Stretching Our Legs

One of the great things about staying at Jock Safari Lodge is that on their concession in Kruger National Park, you can do things that members of the general public visiting the park aren’t allowed to do.  So you can ride in a vehicle with open sides and a trained game ranger. You can also stop and get out of the vehicle to “stretch your legs” during long game viewing drives.

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This stops usually coincide with sunrise or sunset and you have sundowners and the ladies try to find some kind of shrub that will suffice as facilities, since you have been riding on a bumpy road for a few hours. And then after the business is taken care of, you enjoy the spectacular views.WP_20150814_17_17_33_ProDSC_0514DSC_0752If you are doing a proper safari, you probably have eaten far too much in between game drives, and so those few minutes out of the jeep to stretch your legs feel so great.

However, in addition to the mid-drive stretches, at Jock Safari Lodge, they also offer walking safaris, something that we wanted to take advantage of one day.  Again, it seems like food on safari is really plentiful.  I cannot say no to it either.  I have the best of intentions to exercise, but who wants to hang out on a treadmill on vacation, particularly when the other options are to get a spa treatment, laze by a pool, or watch the animals pass by from your day bed overlook?

The walking safari was one of my favorite parts of our trip to Jock. We walked to some rocks across the river where the resident lion herd sometimes laze about with their cubs, but we didn’t spot them. In fact, we didn’t see any animals, except at a very far distance during the walk, but it was amazing nonetheless.  It was an opportunity to spot some of the smaller parts of the ecosystem that one tends to overlook when racing around in a Land Rover looking for big cats.  It was quiet, peaceful, and there was the thrill that at any moment in time, a possible dangerous situation could emerge. Perhaps we would stumble on a herd of elephant or grazing buffalo.  And then I wondered, what would we have done if the lions would have been at the rocks we visited?

One of the other guides, Lazarus, showed us small things like the eggs of praying mantises.

DSC_0667We walked single file, led by two guides who carried rifles in case of emergency.  They never have had to use them, but they shared with us some of the closer escapes that they had on other occasions.

DSC_0670WP_20150814_10_46_52_ProDSC_0669WP_20150814_10_46_08_ProThese rocks were our destination. When we reached them, since the lions were not there, we climbed to the top for amazing views across the river.

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DSC_0677It was hot, and I was sweaty and not particularly attractive, but I loved every second of it.

Here was our view of Jock from our lofty perch:

DSC_0679DSC_0680Scrubby, beautiful Kruger in the dry season. I am so happy my soles were able to tread in your soils, if only for a short time.

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Seeing the Animals

The last time we went to South Africa, I wrote separate posts about experiences viewing different animals.  If only I had the time to do that these days…but I digress. I want to write a separate post about the day we did a walking safari, because that experience was very distinct, but I am going to have to group all of the others together.  I am sorry if that disappoints, but I don’t think anyone cares that much.  We stayed at Jock Safari Lodge for three nights, meaning that we took six game drives, plus our drives to and from the amazing Skukuza airport, which is inside of the Kruger National Park. The size of Kruger National Park is vast, and many of the herd animals like Wildebeest and Buffalo had migrated to a different part of the park while we were there.  We did manage to see a few herd animals scraggling behind, so we saw some Wildebeest and Buffalo (so our big 5 viewing experience was complete), but not the giant herds of them. We saw a few other herd animals too, like sad zebras left behind.

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What did we see so many of? Elephants. I cannot tell you how many different elephants we saw.  Elephants in the riverbed! Elephants knocking down trees! Elephants in the road! Elephants! Elephants! Elephants!

DSC_0691DSC_0608DSC_0426Now it just so happens that aside from the carnivores, elephants are my favorite animals to see. Seriously, if I had nowhere to go and all of the time in the world, I could sit and watch a herd of elephants all day, or even a week, month, even longer.  Maybe I was just missing my babies tremendously, but seeing mother elephants protecting their young calves made me weep.  It is so much beauty to witness. DSC_0383DSC_0328DSC_0305

That is scientifically the fewest number of elephant pictures that I possibly could have included considering that I took approximately 452 different pictures of them.  I couldn’t possibly understate how many elephants we saw.

