“The Smoke That Thunders”

 

IMG_20170516_094238_569

David Livingstone

On November 16, 1855, David Livingstone stumbled upon Mosi-oa-Tunya (Tonga for “The Smoke that Thunders”). Like any good European explorer, he renamed the falls after Queen Victoria of Britain. Although the World Heritage List recognizes both names, most people are familiar with the English name, “Victoria Falls.”

 

David Livingstone’s original goal was never to be an explorer. Even as a child, he was fascinated by the relationship between religion and science. As time and curiosity continued, he enrolled in a college focused on science and technology, then entered medical school. His goal to become a medical missionary is what brought him to Africa. This journey to Southern Africa opened up a heart for not just medical missions but also to help end the vast slave trade. As his interests persisted, he ventured to undeveloped areas of current day Botswana, Zimbabwe and Zambia which encouraged his urges of exploration. Today, he is regarded as a great explorer but it all began with his love for God and science.

Livingstone’s life story is one of passionate risk-taking. As I read through the “CliffsNotes” version (For those of you youngsters who have no idea what CliffsNotes are, please look it up), I see a man who took some amazing chances with the goal of making a difference in the world. He did not always get it right. At one time, those looking on from Europe called him a failure, a disaster, a waste of money and effort. And yet today, he is regarded as a hero of his time. Why? Because he had big dreams, chased them despite the dangers and impacted lives. What legacy will you leave behind?

 

IMG_20170409_001516_111
Double rainbow from the end of Victoria Falls

“The Smoke that Thunders” is a brilliantly beautiful description for Victoria Falls. As the water crashes down the cliff edge to the gorge below sounding like thunder, it causes mist to shoot back up the narrow crevice creating “smoke.” Beyond that, I really do not have words to describe the way my chest pounded in sync with the water hitting the bottom or how it felt to stand near the edge of the cliff as the mist was so thick it came down like rain, soaking us to the core. I cannot adequately detail the green, leafy trees intertwined with vibrant ivy that lined the walk path to the viewing spots. But what I can tell you is how my life was changed.

 

 

FB_IMG_1492816068297
Walking the path around Victoria Falls. Photo credit: Juyoung Ha.

Fifteen years ago I stood in this very spot. I walked the same paved path. I observed a rainbow from the same view-point. I experienced the thundering water in my chest. I felt the mist soak my clothes and skin. And I hardly appreciated it.

I was a much different person back then. I was angry about anything and everything. I had unrealistic expectation of circumstances that lead to major disappointment. I felt slighted by situations which by my perspective, did not play out in my favor. I was stubborn and moody. I wanted things my way, even when I did not know what I wanted. My main life theme was “I hate people.” I often wanted to be left alone. In reality, I had very little self-worth or self-esteem. Looking back, I have wondered how miserable I made my family while we were on this vacation.

Then, just over ten years ago I found myself at the “end of my rope.” My life felt like it was in ruin. I did not know who I was. I did not know what I liked. I did not know what I was worth. I did not like who I had become. I came to a crossroads and thought to myself, “Maybe life does not have to be this way. I am tired. I am tired of being angry. I am tired of hating everything. I am tired of hating myself. Maybe that can change.” And so started the journey of trying to figure out who I really am, why am I here and what is my purpose.

During that transition period, I looked back at my time in Africa and wished for a chance to redo the experience. I wondered how it would be different if I could see it through the eyes of the person I am today. I wondered what I missed out on by being crabby, upset or selfish. I wondered if I would ever get the opportunity to do it all over again.

 

IMG_20170517_195506_538
Heart restoration by Victoria Falls

As I stood before Victoria Falls for a second time in my life, I realized my wish…or maybe it was my prayer, was happening. It was really happening. God heard me and cared enough to bring personal restoration by providing the opportunity to return to this specific place. He is in the business of restoring those who believe in Him and choose to follow His lead in life. Anger, fear, self-lies, self-doubt, despair, disappointment, failure, pride and arrogance robbed me ten years ago. Yet He says I matter. I am worth the time, money and effort. I am not a burden but a blessing. I am not an annoyance but a joy. I am not a convenience but a priority.

 

God says you matter. You are worth the time, money and effort. You are not a burden but a blessing. You are not an annoyance but a joy. You are not a convenience but a priority. Restoration awaits you if you choose to believe Him and follow His lead in life. He promises it in His Word. And He never fails to keep His Word.

“Instead of shame and dishonor, you will enjoy a double share of honor.
You will possess a double portion of prosperity in your land,
and everlasting joy will be yours.
For I, the LORD, love justice. I hate robbery and wrongdoing.
I will faithfully reward my people for their suffering
and make an everlasting covenant with them.”
Isaiah 61:7-8

Even though David Livingstone was labeled a disappointment and a failure, he pressed on after the dream because he had hope of what was to come. I found that very hope ten years ago and it led me on a very unexpected, enjoyable and rewarding journey so far. The same hope is available to you. What are you waiting for?

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

Peace in the Okavango Delta

In addition to protecting animals, Botswana also has taken measures to protect the landscape as well. Within the past couple of years, the Okavango Delta has been recognized as one of the Seven Natural Wonders of Africa. It achieved the 1000th site to be labeled a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

With nowhere else to flow to, the Okavango River empties into a swampy marsh area known as the Okavango Delta. During the rainy season, the river can overpower the Delta causing it to flood. During the dry season, the Delta remains considerably low but provides enough water to sustain the delicate balance of wildlife and plant survival. Of course the details are far more involved by providing a delicate chemical balance and specific nutrients to the area which makes this place completely unique to the rest of the world but I am not an environmental biologist in any way so I will leave those details to the experts. Check out this website if you are interested in further information: http://www.okavangodelta.com.

