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Wednesday, May 24, 2017

He Promised Me Africa - Part 6 - Table Mountain, Capetown, South Africa

After we spent time in Botswana, Zimbabwe, and Zambia, we traveled down to Capetown, South Africa. This was in 1999, only five years after apartheid was abolished. The country was still making adjustments and there was still a lot of poverty. We were warned to be careful lest we become victims of crime. However, we were treated with the utmost courtesy and kindness wherever we went in South Africa.

We spent the better part of a day exploring Cable Mountain which is at the tip of the African Continent. We came up a winding road to the base of the mountain where we boarded a huge round cable cart to get to the top. 

The cable car goes at an upward sloping angle for a good part of the climb, and then as we approached the top of the mountain, it rises vertically. 

The cable car turns as it rises allowing us to see Capetown below us as well as the ocean and the mountain before us.

Johnny on top of Table Mountain, Capetown, South Africa, 1999. We were at the very tip of the continent of Africa. You turn one way and you feel the cool breezes off the Atlantic Ocean, the other and the warm wind from the Indian ocean hits you. As we went from overlook to overlook, a feeling of euphoria came over me. It felt like we were in a misty, mystical wonderland.

 These folks were far more adventurous than we were. Apparently, they decided to climb the mountain. We stood at the summit looking down on them, appreciating a smaller peak called Signal Hill and all the cruise ships in the water preparing to round the Cape of Good Hope where they turn to go up the eastern coast of Africa. 

The little critter on the rock is called a Hyrax. They live up there and they are about the only animal you see besides tourists and birds, although they say snakes live up there as well. Like in other places in Africa that we visited, the snakes chose not to make an appearance while we were there.

A great story that our guide told us was that at the bottom of the mountain...before you wind your way up to the base...there was a bakery. Folks quickly learned to lock their cars if there were baked goods inside because the local baboon troop loved donuts AND they have opposable thumbs...meaning that they can open just about anything...including unlocked car and hotel doors. Anyway, as folks learned to lock up, the baboons had to come up with an alternative strategy to score their treats. Seems that every day, the bakery would load up their van and drive to winding road to the base of Table Mountain where businesses had popped up around the cable car. One day, as the van started up the mountain, a bunch of baboons attacked the truck with rocks....until, the driver gave up, jumped out of the van and ran...leaving the goodies for the horde of baboons with a taste for sweets. We loved that story and I've told it for years now.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

He Promised Me Africa - Part 5 - Zambia

Our trip to Zambia was a short one. It began mid-morning at the Victoria Falls Train Station. We were all excited because this was the only train ride we'd scheduled and it was old-fashioned and quaint. I was thrilled that it was a series of beautiful cars outfitted to provide us with interesting food -- all the way there and back.  I was equally thrilled by the steam engine. I hadn't ridden on a train like that since 1970 and my ride to Obama, Japan.

Our Zimbabwean guides posed under an umbrella to send us on our way.

We had no sooner left the station than we were provided with coffee and juice. It wasn't long before we crossed into Zambia. As we slowly rolled out into the countryside, we saw a group of boys sitting under a tree. When they saw us, they jumped to their feet and raced to the train.

I turned to the porter. "Who are they?"

"Just poor children, ma'am."

"What do they want?"

"They carve little animals that they hope to sell."

The boys had a conversation through the window with a tourist a few seats in front of us.

"Nah, get out of here," the tourist said. "I don't need your trash."

I leaned out the window as the long-legged boy jogged alongside holding a carved-wooden hippo.

"Would you like to buy this?" He held it up when he saw me.

"How much?"

"Ten dollar?"

I looked into my wallet. All I had in cash was an American twenty-dollar bill. The train was beginning to gain speed. I looked into the boy's eyes. Something in them was inherently sweet. Tall as he was, I realized he couldn't be older than eleven or twelve. I looked at the porter. He shook his head. "No, too much."

It was all I had and it wouldn't be long before the boy wouldn't be able to keep up with us. I handed him the money. His eyes grew bigger. "No, no, no," he said and tried to give it back to me.

