place is not all that bad. Nice boat ride over.  Picturesque island. Great views of the cape. Large cells, with windows. Paintings on the walls. Inmates worked from 8 am to 5 pm. Had nights off to read, write, draw, sing or do drama….

Not that bad, considering what I’ve seen. Yea, Yea….Why they imprisoned Nelson Mendela was terrible. I will give you the why. How some where treated. I give you the how. But, the where, not that bad when comparing it to Cambodia, Vietnam, Israel and the concentration camps. Just an observation….

The former political prisoners gave us the tour. When they were released, many could not find jobs. So, the state – I assume – wanted them as paid tour guides. I mean, they need someone to tell us “what really happened” so we’ll be shocked and vow never to let this happen again.

And, the former prisoners, now tour guides, are great story tellers. As I looked around, I could see their story really resonated with the tour-ons, as it should. It’s powerful.

That being said, I say next to Scotland transplants. They’ve lived in South Africa for 30 years. They are white. They leaned over about half-way-through the tour and said, “There’s another side to this too…” I smiled.  And, agreed. There’s always another side. Another story. Another slant. My response was, “Are we open to listen. Understand. And, accept the truth from both sides?”

They just nodded. Their looks was, “You’re white… Whose side are you on…” I just smiled back but wanted to scream out, “Our souls – this moral, moving force living inside each of us – knows NO color, dude..”

South Africa is shredded into bits for its arrogance that color predetermines a person’s worth, education and value in society. I did not know what to expect in South Africa. Many told me the country is racist. It’s dangerous… Hello, tell me a place on this earth where racism and danger does not exist…

I will give South Africa credit. Since 1990’s, this country has tried to bring forth every misdeed, transgression brought on by Apartheid. As someone said to me, “Apartheid is an open wound, and for years we’ve pick and pick and pick at the open sore. South Africans are entering a healing stage, but we have along way to go.”

From an outsider very far removed, I see talking and communicating about the recent history is healing. It’s when you push things under the table, is when they reappear in unwelcome places down the road.

In Cambodia, they don’t even mention Pol Pot and the Khomer Rouge’s extermination of ¼th of the population in school. In Thailand, if you talk about the Royal Family and the military, you are placed into prison. In South Africa, if you’re not talking about the country’s history, then you are the one with the problem.

Talking about the past is one thing. It’s leading into the future is a whole other can of worms. Nelson Mandela’s party, the ANC, is still learning how to lead and manage a country littered with division – try 11 languages and just as many tribes – and littered with natural resources like gold, diamonds, coal…

The ANC came to power under the umbrella of unity and justice. They over-promised and can’t deliver. They promised every black person a house. This has not happened as fast as first envisioned. People are upset. And, for the ones who do have houses, many don’t want to pay taxes, utilities or for the upkeep. Instead, they are renting out their free houses and moving back into shacks where the govt pays for all utilities, cable, etc.

As we know in the states, when people are angry, they go to talk radio. Here, they complain about govt. corruption. And, govt. perks.

Govt politicians want to shut it down by reigning in the media and stopping social networking sites. Here we go again…Same story, different country.

I believe it will have to get worse before it will get better in South Africa. A person’s ability to lead should not be based on color, religion, politics or economics. It’s based on listening, understanding, envisioning, planning, implementing and changing. Oh, flexibility, patience, thick-skin and a triple dose of passion is must as well… If they elect leaders based on party affiliation or color alone, then the future is a toss up. As my father has said many, many times… “The people get what the people deserve.” And, South Africa deserves an honest, transparent and fiscally answerable government, supporting the education of its people to become productive, responsible citizens.  But, don’t we all?

If things go well. South Africa.

4 Jan

December 26, 2010….. I’m airborne. Again.

Leaving Eastern Cape. South Africa’s Wild Coast. I don’t want to leave. Not yet. Two weeks was not enough. I already miss the horses. Miss the people. Miss the comradery.  I don’t know how it happened. Or, how I even planned this. But, how blessed am I to have spent my Christmas with such a diverse, loving, open and active group of people from all over the world. I mean truly.

Commercial break. What is up with these pilots. They have verbal vomit and need to shut it. The pilot just announced that this plane had technical difficulties. They had to do an emergency landing in Durban to fix the plane. He’s trying to make up for lost time and said we should be arriving 40 minutes late, “If things go well.” What do you mean, “IF things go well???” Is he expecting something NOT to go well at 20,000 feet?

Now, I’m watching an airline attendant play with oxygen masks. Is anyone watching this? No. The masks are all tangle. She looks annoyed. Very annoyed. She’s untangling it and staring at a woman. Wait. The oxygen is for the woman. And, why is my heart racing? I’m feeling nervous. OK. She’s put the oxygen mask on all the lady. Is this what the pilot mean when he said, “if things go well?”

Point is, I’m sad to leave the horses. Kei Mouth. But, I can’t write anymore. This flight is one big, fat buzz kill…. I’m out.

Happy Birthday Baby Jesus. Kei Mouth, South Africa.

4 Jan

Band Aid. Farm Aid. First Aid.,,,, Whatever the 80’s band is called. Those big-hair, shoulder-pad wearing rock-stars missed the boat on “Do they know it’s Christmas time in Africa.”

Yea, they know it’s Christmas. They got Christmas. But, it’s not the credit-card charging, decadent Christmas we all love to hate in the states.   No gift-a-mania here…

For an American, it’s shocking actually.  Walk down the streets, no Santa sweater-sets. Drive though a neighborhood, no reindeer on rooftops. Go to a mall, no deck-the-hall. In fact, there’s not even a Santa’s station. Listen to the radio, no Christmas discounts. Watch TV, no Rudolf or Frosty specials. Unbelievable.