Picked up from our campsite by a large, open truck, we bumped our way for a good hour or more along unmarked, pitted, dirt roads. Colorful birds flew between the lush trees lining either side of our path. Small, smiling children ran to the fence to wave as we passed by the quaint villages. Eventually we came to a shoreline with tiny canoe-type boats called “mokoros,” waiting for us.

 

Attributed only to the Okavango Delta, mokoros are used to navigate through the relatively shallow water and high reeds by using a large bamboo pole. The “poler” stands at the rear of the boat and pushes off the ground bottom with the pole to move the boat forward. As easy as it looks, it is actually a tough skill to master.

Hauling overnight bags, gear and kitchen supplies, we rode over an hour through the Delta toward the campsite. The scenery was beyond beautiful. Blue skies, tall reeds, green lily pads and blooming lotus flowers lined the path. How the polers knew where to guide the boats is still a mystery to me as they carved a path through the wetlands.

 

Our campsite was already set up and waiting for us when we arrived. Each tent had a front door and a back door. The back door led to a private, outdoor bathroom consisting of a drop toilet, hand wash station and bucket shower. We all cheered when we saw the “stretchers” or cots waiting for us in the rooms. Sometimes, it is small things like a night of not sleeping on the ground to bring joy to an adventure.

The area was completely peaceful. No traffic. No city noise. No construction. No hustle or bustle. No Wi-Fi. No television. Just green trees, tall reeds, birds singing and frogs croaking. The air was clean and fresh with the occasional slight breeze. My heart and mind were able to simply “be still.”

We enjoyed a visit to the swimming hole, went on nature walks, took poling lessons and just relaxed. We were blessed with a gorgeous, colorful sunset, complete with elephant silhouettes walking in the distance. After dinner, our local guides and crew members entertained us with games and songs of the Delta around a campfire. The next morning, we packed up our belongings and headed on the hour mokoro ride back to civilization. Look for these unique experiences. They challenge your comfort, they challenge your mind, they challenge your emotions but in the end, the rewards are so much greater than the challenges.

Please do not settle for only seeing the touristy places everyone seems to want to visit. This world has nooks and crannies of rare treasure waiting to be discovered. By all means, go see the Eiffel Tower. Then, go find the diamond in the proverbial rough. It is waiting just for you to uncover it.

 

IMG_20170406_101706_752
Sunset on the Okavango Delta

 

Romans 15:13

 

The Safe Haven of Botswana

southern-africaFollowing my much-loved time in Namibia, our tour continued east to next door, Botswana.  Take a look at the map. Botswana is the yellow, landlocked country in the south central part of Africa. Unlike some of the neighboring countries, Botswana is an economically stable and thriving country with interest in protecting its environmental resources. Before we get too deep into all of that, let me give you a very brief history about the country.

In response to uprising violence and the threat of war in the mid-to-late 1800’s, the leaders of Botswana requested protection assistance from Great Britain. The country remained under Great Britain’s umbrella for over eighty years until 1966 when the country was granted independence and transitioned somewhat smoothly to a democratic nation.

Within a few short years after Botswana received independence, diamonds were discovered. Mining began in 1972 and today, Botswana is one of the world’s leading distributors of diamonds and other precious metals, like uranium. The discovery of diamonds so quickly after gaining independence helped stabilize the country’s economy.  While Botswana’s population is comparable to Namibia’s with approximately 2.2 million residents, it remains in the top ten countries in Africa for lowest unemployment rates. The government has continued to encourage job growth and economic stimulation throughout the country.

You know, I always thought the United States of America was the “melting pot” of cultures. However, the African countries have blown my mind in the way their very different cultures have learned to survive together. Some of them are not in peaceful survival but they have survived nonetheless. How does a country survive with tribal Bushman living along side European westernized cultures as well as those who still happily live in bamboo huts? Now that is really a melting pot.

Obviously Botswana has far more history than I am able to know or provide. I encourage you to do a little Google browsing to learn more about their past. When you do, also check out the story of current president, Ian Khama. His journey is quite fascinating from living in exile to breaking racial barriers to wildlife protection. Although many of his decisions have been met with controversy and some have viewed his policies as extremely harsh, he continues to maintain a firm stance with serious repercussions for law violators.

One of the many things that makes Botswana so wonderful is their goal to protect the environment. I am not going to get into the politics behind the anti-poaching laws and other environmental protection efforts because as I mentioned, some of President Ian Khama’s laws have been viewed as controversially too harsh. I will let you make a researched decision for yourself. But what the ordinances have created is an environmental “safe haven” for animals, especially elephants and rhinoceros.

 

Several of the surrounding countries have tried to take protective widlife measures by bringing the animals into large and small nature reserves protected by fences. Botswana has chosen a different approach by allowing the animals to roam in their wild, natural habitat. It is not uncommon to see elephant or giraffe on either side of the road while traveling along the highway. Drivers may have to slow down or even stop to give the animals the right of way as they cross from one side to the other.

IMG_20170505_105331_597
Giraffe sighting from the road.

We had the great opportunity to stay at a facility called Elephant Sands which offers tent camping sites as well as stilted safari tent accommodations. With the goal to have an up-close encounter with nature, the campsites and safari tents surround a watering hole where wild animals can wander in and out at will. From our beds, we were able to hear the lions calling to each other in a deep, grunting growl. A couple of elephants came to drink from the watering hole and walked right into our group’s campsite. Nothing separates visitors from these magnificent animals, not even a fence. Can you imagine a more exhilarating encounter?

