Welcome to the endless safari.

We'll be trekking your way from between the toes, at the foot of Africa. The alternative adventure. The jocular journey. This is the text version of the morning jog, the afternoon ramble, the evening sundowner. It’s a personal, unabashedly subjective journal that strives to inform, enlighten, and entertain, to observe. To recap, to delve, and, if need be, to lie in order to tell you the story of our little transition adventure from the World of Work to the Wider World. And that wider world, for now, is the continent of Africa, particularly the Republic of South Africa.

Mysterious and troubled.
The cradle of mankind.
Colonial pasts colliding with today’s corruption.
Gold, oil, diamonds.
Slaves, disease, starvation.
First World/Third World.
Bushveld meets high rise.
Birthplace of the rhythms of jazz and blues.
Rainbow Nation.
Kalahari Desert.
Topless beaches.
Gary Player.
Ernie Els.
Bishop Tutu.
Charlize Theron.
Nelson Mandela.


Yes, it’s quite a stew, or potjiekos, as they say here. So, follow us now as we tread into...

The Heart of Dorkness.

Travels with the Lunsfords

Discover the Western Cape of South Africa! Beach combing, wine tasting, artifact shopping, hip shaking, four wheeling, kayak paddling, shark cage diving, landscape photographing, and oh my god! the fine dining!!!!

Your private tour leaders, guides Mimi and Bo, can make your holiday a dream getaway, an adventure for a lifetime, and, we ship anywhere!

Well, such is the imaginary brochure that lured the Lunsford family down to our corner of the country and led to a road trip to rival the Griswolds on their way to Wally World. Read on.

Auberge du Cap: Our first accommodation was in the Cape Town upscale beach suburb of Camp’s Bay. We arrived in the late afternoon, anticipating the Lunsfords’ arrival at the airport later in the night. Betty, our trusty GPS, performed like the patient genius she is, with just a slight error (shhhh, don’t let her hear me) just at the end there. We found the address of the guest house, the Auberge, but all we could see was the numbers on a brick pillar, no house in sight. In order to see the actual house, one had to open the sunroof and peak out, crane the neck back at an impossible angle and look up, as if trying to spot the orbiting space shuttle. There above you is the Auberge du Cap, more like the Auberge du Incapable!

The XTrail’s macho 4x4 was finally put to the test and up, up, up it climbed. The location was phenomenal, at the very highest buildable point of the curving back side of Table Mountain, with views forever across the roofs and gardens of Cape Town’s elite.
I love the honor bar concept, don’t you? You know, take what you want from the fridge, just mark it on the form and we can deal with it later. Like a mortgage with a balloon payment.

Cape Town JazzFest:

We weren’t sure about this. All four of us are very veteran New Orleans Jazz Fest aficionados and our loyalty to this event is unquestioned. Nobody can touch it. I am pleased to report that NO is safe, but CT did a heckuva job. Organized. Loads of food and drink at each of the five venues, some outdoors, some in. And, most importantly, of course, great, great music.

On Friday night, we dug the sound of The Soul Brothers, who kicked off the night’s fun. They played an African influenced music and dressed and danced like the Temptations, just add several tablespoons more of afro spice. They were amazing and one could not watch them without smiling and catching their groove.

Saturday night’s biggest thrill for us was Oliver Mtukudzi , or Tuku, as he is nicknamed. He is Zimbabwean and has established himself as an international star, playing with the likes of Bonnie Raitt and others. Oliver was wonderful and packed the place. We managed to homestead a little area about 15 meters from the stage (the only seats were at the back of the room, allowing us and thousands of others squeezed into the room to sway). He didn’t disappoint. The mostly black audience knew the words to every tune and heaved in delirium as each favorite began. Oliver has a magical stage presence, good moves, a smile that stretches from stage right to stage left, and can pick and play with the best, in his distinctive style.

Sergio Mendes, Lee Ritenour, Gerald Albright, Najee, and Candy Dulfer were other better-known musicians that we caught over the two nights. Wonderful.

West Coast—Just as July is winter, the West Coast is the Atlantic. Is there any doubt as to why we are still in a bit of an acculturation daze here?

We packed up the XTrail with all of our bags, some relegated to the roof rack along with The Spear. Gary had bought his “sacred spear” somewhere up in Kruger during their safari the previous week and it had to be handled with special care at all times. All five of us jammed in and we headed up the coast.

Well, first we headed down the coast to Bloubergstrand, home to Jacques and Tracy, our good buddies from Saudi, South Africans who have feet in both places. Tracy holds the franchise to Gymboree South Africa and is intent on making the business a success here, while Jacques stays on at Aramco, intent on making them think he is a valuable member of the workforce (just kidding, Jacques!!). Jacques is an incredible triathlete and not one to be messed with. They took us to their old favorite hangout on the beach, the Blue Peter (also an anatomical condition that may accompany shark cage diving, see section later).

A few beers for the road and hugs and we were off to Langebaan. Golden dunes forever, turquoise sea, waves curling to the shore, wetsuited surfers making like seals frolicking. A gorgeous little town just 45 min from CT. Would love to stop, but we have made reservations further north, in Paternoster (Latin for “Our Father”, supposedly uttered by Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama when he discovered a good fish and chips restaurant there that served ice cold Castle Ale). Mimi and I had spent a couple romantic nights (imagine!) at the Oystercatcher B and B there last time here, and looked forward to the coziness of their fireplace and the familiar setting just above the beached boulders, resembling the behinds of so many elephants all facing, like us, the sunset.

We rolled right up to the guest house, just as we remembered it and were greeted by a handwritten note that said, “I’m at the pub, make yourself at home.” Love that kind of relaxed welcome. In the time it takes to stroll up and down the cove and snap 387 photos, our host arrived.

“Hi, Luke?” Mimi said, since she had made the reservation by phone and had spoken to him.

“No. Wayne.” he replied quizzically. “I though there were six of you, four adults, two children.”

“No, just one child.”

“OK, fine, let’s get you sorted,” Wayne said in his Aussie accented, pub-enhanced lilt.

The rooms were outstanding, each with a view to the sea, each decorated in cool African memorabilia. The Lunsford Room had the distinction of also being the quarters for one Mr. Nelson Mandela just a few months ago! Perhaps you’ve heard of him? Gary searched in vain for anything Mandiba had left behind…use your grossest imagination.