Friends and family have emailed me asking, “Are you homesick? Miss your family this holiday season?” I reply, “What holiday? The only tinsel I see is tinfoil.”

In South Africa, it’s summer. School is out and families are on vac-cay. The way I see it, Christmas in the Eastern Cape is a Fourth of July and Thanksgiving combo, but without the gunpowder and Puritans.

And, while presents are exchanged, it’s more of a small token of appreciation. Spending $ on food and spending time with the ones you heart – or have to heart – are the priorities… Oh, and getting your fill of beer, wine and whiskey. That’s one thing both countries have in common. The drunken gluttony of Christmas.

So, how did I celebrate Christmas at Sunray Farms in Kei Mouth, South Africa? Brilliantly. On Christmas Eve, I galloped along the white sandy beaches, on top of cliff tops and through green rolling hills. Yes, I wore my SPF and my pleasure, bug spray. No ticks on Christmas Eve please.

After six hours of riding and my legs feeling like jello, it was time to put on my gift-a-mania gear and head to the local food and liquor. What to buy the family for Christmas? The choices came to chocolate, beer, wine, pocket knives, fishing hooks, detergent, meat pies or pears. I opted for all things gorging.

Fifteen minutes later, finished with my Christmas shopping, we headed back to the farm to disinfect and primp for a night out at the Bush Pig. BP was not packed. But, certainly had its fair share of locals on this Christmas Eve.

Ian, the bar owner, who sports a shark tooth necklace and gray flowy mane down his back, was talking about how he lived at his bar. I did not believe him. So, he showed us his living quarters…..at the bar.

Never doubt a man wearing shark teeth. The grand tour took 6 minutes and ended in his bedroom. Two things I noticed was the plethora of hair products and the multiple shot guns next to his bed. Alex, from Italy, stumbled upon an old revolver. Don’t ask me how.

Ian’s reply was, “You never can be too safe around here… I run a bar, you know…” Yea, and does Hooters and I bet they don’t sleep with revolvers.

He said, “People think running a bar is glamorous. But it’s hard work. I close down every night between 2 am and 7 am, depending on the season. Last night, we had a fight. I called the cops. The cops were busy dealing with a rape. That took priority. So, I just pepper sprayed the guy. Tied him up and waited.” Yeaaaaa….

After a couple of beers, Rox, Alex and I were feeling good. I asked for a shot. It’s a Happy Birthday to Jesus shot, right? The teenage bartender said he was going to make us a flaming Bush Pig. I asked, “What’s in it? And, by the way, I don’t do Jaeger..” He said, “I don’t know what’s in it…I’m making it up…” I responded, “I want to see fire. I mean, we’re talking about toasting to Baby Jesus…”

So the kid starts pouring in colors –yellow, blue, pink… I have no idea. And, then he lights the thing on fire. I think to myself, “I don’t do shots. Let alone on Christmas Eve. I’m supposed to be at church. Where am I??”

Shot went down fast. We headed to the pool table. Was loosened up. Ready to kick some butt. Arrogance got in way and I won only because Alex shot the eight ball in the hole. I think we stumbled home after 1 am. Santa was not too happy about that.

Next morning we slept in until 8 am. Julie-Ann’s boys made us a hearty breakfast of eggs, bacon, random meets, beans, toast and other goodies. We inhaled for we’re not eating again until Christmas dinner at 7 pm. It rained all day. Again, the gale force winds…What is up with these winds.

I tried to Skype the family on – more or less – a dial up connection. So, that took a good two hours of screaming at my computer. Julie-Ann told us to dress nicely for dinner. So, out came the black yoga pants and non-stained t-shirt. Perfect-o.

Some friends came from the farm next door around 7 pm. They’ve been drinking since noon. Primed and ready to go. Nikki told us the same story – over and over again – about how her pig had piglets, how her dog escaped and found her at the store and how George the giraffe walked a little to close to the horses. I love drunk people. They are so fanatical about their stories each time they tell them. Same story. Same detail. Same enthusiasm. And, everyone around the room just nods, smiles and asks the same questions. By the way, how many of you talked about piglets and giraffes at your Christmas dinner?

We opened presents. I received a lot of chocolate, no booze, and a bar of soap. Very telling.

PS.  Woolworth’s is still alive.

Welcome Home Honey. Kei Mouth, South Africa.

4 Jan

Try this one for size.

How about coming home after a long day of trail riding, spraying ticks, washing horses and guzzling beers to find left over horse shit in your house.  You heard me.  Horse shit.

You ask, how?  Try leaving the door open.  A random horse strolling by saunters in.   Becomes a little nervous.  Knocks over some chairs.  Gets more nervous, and takes a dump not only once but twice… Welcome home honey!

That was tonight. All I can do is laugh. I mean what can you do?  Ask a bunch of questions as to the “how and why and how and why and how and who left the door open..” But, it happened.

The best was the clean up job.  Looks like someone shoveled it out, thinking we wouldn’t notice.  So, the remains are there, just adding another flavor fragrance to the volunteer house.

Happy that I’m catching a cold, numbing my senses… Even happier for those beers at the Bush Pig.  But, I’m happiest about my Pleasure bug spray  for I have a strong feeling crispy-critters will be doing the happy dance on some future fertilizer…

Need to spray me down and say my prayers… Sweet dreams…

What are you doing down there? Eastern Cape, South Africa.