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Chobe (pronounced “Cho-Bee”) National Park is also home to abundant wildlife, especially elephants. According to the park’s website, over 120,000 elephants roam the land. The park is bordered by the Chobe River which offers unique, day trip cruises to see water animals like hippopotamus and crocodile but also land animals as they come to drink fresh water and bathe. Again, we were able to get close as the animals just do what they do.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I was thinking about these animals and the controversial approach Botswana has taken to protect them. I have this uncanny knack to compare various concepts to my own life and as I started pondering, I realized I want what these animals have. I want to be free to roam about – eating, playing, and basically doing my day-to-day life while being protected, without even being aware.

I get weary from protecting myself. I get exhausted from gathering my emotions and running from potential danger. I get tired from having to constantly be on watch for threats. I get discouraged from being fenced in a small, sheltered environment. I want to be loved and cared for so deeply that my protector will stop at nothing to keep me safe as I live life to its fullest. Ultimately, that is what I want. I want to live life to its fullest.

When I was in South Africa, I happen to notice this scripture reference on the back of a car. Out of curiosity, I looked it up. It has become one of my favorite chapters simply because it describes the protection and care my heart longs for. Check this out:

“Those who live in the shelter of the Most High will find rest in the shadow of the Almighty. This I declare about the LORD:
He alone is my refuge, my place of safety; He is my God, and I trust him.
For he will rescue you from every trap and protect you from every disease.
He will cover you with his feathers.
He will shelter you with his wings.
His faithful promises are your armor and protection.
Do not be afraid of the terrors that stalks in darkness,
nor the disaster that strikes at midday.
Though a thousand fall at your side, though ten thousand are dying around you,
these evils will not touch you.
Just open your eyes, and see how the wicked are punished.
If you make the LORD your refuge, if you make the Most High your shelter, no evil will conquer you; no plague will come near your home.
For he will order his angels to protect you wherever you go.
They will hold you up with their hands so you won’t even hurt your foot against a stone.
You will trample upon lions and cobras;
you will crush fierce lions and serpents under your feet.
The LORD says, “I will rescue those who love me.
I will protect those who trust in my name.
When they call on me, I will answer;
I will be with them in trouble. I will rescue and honor them.
I will reward them with a long life and give them my salvation.”
Psalm 91 (NLT)

Take a minute to sit back and imagine the scenario Psalm 91 just described. Put yourself in the shoes of the character being described here. I do not really care if you believe in God or not. Feel free to be skeptical but just for a moment, let that go and put yourself in the shoes of the one who gets to trample on lions and snakes without fear. My friends, this is why we love super hero movies. Besides getting to wear a fashionable cape, we either want a hero looking out for us or we want to be a hero. When I read this passage, I see the opportunity for both at the same time. We get live outside the mundane fences to have an adventurously close encounter with the wild and fearlessly be victorious. Now that is living life to the fullest!

 

 

 

 

 

Treasures in the Namib Desert

IMG_20170323_071407_394To the left, a single cloud of rain pounded on the earth below. To the right, the sun was in the process of rising from its slumber when we drove into Namib-Naukluft National Park. As we made our way down the path, I was mesmerized by the sheer size of the dark orange sand piling up on either side of the road. This particular section of the Namib Desert is known for some of the tallest dunes in the world reaching heights of 980 feet tall. Can you imagine a wall of loose sand so high? That is nearly the same size height as the Eiffel Tower. Whoa!

IMG_20170323_114813_138

We turned toward Dune 45, creatively named by its kilometer distance from the park entrance gate (45th kilometer). Dune 45 is a common hiking dune where visitors can climb the 280 feet to the top ridge for panoramic views of the vast sea of dunes. It is encouraged to climb in the morning before the sun turns the sand to scorching coals. Since the dunes are made of fine, loose sand, much like you would find on a good beach, it is also recommended to climb without shoes – either barefoot or in socks for easier grip.

IMG_20170421_163943_740
The base of Dune 45.

The climb was more difficult than it first appeared. It took a moment to get used to the sinking sand, plus the hike was far more steep than the optical illusion offered from the ground. The threat of falling was always pending even though the reality of falling on the soft, cushy sand was far less scary than the fear would have me believe. By the time I reached the top, my calves burned, my breathing labored and I was sweaty. But the reward was worth every ounce of effort.

The deep color of sand is a direct link to the high iron content and oxidation process. The older dunes tend to be a more intense color of red. Dune 45 is estimated to be five million years old which is relatively young when compared to the age of the desert as a whole. Scientists believe the Namib Desert is between 55 and 80 million years old, making it one of the oldest deserts in the entire world.

After a series of selfies, panoramic and group photos, I made my way back down the dune. I stayed to the shadow side of the ridge because after only an hour or so of exposure, the sand facing the sun was now capable of burning the bottoms of my feet. The foot tracks of a bright green locust crossed my path, its body a stark contrast to the sand. At the bottom, a couple of crooked, bare trees stood tall, offering to be a lookout point for crows or vultures.  In every direction, something special waited for our attention.

 

We left Dune 45 and headed further in to Namib-Naukluft National Park to visit Sossusvlei. In writing this blog, I racked my brain on how to properly explain the geology of Sossusvlei. In the end, I think their website, www.sossusvlei.org, does a much better job than I could have. Here is how they describe this amazing location:

“…Sossusvlei is possibly Namibia’s most spectacular and best-known attraction. Characterised by the large red dunes that surround it, Sossusvlei is a large, white, salt and clay pan and is a great destination all year round.

“…Sossusvlei literally translates to “dead-end marsh”, as it is the place where the dunes come together preventing the Tsauchab River to flow any further, some 60km east of the Atlantic Ocean.  However, due to the dry conditions in the Namib Desert the River seldom flows this far and the pan remains bone-dry most years.  During an exceptional rainy season the Tsauchab fills the pan, drawing visitors from all over the world to witness this spectacular site.”