Morning came and a breakfast was served on the sea deck. Wayne’s wife, Sandi, took our orders for poached eggs and bacon and casually mentioned that, ‘You’ll be staying two days, yes?”

“No, just the one night, like I told your daughter on the phone.”

“I don’t have a daughter.”

“What? Then who did I speak to when I made the reservation yesterday afternoon?”

“I don’t know. You ARE the Millers, Sabine Miller?”

“No, we’re the Wixteds and Lunsfords.”

“Then where are the Millers?,” Sandi’s voice rising in undeniable anger.

“Never heard of them. Then who was Luke that I spoke with when I made the reservation?”

“Was it the Oystercatcher Lodge or Oystercatcher Haven that you phoned?”

“I don’t know. I didn’t know there were two. This must happen all the time, with the confusion of two names so similar and so near to one another.”

“No, it has NEVER happened before. The Oystercatcher LODGE is across the bay…and where are the Millers???”

So, the Millers were apparently a no-show for Wayne and Sandi. The Wixted/Lunsfords were there right on time, albeit at the wrong place, since Sandi made a quick call to the Other Oystercatcher, and verified that, sure enough, we were booked there, but never showed up, pissing off Luke and Christy and their daughter, who apparently answers the phone. Weird.

It all ended amicably, and the Millers…I mean, Wixted/Lunsfords, piled back into the XTrail in search of pottery and more photo ops.

Tulbagh- This beyond quaint village, sporting its finest Cape Dutch architecture and lying in the valley between vineyard covered hills, was our next stop. Having learned a lesson, we made our accommodation bookings in person this time and spent a great night in a farm cottage that adjoined the Manley Winery.
Barb, in her natural habitat, took advantage of the front porch, (“stoep”) and caught up on her book with glasses of the host’s finest cabernet sauvignon. She wasn’t alone. It was a gorgeous location.

Paarl-The fabled Winelands of South Africa are bounded by the three towns of Stellenbosch, Paarl and Franshoek. There are literally over 150 wineries in this small region, about the size of a typical Irish county. We were aiming for Franshoek, but Paarl held us back with its beauty and its Tourist Information bureau and the fact that it was lunchtime and 37degrees C. Thumbing through the guest house book we found one that was ideal, five stars, please, but they didn’t answer the phone. Hello, is this the Millers? So, we drove out to it, down a gravel farm road through vineyards freshly harvested (remember, it’s Fall here) to find the big wrought iron gates locked and no one home. Damn.

Driving out, we spot the Palmiet Vineyard and Guest House just next door. Hell, why not? Five stars plus. Incredibly lush grounds, awesome traditional architecture, and views to the craggy gray granite mountains to the east. We’ll take it. Sundowners at 6 on the deck over the garage. Perfect.

We spent the rest of the hot afternoon lounging beside the pool, in the shade of large oaks and lemon trees. The Mediterranean climate here supports flora from palm trees to pine trees and any vegetation in between. Sure enough, as the sun descended, we climbed the staircase up to the astro-turfed deck, and a table was spread with bottles and bottles of Palmiet vineyard’s flagship best wines, reds and whites, and a young woman brought around trays of hors d’oeuvres (I can spell that without spellcheck, can you?). There was only one other group of guests, Germans, so we gained most of the attention of our young hosts, Angelo, from Sardinia, and his wife, Tina, from Germany. I know that I am aging when I think of a guy who is 42 as “a young man.” Ouch.

They told us all about themselves and this farm and vineyard, The Palmiet. The owner was a German named Fred, who also collected vintage Mercedes, which were housed below us as we sipped the juice of grapes grown in the vineyards below, and overlooked the apricots and guavas in the darkening groves.

“It takes twenty years to fuck up a country.” So said Fred at breakfast. Fred should know. He worked for thirty years as the consultant to international banks on all matters African. Knowing when Country X was about to fuck up would have been quite valuable information to the financial wizards in Stuttgart. He reassured us that South Africa, having been structured so well over the past century would take thirty years.

Winetasting-Angelo had given us the names of a few wineries that he recommended, off the beaten path, “no tour busses.” Oh my god. All three were sensual treats for the eyes and the tongue. Our favorite was GlenWood which lay 3 km down a gravel track and nestled into the foothills. This being our third stop of the day, we were obviously relaxed to the point of jellyfish as we plunked down at the picnic table under the trees.

Our hostess had lived there all her life and seemed overjoyed to have someone to talk to there back in the hills, off the beaten path. She was a delight and so was the un-oaked Chardonnay that won the day’s blue ribbon and the purchase of half a case of its green bottles. As experiences go, a day of wine tasting with good old friends in the wine country of South Africa takes its place way up there near the top.

Gansbaai- While it may take twenty years to fuck up a country, a great white shark can fuck up your day in a second or two. Regardless of the mesh cage all five of us black human sausages are wetsuited and weighted down and squeezed into, we are doubtlessly in Mr. Shark’s ‘hood, not our own. It’s damn cold. The swells are swelling. The chum is spreading its pinkness across the surface of the gray waters all around us, snagging the attention of sharks in search of a quick snack or an early brunch. Chum, for those who haven’t had the pleasure, is the innards and outtards of fish, chopped and diced in a barrel and poured into the sea to bait and lure the great white. The expression, “acting chummy” with someone will never have the same meaning for me.

Even before we were lowered into the sea, the first of our shark encounters had begun, and it is definitely up close and personal. The cage is rigged so that it sort of hovers with your head just above the surface, and the crew shouts, “Now, now!” whenever a shark approaches and you are supposed to submerge and check him out through your snorkel mask, white face to gray face. We had two encounters during our twenty or so minutes in the drink. Each of our fellow creatures was about as long as the metal cage that separated us, maybe two meters. Just juveniles, we were told. Holy shit.

In some ways, the viewing is actually better from the upper deck of the boat than in the cage. Definitely warmer, drier, and not as apt to induce a case of blue peter (remember?). By this time the heaving of the boat is approaching the point of heaving in the passengers and the shoreline is looking better by the moment. You’ve swum with the sharks, earned the t-shirt, and ready to celebrate…on terra firma.