2 Jan

December 13 – 18

My body is too old for this. I have to laugh because I keep thinking, “Man, I was in good shape when I was 12, 13, 14 and 15….” My inner thighs are looking at a lifetime of bruising.

Dad asked, what am I doing down here? Well, down here is only a few kilometers from the Indian Ocean. It is stunning. I’m sitting atop mountains. Mountains that are millions and millions of years old that have been carved into hills. All you do is gone green rolling hills. Indescribable.

I’m glad I’m here, even though the place needs to be pressure washed and disinfected. The first few days were abnormal. We had a hurricane like storm pass through here for 2 days — gale force winds and tremendous rain. It was cooooold and there’s no heat in the volunteer house. This meant, no showers for me.

Dad wanted to know what I’ve been doing? So, here’s a recap.

Day 1: Arrived. Greeted by the rich fumes of dog, horse, mold and manure. Welcome to a horse farm!

Day 2: Drove to East London – 45 mins from Kei Mouth – with the volunteers to Christmas shop. Saw a movie. Bought name brand toothpaste, Pantene shampoo and vitamins.  No shower b/c too cold.

Bed at 9:34 pm.

Day 3: Horse rolled on leg. Hurricane, gale force winds. Rain. Cold. No shower, too cold.

Bed at 8:12 pm.

Day 4: Rain gone. Sun out. SPF and bug lotion on.

Groomed 30 horses, checked for ticks, fed the horses, cleaned saddles.. Speaking of ticks, was in the tack room with Julie-Ann and Roz. Felt something crawling up my leg. Julie-Ann told me to pull down my pants. Right there. I did.

Damn, there was a crispy-critter, little black Tick crawling up my leg in route to the privates. I almost hyperventilated and fainted on sight. Not about the bug but about where the little thing was going.

Now, I feel like I have ticks all over me. Crawling in my hair. In my underwear. Down my back. I’m constantly heading to the bathroom, tearing off my clothes and applying more Pleasure Spray. That is what I call the flea, tick and mites spray. Pleasure Spray… It provides me much pleasure.

This afternoon, we galloped along the Indian Ocean (beach). Amazing! So much fun. I rode a Thoroughbred. He hauled ass. I just grabbed the mane and let him go. Loved it!

After riding, we headed to a local watering hole, called the Bush Pig. Very interesting characters. We played pool. And, some married men bought us shots. I dry heaved and threw it up on the floor for it had Jagger. I was wearing and smelling of horses, so being lady like never crossed my mind. Just a FYI, can’t do jagger. After beer and pool playing, we came back to the farm and unloaded the car. Trying carrying saddles and shit after drinking five or six beers…

Bed at 8:34 pm.

Day 5:  Today was charity ride.

Try 20 horses/people on a ride along the Indian ocean, across ravines, over hill tops, and around cliffs. We are raising $$ for a charity that works with the local tribe people to teach them how to take care of their horses.

The local people use barb wire as bits. And, punish horses by hammering their ears to the wall. The charity needs money to buy more saddles, bits and other materials for the local people.

The volunteers – Roz, Amanda, Alex and Tiny Tito (other Amanda) – were responsible for grooming, tacking all 20 horses. So, we’re up early and at the beach padlock even earlier.

First job was to catch the horses in the field. We’re talking about acres and acres and acres. Before catching them, we need to find them. Tiny Tito (other Amanda) and I set out to herd the horses.

We found them. Then, had to scream “yeeehawww!” to get them to move to the padlock. Try encouraging 20 horses to move in the direction you want. After a lot of “yeehaawws!” and a lot of cussing, we got them to the paddock.

I road another Thoroughbred who likes to run. Today I wore gloves because reigning in a horse of this caliber means extra, puffy blister on these porcelain hands. Can’t have that. Plus, I need extra help in the gripping game.

So, how’s my leg? About to give out. It’s my knee that kills. From the horse rolling, some random muscle from my ankle to my knee was whacked. So, I just turned my Advil into Tick Tacks for the day. No pain for me.

Many highlights of the day. One in particular, was hustling 20 horses onto a ferry boat/barge to motor across the mini-inter-coastal water way. Yep, we’re talking 20 animals weighing in at 600 kilos a piece and 20 large men & woman weighing in a little less. The ferry looked like it would sink. The ferry operator looked like he was going to shit. The horses looked the same. They were jammed like sardines. Some of us, Roz in particular, were waiting for one of the horses to kick, bite or shake. Inevitable, it would displease another horse, and mayhem would ensue. Guess what? Not one horse acted improper. A few took major dumps, but everyone, even us humans, were cordial. This called for major drinks!

Another highlight was prego girl and broken back girl. Prego girl has had complications and, yet believed it was wise to ride a horse for six to seven hours. Broken back girl recently fell off a horse, had back surgery, been in physical therapy and yet, felt it was wise to ride six to seven hours. I guess there are always two winners in a group of 20. After lunch, we placed their butts in the back of a pick-up truck. And, their two horses rode solo. I had forgotten horses are pack animals and hate being alone. So, these two horses just ran, walked and pooped along side of the herd. Cool to watch..

We ate lunch at a place called Seagulls, where Hillary Swank stayed when filming Amelia Earhart. Yep, they filmed part of the movie in Kei Mouth, South Africa. The place truly looks like Northern California in some parts. Pristine. Natural. Bankrupt. And, dangerous. The motel and restaurant has gone to pot since then…Just in case you’re thinking of booking a room there.

