On Snoozefests and Shitholes

You may have noticed I haven’t written up very many of our vacations here on the blog. I was thinking they wouldn’t fit since the blog is is supposed to be mainly about Congo. I’m starting to change my mind, though, as we’ve taken a lot of our vacations in various parts of Africa, which is kind of relevant, plus we’ve learned a lot about our host country through the eyes of its neighbors. Tomorrow we’re heading to Lesotho (geography quiz, anyone?), after good friends recommended it to us. We’ll be hiking for six days, camping overnight in different caves, and sharing a hut with a local Basotho family. The rest of the two weeks we’ll try pony-trekking, dinosaur footprint-hunting, and abseiling/rappelling the world’s longest commercial drop if we can keep our nerves together… it should be an adventure! Continue reading

Assholes on Planes

Getting ready for Ethiopian Airlines’ Lubumbashi-Addis Ababa flight to depart. The last few passengers are boarding, we’re all getting settled in. I turn off my iPad and deposit it in the seat pocket in front of me, tuck all my other things under, and buckle my seat belt. I’m traveling alone this time and am lucky enough to have found a cheap fare in business class. Well, relatively cheap considering the cost of the competitors, and hard to turn down considering the overseas portion to Toronto will be on the brand-new Boeing 787 Dreamliner. So here we are, me and my privileged and genteel neighbors, sipping champagne and refreshing ourselves with warm wet towelettes.

The older British gentleman in front of me drops his towelette behind him. It lands on my personal item, a Congolese-fabric bag with my travel folder and other not-entirely-waterproof goodies poking out the top. Not a big deal. In fact I don’t even notice it until I hear him complain to the flight attendant, “I dropped my towel!” and urge her to give him another one. I consider handing his towel to him, but then decide it could be construed as rude. It’s now soiled, after all, plus he might think I’m forcing his hand to apologize or something silly like that. So I simply pick it up and put it with mine for the flight attendant to pick up later. This maneuver requires me to unbuckle my seat belt and nearly exit the seat just to reach the items at my feet, the seats are so gloriously roomy.

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The election results were supposed to be announced December 6, which was then pushed to December 8, time to be announced. Yesterday morning we heard they were supposed to announce the results at 6pm. Then a message was sent to change the expected time to 8pm. Then a third message announcing 10pm. This morning we hear it will be delayed another day. This must be what my Nigerian professor meant when he described “African time.”

But this is good news for us, selfishly. Every day this week international flights have been cancelled, then added back, then cancelled again. Yesterday we were thrilled to hear that even though our Ethiopian flights were cancelled, our company charter plane could take us to Ndola, Zambia. It would be a relief to be somewhere with a functioning airport, even if getting to our ultimate destination would take much longer. So it’s even nicer to arrive at the mine airport this morning and find out the original plan is back on! Of course I won’t believe it until we’re sitting in our seats, drinks in hand.

I haven’t yet posted where we are heading for a little pre-Christmas break! And I haven’t told my family yet, either, mostly because it will freak them out. So that’s hint #1. Hint #2 – It’s northeast of us. Hint #3 – It’s very warm. Hint #4 – It’s well-developed, safe, good for tourists, but you wouldn’t think so based on its region.

Any guesses???

Mpumalanga (or, Where God Must Live)

Will Smith remarked on his first visit to Africa: “It feels like God visits everywhere else but lives in Africa.” I don’t know if he was specifically referring to South Africa when he said that, but if he was, then I think we stumbled upon God’s hometown. It’s in Mpumalanga province, specifically along the Drakensberg Escarpment, where the highveld is separated from the lowveld.

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Safari Days 3-4 (or, Leopard’s Leap isn’t just a bottle of wine)

Gary wanted us to watch the sun rise from the top of a bluff, on foot. We were well on the road by 6am and on top of the bluff fifteen minutes later. Gary poured us a cup of coffee as the sun peeked over the horizon, and we listened to the sounds of the bush as it woke up. The first one to greet us was a klipspringer, a little antelope that bounces all over the rocks so quickly he “springs” from one to another. These animals have a little pad of flesh that grows in between their hooves on the bottom of their feet, giving them a softer landing and more staying power on the slippery rocks.

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Safari Day 2 (or, The Brotherhood of Lions)

“Did you hear the lions roaring last night?” Gary asked us as soon as we reached the breakfast table, around 5:45 in the morning. We had, though at the time we thought it could have easily been our over-active imaginations. “There are four brothers in this territory. We saw one of them last night, remember? At the moment they’re spread out, but they were roaring all night long, locating each other. We estimate they will meet up sometime this morning. You’ll want to be there to see it when they do.”

So we slammed a cup of coffee, grabbed a danish, and, as soon as our safari mates arrived, jumped in the Land Rover to set off for the lions.

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MalaMala Safari (or, Don’t Pet the Cats Here)

This story is dedicated to Ethan, who turns 7 years old today. Happy birthday, sweet nephew! May you have many excellent safaris in your future.

Bellies full and Table Mountain crossed off our to-do list, we left Cape Town and flew 2½ hours east to begin the next phase of our vacation in South Africa: an actual, honest-to-goodness, wild animal safari in the bush. We were headed to Kruger National Park, or rather just outside it, where many people opt for a self-drive safari. Us, on the other hand… we didn’t like the idea of wandering aimlessly around a savannah loaded with dangerous animals. We kind of wanted an expert to handle that.

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Cape Town (or, Every Town Needs a Mozzarella Bar)

Tearing ourselves away from the delicious enclave of Franschhoek, we continued driving towards Cape Town with a slight detour to check out the nearby whale capital of Hermanus. This is the bay where hundreds of whales settle between June and November to court, mate, and birth. The town is so well known for the whales that there’s even a town crier whose job it is to roam around with chalkboard and bullhorn, directing everyone’s attention to the right spot.

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