Stanford-Maybe you recall the village of Stanford from our earlier tales. It is just twelve minutes from DeKelders and home to some of our new friends. We had wanted to take Gary and Barb to the local restaurant, Hennie’s, for their renowned steaks. Hennie himself had been out of town the last time we had gone there, and no steaks were being served, so we were all the more ready for the beef.

Slowly down Queen Victoria St. past darkened white plaster homes and crowded eateries to Hennie’s, but wait! The stop light that is mounted by the front door is lit in red, they’re closed. Oh no, damn. Written on the chalkboard that would normally list the day’s specials is the cryptic message: “Good bye, Christine. Memorial Service Friday” Hmm?

We u-turned and headed for the other places for a bite and a drink, disappointed. After dinner, we go to Michael’s Deli to introduce the Lunsfords and have a nightcap. Lena, his wife, pulls us aside immediately with “Have you heard?” “No. Heard what?” “About Hennie’s wife, Christine? She was murdered yesterday morning in the restaurant!” Oh my god.

It seems a disgruntled employee whom she had accused of stealing wine the previous week and from whom she had held back some wages to cover the loss had come in with two friends as she opened for the day, as was her routine. He proceeded to beat her up and then slit her throat. For 65 rand, eight dollars.

She leaves a 13 year old daughter and husband, Hennie. And, yes, the genius murderer was captured on the video camera and later at the squatters’ camp on the edge of town. Gulp. And double gulp.

This kind of thing happens in Jo’burg. Parts of Cape Town. Not in the pastoral village of Stanford out here in the Overberg. The incident made the national papers with headlines like “Murder Shocks Tranquil Village.” The whole thing has had a pretty profound effect on us in our outlook toward South African living…

Cape Town Waterfront-“Africa is not for sissies” read the t-shirt I saw yesterday. We had gone back into the city to see our friend, Roger, his visiting ex-Aramcon friend, Donna, and to wish Gary and Barb farewell as they end their holiday and return to Saudi.

The V&A Waterfront is a touristy, yet classy, development of shops and hotels adjacent to the working harbor of Cape Town. It seems light years away from squatter’s camps, townships and corrugated shacks. It has the Newport Beach vibe. Beer gardens, art galleries, bookshops, sea food. All so very tidy.

But, as I write this, I can’t help but think about Christine, and all the other Christines in South Africa. There are many. The USA has the reputation globally of being a dangerous place, with all those guns everywhere and the gangster movies and a high murder rate. South Africa’s is eight times higher.

Amid the splendor of the wine country, the sea coasts, the golf courses and safari lodges lies the simple statistic that tells you that you are eight times more likely to be murdered here than in the USA, and I find myself not-that-comfortable in lots of neighborhoods in America. This is a land of contrasts that go on and on like fractals. First world/third world. Diamonds on the soles of the shoes/barefoot in the shantytown. And it isn’t something new. I am reading the classic novel, “Cry, the Beloved Country” which was written in 1948 and could just as easily be lifted from today’s newspaper. From the articles about Christine. Striving to make sense of senseless crimes and finding no answer. The web of history is woven so tightly here that untangling it is no easy feat.

What is meant by “native?” There are white people, born and bred on this soil whose roots go back to 1650. There are San and Khoi people whose roots go back to the dawn of mankind. There are immigrants from Germany, Ghana, Zimbabwe, Botswana, and even the USA. This country has 11 recognized national languages. Rainbow Nation. Two Nobel Peace Prize winners lived on the same Soweto street. The next likely president has five wives. The concept of a national park was invented here and the Big Five-elephants, lions, cheetah, rhino, and hippo-can be spotted within them.

I’m rambling here, but maybe you get my point that this is one complex land, both in the human aspect and the natural one. Maybe that is what makes it fascinating. Odd of Africa to be sure. Stay tuned.

Week Six, or is it Seven?

Week six or seven…

At some point, one so undisciplined as I (me?) starts to lose focus and drift. The days ooze on by. I forget yet again to make any kind of journal entry or notes at the end of another evening. And before you can say, “Waenhuiskransdorp,” another week has evaporated. Hey, I do my best to keep up, ok?

Some character sketches:

Offie Hoffman-Offie is the husband of Rika, one of Mimi’s quilting buddies. He is a former journalist, the crime beat, for publications all over the country, but finished his career at the newspaper in Cape Town. He is my age, (but why does he seem so much older?), and sports a large white beard and a midsection to match. He blames the weight gain on his having quit smoking a few years ago. Offie enjoys rugby and beer, two traits I hold in elevated esteem.

He introduced me to bowls, or lawn bowling, a “sport” popular in England, India, and SA. He is a member of the Franskraal Bowling Association, to which I, too, have applied for proper membership. We went for a practice round one day last week, Thursday, which is important since Wednesdays require all bowlers to wear whites only. (Which matches the racial make-up of the Club, too, now that I think about it.) Bowls is a game for the not-so-active, to put it politely. Shuffleboard may provide a better cardio workout and Scrabble better flexibility training. All of the players we saw in a tournament against the local powerhouse, Hermanus, on Friday, were retirees, male and female. Who the hell else goes bowling on a weekday, except for the Dude Lebowski?

The rules of bowls are similar to petanque (boules) and bocce in that there is an object ball and points are scored for being closest. The balls, or “woods” are somewhere between the size of a grapefruit and a cantaloupe and are weighted to one side. So, you get a curvature to your roll, one side or the other, depending on the markings indicating the weight. The court or pitch or field or lawn is manicured grass on par with a putting green (get it…on par?) and is a rectangle about thirty meters long divided into several lanes so that five or six games can proceed at the same time on the court or pitch or field or lawn or whatever.

When I would roll one far to the left or right of the white object ball, or “jack”, Offie would tell me that I had “too much grass.” Damn, I hadn’t been accused of that since the dorm in ‘72! I’m not sure how into Bowls I’m going to get, but there is a nice clubhouse with a friendly bartender, so Franskraal Bowling Association here I come.

Oom Paul- Oom Paul was recommended by the quilting ladies as the person to go to with sewing machine concerns. Lawn Bowling. Quilting. Now, don’t get the wrong idea about the Wixteds here in De Kelders. We retain our youthful vim, it’s just that nobody else here does and we are trying to make some connections to the local community.