Now, in part of Sossusvlei stands Deadvlei. Deadvlei was once an oasis where a group of camel thorn trees flourished. At some point when the river stopped flowing through Deadvlei, the ground dried up leaving a white, salt pan. With no water and extreme heat, the trees died, standing barren but preserved in the salt and clay. The images left behind are a photographers dream, a surreal landscape of beauty only one can imagine. This easily became one of my favorite sceneries of all time.

The white, crackled floor with high, red dunes in the back drop moving up to the clear blue sky is beautiful enough on its own. Then add the black, barren trees in the center of all those colors and the results are incredibly gorgeous.

Then, leaving Sossusvlei behind, we headed north, never leaving the Namib Desert.

The Namib Desert expands 1200 miles, covering the entire eastern edge of Namibia along the Atlantic coastline. On the drive, the sand slowly faded from the deep orange to beige but still maintained its loose grains. As we neared the city of Walvis Bay, we physically saw the desert meet the ocean like the world’s largest sandy beach. Out at sea, the anchored cargo ships lined the coastal waters, welcoming us as we drove on. An entirely different dune adventure awaited our arrival in Swakopmund.

Again, thanks to my sister, her experiences and her photos of Namibia, I have wanted to sandboard (sledding on sand) for a long time. I finally had the opportunity in Swakopmund so I jumped at the chance, along with quad biking. Originally I really had no interest in the quad biking, but when it was offered as a combo with sandboarding, I decided to try it. I am so glad I did.

Quad biking was far more exciting than I anticipated. We zigged and zagged our way through the dunes. We went up high, we went almost straight down and drove in circles across the sand. After about an hour or so, we stopped near the top of a tall dune to get ready for sandboarding. As we looked around, all that could be seen was dunes, dunes and more dunes. Sand as far as the eye could see.

Our guide had carried pieces of plywood on the back of his quad bike for the boarding part of the day. When we parked and unloaded, he waxed the wood just as you would wax a surfboard. After he covered the wax with sand, we were ready to go.

We were instructed to lay on our stomach, hang on to the front of the board with elbows out and down the dunes we went! Check out the videos below:

In some ways, we were able to be kids again, if just for a moment. The climb back up was difficult. Some of us ate dirt on the way down. Some of us had to pour out our own sand dunes from inside our shoes. We all laughed. We all cheered for each other. In the end, we were all thrilled with the experience. We packed up, hopped back on the quads for another hour of riding. We worked our way to a point where we could view the Atlantic Ocean from our quad bikes. As the sun was working towards setting, we all took the moment just to sit and watch the sea, sand and sun in all her beauty.

I do not know where this life is going to take me. I do not know where this life is going to take you. At some points, it is worth stopping just to breathe. Stop just to laugh. Stop just to act like a kid again. It is not too late. Be intentional. Dream. Plan. Persevere. Execute. Take photos. Write it down. Remember. This is the good stuff  life is made of .

 

 

“I, the LORD, define the ocean’s sandy shoreline as an everlasting boundary that the waters cannot cross. The waves may toss and roar, but they can never pass the boundaries I set.” Jeremiah 5:22b

The Landscaped Beauty of Namibia

Ever since I heard stories and looked at photos of my sister sandboarding in the desert dunes from fifteen years ago, I have wanted to see Namibia. Coming from snow country, who ever heard of boarding on sand? That is crazy! But it stuck with me.

If you remember back to a couple posts ago, I mentioned my excitement to ride in the overland camping truck which is one of the reasons I signed up for the camping tour. While that is true, my main reason for looking for a tour in the first place, was to see Namibia. I wanted to see the places my sister told me about so long ago.

southern-africaIf you are not familiar with the location of  Namibia, here is the map again to get your bearings. It is situated northwest of South Africa along the Atlantic coastline.

For the sake of size comparison, let’s look at Namibia in relation to the state of Texas. Namibia covers just over 318,000 square miles and has only 2.3 million residents. Texas, on the other hand, stretches just shy of 270,000 square miles but is home to 27 million inhabitants. Wow! What a major difference! Considering how much land and how few residents Namibia has, plus the fact that 16% of the land is sandy desert, I am sure you can imagine how empty and desolate this country can feel when you travel for hours  between towns. But that my friends, is where the beauty of Namibia coNamibia Flagmes alive.

First, let me give you some very brief history and information about Namibia. History can be traced back to the 14th century when several different African tribal groups occupied the land. In the 19th century, a German Empire was established in Namibia which is still evident in architecture when you visit the larger towns like Swakopmund and Windhoek. Following World War I, South Africa took control of Namibia and remained in power until Namibia achieved independence in 1990. It is still viewed as one of the youngest countries in the world. Upon receiving independence, Namibia adopted its current flag design. Namibia has seen its fair share of oppression and devastation over the years. But in their independence, as a nation, they have worked hard to combat segregation and corruption. The country is clean, the people seem kind and the landscape is extraordinary.

 

Landscapes of Namibia

We entered Namibia from the south where the flat, brown earth scattered with scrub brush stretched to the mesas in the distance. From that point on, the dramatic scenery of Namibia was ever-changing with each passing mile.

 

With windows open to the hot whipping wind, I was captivated as the scrub brush grew to larger tree shrubs, brown mesas transitioned to green, pointed peaks emerged from the flat mountain tops, smooth slopes turned rocky, and tan earth suddenly became red. All the while, my only job was to watch and remember to breathe.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

In the midst of passing through the desert, we happened upon an area known as the “Moon Landscapes.” This very unique and peculiar area of land is speculated to have once been a high mountain range but over the course of time, erosion and the effects of the Swakop River, it is reduced to a barren wasteland of visibly defined rock layers as far as the eye can see. Its location seems out-of-place as it shows up in the middle of a desert. Because of the unique characteristics of the “Moon Landscapes,” it has provided an intense backdrop for a number of movies.