After the ride. And, after the Advil wore off, my body screamed “no more.” I screamed back, “too bad.” And, decided it was time to take a shower, check for ticks and shave my legs with my Gillette razor.

Bed at 9:01 pm.

Look at my Jeans. Eastern Cape, South Africa.

2 Jan

December 15, 2010

It’s 6:30 am. I’m riding Starlight, a chestnut horse, through a game reserve only a few miles from the Indian Ocean. I’m working on a horse ranch as a volunteer. Meaning, I take tourists on beach and non-dangerous, animal game rides via horseback.

This morning we have a honeymoon couple, approaching the age of 20.  One still has a year left of University.  The other, just graduated. They are blissfully unaware that it is raining, foggy and frigging freezing.

We are sauntering down a hill. At the bottom, my horse picks up the pace into a trot to gain momentum to go up the hill. It’s muddy. Slick. Like clay mud. There’s a hole. I think you know the rest.  My horse trips and falls over. Yep, rolls on me.  We’re only day 2 of my 2 week working horse riding holiday.

Starlight rolls on the bottom part of my leg. My foot is still in the stirrup. My mind is not racing. It’s just there. Watching the horse roll on my leg like an outside observer. The horse pops up. My foot slides out of the stirrup. And, I’m laying there in mud.  I look down.  All I can think about is my jeans. I have one pair. They are wrecked. I now have nothing to wear.

My next thought, thankfully, leads to my physical and mental, not fashion, condition… “did I break something…sprain something…and pain is not part of the Christmas plan…”

I look down again.  My leg and ankle are turned sideways, set in 4 inches of clay mud.  I  start to talk to my ankle.. “OK, what are we doing…We’re good, right?”

Meanwhile, Alex, the Venice Gondola driver and other volunteer, had jumped off her horse.  She’s now leaning over me, shouting at me in a thick Italian accent, “Roll on back…breath.” I think, “Roll on my back? Are you out of your mind? Have you seen my jeans?  No more mud, thank you!!”

I ignored her demands and opted to pry my ankle from the grime.  My ankle responded.  Then, I flexed my knee muscles.  Looked like no permanent damage. Just major soreness. I mean a 600 kilo horse just rested it’s torso on my leg.

I stood up.  My hip felt out of joint. Or, something was pulled there. Hell, every muscle on my right side just got a good stretch.  I walked.  Limped. And, looked around. Yep, no helicopter or car rescue here. Time to get back on the horse.

Meanwhile, the honeymoon couple just ogled at each other. I could be decapitated and they would not have noticed. Man, romantic lust has its advantages.

Starlight and I slowly meandered forward. It felt much better to be on the horse, than to walk. Not a good sign. We continue through the game reserve, walking past giraffes, zebras, and all types of antelope I can’t pronounce.  And, all I can think about are my jeans. Whose going to wash my jeans…

Welcome to day 2 of my horse riding holiday.

Pretend I’m 15. Eastern Cape, South Africa.

2 Jan

Morgan Bay, South Africa.

December 13, 2010

I love horses. Used to ride, and even, show horses as a child. When I planned this around-the-world gig, I had certain “must dos.” And, working with horses made the top ten list.

  1. Rekindle and forge friendships
  2. Meddle in the Middle East
  3. Build something lasting
  4. Transport tall-body across Russia
  5. Soak up confused communism
  6. Do the Buddhism gig in Bhutan
  7. Pretend I’m 15 and ride horses
  8. Drink in South African people and wine
  9. Smooch boys in Australia and New Zealand
  10. And, expand, extend and enlarge my soul

Found the perfect place to channel my inner horse child, Sunray Farms in Kei Mouth, South Africa. It’s the place for all things horses – Horse riding. Horse training. Horse trailing. Horse cleaning. Horse kicking. And, Horse smelling.

After the Safari, I had a few days down time in Jo’berg (Johannesburg) before jetting off to Sunray Farms. Everyone and their raccoons told me to NOT to leave myhotel without armed guards, a set of exacto knives or a titanium vest while in Jo’berg, so I spent a few days not moving and opted to hand wash clothes, watch D+ movies and fall in love with a STRIP mall.

Don’t tell, but I actually walked down the street by myself in broad daylight. The supermarket, ENGLISH book store and outdoor coffee cafe were all too tempting. I mean, I have not seen proper turn lanes, parking spots or visa machines since Poland. And, the grocery store had check out lines, a nut and candy dispenser, produce wrapped in plastic and meat behind glass. I spent an hour in the g-store taking pictures and touching aluminum cans. Did I tell you they have brand name toothpaste too? We’re talking a world class city people!

Two days of fondling canned vegetables was enough. On day three, I boarded a puddle jumper, prop-plane from Jo’berb to a town called East London, located on the Indian Ocean.

Brandon, son of Julie-Ann and owner of Sunray Horse Farms, was waiting for me at the airport with flowers and champagne. JOKE! He had just got off work. He markets/sells meat to small grocery stores and restaurants around the area. He was over served the night before and did not fall asleep until 3 or 4 am, to wake around 7 am for work. He announced within three minutes of my arrival that he must stop by a gas station for a pie. I thought it was strange he was craving a dessert when hungover, but I just nodded my head.