Oom Paul, (Uncle Paul), has a long white beard and glasses and the most peaceful, Zen Buddhist approach to machinery I have ever seen. Mimi and I sat with him at his work table as he ever so patiently and logically tested the power, the works, the connections of her machine. Sewing machine, Kathy! Like acolytes at the foot of the Buddha we sat rapt as he accompanied each turn of the screwdriver with an explanation of what to expect and how it should function. Peaceful. Slowly. Part by part. He predicted what the problem would be many, many steps before we got to that point in the operation, but his engineering mindset forced him to proceed step by logical step without jumping ahead.

Of course, he was right on. He could easily get the part in town, he explained, and it would cost us 50 rand, about $6. Not just the part, not just his driving into town to buy it, but the whole repair job! To my knowledge, in the USA, first of all, there is nobody who does this kind of repair thing anymore, you just throw it away and get a new one, and if there were such a person left alive, I would expect to pay a heap more for his time and skills.

Mimi also brought along the hairdryer she had bought here in South Africa years ago, but hadn’t used for a few years due to its 220 voltage. When Mimi, wet hair dripping, plugged it in here at home for the first time after taking it from our shipment, it proceeded to belch thick funky white smoke and just sat there.

Oom Paul was unfazed. Safety first, he told us, as he checked the current with his voltmeter. Seems fine. To open the case required a weird tool, one which Oom Paul had constructed for himself but would have to find. He had a thought and tried to turn the fan manually before getting into the innards of the machine. Sticky at first. And like Sherlock Holmes he had solved the mystery again, and with more turning of the fan it freed up and when he plugged it back in..voila! Zen and the Art of Sewing Machine Maintenance.

Muriel-There are many hitchhikers along the roads of South Africa. I have never seen a white one, but I suppose there are a few. And, there as many stories about brutal rapes and murders and as many warnings about not offering rides as there are thumbs outstretched.

Mimi responds every time I pass one of these unfortunate souls, “Can’t we pick them up?” Lamely, I repeat every time, “ I didn’t notice them until we were already passed and there is a guy right on my tail.” I never do and there always is. Honest!

But, the other night was different. It was after dark on a Friday, cold, blustery, and we were going into Stanford to drop in on Michael, the brewery guy. At the corner of our street, just before getting up to the highway, we see two women and a small boy of six or so who flag us down at the stop sign. I am ready to give in, since I have indeed noticed them and there is indeed nobody on my tail and I’ve run out of bullshit excuses. “Where are you going?” “Gansbaai, menhir” “Oh, too bad, we are going the other way, to Stanford.” Whew.

A few meters past them and Mimi guilt trips me into turning around and taking them into Gansbaai, just “five minutes out of our way.” Hop in ladies. Excitedly they scramble in the back seat and let loose with several rounds of “Dankie, dankie, baie dankie” (Thank you, thank you, thank you very much, in Afrikaans.) We respond with our well-worn reply that we don’t know Afrikaans, English only, which gets their curiosity aroused as to our origin. “German?” No. “England” No. “Jewish?” No. It starts with an A. “Italy?”

Muriel had had her full share of ale earlier apparently. She and her sister, whose name we didn’t catch, and her son, Coen lived in the settlement, Blompark, on the other side of Gansbaai, just past the library. We had never been back in there, so, just like Mimi’s love of the cultural route through the Shiite village in Bahrain instead of taking the more direct highway, she was pleased at the opportunity. At first.

The houses start out as simple rectangular structures, large enough for two rooms, all crammed together, gravel roads, simple, basic, but liveable. Then, as you go further into Blompark (the projects always have those lovely countryside names, don’t they!) it gets rougher. The brick walls give way to tin. The galvanized roofs give way to tarps. Sewage runs along the street instead of through pipes.

The big shiny white Nissan XTrail is garnering its share of looks, as Muriel is giggling and waving merrily to her friends as we roll by. She is having a grand old time, as they say. I, meanwhile, am envisioning the big pot I’m going to be boiled in and the size of the chief who is going to take Mimi as his fifth wife. (Jacob Zuma, in line for the presidency in 2009, does have five wives!)

After threading our way through the Bowels of Blompark, 7220, we arrive at Muriel’s place. It is a 10 foot shipping container converted to a townhouse. Inside we can barely make out several other people, among them is Muriel’s mum, some 300 years old, toothless, and pretty much clueless, as well. At this point, Muriel’s sister gets out with Coen in tow, thanking us again and wishing for God’s blessing upon such kind people.

Muriel pulls the door shut and says, “Let’s go to Stanford!” No, Muriel, you are not going to Stanford with us. “Yes.” No. “We drink beer.” No. Amidst this debate she is also grabbing our hands and kissing us, hugging us from her back seat , HER back seat and laughing hysterically. “Stanford!” No!! I think I can hear the water boiling for a hot bowl of Bo Bullion.

It would be called a Mexican Standoff, except Muriel is Khoikhoi and we are Italian, …I mean, American. Picture Nelson Mandela drunk and wearing a skirt. Then, like a gift from the gods, maybe the one that Muriel’s sister had wished upon us, Coen starts crying uncontrollably thinking we are taking his mother away. It’s a rare mum who can resist the tears of her offspring, and, even our Muriel, blasted on beer and ready for a night out on the town with her new white friends in Stanford, found herself unable to bear Coen’s weeping. With her sister, her toothless mum, and Coen, as well as a couple guys who had stopped to see what all the fuss was about all rooting and cajoling her to get the hell out of the truck in a mix of Afrikaans, English, and Xhosa, Muriel reluctantly …slowly, unclicked her seatbelt, unlocked the door, and stepped none-too-gracefully from the truck.

We u-turned, and retraced our route through the shacks as best as we could manage in the darkness, breathed our heavy sighs, and broke into a ten minute chorus of all-out relieved laughter. “Did you learn anything from this experience, dear?”

Gerhard-We’ve mentioned our real estate agent and friend for life, Gerhard (Hair-art), many times. He is such a great guy. He lives just up the hill from us, I can see his house and the B and B he runs from where I am sitting. He has a dry sense of humor that is often so dry you might miss the joke if he weren’t laughing so hard himself. We get together with him and his wife, Alet, every few days for dinner or just sundowners.