Is it possible to talk about seeing elephants and not then discuss seeing giraffes?  I feel like they automatically go together, even though I didn’t see them together in Kruger.  We saw many lonely juvenile male giraffes. I don’t know where the others were but all of those adolescents were out and about.

DSC_0412DSC_0551DSC_0396DSC_0828Within the barren landscape of Kruger at the end of its winter dry season, giraffes feature beautifully.

We didn’t see the elusive black rhinos, which are pretty rare in the wild these days, but Kruger boasts the largest concentration of white rhinos, and the southern part of the park, where we were, particularly boasts large numbers. So we easily saw a dozen of them. Of course, there large numbers is also why they are being poached there all the time. This year is on record for being even worse than last year in terms of number of rhino poached. They are being poached at such a rate, that I hope when we take the boys to South Africa in seven to eight years, there are still white rhino left to be seen in the wild. DSC_0560DSC_0663

It was the dry season, so water was scare but we did manage to find a couple of spots with enough of the liquid stuff to attract a hippo or two and a crocodile.

DSC_0746DSC_0819Here is your friendly neighborhood warthog too:

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So now that I have your attention by discussing the animals that people are mostly interested in, here is the middle part of the post when I talk about birds!  Yes, people don’t care about birds the same way.  It really is a shame, because the bird life of Kruger is amazing. It even made a bird watching convert out of me (sadly, up until now, my sister Melissa was the only birder of our family). I am sorry if you think birds are boring. Just scroll past and go down to the end if you must.

For those of you still with me, here is a yellow-billed hornbill, just like Zasu in the Lion King.  We saw loads of these birds.DSC_0414Maybe you prefer some birds of prey?

DSC_0504DSC_0523These Bataleur Eagles and their brilliant orange faces were some of my favorite birds to view.  I love birds that are mating pairs for life. DSC_0806

Probably the most beautiful birds we saw were these beautiful saddle-billed storks, one of the big six birds of Kruger.DSC_0437DSC_0439They two are generally found in a mating pair.

Alright, enough with the birds.  How about an adorable dwarf mongoose?

DSC_0642Or how about those pesky Chacma baboons?DSC_0552No, you probably want to see those things that can kill those pesky baboons. Well, I finally saw one of those, a majestically beautiful leopard who had just killed a chacma baboon and was saving him for dinner.

DSC_0587We saw his baboon kill up a tree, and when we came back for our evening game drive, we saw him feasting upon his kill.

DSC_0704DSC_0728 (2)DSC_0732I am sorry, but after finally seeing leopards in the wild, I am pretty confident there there is not a more beautiful animal to behold.  I feel pretty strongly about it.  Finding that leopard was a lot of work for our experienced ranger, Jan, but what finally gave the leopard’s spot away wasn’t the leopard himself, who was well-concealed in the bush, but a skittish young hyena who was looking for some scraps.

DSC_0564We later saw a female leopard in the tall, dry grass tracking a lone impala.  Sadly, the impala got away, and the leopard’s hard work tracking went unrewarded.

DSC_0781Speaking of hyenas, we saw several packs of them as well.  Who knew I would feel so affectionately towards hyena pups?

DSC_0540DSC_0397And then, of course there were the lions. We had some pretty amazing lion sightings at Shamwari, so at first I wasn’t thinking they were high on my priority list to see.  The first night drive, we saw a pride of female lions that made me very, very sad. One of the females was injured with a prominent broken leg that she could barely walk on, and only did so with tremendous pain.  It looked dreadful. She was very emaciated and struggling to keep up with the other three female lions.  DSC_0373DSC_0372DSC_0377Honestly, it made me cry.  When a lion is in that state, she isn’t long for this world, and I hated seeing her suffer.  I know, that is nature, but it doesn’t make it any easier to witness a majestic animal reduced to that state and suffering.  After that sighting, I didn’t know if I wanted to see any more lions.  But then, as we ticked off the game drives, we came to our last morning and we still hadn’t seen any males.  I realized, I would feel very, very incomplete about the experience without seeing a male lion.  That morning, we were in for a treat. Right when the sun was rising, we had a beautiful sighting.