We found a gas station. Brandon came out, not with a dessert pie, but what looked like a hot dog wrapped in pastry bread. That was my introduction to meat pies in South Africa. Yep, could tell right away that this stay was going to be different…

Brandon was telling me on the way to the airport to pick me up there was a police road block. He believed the cops were tipped off about possible drug smuggling. In this part of South Africa, the farmers are paid by drug “lords” to grow pot in the corn fields or the jungle. The farmers get a cut. I guess now, the police want a cut too.

Brandon said the South African police conduct road blocks all the time. It’s the norm. They want to see if you’re legal – have your license, car registration, insurance, seat belts, and tires filled with air. Oh, they’re checking for booze breath too.

He said the police do it for many reason, one of which is to make sure the cars are safe to drive, the people driving them are legal, and drug smuggling is curbed. Wonder if this is what Arizona had in mind?

I arrived to the farm late and met my two new roommates for the next two weeks. Another Amanda. She is a full time worker at the horse farm, from South Africa and around twenty years of age. Roz is a 3 to 6 month volunteer from the UK. I later found out they are both “super cool.”

But, first impressions of the place where I’ll be resting my head this holiday were dismal at best. The first thing I noticed was the smell. Dog, mold combined with a manure fragrance filled the house. The common area was coated with white, Russel terrier hair and a farm of flies. And, my bed made for little people, inherited the wet, mold smell along with more flies. When I closed my eyes the first night, I just giggled. It all felt right. I mean, this is a horse farm, not the Four Seasons or Holiday Inn Express. What did I expect?

When I woke my first morning, the feeling of euphoria overcame me. I could not wait to meet the horses. I bound out of bed. Walked to the community bathroom and was welcomed by a millipede, spider and more flies. I ignored them. Went for the DEET bug spray, coated the body and headed to breakfast.

Over breakfast, Roz gave me the 411 on what I’ll be doing. Looks like we work from 7am or 8 am until 5 or 6 or 7 pm. We have an hour for lunch, or sometimes 10 minutes.

There are around 60 horses and three main pastures. One at the game reserve. One at the ocean. And, one here. I believe we check on the horses in the morning. Groom them. Feed them. Wash them. Ride them. Train them. Or, we lead tourists on beach or game horse rides along the Indian ocean and thru game reserves. It depends on the tourist bookings. I can expect to ride between one to six hours a day… Mouth did drop on that one.

I rode horses as a child. Rode until I was 15 or 16 at Barrett Farms for those who live in Orlando. My version of my horse riding story goes like this. Mom and Dad gave me a choice when I was 16 – a horse or a car. In my warped mind, I believed them. I choose a car for I assumed it would be a convertible, red, VW Rabbit. I mean, why wouldn’t an irrational 16 year old girl think this?

Come birthday, Dad gives me a small box. The keys are inside. I just knew it. Opened it. A gold key chain engraved with the words, “Big Blue” rested on top of the fake cotton. I wondered, “Big Blue???” Yep, Big Blue was the name of the 1960+ Chevrolet Pick-Up Truck he inherited from some random cousin in Mississippi. It was our Orange Grove Truck. Only one wind-shield whipper. No seat belts. Rusted flat bed. Holes in the floor board. And, no radio. I remember thinking, “This is NOT what I had in mind….and wanted to change to the horse option..”

My horse career was over, for pursued rowing for the hot high school boys. But, in the back of my mind, I longed to work and ride horses again. So, here I am.. In a town called Kei Mouth. With a bar called the Bush Pig.  Two food stores called Top store and Bottom store. And, two main roads…

It’s where South Africans travel for their summer holiday.  It’s where one is mesmerized by the intoxicating views of rolling hills, green pastures, game parks and the Indian Ocean.

Yes, can’t wait for this amazing ride….flies, ticks, dog hair, horse breath and all…

Who are these people? Eastern Cape, South Africa.

2 Jan

Mom asked, “honey, now who are these people you’ll be spending Christmas with? I need to know…”

Well, where to begin. To sum it up, they are amazing, entertaining, surprising and touching.  Try dedicated, hard working, inspiring and loyal. Most of all, they are kind and generous with their time, their love for animals, and with their heart. I feel truly blessed to be spending my holidays with them.

Julie-Ann and, her husband Clint, both manage Wild Coast Adventures. It’s the Eastern Cape’s leading travel/tour adventure company, giving tourists a full-on African experience whether you’re looking to hunt, fish or do overnight safaris on horseback and day rides along the Indian Ocean or thru private game reserves.

Sunray Farms is the name of the actual horse farm, where Julie-Ann cares for, trains, breeds about 60 horses. Sunray accepts short and long term volunteers year round.  That’s me!

As for volunteers, there’s Roz and Alex. And, Amanda – or Tiny Tito – is the full time Sunray employee, responsible for day-to-day horse riding tours. Julie-Ann also has a full time staff of local tribe people who manage the farm, house and “everything” else.

Roz is a career nomad. And, super cool! Alex and I told her she is “360 degrees perfect.”

Not sure what it means, but Alex said in Italy it means “super cool!” I went along with it. Roz has worked around horses all her life – from training race horses to foals. She works in the UK for about 6 months and earns enough money to spend the blizzardy time of year working with animals, whether it is horses in South Africa or Pumas in Peru. She’s the glue that held us together.

Alex is an interesting character. She will be upset I’m even writing her name in a blog. But, she is FAMOUS! She’s the ONLY female gondola driver in all of Venice. That’s right. The only one.