On Sunday, Mimi made a fantastic chicken artichoke dish using her sister, Carol’s, famous recipe, and we lit the candles for an intimate dinner on the deck. The food was delicious, the wine flowed. At some point, we got onto the subject of the scorpions in the bathroom, the otters in the cove, and the other various animals we might expect to spot around here. Gerhard mentioned that there is a great owl, a Spotted Eagle Owl, who likes the telephone poles near us. The male will hoot twice and you must answer with three hoots and he will believe it is his mate. Haven’t seen him, but we’ll keep an eye out.

Tuesday night, Mimi and I are enjoying our usual wave gazing from the glassed-in part of the deck. Whoo-whoo. Whoo-whoo. Damn, that sounds so close! Whoo-whoo. Must be Gerhard pulling a prank on us. Shhh, there it goes again. Whoo-whoo. Whoo-whoo. Mimi, the intrepid explorer goes to the big sliding window, slides it wide open to get a better view, and gasps. Whispering, “It’s the owl and he’s right here!!”

My god, in a hushed reply, he is really RIGHT THERE! Just a meter or so from the window, perched contentedly and silhouetted against the half moonlight, is Mr. Spotted Eagle Owl himself.

No hesitation. Mimi launches forth with her best Owl of the Evening, Whoo-whooo-whooooooo. Whoo-whooo-whooooooo. Like an F-16 Mr. Owl wheels and dives, claws outstretched, anxious to pounce on his presumed new mate, Mimi. Aaaaaaaaaaahhh! We tangle arms and she stamps on my toes as we try to close the slider in the nanosecond we have before suffering death by owl.

The window closes and muffles our screams. Mr. Owl veers away in a quick graceful arc. I’m not sure who (whoo whooo) was more surprised, him or us, but we have learned that it isn’t too wise to give a hoot to an owl. It nearly scared the hooters off of us.

Wildlife and Week 5

Week 5

There are many wild animals that can cause you harm in Africa. A lion can leap and rip you to ribbons in minutes. Ellies can trample your tent and tusk your tooshie. Crocs can crunch you into a corpse in less time than it takes to say “wildebeest!” Hippos can hurt you. Rhinos can ruin your day. Mosquitoes can malarialize you. The list goes on.

But there is only one species that can steal your soul. One lowdown creature, lower than the rest, lower than lemurs, lower than lichen. One lifeform who looks to live from your loss, even when it’s not hungry.

I’m talking, obviously, about homo sapiens.

Recall what I had mentioned about our “urban safari” into Cape Town being our most dangerous travel to date. While we did escape the city, free from harm, we discovered, several days later, whilst trying to pay our American Express bills online, that we had charged airline tickets, electronics, and lots of meals in Cape Town. Hmmm…except that we were back here ensconced in De Kelders while these alleged charges were transacted.

Yes, we phoned right away. Yes, we spoke to several unhelpful folks in Bangalore. Yes, it seems that the hold we placed on the account is holding. But, the troubling part of the story is that the credit cards are still in our wallets, seemingly content and undisturbed. Which begs the question, how the hell did the bad guys get our info from the cards, and who lets someone charge over $1000 worth of electronics without asking for ID?

We are now trying to further deal with American Express, “Yes, leave home without it!” It’s gotten to the absurd as all of the documents we faxed from the internet cafĂ© to prove that we are who we say we are prove to be not enough and now they want to hold a conference call with my brother, Dan, who is an Amex cardholder so that he can verify that it is Mimi’s voice! My initial reaction is “So, why all the security features employed on this end, when there were apparently not too many on the front end?”

Oh well. Like I said, it’s a jungle out there.

While I’m talking about animal life, let me tell you a bit about the animals native to our locale.

Here in De Kelders, we are far from the game parks and all those famous national geo land mammals. We plan to make some journeys that direction before long. But we do have our share of animalia here.

Mammals: While it isn’t yet whale season, that’s August – November, springtime down south, when our fellow intelligent mammals come closer to the equator and check-in to our cozy little bay to grab some nookie and have some calves. That will be cool, but to date we have only spotted whales on two occasions.

Seal, or sea lions, whichever is correct, do frolic just offshore from us here in the rental. Mimi can spot them like a game guide, while I can’t tell a flipper from the kelp that bobs in the waves and camouflages the little critters perfectly against their nemesis shark dudes. The seals, there are about six or eight who hang here, loll about on their backs, they wave (to us, we believe), they dive for munchies, they chase each other like kindergartners on recess. Very cool.

Dassies, or rock hyraxes, are rodent-like beaver-ish furry devils that inhabit the boulder zones at the bottom of the cliffs, edge of the sea. They are also found at the top of Table Mountain in Cape Town, and, I suppose, wherever there are rocks and free food. They are harmless and shy and scatter when we approach on the seaside trails.
My only experience, and probably yours, with mongooses (geese?) was in that Rudyard Kipling story, Rikki-tikki-tavi. Now, I am on more a familiar basis with the critters. Our friend, Gerhard, has lots of them in the yard of his B and B. They hop-hop-hop out of the fynbos and with a wiggle of their little nose they snatch the leftovers right from his hand.

Birdlife abounds. Not just the white gulls, but the black cormorants, too, (keeping with the “rainbow nation” theme.) The numbers of cormorants that pass us in a flying wedge formation (outlawed in football years ago, but still legal for birds, except the Seahawks, I guess) is unbelievable. Some evenings, around sunset, the parade goes on for hours, unbroken v’s, each one with maybe fifty birds, zooming just above sea level, all going the same direction, commuter traffic, since they all went the other way in the morning, endless. It makes the water appear to ripple, but on closer inspection through the binoc’s it’s the hordes of birds. “Mr. Hitchcock, you’re wanted on location.. Ms. Hedron, please take your mark…!”

The local birdlife seems to love the fynbos (fain boss) and we are surrounded by the bushes, so awake each morning to a chorus of chirps, screeches, and songs. And that’s just the workers doing the remodel job across the street! No, really, it is quite a nice way to wake up, if there is such a thing.

Francolins, or guinea fowl, run at will through De Kelders. When we jog they cross the road…why? we don’t know. They flurry out of the underbrush in groups of five or six when we hike the trails, much like the dassies. I guess they can fly, but they seem to prefer hustling over the ground.