DSC_0766DSC_0770I know I said the leopard is the most beautiful animal to see, but that dark maned lion was the handsomest lion that I ever have seen. Even more amazing was hearing his morning roars.

Yes, I think I will end this Kruger post with that, because I still hear his sounds in my dreams as a call for me to return to Kruger.

Boys on Chairs

I left my nice camera in Virginia Beach when we left from my sister’s house on Sunday. That stinks because the boys are ten months old today and now, I don’t have my nice camera to take their ten month old pictures. My brain is still not functioning at very high capacity.

And yes, I realize that I haven’t finished my South Africa blogs, and while I know the world is waiting with baited breath for my story of finally seeing a leopard, that will have to wait. I don’t have my nice camera to take their ten month old pictures but I can post a few pictures from our weekend trip to Blowing Rock a few weeks ago. The boys are growing so fast and I am just amazed by it. I realize, it isn’t novel that children grow up, it happens to everyone, but to witness the rapidity with which it happens when it is your own offspring, it really hits you how quickly life goes by.

So we stayed at a condo in Blowing Rock and enjoyed these two little boys first trip to the mountains.

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We also took a trip to Grandfather Mountain to take the boys across the Mile High Swinging Bridge. It was an overcast, drizzly day but we enjoyed the views anyway. Despite the weather, I was in considerably higher spirits than the last time when I was at Blowing Rock (although I missed Knightley being with us on this outing).

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There were spots of early fall colors.  This view of the swinging bridge probably makes it seem less daunting than the view when you are crossing it (It is visible way up high at the top of the mountain):

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I am sure it was the first of many trips to the mountains. I cannot wait until the boys are big enough for Tweetsie Railroad and a whole additional level of mountain novelty.

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The Way we Krugered

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Bounding along in open-topped vehicles is one of my favorite activities. I don’t care if my hair is blown to smithereens. The less paved the roads are, the better. The older and squeakier the seats are, the better. The fewer other people are around, the better. Bonus points if the vehicle has to make frequent stops because of animals crossing the way and if the stench of a variety of animal excrement is heavy in the air.

The above criteria indicates why there is nothing more that I love than being in a national park or game reserve somewhere in Sub-Saharan Africa. The beauty of a national park is that it feels even wilder, because it is a preservation of something as it is, not a recreation of something as it once was. All of this is a long way to introduce what would otherwise be the easily stated conclusion that I loved the time we spent in Kruger National Park on our recent trip to South Africa.

When deciding where to stay for our trip to Kruger, I recalled the wonderful time that we had spent at the Shamwari Game Reserve on our prior trip to South Africa.  Shamwari has a sister lodge, Jock Safari Lodge, that operates in Kruger National Park. What is great about Jock Safari Lodge is that it is actually situated in Kruger National Park, which is enormous.  Even better, Jock has a private concession within Kruger National Park, which means that only Jock guests can go on game drives in the concession. This is incredibly nice because traffic can get quite hectic along the public roads in southern Kruger, where Jock is situated.  So at Jock, you get the best of both worlds – you are in the national park, but you feel like you are in a private game reserve.  The game rangers do take you in the public roads to get to other areas of the park for viewing, but they know the area so well, they know which routes to take to avoid the traffic and to have the best game viewing experience.  Here was our first view of the lodge after being picked up from the Skukuza airport:

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I really don’t think we could have picked a better place to stay for our first trip to Kruger.  While certainly the private game reserves around Sabi Sand boarding Kruger boast more luxury, I enjoyed the laid back attitude, kindness, and deep knowledge of the people who work at Jock.  I loved our thatched cottage as well. It felt a little luxurious, a little rustic, and completely relaxing.

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I loved the products in the bath!

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Yes, I am still 100% a sucker for a mosquito net. Someday, I will live in a place where I can sleep with open windows and doors and only need my mosquito net for protection at night.

Like at Shamwari, at Jock, each cottage comes equipped with its own plunge pool, and even though it was winter, it was hot enough during the day for me to actually contemplate swimming in ours.