We also had the opportunity to visit Fish River Canyon and walk along the rim at sunset which presented some beautiful views that my pictures cannot do justice. It is the largest canyon in all of Africa and the second most visited attraction in Namibia. It reaches 1,800 feet deep, 100 miles long and 18 miles wide. Fish River winds its way through the very base of the canyon. During the summer months, the river often floods but during the rest of the year, it tends to be a stream, connecting pools of water.


On the opposite side of the landscape spectrum in Namibia is Etosha National Park. According the Park’s website, “Loosely translated, Etosha means ‘Great White Place’ in the Ovambo language.” It is the reference to the seemingly endless salt pan which makes up much of the park. When it was dedicated as a national game reserve in 1907, it was easily the largest reserve in the world. But as with most other plots of land, the boundary lines were negotiated, changed, pushed and taken. While Etosha is only about a fifth of its original land size now, it is still the number one attraction in all of Namibia.

 

Entering Etosha National Park

The landscape is made up mostly of grasslands, the salt pan and watering holes. Visitors can take a drive through the park at leisure looking for animals. As you reach the edge of the white salt pan, keep a close eye out for the “Great White Ghosts,” or elephants who use the salt for protection from the sun, turning their skin white in color.

 

We happen to be in the park at an unfortunate time for whatever reason as our sightings were fewer than desired and some off in the far distance. However, the park itself is beautiful and well worth the visit.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

God’s vast creativity of terrain in this country is simply incredible. If you are looking for a place of incomparable scenic beauty, this is it. Namibia’s desolate, ever-changing landscape is far more than I can describe. Go soak it in for yourself.

And we have not even started to talk about the desert sand dunes yet.

 

God said to me, “I have brought you here to see because I know you. And when you see these things, you automatically see me. I love that about you. You are worth every penny for this moment.”

Get Comfortable with Uncomfortability

I am just going to be honest here: Travel is uncomfortable. It is a series of hand gestures, charades, directional mistakes, uncertain surroundings, unexpected detours, ever-changing time schedules and accommodation surprises. But isn’t that the whole point of travel? Aren’t we curious to see how people live differently than we do? Don’t we long to experience new sights and scenery that we would not otherwise have the chance to experience? If that is not what we are looking for, then we should not leave home in the first place. It is time to get comfortable with uncomfortability.

img_20170319_083225_587.jpg
Overland camping truck

Way back at the beginning of this whole trek, while in Iceland, I mentioned my disinterest in camping. But since I have a major interest in adventure, it edged out the discomfort. I signed up for an overland camping trip to Namibia, Botswana and Zimbabwe. I will deal with the tents and bugs to have the adventure. Secretly, it was the overland camping truck I wanted to experience.

 

img_20170321_151734_854.jpg
Township of Guguletu

My tour group conveniently met and departed from Cape Town. Our first day was by far the most emotionally uncomfortable. We kicked off the adventure with a tour of Guguletu, one of the poorest townships in the Cape Town area. One of the residents was gracious enough to invite all twelve of us into her single room, corrugated steel shack to physically see and hear how they live.

 

One small shack is considered home for two to ten people. Most have only one room which is used for everything. It is the sleeping quarters, the living room and the kitchen. During the day, the occupants have to leave the house and spend their time outdoors due to lack of space. Without windows or proper ventilation, the shack becomes an extremely unsafe hot box. The structures are packed so tightly together that a small house fire can quickly spread into a devastating disaster, claiming homes and lives. These dwellings do not have running water which leads to a 10+ km round trip walk with buckets to haul just to have the essentials for cooking and bathing. The “bathroom” is located at the back of the township in the weeds which is also the only open space for children to run and play. As you can imagine, the waste bacteria breeds like crazy causing much illness and in some cases, death.

We slowly drove through Guguletu’s dusty streets. Business buildings made from shipping containers, plywood and cardboard lined the streets. We took a moment to stop by a memorial dedicated to several men who lost their lives fighting for equality during the apartheid era. We eventually arrived at a large concrete pavilion structure where a number of men and women were cutting different types of meat to be sold. As we walked through, I noticed numerous attempts to keep the flies away from the raw meat. I learned that markets and grocery stores are too expensive for most residents of Guguletu so they often congregate at this pavilion as a central point to connect with community and buy affordable meat.

My group had the opportunity to try sheep’s head, tongue and liver. These are considered delicacy meals amongst the Black communities. (Please be aware that the terms “Black,” “Colored,” “Indian” and “White” are completely appropriate in South Africa.) They are favored and savored meals for life’s milestone celebrations.

Okay, at this point in the story it is important for me to mention my conservative approach to food. I usually will not try something “weird.” I am not an adventurer when it comes to food; I leave that to my sister who will try nearly anything. But considering I am still wearing a necklace that says “Be Adventurous” and the fact that the guide cut the delicacies into very small pieces, I went for it.

img_20170321_142929_887.jpg
Left: Me with sheep liver, Top: Sheep head, Bottom: Sheep liver

I do not have too much to say about the experience other than I did it and I lived to tell about it. The flavors were not as bad as I expected. The textures were not as gross as I imagined. The whole food experience was not nearly as bad as I pictured but I was uncomfortable.

The food challenged my comfort zone. The scenery around me challenged my comfort zone. I was challenged by people who live on very little and still laugh together at the community center point. I was challenged by people who cannot buy meat from a proper market so they purchase only the amount they can afford from an open air market trusting it will not be spoiled. I was challenged by people who enjoy sheep liver as a treasured delicacy. I was challenged to not feel pity for what this community does not have but encouraged by the relationships and care they have for each other.