Out of town, along the highways and up into the hills, we have spotted numerous hawks, gorgeous red ones, usually perched on a telephone line, checking for field mice and taking flight when we stop to snap their photos.

Reptiles and Amphibians: We have seen several beautiful tortoises in the back yard and along the roads. Cute guys. We’ve seen a couple of small snakes, no longer than a foot, squashed on the asphalt. And in our neighbor’s garden across the street there are some cool-sounding frogs.

Insects. Well, there are mosquitoes, but we bought this little machine that takes these little blue thingies that supposedly give off some odor that the mossies find yucky. Seems to work, mostly. Crickets, however, seem to find the smell to their liking, as we have thumped several in the master bedroom, inches from Mimi’s side of the bed, abruptly pulling the plug on their evening concerts. Scorpions are not strangers to us, being from AZ, where the son of a guns can ruin your day, and Saudi, where they can actually cause your demise. But, in all our years in those places we only saw them once or twice, aside from tours to the Desert Museum. So, what’s with finding the buggers twice so far in our short SA stay!? On two separate occasions a trip to the bathroom has been followed by an “Aaaarghhh!” We can’t figure out how they get up to the second floor, but people assure us that this variety’s sting is no deadlier than a bee sting. Even so, a midnight trip to the loo isn’t complete without a torch. (Even so, a midnight trip to the ‘toilet’ isn’t complete without a ‘flashlight.’)

Fish and mollusks. Well, there are plenty of fish out there in the sea! Isn’t that what your mother told you? Buitensteen’s Pub has a couple mean-ass fish trophies mounted on the wall scowling, razor-toothed buggers. And the swords of unfortunate sword fish. Also, a wall or two are completely papered in the opalescence of abalone shells. The Chinese have a thing about these shell creatures, like they do about rhino horn, elephant tusk, and any other endangered species, it seems. So, this has created a problematic black market in abalone, and they have been taken almost to extinction from the shoals along our shore. There is quite a mafia engaged in this, to the point that a helicopter buzzes overhead every few days, and a red-painted boat patrols the shores trying to apprehend these poachers.

I’m not a fisherman, nor even big on eating fish, but the local fresh calamari is exquisite, the mussels rubbery good, and the fish ‘n chips flaky and delish. The fishing boats do their crawl past us, evenings mostly, headlights with their brights on, a kilometer or three off shore, and nets outstretched. Keep up the good work, men.
Once we start travelling further afield, I'll try to keep up posting about the animals we encounter. Till then, Bear Down.

Week Four

Urban Safari. Cape Town. Clearly an adventure more life threatening than anything out in the bush. The Concrete Jungle. Wild-life.

We feel it is time to head into the big city, The Mother City, for a “cultah” fix after being out here on the cliffs for three weeks.

The Spier Winery is one of the largest in South Africa and traces its founding back to the mid-1600’s. Annually they sponsor a Performing Arts Festival on their fantastic grounds, but this year have decided to hold it in public places in Cape Town to include those who wouldn’t normally get the exposure. Cool. Let’s do it.

Betty, our faithful GPS, who had counseled and gently guided us across the entire USA, coast to coast, had just gotten her Map of Southern Africa download and was ready to handle rotaries and left-side driving. Mimi programmed in the Parliament Hotel, and bing, bing, let me get my bearings….bam…she’s got it in her memory.

A few wrong turns, my fault, not Betty’s, and we enter the parking garage, up, up, up to level K. We plunk down our bags and are off to the first public performance of the five or so we would see over the next three days. Great stuff with a mix of French, Mozambican, and all shades of South Africans dancing, singing, acting, speaking and all taking place in squares and parks in the shadow of Table Mountain. Wonderful. Wacky. Wild.

Speaking of which, Cape Town, South Africa’s version of San Francisco, has its mini version of Haight Ashbury in Long Street. It is backpacker haven. Funky antique shops. Galleries. Restaurants serving grilled boerwors to curry to Vietnamese dog. Just kidding about the dog, probably rat, anyhow. It’s where the young and hip come to be seen. To drive the Beamer with the top down and the subwoofer thumping. To show off the latest dreads, or, as we were surprised to see, the return of the 60’s afro. Spiky heels and low cut tops. And you should have seen what the girls were wearing! For us hicks from the hinterland, it is a Gooolly, Gomer! experience. A welcome one.

We bought tickets for one of the night performances, Dreamland and weren’t all that comfortable walking there, after repeated warnings about our safety from everyone from the hotel clerk to Manuel, the artist who acted as our uninvited guide for half the day. The experience began in front of the National Art Gallery with comp wine. Remember it is a Spier Winery Festival. Are we dressed appropriately? Well, there is everything from sari’s to traditional African wraps to khaki shorts and t-shirts. Just as night is falling, ten mounted policemen, mounted as in on horseback, encircle us, the assembled culturatti. One is clearly not an officer. She is dressed in a skin tight sequined black knight outfit and commands us to, “Follow.”

Who is going to argue with a knight and nine cops on horseback? We are led through the gardens to the courtyard of the Natural History Museum. The horsemen, plus one, again encircle us. Nervous tittering. A cell phone ringtone. And then, up on the balcony appeared three dancers writhing to an eerie, hypnotic flute/drum rhythm that had slowly risen. A voice from somewhere says something about dreams, and we are again led , this time into the museum itself.

Passing massive models and dinosaur dioramas down dimly lit corridors, and then the broad expanse of the whale room, Mr. Blue Whale skeleton suspended from the ceiling above us. I can’t capture all that happened in our “dreamtime” experience, but imagine: guys rappelling from the ceiling, a corpse-like dancer, draped in linen, moaning, video on the big screen with images that connect to very little, animations, black and white designs, an African guitarist/singer performing two beautiful songs in Zulu live, a narrator who walks in slow motion and describes her dream, dancers appearing left -right -below and above us at random times, and then, suddenly, a heavenly, angelic operatic aria begins. Is it from the speakers? No, one by one, about a third of the “audience” rises and belts out the most beautiful free form melody, and then walks out of the auditorium. By the end, we are firmly plunged into dreamtime.
One chore we wanted to take care of was buying tickets for the upcoming Cape Town Jazz Festival for us and our visiting dignitaries, Gary and Barb. We traipsed this way and that trying to find the Computicket without success. We finally ask a blue blazered young man in front of the Westin Hotel and he tells us to simply wait for the hotel shuttle which is coming soon and will take us right where we need to go. Great. So, we settle onto a bench there and can't help but notice the cluster of vehicles, police and otherwise, gathered by the main entrance. Moments later, who should stride from the hotel but Monsieur et Madame Sarkozy, President of La France! We are really the only non-security-type people standing there by the entrance, so as he looks over to us, I give him the manly nod and he returns it with a big smile, a wave, and a special wink to Mimi, the cad! Amazing in this day and age to be allowed to stand just a few feet away from a world leader. He must have been impressed.