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Each room also has a shaded sala (outdoor daybed) for great napping and awesome game viewing during the hot part of the day when you are hanging out around the lodge instead of on a game drive. It overlooks the river, but since we were there in the dry season, the river was dry.

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It is pretty ideal for naps and reading, and spotting the occasional passer-by like this old chap:

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The main lodge was welcoming and comfortable as well.

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In other posts I will write about all of the great sightings we had of wildlife while at Kruger (I FINALLY SAW SOME LEOPARDS!!), but I just want to mention Jock Safari Lodge is completely wonderful because of the people who work there.  Our ranger, Jan, taught us so many things, like how to lure out giant baboon spiders to how white rhinos create their maidens.

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Also, there is a certain fearlessness about various types of animal dung that totally helped to change my relationship with my own children’s diapers.

I really cannot say enough good things about Jock Safari Lodge.  The only slight disappointment that we had is that the Internet connection there was terrible.  It wasn’t just that I couldn’t Skype with the boys while we were there, but it was that I couldn’t even send or receive an email about them. So while we were there, I had a mild case of anxiety about not know what was going on with them. If I didn’t have infant twins on the other side of the world, the lack of reliable Internet wouldn’t have troubled me at all.  In fact, next time we go to Jock, I won’t have the slightest concern about it because the boys will be with us. Yes, I am already counting down to our next trip, to be taken sometime after the boys are six years old when they can officially ride in an open-topped safari vehicle for game viewing.  I prefer my game viewing detached from the rest of the world and with messy, wind blown hair.DSC_0478

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Finally, if you haven’t ever read Jock of the Bushveld, from whom Jock Safari Lodge derives its name, you should. I know Knightley approved of us staying in a safari lodge named after a dog.

Along the Whale Route

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Although the focus of the second week of our trip when we were mostly in Cape Town was my conference, I did want to enjoy a few things with David that I didn’t have the opportunity to do last time we were in Cape Town. On one of the slow days at the conference, we decided to head out on a trip down to Hermanus along the South African whale route. We took a leisurely drive down the coast along the side of False Bay that we hadn’t seen before. We drove through the resort towns of the Strand and beach towns like Gordon’s Bay and Betty’s Bay. The weather was lovely and the views were breathtaking all along the way. Unfortunately, this was the day that I neglected to refill my camera with my battery that I had charged the night before. I am such a forgetful genius these days. Although my phone’s camera didn’t do too badly, it still didn’t capture all that we saw quite the same way, but I did the best I could.
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We arrived in Hermanus with some time to spare before our boat departed so we walked around and explored the little town and took in some more amazing coastal views.

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Can you spot the dassie (hyrax) in the above picture?There are actually two. If you click on the picture to make it larger, you might be able to find them. We saw several on the rocks. I still get a kick out of the fact that these little guys have elephants as their closest living relatives.

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Finally, it was time to head out on the boat to see if we could spot any of these:

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That would be the Southern Right Whale. Apparently, they were named the Right Whales, because European whalers identified them as the “right” whales to kill because they wouldn’t sink the boats the way other whales would.

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We looked pretty stylish on our life vests. I don’t know why the crew insisted that we wear them the entire time, because I never had been on any kind of boat tour where that was the case, but I guessed it was probably based on some past experience, so I trusted their judgment on this. Also, no doubt the ocean is freezing there and the waves were pretty high. It is funny how being a parent changes you, as now I feel like being overly cautious and prudent is completely second nature.

The views from the boat back to the shore were also lovely. Directly south of Hermanus is a protected area of coastline that is beautiful, and I would love to go back there and explore it on foot.

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Did we see whales? Yes, we did. We actually saw several as there was a mating party in full effect. However, my photography skills when it comes to whales sucks, particularly considering all I had was my phone camera.

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I realize that picture is a fairly anticlimactic to an entry that is supposed to be about whales. I get that. The whales were nice and all, but really I just enjoyed a day to get out and see some more of South Africa. After a very late lunch in town, we headed back for the two hour drive back to Cape Town, heading more inland this time. It was spectacular seeing all the lovely farms nestled in valleys. You are driving in the countryside and through the mountains until you peek over Sir Lowry’s pass and see the Cape Flats in front of you. It is too beautiful to try to describe and I lack the photographs to do it justice.

