Cape Town hijinks

img_3228About forty minutes after this picture was taken (right, the shot of a statue of a man in a “heil”-like pose), something dire occurred.

My iPhone was lifted out of my bag, never to be returned.  Or found.

I have told this story several times since that day, and I usually tell it the same way.

During one rare window when — though not completely alone — I still was not accompanied by a local tour guide, I had no sooner dropped my iPhone into a zippered slot in the front of the crossbody handbag I wore close to my side and was just ready to zip it back up — pffft, just like that, the bag felt the slightest mite lighter, thanks to an agile thief with the sleightest of hand.

Now, as I’ve said elsewhere on this blog, I have long lived in an urban environment known for crowds.  I have also traveled to foreign cities on various continents.  I am no stranger to pickpockets and other petty crimes that occur in large crowded metropolises where anyone can become a victim of opportunity if not on high alert.  In fact, no fewer (and perhaps surprisingly, no more) than three times have I had my wallet stolen right out of my backpack or handbag:  Twice in New York City (a shoe store and a pizza joint), and once in a Paris pub.

I’m not surprised it happened any of those times.  I was off guard, not paying attention, engrossed in some other activity, a conversation or something.

This day, however, was different:  I had even felt a strangely close brush past me several times leading up to the event, something I only noticed in context, in hindsight.  I was on high alert.  It was a crowded section of Cape Town, with market vendors selling their wares.  I was aware of strangers too close, held my bag tight to my side, protected my wallet, made sure not to put anything in a back pocket.  But I was protecting the wrong loot against a bandit who was too skilled at his trade (and, I think, was operating in a pair).

All of which is to say that the thief who absconded with my iPhone 5S quite justifiably deserved it.  Like a hard-won prize.

In the moment it happened, I panicked. I looked around. I confronted a couple of vendors at the street market where it happened.  Surely they had seen something and were staying mum.  I even asked a “safety officer” who was wearing some official-looking type of orange vest, and he pointed me toward the police station to report it a few blocks away (which I did, a futile exercise).

Ultimately, after racing all over that area, visiting cell phone “re-sellers,” and scanning the area for guilty-looking parties and reeling from thoughts of the irretrievable and un-backed-up contents of my phone (mainly the two thousand or so photos and a multitude of notes and lists and writings), I let myself be devastated for about 24 hours (okay, maybe a tiny bit more), and contacted my service provider, who happily informed me that I qualified for a free phone upgrade, and eventually started looking ahead to the new phone that would be waiting for me when I arrived home a week later, the following Saturday.

Ultimately, I just chalked it up to being part of the “vacation experience.”  There was far too much to love about this beautiful country and its people to get dragged down by one bum circumstance.


This fellow in the “heil”-like pose, by the way, is Cecil John Rhodes, the British imperialist who took over large swaths of African land and named portions of it after himself (Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe, for instance), until 1980 when his name faded into the distant past.

Sort of like the loot a thief makes off with.

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For the Love of the Grape


In addition to cemeteries, sunsets, and trains, I love wine.

There was one particularly cloudy, wet, drizzly day toward the end of my Cape Town IMG_3459.JPGsojourn, and that is the day that called for one of those other things South Africa is well known for:  Its VINO.

While I am not necessarily a connoisseur of grape varietals, I can easily distinguish between a wine that is a good match with my palate and one that isn’t.  It’s not too complicated.

I selected a half-day (about four hour) Winelands tour of a couple of vineyards along the Stellenbosch wine route.  Thimg_3460e tour was comprised of about seven tourists and included two stops.

I’ve been to wine tastings in Santa Barbara, CA and in Sonoma County, CA, but these tastings were unique in the way they were conducted.

Instead of standing around at a bar with a very brief introduction for each wine presented, the way they usually are, we were seated at a picnic bench and served cheese and crackers to accompany each of the wines — and to that, all I can say is, when is cheese an unwelcome addition to anything?

The first stIMG_3478.JPGop was at the Zevenwacht wine estate.  They extended generous portions.  As a wine tasting should be, it was an easy, non-rushed experience, with plenty of time to take in the aromas, the vibe, the company of our fellow travelers, and gather an overall sense of the room, including a friendly house dog.


After the tastings, we were taken into another room, where we were given a tour of the wine cellar and shown the large barrels of wine used in the Zevenwacht wine-making process.

After Zevenwacht, we hauled back into the van to be transported through the afternoon rain over to another wine estate on the Stellenbosch route:  Saxenburg.

This tasting room had a similar format but quite different feel.  The wine steward (if that is the technical name for the person who presents and pours the wine) emphasized the history of the estate much more than the previous one had.

As evidenced in the photos below, the timeline of the Saxenburg history was laid out on the wall of the tasting room.

A “must” experience for those so inclined, I highly recommend the Winelands Tours for a stay in the Cape Town region, regardless of weather.  Once we were well into the tastings, we didn’t notice the weather anyway.

The trip back to our respective hotels occurred during the midst of the local rush hour, but that didn’t seem like much of a problem either.

Save it for a rainy day?  Definitely!

Posted in Africa, Day trips, South Africa, Stellenbosch, Tourism, Wine, Winelands, Zevenwacht | Leave a comment

South Western Township

There are many, many sights and “must-see” spots on a trip to South Africa, but probably topping the list (especially for anyone with any awareness of the long and hard ongoing struggle in this strong and resilient country) would be SOWETO.


Soweto is a neighborhood in the Gauteng province of Johannesburg, South Africa that is most well known for being the site of a political uprising among students that occurred around the mid 1970s.  There were violent clashes between the students and police, during which hundreds of people were killed.