Leaving Cape Town, we head to Stellenbosch, wine country, to meet up with a friend from Aramco. Helmut is in town to ride in the Cape Argus, a one-day, 35,000 rider bike race around the Cape. He is staying at…Spier Winery and Hotel and Cheetah Recover Center and African Craft Shop and Whatever Else They Have Managed to capitalize on in their spectacularly beautiful primo location. Several glasses of….Spier Chardonnay, catching up on who is doing what to whom and we are on the road that winds over the mountains, to the Overberg. Home.

Week Three

A long morning run out to the Plaat (beach) where I hiked in a bit and planted my butt on a bench whose brass plaque dedicates it to two young women who must have met a sudden and sad end on the same day, our anniversary, 1999. But the site of this little memorial couldn’t have been better chosen as the view all the way down the 10 miles of unspoiled white sand beach, with one lone fisherman his 12 -foot pole propped up by driftwood as he kicks back. Just below me, the waves are crashing hard and continuing their billion year cave construction project, the one with the floating deadline. Khaki clad tourists from Grootbos, the 5-star resort up on the hill above De Kelders are obediently tracing the well-practiced steps of their guide over the crags and into the caves. Klipgat. These caves were home to some of the earliest known hominids, your distant cousins and mine. I sit for an hour listening alternately to the waves’ beat and Joni Mitchell’s latest masterpiece. She would have approved.

Once home, Mimi arrives from her weight room workout at the same time and we shower and have a lunch out on the deck. Let’s go somewhere. OK. After a stop to get more phone minutes, a quality map of the Overberg at the Info office, and our official Gansbaai Library Cards, we are off to Pearly Bay, Elim and points east.

Trying out the XTrail’s legs abit. The little town of Pearly Bay has two little mini marts, back to back and neither sells alcohol. “You’ll have to go back to Gansbaai for that.” Oh well. A wonderful little beach, much the same as “our beach.” Rocky shoreline with loads of tidepools and a blue/green sea crested in blowing curtains of white foam. Some houses cling to the hillside, though it isn’t as steep or cliff-ish as De Kelders.

We move along on the gravel road that cuts east, perpendicular to the sea, into the hills toward Elim. After 20 km of farmlands, we enter the little dorp (town) of Elim, thatch houses run the length of both sides of Main Street. Tidy. Mostly white, but some taking the stylish leap to wilder choices in plaster paint. Rap music thumps from inside one. An ancient guy stares over the half-door of another. Little girls of four or five chase each other barefoot over lawns and across the street. A farming town, and not much more.

Turning back toward the sea, we pass through Wolversdorp?? Supposedly an arty town. Though there is a great sculpture garden surrounding one farmhouse, there seems to be no one else home. Onwards down to Die Dam? What is it? A town? A “dam” is not the same as a dam in the rest of the world. Here, a dam is the pond that is formed by making a dam…got it? Some of them are nothing short of reservoirs and lakes suitable for sailing and fishing, while some can almost be jumped across. Anyhow, Die Dam lies, according to our new map, right on a point on the coast. Sure enough, it does. And besides a sandy 2-car parking spot, there is nothing else, but gorgeous beach.

A couple days later we drive to Danger Pointt., with its imposing lighthouse. Today it is also the site of the finish of a mountain bike race. We arrive too late to see any of the action, just the sweaty jerseyed guys hauling their bikes onto their racks and driving away.

In 1852, the Birkenhead, a British sailing ship caught in the transition to steam, so it boasted both sails and steam-driven paddlewheels, was bound from England to the Eastern Cape of South Africa bringing supplies, troops and families to the soldiers fighting the Boers over control of this country. After refueling, it disembarked from Cape Town at 14:00 and at about 02:00 struck a rocky reef and was torn apart. There were more than 500 souls on board and only about 200 survived. The rule, “Women and children first!” was originated that dark summer's night, February 26, 1852. We learned that in those days very few people, even sailors, knew how to swim. It just wasn’t done. There were no pools. No YMCA. And, at least in northern Europe, the seas were just too damn cold for sane folks to contemplate entering them.

Anyhow, the infamous rock that dealt the blow is still visible from the lighthouse and “Birkenhead” is applied to all kinds of things in this area, from beers to guesthouses. Our buddy, Gerhard, is building a wooden replica of the ship from the original plans he got from Britain to a great degree of detail. When finished he will place it in the Information Building in Gansbaai.

Leaving the point, we spot a sign for, what else? The Birkenhead Tavern. We pop in for a cool one under the lapa (thatch). As we talk to our waitress, we find that she is a marathon runner just arrived from Cape Town and, like Mimi, wants to start a running club in Gansbaai. Cool. Running.

Week Two

We had our first full night’s sleep after tangling with the residue of jet lag! Up at 7-ish, coffee, lounging, reading, fruit cut by my favorite wife. Mimi decides to drive to Gansbaai to workout at the gym we joined, X-Treme Fitness, and get a haircut, while Bo does his run to the same destination, 4 km or so. Up and down small hills is good for the heart, I’m sure. Noticed lots of creative little rock gardens and plantings in the neighborhoods between here and there. Simple, modest homes, but these Afrikaans are nothing, if not tidy.

The gym: Despite the “thump thump music?" we both complete a decent first weight workout for the first time in a year. Most of the machines and treadmills are what we were used to at Aramco, windows look out to the primary school. A little kid , about two yrs old, walks in on his own, goes straight to the boxing gloves on the floor near the punching bag, puts them on and starts throwing punches. Too cute.