South Africa Eats: From the Simple to the Sublime

Really, when I go to South Africa, I would be entirely content consuming only the following three things:

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Those would be my Stoneys, plenty of cups of rooibos tea, and milk tarts. All the milk tarts. I realize, one of those three things (the rooibos tea) I have no problems finding in the US. Another one of those three things I can make in the US I have the time and energy (these days I don’t). But those Stoneys, are still so elusive. So here is my happiness at consuming my first Stoney at the Skukuza airport, which is yet another reason why that airport is just about the most perfect airport on this planet.

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That could only be matched by my happiness at afternoon tea at Jock Safari Lodge with milk tarts and milky rooibos tea.

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So yes, that would have been enough for me. But it is South Africa where the food is delicious and that isn’t all there is! Since this was our second trip to South Africa, I took a little more time to do some research and make some reservations for restaurants in Cape Town before the trip.

One of the big goals was to eat at The Test Kitchen, which this year moved up to #28 on the list of best restaurants in the world. Let me tell you, it was not easy to get a reservation. I couldn’t manage to get in for a dinner, but we did get a lunch (I had to cancel the afternoon tea reservation I had scheduled at the Mt. Nelson hotel) and it was so worth it. David and I don’t get out much these days to fine dining locations (our last meal at the Fearrington House the Saturday before the babies were born and our trip over to Chef and the Farmer are the only two other times we have really indulged in the past year). I may have forgotten what it is like to eat at places like Dinner with Heston Blumenthal, but Chef Luke Dale-Roberts did not disappoint. Our five course lunch was pretty much the best meal that I have had in a very, very long time. Here was the menu:

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Here was the foie gras course which was probably my favorite:

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I don’t understand how difficult it must be to be a chef like Dale-Roberts and consistently come up with inventive, amazing food that tastes so delicious and is unlike anything else. That is a mark of creativity, artistry, and brilliance that I cannot comprehend. I can only be grateful to consume it.

We did manage to get in to Dale-Robert’s other restaurant, The Pot Luck Club, for dinner our second night in Cape Town. Just eating at that place would have been enough. It is a small plates, tapas style place, and every dish we had was more delicious than the one before. The menu is divided into six different “tastes” for your palate, and the outstanding servers recommend trying a few items from each of the different flavors. I don’t know what my favorite dish was, but the fish sliders, springbok tartare, and the beef filet were pretty big standouts. The dessert I ordered was a poached meringue, which was light, delicious, and probably my most favorite dessert (aside from my milk tarts), that I had the entire time I was there.

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Also, the view at the Pot Luck Club beats the ground floor view of the Test Kitchen. It sits on the top floor of the Old Biscuit Mill in Woodstock.

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Both restaurants have open kitchens where you watch the masters at work.

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If you are planning a trip to Cape Town, plan in advance enough to get into both restaurants.

We ate so much other good food, I could write a very long entry about that. But, I will just write about a few other places. This time, we hit Willoughby & Co twice for lunch in the V&A Waterfront. They have great, fresh seafood and the place gets packed, but we hit it early enough that we were able to get seated right away. The first time, we went for the more traditional seafood fare – fish and chips, mussels, and such. We noticed everyone else was ordering the sushi, so we headed back a second time for some sushi, and we understood why everyone else was ordering it. It was pretty impressive for South African sushi, probably some of the best sushi I had in quite some time (certainly better than Durham sushi). DSC02702DSC02701

We had a great meal at Dash at the Queen Victoria Hotel. They also had an especially photogenic, as well as delicious, foie gras appetizer.

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Probably my favorite restaurant view at the V&A came from Mondiall. Even better than their view, though was the delicious enormous burger that I had there (photo not provided). It was juicy and messy and I devoured it way to quickly.

I shouldn’t neglect to mention that the V&A has great quick eats too thanks to the V&A Food Market. They had great street food plus lots of locally made goodness. One night for dinner, David and I just grabbed a selection of different samosas and some yogurt smoothies from the Market to take back to our hotel room to watch the Chelsea game, and it was just about perfect (except Chelsea lost).