 

Every time I travel, I have an opportunity to choose to get comfortable with uncomfortability. Sometimes, I do not respond appropriately. In fact, I would venture to say most of the time I do not respond appropriately at first. Eventually, I have to figure it out. This entire camping journey is another step outside of my comfort zone. I have been uncomfortable for much of these last many trekking months. I will continue to be uncomfortable as I am challenged by new experiences and new people.

The truth is, we will always be uncomfortable in places we do not really belong. But the question remains, who will I fail to become if I am not challenged beyond what I know?

 

Philippians 3:20-21

Mandela Capture and Imprisonment

Following his trial in which he was found not guilty in for treason, Nelson Mandela went into hiding. Because some protests took violent measures, Mandela and others were viewed as terrorists. For 17 months, Mandela remained in hiding but continued to use his influence to fight apartheid (South Africa’s equivalent to segregation). With his knowledge from studying law, he knew it be only a matter of time until the apartheid Security Police came after him again.

“Suddenly, in front of us, the Ford was signaling to us to stop. I knew in that instant that my life on the run was over; my 17 months of ‘freedom’ were about to end.” (Taken from Nelson Mandela’s autobiography: Long Walk to Freedom.)

On August 5, 1962, Nelson Mandela was captured near Howick, KwaZulu-Natal.

Now on this historic site stands a visitor center which outlines Nelson Mandela’s life. To commemorate this historic site and event, a sculpture by artists, Marco Cianfanelli and Jeremy Rose was erected on the 50th anniversary.

As visitors turn from the main road, they are welcomed by 50 steel columns of varying heights. The columns look like a random assortment of scrap metal. But following a visit to the main building, guests can walk down the path toward the sculpture and watch it take form. Take a look at the video to watch the change.

On June 11, 1963, Mandela and seven comrades were sentenced to life in prison for sabotage. Due to apartheid, one man was sent to a white prison in Pretoria. The rest were sent to Robben Island.

 

Mandela served the first eighteen of his twenty-seven years of imprisonment at Robben Island. He and the other political prisoners were held in solitary confinement. They had only a mat on the floor to sleep on and a bucket in the corner for a toilet. Every morning they were required to clean their own bucket.

 

Each were allowed thirty minutes in the morning and thirty minutes in the evening to walk around the small courtyard area. It is said that Mandela tended to the garden. It was later found out that it was not the garden he really cared about; He was able to successfully hide his manuscripts in the dirt around the plants.

 

IMG_20170316_153801863
At the end of the courtyard is Mandela’s Garden

 

The prisoners were required to work at the limestone quarry a short distance away on the island. They were required to work Monday through Friday for eight hours. All work was manual with an ax and shovel. They were not given any protective gear, provided with shelter from the hot sun or the privacy of a bathroom. After Mandela’s release, they found his tear ducts had been damaged. The doctors attributed the damage to the hours of exposure bright sun’s reflection off the limestone. In their later years, many ex-convicts suffered from lung related issues which is suspected to have come from the amount of limestone dust inhaled.

On March 31, 1982, Nelson Mandela was moved off Robben Island to Pollsmoor Prison in Cape Town. He was then moved again to Victor Verser Prison in Paarl. On February 11, 1990 he was released from prison after twenty-seven years. And as they say,  the rest is history as he went on to eventually become the President of South Africa.

 

 

Cape Town is for the Birds

Birds are on a whole different level on the continent of Africa. The diversity of species, size and color is simply out of this world. If you happen to be a “birder,” you will not be disappointed here. South Africa is no exception – the variety of birds is amazing. When you come, you have to visit the penguins and ostriches!

My favorite, favorite, FAVORITE visit was to Boulders Beach in Simon’s Town to see the African Penguins. Seriously you guys, this was far more of a close encounter than I expected and far more enjoyable than I had hoped.

IMG_20170307_135137_140

 

The African Penguins can be found along the southern tip of South Africa and the western coastline of Namibia. In fact, they are the ONLY found in African and they are the ONLY penguin that breeds in Africa. So the moral of the story: If you want to see African Penguins in their natural habitat, pack your bags for an adventure!

IMG_20170318_001842_899

They are relatively small animals, growing only to about two feet or so and as large as seven pounds. As with most penguins, they are black and white but have black feet and  a small pink patch around their eyes. Research says the pink patch assists them in the changing temperatures. The warmer the temperature, the more blood is sent to the pink patch causing it to become a deeper shade. How amazing is that?!?

Penguins are monogamous birds, meaning they only have one partner throughout their life. They breed during the winter month, then lay eggs and nest from March to May. They often dig a hole for the eggs, often in foliage to keep the eggs hidden from predators. Both mom and dad take turns sitting on the egg for incubation.

IMG_20170318_001233_887

After we found a place to park, we walked down the street toward Boulder Beach. The road tapers down to a walk path to reach Boulder Beach Penguin Reserve. For a fee of about five US dollars, we took the wood slatted path to the lookout points which overlook a large grouping of penguins on the beach. BUT, this is only the tip of the proverbial iceberg. We went back out the entrance and continue down the foot path where another entrance awaiting our visit. My already purchased entrance let me actually join the penguins on Boulder Beach. This is where the real fun happened.

IMG_20170318_002356_936

The beautiful beach is guarded by large boulders, which provides a protection and calms waves rolling in to shore. The penguins meander around on the sand and rocks to sunbathe. Their eggs can be found hidden in rock crevices and pre-dug holes in the foliage. They swim among the tourists to cool off and hunt for food. Around every turn, a penguin was doing what penguins do, even amongst the people.

The penguins are rather calm and do not bother the tourists. We were able to come within just a couple of feet of them. Of course if given reason, they will bite but for the most part, they tend to their business and did not get their feathers ruffled.