We go over to Stanford this evening for the Rotary meeting. Huh? Well, Michael had invited us, so what the hell. It was held in his cafe, (he also owns this in addition to his chef job) The Deli, and some older guys with name tags greet us with hearty handshakes all round. The meeting comes to order and we learn that this is the initial startup meeting of the Stanford chapter. The guys from Hermanus, proceed to deliver poor power point presentations of the duties and responsibilities inherent in the various offices in RI (Rotary International), but we, the NR (Newly Retired) find the whole thing too structured for our liberated selves. While the goals and fund raising activities sound pretty cool, we just can’t commit, just yet, thanks.

The meeting ends at last, and the real “meeting” can begin. We chit chat with the others there and find them interesting and quirky. The young woman from London here for only 2 months. The divorced woman with more than her share of opinions. And Michelle, life counselor. As we talk, she asks us, “In Saudi, you didn’t, by any chance, know… (Here it comes, some outrageous hope that we knew someone) …the Hahn family?" Why, as a matter of fact, wed DID know Dr. Hahn! Taught both their children. She is the sister-in-law or some such. Amazing.

We go down to Emilio’s for dinner accompanied by Michael, The Deli's bartender, hefty Johann, and Chris , the seventy-something sot. A wonderful dinner and lots of wine and good conversation. Chris has had quite a life in the entrepreneurial world, hotels, this, that. He owns more businesses than the fourth bottle of cabernet sauvignon can afford his memory. He bought the very first Mercedes 280 SL in South Africa, he tells us slurring, and on that very first day, fresh from the dealer, he’d had a few too many, he hits a guy carrying a bike on his back walking along the dark road, which then tangled beneath his new ride, (the bike, not the guy) and cut the Mercedes' hydraulics. Without steering, he goes right off a cliff, unharmed. Mercedes Corp. replaced the totaled car the next day, but left the old one at the bottom of the ravine.

Our own auto tale continues as we drive to Strand to see the XTrail at Helderberg Nissan, and meet again with Peter. The car’s come down from JoBurg and they’ve found a little scratch on the front bumper that needs to be painted, no problem. Also had the “101 point Nissan checkup.” Oooh. Looks great, shiny and almost new. Let’s go for a spin. So, Peter takes the wheel, while Leon, the manager piles in for the heck of it and to assist Peter deliver the deal, no doubt. Tentatively, he backs it, turning to exit the showroom…and, “Peter!” Crunch! He proceeds to put the front door panel into the rear taillight of a showroom bakkie. Ooh shit! I can see Rodney Dangerfield in Caddyshack when his yacht's anchor drops through the Judge's new sloop. Oooh. A definite dent and a shattered taillight. So much for this car never having been in an accident, I say.

We all pile out and inspect as Peter breaks into an Auschwitz sweat. We all try to be reassuring, but Leon takes the helm, just the same. After he maneuvers us out of the showroom safely, Mimi takes the wheel and we tour around greater Strand. Good pickup, good brakes. Quiet enough ride for a 4x4. Bo takes it for a while, goosing it a bit. Seems solid. This vehicle falls a step below the rough-out macho of “off-road" into the classification known here as “soft-road."

Back at the dealership, we get him to take off 2000 rand and throw in the 2 yr warranty package. And, of course, to fix the dents, old and new. They offer us a loaner so that we can return the rental and save a few bucks. Fine. We deal with banking and finally after 2 hrs of forms and online manipulation have it cleared. We return the well-used Toyota to the airport Hertz and then head back to the Overberg in the loaner. The XTrail will be ready by Friday.

We stop by the Peregrine, the farmstall in the pass near Grabouw and Elgin (as in be-gin, “you drink gin, not Elgin”) for lunch and to meet Justin, Chris’ son who manages the place for dear old, sot dad. Sitting sharing the outside picnic table with a guy who reads my t-shirt and says, “Phoenix? Iwas just there in October. Nice country,”

Valentine’s Day, we went to Hermanus to meet with Nicolette, our architect. Cool little office in an old farmhouse. She and Leon, her assistant, give us a great presentation, all the new details, and we love it all. The changes she has made are cool improvements, and we like it all. A very nice discussion…and then it hits.

She pulls out the folder with the engineer’s cost estimates. The maximum of 2.5 million rand that we had set from the start has been exceeded slightly, like doubled, almost. The new cost breakdown comes to 3.8, not counting her fee. We are breathless, speechless and I develop a quick headache. We manage to make it through the meeting, saying that the cost was quite high and we’d have to discuss it. I need the trainer to rush out on the field with the bucket and sponge and try to get me breathing again.

We are sick as we make the 30 min drive home in the loaner.

Oh well, Went to a nice Valentine’s Dinner with Gerhard and Alet at Farango, Gansbaai’s lone “trendy” restaurant. 2 bottles of wine and some excellent food, and they picked up the tab! Nice people.

Peter phones the next day and the car is ready. He will meet us in Hermanus at the Traffic Dept to do the registration, etc. He is there and we go through the ordeal with little pain, hand over the keys and we are in our new car. Mimi phones around to get insurance and that continues through the day until we find one who is reasonable, 450/mo. We have to go BACK to Hermanus to get the car inspected, so ok. The neighbors must be wondering who ARE these Americans- four cars in two weeks!?

Next day we take a nice hike along the trail along the getypools (tidepools) and Stanford's Cove. Some reading time, and the discontinuous discussion of what to do about the house. To Build or Not To Build, that is truly the question.

Our thinking is torn. We love the plans, are in love with the dream of building a house here. But, are finding that SA is more unstable politically than expected and that the cost of building being so damn high would leave us stretched very, very thin for the next 4 years, with uncertainty about resale values amidst the background of recession, etc. The thought of being under the gun and close to the financial edge doesn’t make Bo too happy. Mimi is ever the optimist. What to do?

Invited Gerhard and Alet for drinks and snacks and to check out the house plans. Gerhard, a real estate agent who has roots in this town going back to his grandfather (Gogo) who built one of the original five cottages on the cliffs below us, puts a hypothetical price tag of 10 million rand on the house as planned and built on our lot, which we think is a bit optimistic, but hell, we’ll take it. His advice convinces us, at least temporarily, to go for it and build the house. Countless ciphering and figuring and gut wrenching trying to figure out the finances of the thing. The House Beast. It totally blows all the projections and planning I had done for the past 4 years. Welcome to the Real World.