Finally, if we are talking about perfect views and dining, I should talk about two other places. The day we went to Hermanus to watch the whales, we ate a lovely seafood lunch at Lemon Butta watching the whales in the bay.

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If you are into watching “the scene” at Camps Bay, it can be easily done at La Belle Bistro and Bakery where we had a delightfully unplanned late lunch.

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I haven’t even mentioned the great food at Jock’s Safari Lodge, nor numerous other places where we ate, but suffice it to say, if you genuinely enjoy the kind of food you get at the confluence of many cultures, then South Africa is the place for you. If you are like me and are trying to lose baby weight, it is not the place for you.

MADE IN SOUTH AFRICA

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I can fully admit that in every single trip that I have taken, I have not always been the most informed traveler in the art of not causing cultural offense. The first time I visited the African continent as a 19 year old, I was far to comfortable in my own neo-colonial way of thinking. Thankfully, spending time among people in Tanzania shook some of that out of me. Not all. It took more time, more understanding, more maturing on my part. On my first trip to South Africa, I learned more. This trip, I learned even more. Sometimes, with more learning comes more questions that I cannot answer, but I can consider. I don’t want to be a neo-colonial tourist or a poverty tourist. I certainly don’t want to be Taylor Swift and I am smart enough to realize that videos like this in 2015 are offensive. The African continent and its inhabitants, both human and non-human don’t exist to be your props, Taylor. Also, there are people there too. UGh. Taylor Swift is still the worst.

Anyway, back on point, I try, with every effort I can, to be as well-informed as a traveler as I possibly can be. That doesn’t mean I am anything close to perfect, but I feel like as a person who has tremendous privilege (including the privilege to travel), I owe something to the people whose country I visit to try to be as thoughtful and responsible as I can be.

On this trip to South Africa, David and I were privileged even more by the dollar to rand exchange rate. While we were there, the dollar kept hitting an all-time high against the rand. Sure, this is great news for the American traveler, but I know that it means something different for South Africans. Certainly, the fate of the South African rand is tied heavily to the Chinese economy, as the Chinese are the largest trading partner of South Africans. The dip in the Chinese economy has meant that the large mining conglomerates in South Africa (which account for the largest part of South African exports) aren’t getting the business they once were, affecting the lives of people. I heard a story on the BBC that something like for every one person employed by the South African mining sector, something like 10 people depend on that person’s income. And mining wages in South Africa are not always fair wages and not always living wages. This is serious for people in South Africa as large mining companies, in years of plenty, have mega profits, none of which trickle down to mining workers, who instead literally have been killed for asking for higher wages. Marikana. That happened three years ago from a day I happened to be in South Africa.

I am not in the market for any precious metals, nor would I want to give my money directly too large mining conglomerates. However, I did want to try to ensure that the money I spent in South Africa stayed in South Africa. Last time we were in South Africa, I commented that it was amazing how much we were able to buy that was locally made. On this trip, that was even more true. As a South African, you really could buy everything that you needed as things produced in South Africa. Even the main tourist shopping area, the Victoria & Albert Waterfront has loads of locally made choices. The recently opened, beautifully renovated Watershed has some really amazing local craftsmen and women producing truly unique and beautiful things. We went to Woodstock too, the gentrified old warehouse, industrial district that now houses many of Cape Town’s artists. Beautiful, beautiful things abounded. The lovely thing is that for many of these artists and artisans, you don’t have to go to South Africa to buy their stuff. You can get it via the WWW. Here were some of our favorites:

IMISO: Distinctive Clay Art: At the Old Biscuit Mill in Woodstock
Our favorite restaurant where we ate had this interesting salt and pepper shaker that looked like eggs and sat in a ceramic egg carton. It came from this place, and when we walked in, we were wowed by some of the other amazing pieces by Andile Dyalvane and Zizipho Poswa.