IMG_20170307_192350_494

I was really quite impressed with the other tourists. They treated the penguins with respect and for the most part, kept their distance. I did not see anyone mistreat or try to physically handle the penguins. I did not see anyone try to feed them or touch one of the eggs.

IMG_20170307_195848_992

The only thing I would have done differently is plan on a full day and take a swim suit. I did not do enough research ahead of time. This is the only place in the world where swimming with wild penguins is available. If given the opportunity, I will go back to Simon’s Town again in a heartbeat!

What is it with me visiting birds that cannot fly?!?  I also visited the Cape Town Ostrich Ranch with hopes of riding an ostrich. Okay well, I was not able to ride one but I did get to sit on him.

Ostriches are plentiful in South Africa. They are not endangered or protected. Contrary to the animal reserves and sanctuaries, this is a farm. Just like cattle or sheep, ostriches are raised to be sold for the meat, feathers and leather.

I started out on an informational tour learning all sorts of fascinating facts about the ostrich. I will not get in-depth with the information but, did you know:

  • The ostrich has been compared to a camel with the long neck and large eyes. They also tend to live in warmer climates and can survive for long periods of time with little water.
  • Adult ostriches can weigh anywhere from 150-300+ lbs.
  • Male ostriches are mostly black with some white feathers while the females are greyish-brown in color.
  • The male may have a harem but will choose one female as the alpha female. Although, he may reproduce with any of his ladies.
  • Ostrich eggs are the largest of all eggs.
  • The eggshell is so thick that the baby cannot break its way out. An adult ostrich has to use its thick, breastplate to crack the egg open for the offspring.
  • The brain of an ostrich is smaller than a golf ball while its eyeball is larger than a golf ball.
  • They have two toes on each foot to help maintain balance. They also have one claw to provide traction and defense against predators.
  • They can run to speeds over forty miles per hour.
  • Their necks are so flexible that they can eat off their own backs.
  • Their diet mostly consists of seeds, leaves and roots but will eat insect, small lizards  and rodents.
  • Ostriches also swallow rocks and pebbles to help their digestive system grind up the food. The rocks simply pass through their system and exit as waste.
  • In Africa, ostrich riding does happen with use of a saddle, bridle and reins.

Of course this is just a brief list of facts I found interesting about the ostrich and they are far more complicated. Truth be told, I had never really been that interested in them. The opportunity to sit on one was far more of a draw but once I was there learning about them, they became far more fascinating.

_20170318_203705

After learning fun facts, I was able to meet the ostriches face to face. I stood on top of ostrich eggs to test the strength. I had an opportunity to feed an ostrich, who makes a swift pecking maneuver to eat.

I also met and hugged, “Tom Thumb,” who is the smallest ostrich in the world according to the Guinness Book of World Records. Tom was a very friendly bird who did not mind the attention. Due to molting, he was wearing a special made feather “vest” so he did not look like an oversized chicken. I thought it was hilarious!

At the end of the tour I was able to sit on the back of a male ostrich. The workers first had to wrangle him to a platform stall where they gently buckled him for safety. I climbed the few stairs to the top of the platform and was able to climb on his back.

Now, this was an experience in and of itself because the ostrich was a bit cranky. Of course our guide said, “I don’t know what is going on with him today, he’s usually never like this.” In order to escort him to the stall, they have to put a small bag over his head with a hole cut for his beak. It’s kind of like putting blinders over the eyes of a horse. It took the guide a few extra minutes with the hissing bird for him to calm down enough to put the bag over his head and carefully nudge him to the stall. The guide took the time to rub the birds long neck to calm him before taking the bag off. But, once the bag was pulled, the hissing started again. Again, one of the guides carefully approached and rubbed his neck. In a few short minutes, the ostrich was calm. The guide turned to me and said, “Are you ready?” After that show, I nervously laughed. I took a deep breath, climbed the stairs to the platform and sat on his back.

_20170318_204248

His back was wider than I anticipate; Similar to sitting on a horse’s back. His feathers were soft. I was able to pet the soft fuzz on his neck as he stayed mostly calm. I only sat on is back for about two minutes, just enough time to snap a couple of photos. Then he was released to return to his wives.

Cape Town Ostrich Farm also offers a gift shop, microbrewery and on-site restaurant where visitors can taste ostrich meat. This was an interesting experience all around with interactive opportunities. Take some time to google around about ostriches, they are actually quite fascinating birds.

More information on Cape Town Ostrich Farm: https://www.ostrichranch.co.za/

 

 

 

 

Truth Coffee

IMG_20170317_184727_727

I love coffee. Even more than the actual coffee, I love coffee shops. I love local coffee shops. I love shops with individual creativity in décor and ambiance.

In February, I read one of those silly Facebook lists of top “must visit”

IMG_20170317_141100_255
Coffee Art

restaurants around the world. It was just a list of restaurant names with their location and a photo. That’s it. No description, no background, no reason why they made the list. On the list was one location in Cape Town, South Africa: Truth Coffee. Based on a name and photo (it helped to have the word “coffee” in the name), my mind was made up. I was going to visit Truth Coffee.

After arriving at the shop, I learned that Truth Coffee has been recognized by the UK news agency, The Telegraph, as the #1 coffee shop in the WORLD for two years in a row. This quite a prestigious award considering South Africa is not known in any way for their coffee culture.

IMG_20170316_073428179
The beautiful coffee bar.

To say that I enjoyed this shop would be an understatement. It boasts steampunk décor with a variety of different sized gears for tables, metal work of brass, copper and steel highlight the various coffee machines, stamped metal panels outline the dark wood coffee bar, yellow light bulbs hang from the ceiling from plain wire at random lengths, dark velvet chairs and couches bring a sort of sophistication to the encasing warehouse atmosphere. Standing center of the room, just beyond the bar with the shiny, old-timey cash register stands a the pride and joy of Truth Coffee, the pristine, cast iron coffee roaster which dates back to the 1940’s.