She has her own boat and works with the top hotels in Venice. The rich and famous all seek her out when they visit. She says, “There are over 170 canals in Venice. I get the stars lost without problem…” She pops cow-boy killers (Marlboro Reds) like they are candy corn and took to drinking beer, instead of wine. Of course, she has that Italian style and attitude that goes along with it. She’s ridden since she’s a child and decided, out of boredom, to take the horseback riders instructors license and passed. She’s a fab rider and loves telling me, the American girl, what to do. Lots of stories to tell.

Little Tiny Tito – aka Amanda – is around 20 years old. Loves to ride. And, loves to party. I remember those days of staying out until 3 am, waking at 6 am for work and not even being phased. She’s that girl. The three of us would watch in “awe.” She has her own horse, Donatello, who she tumbled over in a river during our charity ride. It was hysterical since she survived. Bummer if not. I share a room with her. Really, its a loft. The best is we’re so damn tired after a day of work and riding, that lights go out around 8:30 pm. That is if she’s not out…. Lots of stories to tell…

The five or six or seven Russel Terriers are next on the list. Russel terriers are the “must” have farm dog in South Africa. They are everywhere! Julie-Ann’s dogs are named after.. guess? Yep, Disney characters. So, I felt right at home.

There’s blind Mickey Mouse. Horse kicked him in one eye. The other eye got infected. There’s cancer ridden Donald Duck. Then, needy Mini-Mouse. There’s Junior, with so many indescribable aliments. A terrier called Tabitha and another random dog, whose name I forgot. Bella is the sheep, herding dog that nips at horses feet. All of them lived at our volunteer house. And, all of them have a lot of hair.

I will only give a mention to the ticks, fleas, flies, spiders, lizards, millipedes, beatles, flying thingies and other creepy crawlies living with us…

Say hello to my 2010 Christmas family!

African Safari. Timbavati, Kruger National Park. South Africa.

2 Jan

December 6 – 12, 2011

Safari server, “What would you like to drink for the safari?”

Me: “Ommmm… I guess whatever? I mean, what do you have?”

Safari server: “We have anything you want – coke, wine, gin, vodka, beer, whiskey….

Me: “Oh, I will just have water…”

Safari server: “It’s included. It’s free….”

Me: “Change that. It’s gin. Gin and tonic! Better, yet, I will have both – the South African booze and a Gin and Tonic…Is that ok???”

Welcome to my first African Safari.

I have not had hard liquor since Russia – stuck with beer or rice wine for you know what you’re getting. If you order vodka in communist Asia, they more than likely to water it down or just pour tonic water, insisting liquor is floating in there. My word, it feels good to be back to civilization…

Back to a place where people know how to pour a good drink…

Made it to Johannesburg. Jumped in a car and drove six hours to Timbavati, a private game reserve part of Kruger National Park. Staying in a hut with no electricity and an outside shower encased by tall bamboo sticks. Very happy. I arrived yesterday after lunch, just in time for the afternoon wild animal look and see.

Room at the Tambavati Lodge at Kruger Ntl Park

There are ten of us at the lodge – or camp – called Umlani Bushcamp. Two teachers and three students from Durban, South Africa. A couple from Mozambique. An American from Philadelphia. And, me. We loaded into the safari Land Rover with no roof with our guide Moses and animal trekker Hendrick and off we went in search of the big five – elephants, buffalo, lions, leopards and hippos. There are many other animals, but those are the Big five. Right now, I would be happy seeing a domestic cat or dog. Take that back. I’m actually more keen on sipping a gin and tonic.

We rode for 30 mins or so and came across a pack of buffalo. One female and three males. Looked calm. Like you can pet them. Moses said he is most scared of the buffalo and elephant, out of all the animals. WHAT? What about the lion? He said with buffalo they are viscous. Buffalo? Like of the cow family? I took another look at them – and said, “ok, you are going into my fearful animals category.”

Next, we spotted a heard of elephants with their babies. One baby elephant was born 5 days ago. So micro-mini. Found out the hard way, elephants charge you. Charge cars. Especially, younger males who are asserting their power. Scared the be-jezus out of me.

First time, we were charged, we were sitting still and pretty observing a male elephant with one tusk. He was eating. Watching us. Walking a little closer. Eating some more.

I’m thinking, “come closer..want a better photo.” Think Jurassic Park.

Moses said he wants to sniff us. They have poor eyes, and sense things via nose and vibrations/hearing. He waddles closer. Lifts up his trunk. Raises his hears. Snorts loud and runs for us. I freeze. Moses keeps talking like “no big deal.” And, then he stops a few feet from the car. Shows us his butt and saunters to a tree to continue his eating. This is not funny. Moses says this happens all the time. He is just telling us he’s boss. I think, “Let’s get out of here…”

Then, we encountered a heard of 20 elephants grazing together. We pulled up in the middle and stopped our engine. Not feeling all the calm, especially with 5 day old baby. Mama and her girlfriends are not going to like us getting close.

Actually, the mother and baby came up to the car and paid us no attention. It was the teen male elephants that had to bang their chests and snort at us. Typical. Man or elephant egos…all the same.

We saw a bunch of Impala – like Antelope and giraffe. Took many pictures of the giraffe for we are both very tall creatures. We stopped for a break. Next thing I know, Moses is using the hood as a mini-bar. A bottle of gin. Wine. Beer. Sodas. And, some buffalo tongue. I’m in heaven. Sipped on my beverage and began bonding with the group.

The three young students are between eleven and twelve and attend a private school. They are traveling with their Afrikaner language and History teacher – Ms. T and Ms. A. And, yes, Ms. T and Ms. A were the first in line for their double gin and tonics. Wish they were my teachers..