Flip Flop Sculptures: At the Watershed at the V&A Waterfront
Davis Ndungu employees women working along the Durban coast to find old flip flips washed up on the shoreline. They collect them and he turns them into amazing things, like little sculptures of safari animals. They are colorful and each one is unique. We got a little menagerie of animals for the boys. You can follow in Instagram or Facebook.

JK Millinery: at the Watershed at the V&A Waterfront
My obsession with hats is a well-known character flaw, but if I can’t control myself buying them, then the least I can do is buy unique one-of-a-kind ones from the milliner’s shop. I felt so lucky to find this place, as I found a beautiful hat that I will treasure forever. Cape Town and its environs have a thriving textile industry, so not only was my hat hand crafted, but it used all local materials as well.

Original T-Bag Designs: at the Watershed at the V&A Waterfront
Hout Bay is troubled. It is one of the few places on the Cape Peninsula where you can see enormous wealth and enormous poverty side-by-side next to each other in the same view. While we were there, Hout Bay was in the papers daily because of unrest associated with government efforts to relocate people. But this little company is one bright spot in Hout Bay. A transplant from England employed local people from the Imizamo Yethu township to make functional art out of recycled t-bags. And they make beautiful things that you would never guess used to be tea bags. I bought two handbags for my sisters as well as some beautiful artwork for Grammy.

Township: at the Watershed at the V&A Waterfront
I learned about this company because they designed the conference bags for the WLIC. It is the only conference bag that I have ever kept, and I really, really love it. It too takes advantage of the local textile industry to employ women from local townships to make beautiful things. Like the Original T-Bag Designs, you can buy many of their products online and they make beautiful gifts. If I ever am in any position where I am organizing a conference and get to choose conference swag, you better believe I would be ordering their conference bags over any vendor supplied garbage.

Africology Skin Care
Pregnancy, nursing, associated other hormones, and sleep deprivation have done a number on my skin. This has coincided with me not wanting to spend hundreds of dollars on my skincare routine, because I could better use that money elsewhere. Also, because my skin has changed, I haven’t had the time or energy to figure out what products I should be using. I had a lovely facial when I was in South Africa and it was all using the Africology products. The line uses basic, natural ingredients and has helped to restore some moisture and radiance to my deprived skin. It is reasonably priced and you can order everything online. My favorites include the cleanser, moisturizer, and the renewing facial therapy serum. Everything is made in South Africa.

These are but a few of the places we found and loved. We found lots of great children’s clothing all made in South Africa. I once again took advantage of the South African Pringle of Scotland retail location, because what they sell there is also made in South Africa (I got a dress that is the most beautiful, perfect fall dress that I cannot wait to wear). I have heard some people say that South Africa is a shopping mad country, but with such beautiful things coming from local artisans, I can understand why.

Go to the Watershed website to peruse some of the other local designers.

Here are some pictures of us loitering around these shopping locales:

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Here is our view of the Old Biscuit Mill from the top floor at the Pot Luck Club, which is a dining experience I will write about later:

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Let’s Begin with the Work Part: Top 5

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I generally try to avoid blogging about work in any detail whatsoever, but since the primary reason I went to South Africa was to attend a conference for work, I feel like it is a little unavoidable here. That statement is particularly true because for the first time in a long time, it was actually a library-related conference that made me enthusiastic and reminded me of all the reasons why I transitioned my career from being a practicing attorney to being a law librarian. Seriously, I met remarkable people from all over the world working in all kinds of libraries. I came away from the conference more resolved to finish the article that I have been working on for an embarrassing length of time (in the most general of terms: about libraries’ responsibilities to preserve electronic versions of law), and also to start research on about ten other things. I don’t think a library conference has ever encouraged me to think in such a manner before.

Here are the top five other things that I loved:

1. The conference was the annual meeting of the International Federation of Library Associations and had a grand name, the World Library and Information Congress (2015). Attendees were not mere attendees, but were delegates. It is a widely known fact that younger version of myself had the ambition to be a diplomat, maybe one day being a part of the US’s UN delegation. Model United Nations was way too much fun for me in high school. Just the small detail of being a “delegate” to an international organization gave me so much dignity, I cannot even describe it. Sure, I wasn’t starting a war over offshore oil resources (the high school MUN version of me was very competitive about natural resources), but I was collaborating with librarians from Botswana! That is about as good as it gets in the library world for a person like me.