"I want the hippo!" I smiled at him.

He dropped back a bit and called to one of the other fellows.

I turned to Johnny. "Look at them. They aren't even out of breath yet."

"Ma'am? Ma'am!"

The train was going faster.

I reached out and he gave me the hippo and a giraffe with hinged knees. "Oh, look at this," I said when I realized it. "He gave me two."

I stuck my head out the window as we left the boys behind. "Thank you!"

He grinned and waved.

I leaned back in my seat and examined my treasure.

"You need to bargain with them," the tourist who had turned down the boy's toys earlier said. "They don't respect you and will cheat you if you  don't."

His wife glared at him.

I put the toys into my purse. I thought I'd gotten a great deal and maybe that young man would be able to buy himself or his family something special with his unexpected windfall.

Our porter smiled at me as he poured me more coffee. "He is a lucky boy."

I still have those toys. They sit on the mantel over our fireplace. I think I was the one who got the great deal. Every time I see them, I wonder about the boy who made them. He is a man now. Hopefully with many wives and children.

It was a short leisurely trip when you consider how far we'd come. We didn't see many animals but the scenery was wonderful. So was our brunch.


The train ride was to Livingstone where the train turned around. Wikipedia tells me that while Livingstone was the capital of Zambia when we visited the train station, it no longer is. It's only 6 Kilometers from the Zambesi River -- hence the slow pace of our trip.

We only had a few minutes there -- long enough to chat with the engineer who agreed to let me sit in his seat for a few moment while Johnny took my picture.  However, as soon as we got the picture and I pulled the chain to blow the horn, I realized that several other folks decided it would be cool too...and they were waiting for me to get out. We all laughed and we helped take pictures of several other tourists.

Our engineer was kind enough to let me crawl into his seat and blow the horn. I had planned on convincing him to let me drive part way back but the crowd of guys behind me made that not very practical. Still it seemed like it would have been fun.

Retracing our route back to Victoria Falls Station was a lot faster than our slow chug to get to Zambia. Still it was one of my favorite adventures...reminding me of the old movies about travel in Africa.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Beautiful churches represent human faith and dreams

I love to photograph churches, courthouses and old buildings when I travel. This last weekend, we attended a graduation at St. Louis University. After many "You've got to visit the church on campus" comments, I arrived at the church just as a wedding was ending.

Waiting for the wedding photography session to end, I sat down and marveled at the architectural beauty. Architects have quite a challenge designing buildings that represent and inspire a congregation's faith in God. In the case of St. Francis Xavier's Church, the designer(s) most likely exceeded the congregations' dreams.

The church is magnificent and yet lends itself to a spiritual experience. As I waited, I reflected on the human desire to express our beliefs and dreams through architectural wonders. I've always appreciated the creative imaginings of artists and architects take art to an impressive level.

If you travel to St. Louis, take the time to visit this church.

Friday, May 19, 2017

He Promised Me Africa - Part 4 - Chobe Game Park in Botswana

After visiting Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe, we traveled on to Botswana where we went on our first game run. The morning was sunny but the air was cool. We climbed into a topless vehicle -- not quite truck, not quite van, not quite car -- and headed out into Chobe National Park. The road was muddy and we weren't  the first tourists to explore it that day. Periodically, we'd stop to watch birds, all of which seemed exotic to us. Baboons were the largest animals we'd spotted as we drove through a brushy area...but then, we braked for a family of antelope who crossed in front of us. I wondered how such delicate creatures survived in a world of carnivores.

First were several females with their babies. They didn't seem too concerned about our presence -- or of our clicking cameras as they moseyed across the road. The buck was the last to cross. He was in charge of his herd of females and babies and we all knew it. He was so obviously proud of his family and we all got a chuckle out of his almost pompous bearing.