The girls were hyper. Had a lot of pent of energy. By their second cocktail, Ms. T and Ms. A said it was time for relay races with elephant dung. ELEPHANT POO? I told them, “we don’t do this in Florida..” First game was, whoever found the most petrified Elephant Dung, won. They had 30 seconds. Next game was spitting dung. Not sure what type of dung for it was smaller and round. Whoever spit the dung the farthest, won. I wanted to gag.

The last game was charades. Music was the topic. Ms. T and Ms. A went for songs like Footloose, Thriller, Heart Break Hotel by Elvis, Hold my Hand by the Beatles…

The girls pulled songs from Miley Sirus, Justin B and Taylor Swift. I know these young pop stars are intentional sensations, but here I am in Kruger National Park watching South African teens go crazy over these three highly annoying pop singers. It felt surreal. I think more surreal than spitting dung for fun.

We came back to camp, inhaled beef, drank more, sat around the fire and passed out to loud bull frogs by 10 pm. Got a knock at 5 am for the morning safari. Within 20 mins, we’re back out looking for the big five.

It rained the night before, so our tracker was trackless. That did not stop us. About an hour later, we spotted three lionesses napping with their cubs. No men in sight. They were all relaxed and mellow for they had a kill earlier -either in the night or the other day.

Moses said they were no threat to us. ARE YOU KIDDING? They are female lions. And, we are in an open air car. Elephants can charge. But, lions can pounce. We moved on to more eagles, giraffes, antelope, lizards, rodents, random birds, beatles eating dung, baboons, monkeys, and elephants. No need for coffee.

That afternoon, is when we scored big. Hit the big five. Lions, Leopards, Hippo, Elephant. And, Buffalo. We also got to peek at Wild Dogs, Random Birds, Snakes, Lizards, Hyenas, Bamboos and more. What a good day…

The male lions made me nervous. There were 3 brothers who just killed a buffalo. They were ‘fighting’ – I mean FIGHTING – for the food.

Made me uncomfortable for we are food too. But overall, it gives you a greater appreciate of animals and a deeper understanding of how much we are like them – or they like us…

Click on the photo icon with the name African Safari for some more picture fun.

Landed in Nairobi. Kenya.

2 Jan

December 5, 2010

Just landed in Nairobi. Flew Kenya Airways. Started in Siem Reap, Cambodia. An hour flight to Bangkok. Lay over for seven hours at Bangkok airport.  Bangkok to Nairobi was nine hours. Now, a five hour layover In Nairobi airport. Then, a four hour flight into Johannesburg

Brain cells are fried. Muscles spasms in random places. And, a head stuffed with snot. Started off with a $2 Cambodian drug for nose-plumbing and upgraded to the $12 recognizable brand name, Actifed.    I now can breath, but am severely dehydrated.  Perfect addition for transport hell.

Landed 30 mins ago. It’s 6:15 am. Walked the pint-size airport in less than 10 mins and discovered no seats. No joke. I made a home for my bum and backpack underneath the only digital boarding monitors in this airport.

Besides no seats, there are no restaurants. Just twenty or so duty free shops all selling the same things – booze, cigarettes, Kit Kats, Mars Bar and an occasional Kenya t-shirt.

Ouch. Something just bit me. Am I to start the malaria meds now? Or, wait until I land in South Africa. Fighting a cold is hard enough.  It’s time to pop the bug pills now. There’s no purpose in waiting.

Just figured out what I left in Cambodia. You know, I had to leave something. Make my mark. Left the Nokia $20 phone bought as an insurance policy in Vietnam. You see, if my V-nam Visa was illegit and I was taken to a dark Vietnamese cell, at least I had my Nokia with all the emergency consulate numbers.  Nokia was my insurance plan.

OMG. Did someone loose a cat ? Because, one just sprinted by me. Nobody seemed phased. Maybe he’s the Nairobi airport mascot. Or, maybe since he’s not a leopard or cheetah, everyone is OK with itty-bitty kitty. Need to pop bug pills now. Can’t risk getting cat scratch fever either.

Just stood up. Had to. Pain in the pelvis from sitting on the terrazzo.  Back to perusing the airport halls. I saw someone carrying a brown cup.  It looked like coffee.  I picked up the pace.  I spied a line. Of course, I just get in it, assuming the line is for coffee. Nope. It’s a line for Khartoum. Uh, can we say wrong line? Don’t need to go to Sudan. Just need coffee.

I smiled. Acted like I know what I’m doing. And, continued down the hall in search of coffee. Then, I saw it. Amidst the rubble, there was a Java stand. And, this line is longer than the line to Sudan. I hope they take dollars. I did not see an ATM. And, have no clue as to the Kenyan currency exchange. I really just want a coffee.

I see a few scattered chairs and tables. I’ll be back to squatting on the floor. Maybe I will blow up my plastic airplane pillow and sit on that. That’s should look cute with coffee.

Guess what? Java lady took dollars. And, I found a chair. Actually, the chair found me. I was blowing up my pillow and a nice African man walked over. He just picked up my bags, took my coffee and said, “follow me.” He spoke English, so I followed. He put my bag down and pointed at the empty chair, with a small table being shared by three other people. I smiled and thanked him. And, deflated my airplane pillow.

It still amazes me how I just follow people who speak English.