2. The tour of the University of Cape Town libraries was amazing. It is kind of inspiring just to be on the campus of the University of Cape Town. I know that sounds ridiculous, but in some ways, I felt this kinship with UCT because the recent movement there to remove the statute of Cecil Rhodes is similar to the ongoing debates at my own institution about monuments to Confederate soldiers and buildings named after historical government leaders with KKK affiliations. The take of the diverse librarians at UCT on the issue was interesting. From a librarian standpoint, we really believe in the importance of preserving all things historical. Take, for example this book’s note as seen in the UCT special collections library:

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You cannot read that insert and not get the chills in some way. Academic librarians are awesome, even in the midst of repressive, racist regimes. And then we are awesome for preserving the truth about those regimes after the fact in a completely impartial, and objective manner, because the books we preserve don’t lie. The artifacts tell the complete story in themselves.

Also, as a bonus, the University of Cape Town is just beautiful. Seriously, I don’t think there exists a more beautiful geographical locale for a university.

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3. Librarians from around the world see libraries as a vital part of economic development and lifting people out of poverty. It is quite inspiring to listen to a librarian from South Africa talk about what it means for poor children to access books. It is inspiring to hear about the efforts to make government information available in some of those countries where citizens traditionally have had no access to even the laws to which they were subject. It reminded me that in spite of all of my cynicism, libraries are a big deal; libraries are important. I can do something about it; both here in my own country and then work to help other librarians bring access to government information in their own countries too.

4. I had this epiphany while I was at the conference of how good digital collections may actually be. Seriously, I don’t know why I had this view of digital collections as being mere static PDF collections of scanned documents (maybe that is because that is what a lot of them actually are), but I saw some pretty dynamic examples of truly artfully curated digital collections of substantive research collections and it made me excited. Maybe for me you just have to make it about something foreign or international for me to truly be interested enough in it or at least be impressed by the design of it.

5. It gave me new opportunities to be involved not just as a one time thing with librarians working on common issues all over the world. To me, it was an introduction to IFLA, not I believe a one-off experience to attend a conference in my favorite city in the world. Yes, I was so lucky the conference was in Cape Town, because truthfully, a chance to go back to Cape Town was pretty high on my reasons of why I wanted to go to the WLIC. However, while I was there, I realized that this experience was definitely something that I didn’t want to be a one-off event. It isn’t every day I get to be inspired, and not cynical.

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Selfies in South Africa

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David and I returned home on Saturday night from two weeks in South Africa. A week of that time was spent in Cape Town at a conference I attended. If I wasn’t deliriously anticipating getting home to my babies and Knightley, I could have just stayed in South Africa.

I have been arguing with myself over how much I want to write on the blog about this trip to South Africa. I feel so pressed for time these days, that when I have time to write after the boys are in bed in the evening, I am so exhausted, I just want to sleep. Yet, at the same time, going to South Africa inspires me to write to record my experiences and the thoughts they inspired in me. I know, “no1 curr” and all of that, but I care and I want to remember it all, and so I want to write it down, even if it takes me forever to write it all down.

So that is what I am going to try to do. I think about where I was on my life four years ago when I first went to South Africa and where I am now, and how my perception of a place has changed because of what has happened in my life in that time. Four years ago, when we were there, it was at the beginning of the rigorous medical intervention that we experienced so that we could have kids. After that, I was to have one ectopic pregnancy, two miscarriages, and finally two babies. I couldn’t have even contemplated those experiences when I was there the last time. I didn’t know how much I would feel like I significantly hardened because of those experiences. I didn’t know how much older it would make me feel. Yet, going back to South Africa again, it made me feel soft and lighter than ever. Sure, I am older, wearier, and I have more lines on my face, but there I don’t mind my skin cracking under the light of the sun, because it just makes me happy. That is really the simplest way I can explain it.

I can’t wait to go back in another few years to share the experience with the boys and to see it all through their eyes. But this time, the experience still felt like my own, which maybe I was selfish enough to want one more time.

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