We hadn't traveled much further when we found a road that split off from the main one. It was drier there...and the dust hadn't been disturbed yet. Suddenly, the driver braked and pointed. At first, I didn't understand what I was seeing. After a moment though, I realized I was seeing animal footprints...first large paw prints...and then bigger, rounder impressions. "What is it?" I asked in frustration.
"Lions, ma'am," the guide said. "And elephants."
I squinted. "Oh?"
"Lions running away from elephants."
I sat up taller. "Elephants chase lions?"
"If they get too close to the babies," the guide explained.
I sat back down. I was in the middle of the the early morning...seeing the tracks of an animal drama that had happened in this spot not more than a couple of hours before. Wow.

Monday, May 15, 2017

He Promised Me Africa - Part 3 - Baboons

The view of Victoria Falls from the air was stupendous. However, the close up view we got from the trail across from it knocked our socks off too. First thing we saw though, as we started down the trail were these amazing Baobab trees. It was the first time, I'd ever seen such a thing and I couldn't stop taking pictures of them.

Then we encountered a baboon troop. We had first seen them from our motor coach driving to our hotel from the airport. There was a fence along side the road with a baboon perched on each post. It was almost as if they were welcoming us. As we reached the corner where we were to turn, everyone in front of us burst into laughter. At first, I didn't understand...but then I saw. The largest male baboon...apparently the alpha male...was sitting on that corner post...holding his penis and making noises that sounded an awful lot like laughter.

Someone asked if baboons were friendly and the guide said, "They are very proud." And that got everyone giggling again while I snapped his picture for posterity.

However, the baboon troop I encountered on the trail to Victoria Falls wasn't aggressively friendly or particularly unfriendly. They were used to people and the folks who lived in the area were used to them. As I walked along the trail, Johnny got ahead of I was a bit surprised when they appeared in the brush beside and in front of me. However, other than take their picture, I tried to not intrude on their space figuring that if I got too close they might not like it.

As you can see in the picture above, there were people just ahead of me. They were coming from the Falls and soon passed me. When I got to the curve in the road, the baboons popped out of the brush and gave me a start...and a thrill. They were showing off their new babies.

Clearly, they could have stayed hidden if they wanted to...and had been when the other group walked past...I was just lucky to be there when they decided to show off. They didn't seem to mind me taking their picture so I guessed this was a normal thing for them. However, for me to see them this close was a major thrill. After my encounter with them, I hurried on to catch up with Johnny. He took my picture as I emerged from the trail. I'm trying to tell him about the baboons...and he is trying to tell me about the Falls up ahead of him.

Fortunately for me, I got to see Victoria Falls from the trail. It wasn't until we got home and got our pictures developed that Johnny got to see the baboons. This was a case where digital would have been great but that's not what we had at the time.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

He Promised Me Africa - Part 2 - Victoria Falls

For those of you who remember my story of the helicopter ride over Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe, Africa, in "He Promised Me Africa - Part 1," here are more pictures of that amazing day. For those of you who didn't see the earlier post, here's a brief background. We were staying at the Elephant Lodge in Zimbabwe which is a beautiful estate complete with a huge golf course and a helicopter to take you on the ride of your life over the Falls. When we got to the helicopter pad, there were warthogs lying on the concrete pad....totally uninterested in moving. After they were chased away, we took our ride. Here are those photos.

Here the warthogs are leaving the pad and moving away as the helicopter lands.

As the helicopter rises, this mist is the first glimpse we have of Victoria Falls.

I aways thought "breathtaking" was an overused cliche...until I saw this.

The pilot changed altitudes to show us different views of the falls.

From this vantage point, we zoomed down across the canyon.

And came back around a little higher on this side.

The pilot told me that people bungie jump from the bridge...and I wanted to do it so bad. It was a once in a lifetime opportunity, I thought, to test myself. Later that afternoon, we had someone drive us over to the bridge where a company was setting up for folks to jump. I was surprisingly unafraid...until I saw the bungie lines themselves and with my great eye for quality and my deep knowledge of bungie jumping equipment, judged them too frayed to take a chance on. Or perhaps I was just a coward and didn't realize it.