I plopped the body and just stared. My mind was numb. Turned on my lap top. And, just stared. The man next to me asked where I’m going. My head was so clogged with snot that I had to ask him to repeat himself please. I told him, “I’m in route to South Africa.” He said, “I’m from Uganda and going to Senegal.” My brain couldn’t locate Senegal on a map. He said, “it’s 11 hours flight.” I smiled. But, my brain still couldn’t locate it. I hope it’s because I’m just sick and tired, not mentally map defective.

He introduced himself as Mayor Charles, the mayor of a small town in Uganda. Right out of the gate, he asked if I liked politics. I tell him, “It’s a love/hate relationships. I love to hate it and hate to love it.” He laughed. He proceeded to tell me all about being a Mayor in Uganda. Mr. Charles has three main goals:

  1. Expand access to electricity from 30% to 50% by next year.
  2. Start a garbage collection program. He bought two trucks and needs to train the people and find a dumping ground.
  3. Beautify a park for the kids.
  4. Expand access to clean water. Only 20% of his town’s population has clean water.

He said he works closely with the UN, NGOs and other governmental organizations around the world. He said, “It takes a lot of time…A lot of paper… But that is ok…My people are patient…” In Senegal, he’s attending a Mayor’s conference…Again, brain freeze on Senegal.

He shared with me the level of corruption in the Uganda government. He is part of the DP party, which stands for Truth and Justice. His party is the opposition party to the ruling party. The ruling party rules by guns and bribes. He claims Uganda is one of the worse corrupt governments in all of Africa. I told him, “All I know about Uganda is a lot of churches go there for mission trips…I assumed, it was one of the least corrupt because of this…” He laughed openly. He really thought it was funny or I was superbly naive. Probably both.

Mayor Charles is young, about 36. His next goal is to become a minister but before he can do that, he wants to achieve his goals. I told him that I worked in DC. And, in my opinion, mayors and governors have more immediate power than the President of the United States. They decided whether houses can be built, trains can stop or dogs can play in a park…

He asked about Obama. He said, “I like Bush. Bush helped Africa. He president to give  most money to Africa – ever.  Help us fight disease. Help with Aids…Bush good.” First time I ever heard that in my travels. It usually, the opposite. Then, he bolted. About to miss his flight to Senegal. Before he left, he asked if I had kids? Married? And, invited me to stay with him in Uganda.

I waved, still trying to remember where is Senegal.

Flight from Bangkok to Nairobi

2 Jan

December 4, 2010

Bangkok to Nairobi flight on Kenyan Airlines comprised of the Asian and African delegation – Chinese, Japanese, Indians, Africans. The minority passengers were your Europeans and Americans.

Fascinating to watch each country’s personal space policies. Meaning, who pushes and shoves in a line to go nowhere. Guess who won the push and shove war? Chinese. Hands down. They may be small, but they’re fast. The Africans were not at all pleased with this pushing.  But, what do expect in the land of 1.3 billion. China is sooo going to eat Africa one day….

I had a window seat in toilet class. Next two two African ladies wearing their traditional garb. Since I’m American and don’t push and really don’t care, I was one of the last to board the plane. I smiled at the ladies and pointed to me seat, indicating, “Yes, tallgirl squeezes in there…” No reaction. They just stared at me. Didn’t move.

Did they expect me to crawl over? I pointed again. They just looked at me. Fine. I’ll first find a bin for my bag and then throw these long legs over the two of them. That should get their attention. I opened all the bins. Full.

Now, everyone is staring at the tall, white girl. Why is that? We all do it – staring intently as people struggle with their luggage. No one helps. It’s like we have this attitude, “We had to shove, squeeze and s– so should you…” I kept opening bins. Full. Now, I’m at the toilet. Well, that’s not going to work. I found a bin full of soft duffels and purses. I know I could rearrange and shove my bag in.

Knowing everyone was watching, I was deliberate and slow. Why rush. Why look like a fool. Why not teach them the art of patience. Right. I was actually praying that my zipper was closed, my sweat mustache goes unnoticed and these random bags aren’t full of rancid juices.

About two mins into bin reorganizing, an African man stood up and opened another bin. He moved his luggage around and made room for my bag in less than 15 seconds. He was probably fed up with my proper, patient, methodological maneuvering and wanted me out of his sight. That, or my sweat mustache was dripping. No matter. I thanked him. And, thanked him. Everyone still just stared with blank expressions.

I walked back up to the ladies. Point again. Smile. Point. They don’t move. I tilt my head to the side and said, “Excuse me, that’s my seat…” They roll their eyes. Talk in their language. Still, not moving. I noticed my seat was loaded up with their purses, blankets and crap. The seat arm was up and I realized, the woman in the middle was overweight. Looks like there will be some snuggling tonight.

I waited. They finally moved. I wiggled myself in and sat. It’s now 1 AM. The flight attendants start their song and dance. OK. This is not your Asian airline with beautiful, coiffed young girls in suits and heels. Nope. Kenyan Airlines’ flight attendants look more like backers for Miami. All very large men. Don’t think I’ll be asking them for an extra blanket…

I was exhausted. Before curling up with my plastic, blow-up pillow, I checked out the movie options. My remote was broken. Looks like sleep it is… I tried to turn sideways and press my body up against the window. But, was unable to turn for the lady next to me was large and in charge. When Mr. Line Backer walks by, I’ll be requesting a glass of wine or two. I mean, can’t pass up free vino….

Wine came. I gulped it. And, closed my eyes, praying the plane arrives safely to Nairobi. I just hope I don’t wake until we hit the Kenyan coastline.  It’s only 9+ hours away… Think I’ll be ordering a third glass.  The women next to me is growing…