The roaster can roast up to 70 kg of coffee at one time. That is equal to over 150 lbs of coffee beans! They also use a smaller, more modern roaster for roasting lesser quantities and specialized flavors.

The diverse wait staff is adorned in vintage clothing from long-tail vests with brass buttons and tattered bolo hats to rough, brown leather aprons and classic, round lens  motorcycle goggles. The details of this place all add to the steampunk atmosphere right down to their unique uniforms.

At the beginning of all of this, I mentioned that I love coffee. However, I am not a coffee connoisseur. I believe coffee is a personal preference. Some people enjoy weaker coffee, some darker coffee, some sweeter coffee and the list goes on from there. I cannot argue how or what makes one brew better than another. I just know when I like it. I liked this coffee. When I ordered a cappuccino and asked for sugar, the server assured me that I probably would not need sugar because their special processes naturally makes the coffee sweeter. I tried the coffee without sugar and she was right. I only needed one sugar instead of two. I thought the coffee was fabulous…which is why I went back for more. In fact, my friends and I sat down for coffee three times in one week at Truth Coffee. I mean, come on, if the best coffee shop in the world is at your finger tips, might as well enjoy it to the fullest!

If I was willing to relocate just for a coffee shop, I would choose to live next door to Truth Coffee Shop. The whole experience was just that wonderful…And I did not even tell you about the food. As my friend, Margi said, “It was absolutely divine.”

Truth Coffee offers more than just coffee and food. They also sell beans and ground coffee, supply offices around the area with coffee, offer training for coffee roasting and even taste testing opportunities! Curious to know more about Truth Coffee? Check out their website at: https://truth.coffee.

Around the Cape

If you have loved what you have seen so far of South Africa, you will love Cape Town. The warm weather, sea breeze, hilly surroundings, palm trees and laid back beach atmosphere reminds me of San Diego. No matter which direction you drive, the coastline is varied and gorgeous. A panoramic photo waits around every corner.

IMG_20170316_185649676

I rented a vehicle for my time in Cape Town. Although I was staying with friends, I wanted the freedom to “go” if need be. I was able to rent the car for less than twenty US dollars per day from “Rent A Cheapie” in Cape Town. The car was a very basic, manual Volkswagon Golf with no bells or whistles but it did the job.

Here is a random assortment of locations, sights and scenery around Cape Town:

Table Mountain

With the city built at the base, Table Mountain is probably the most iconic landmark in Cape Town. On a clear day, it can be seen from miles upon miles away. Take a rotating cable car or an intense, nearly vertical, three hour hike to the top for stunning views of the city, coastlines and surrounding area. The mountain top is large with walk paths, providing plenty of places to roam.

Victoria and Alfred Waterfront

Located in city centre along the Atlantic coast, South Africa’s oldest working harbor is also the hub of tourist activity. It was first established in the mid-1800’s and with iconic Table Mountain towering in the backdrop, the shops, restaurants and entertainment bring people from all over the world together.

Castle of Good Hope

The completed building of Castle of Good Hope in 1679, makes it the oldest surviving building in all of South Africa. In 1652, the first Dutch settled in the Cape to establish a location of trade for the Dutch East India Company. When rumor of war between the Dutch and British reached Cape Town, Castle of Good Hope was built as a fort to defend against the British. It is not a “castle” in the classic sense of the word as no king or queen ever occupied the building. According to the official webite for Castle of Good Hope, “It is called a castle, as in the case of other Castles in Europe, in addition to being a defensive structure, it comprised a small community or town on its own.”

IMG_20170303_172952_213.jpg

Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens

Beautiful Botanical Gardens cover the land at the base of Table Mountain. Sadly, this year the Cape has been experiencing the worst drought in recent history leaving the area on tight water restrictions. Even though the garden is not in bloom as a normal year, the green lush foliage was stunning against the clear blue sky and Table Mountain backdrop.

Intaka Island

This small wetlands park is set right in the center of Century City. Amongst the growing city, it provides a protected area for bird and plant life. An easy wooden sidewalk weaves around the edges of the peaceful wetlands to view the fowl and foliage.

Hout Bay

In Afrikaans, Houtbaai means “Wood Bay.” As you can guess, this area was covered in timber so when the Dutch settled in the Cape area, they used the timber from this bay for building material. Now, it is a beautiful tourist area with a nice marina, restaurants, shops and beach.

Chapman’s Peak

Across the water from Hout Bay is Chapman’s Peak. Chapman’s Peak drive is a stunning winding drive hugging the steep mountains along the Atlantic Ocean. It was a major feat of engineering when it was built between 1915 and 1922. It is a popular, challenging destination for runners and bikers with its many curves and hilly roads.

Cape Point

Located at the southern tip of Cape Peninsula, Cape Point boasts its ridged cliffs which plummet into the Atlantic Ocean. High on the cliff stand a lighthouse to warn ships. This area has seen a number of shipwrecks in its day. Set in Table Mountain National Park, this can easily be a full day’s visit on its own as there is much to see within the park.

Cape Agulhas

Cape Agulhas is the southern most tip of the continent of Africa. It is also the point where the Indian Ocean ad Atlantic Ocean meet. It is known to be a dangerous point for ships as well. A lighthouse fashioned after Egyptian-style architecture stands proud to warn ships of the shallow coastline. In the winter, the area is know to have strong winds with waves reaching 100 ft in height. It is speculated that over 150 ships have shipwrecked over the past few hundred years.

With coastlines, mountains, gardens and city, this place has it all!