The township has a long history dating back to the 1800s, and its residents have included Nelson Mandela and Bishop Desmond Tutu.

img_3004The township is very poor, and many of its residents live in what are known as shanty towns that are poorly equipped with services, if there are even any at all.  img_3006

I saw a news story on television during my stay in Johannesburg that described promising efforts being made on the part of some local politicians and groups to create better housing and improved living conditions in these communities.

Like any vibrant locale full of people coming and going, there was much to see.  The only thing I might not have expected, however, were goat sightings. And yet…

After driving through these neighborhoods, I went on to tour the Nelson Mandela House, where the Nobel Peace Prize winner resided for about sixteen years.  After that was lunch on Vilakazi Street in Soweto on the busy outdoor terrace at Sakhumzi Restaurant.


That afternoon in Soweto was a moving experience that was edifying and inspiring, and left a deep and strong impression.



Posted in Mandela, May 2016, South Africa, Soweto | Leave a comment

Things are Looking Up

Where I have lived for over thirty years, it is said that people “never look up.”  In fact, that is often one of the ways you know who the tourists are:  They’re looking up.

New York City, of course, is a crowded urban metropolis, known for skyscrapers and cramped sidewalks.  It requires that you watch where you’re going, lest your bump smack into an oncoming bus or a flock of camera-wielding sightseers.  Same applies even to the exurbs of Manhattan.

There are many places where looking up (or out, over, about, or around) yields a worthy sight.  The Grand Canyon comes to mind.  Desert landscapes.  Ocean shores. Sunsets.


Every day on the African train journeys, I watched for sundown, and during those times, I took a multitude of pictures of the African skies.  I couldn’t choose which shots to upload here. So I’ve narrowed them down and uploaded a majority of them.

It’s hard to fathom these dramatic shades — sharper and more vivid than any orange sunset I’d ever seen.  It sounds cliche, but truly, the camera doesn’t do it justice.  I’m tempted to say that the telephone poles and wires ruin the shots, but in fact, they don’t.

No doubt, the sunrises are as impressive, but I was not awake for those. Here are some stunning sunsets, though.



“The scattered tea goes with the leaves and every day a sunset dies.”  (William Faulkner)


Posted in Africa, May 2016, Nature, Sky, Sunset, The Train | Leave a comment

Cemetery of Souls

I love cemeteries.  I always have.

A macabre attraction to some, granted, but to me, what is macabre about the unwavering silence, or the peace we project onto those souls planted beneath the soil?

It’s hard to resist theimg_2431 rough visual beauty of bent headstones, the variety of granite, marble, bronze, and other stones, with their assorted inscriptions, along with the stories that will remain forever untold, not to mention the allure of secrets taken to the grave.

In Africa, I expected to see more cemeteries than I did, but I was on the lookout for anything that resembled a graveyard along the railways.

I caught a few shots of distant headstones from the window of the moving train, nearly buried in overgrown fields.  img_2449

These cemeteries were pretty sparse, not crowded, and largely covered over by shrubbery, at least from a distance.

My takeaway was more of a visual overview, since I never got close enough for detail, but the headstone finishes seem rough hewn, maybe hand carved even, with varied, non-standard shapes.


Based on nothing in particular, I gather these are the cemeteries of local villagers.  Zooming in on some of the pictures doesn’t offer any great detail other than that they are simple markers of lives lived.

Next time I’d like to get closer (with a view from the right side of the grave, of course!).


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A Formal Affair

On the img_3322 img_3319img_3290 img_3311 img_3298 img_3297way to the Cape of Good Hope, there is a stop at Boulders Beach where a bunch of suited up penguins hang out.  Some of them seem to be hiding out inside little huts.  Others are bopping around the beach.  Others paddle into the water for a dip.

These are African penguins, aka “jackass” penguins. Named not for their Johnny Knoxville-like antics, but for a loud sound they sometimes make that sounds like a donkey.

img_3314 img_3315These penguins share their waters with swimmers of the human variety, apparently.


Posted in May 2016, Penguins, South Africa | Leave a comment

Cemetery of Trees

On an early morning off-train mini-safari excursion to Hwange National Park during the journey from Victoria Falls to Pretoria is where we, the rail travelers, saw wakes of vultures, dazzles of zebras, towers of giraffes, and herds of elephants.  The hours-long watch for a potential lion sighting (to shoot with cameras, thankfully, not firearms) consisted mainly of crossing open land spaces.

The terrain provides vegetation to herbivorous animals and obviously plenty of food for carnivorous ones, but between sightings of our four-legged wild friends, the tourist dune buggy passed through some rather bare areas of the plain.

One of those bleak terrains  was an area that held a collection of dead trees.


I don’t see dead trees very often.  I’ve always lived in heavily inhabited areas where, when trees die, they are cut from their stumps, even uprooted by expensive machines, and carted off to be, I don’t know, shredded into dust, perhaps.  If they aren’t removed, these trees are at risk of toppling over onto a nearby building or house or some other structure where humans live and pass by.


Here, in Africa, when trees age, they fall over onto other trees, or onto themselves, or onto barren ground. They are free to dissolve into dust over decades and centuries, to participate in the food chain and to take part in life’s delicate balance.

A spooky mood overshadowed this brief part of the safari.  Momentarily, I envisioned it in the darkness of night.  I wouldn’t want to do this drive after nightfall for fear of imagined shapes that my mind would likely manifest out of the collection of trunks and branches.








These trees, as they die, seem to twist and writhe and curl around each other. They fall into each other’s twigs and arms and seek comfort in the ground they rose up from.  Some of them seem to arc in anguish toward the earth; others seem to break off sharply or stand upright in defiance.  Their deaths appear slow and noble, almost patrician in nature, and in the process, create a type of sculpture garden made of wood.


Posted in Africa, Cemeteries, Safari, Zimbabwe | Leave a comment