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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

Hey, hey we’re the Monkeys

One of the sights most tourists are enthusiastic about seeing on a trip to Africa (or anywhere for that matter) are our close relatives in the monkey familyvfalls_baboons1.

I saw a few types of monkeys on this trip.  While in Zimbabwe, on the lawn of the Victoria Falls Hotel, I witnessed the sneaky mischief of some baboons who regularly and boldly visit the lawn of the hotel, right up to where the hotel guests have breakfast each morning.

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Many guests saw these curious little fiends as great photo ops. The hotel workers did not take as welcoming an approach, however, instead shooing them away.  Locally, they are considered “friendly felons,” because of how they brazenly come up to the table, grab food from your plate and run off with it.

This did not happen to me, nor to any of the guests dining near me, but it was clear that these baboons felt pretty comfortable making appearances among humans.

vfalls_vervet4At Victoria Falls Hotel in Zimbabwe, there were many many vervet monkeys.  They were all over the lawn, often in pairs or groups.  As with the baboons, they were unafraid of a human presence.  They’re small, originally native to southern Africa, and mostly herbivores.  Not to mention, their faces are as adorable as a chubby toddler.

According to the Wikipedia entry on vervet monkeys, they have some striking similarities to humans, including, oddly enough, a potential for alcohol dependency.  vfalls_vervet7

Just as I didn’t witness any criminal behavior on the part of the baboons, I also didn’t see any suspiciously woozy or drunk behavior from the vervet monkeys.

Apparently these animals also exhibit anxiety — highly feasible in light of that especially vulnerable look on their faces, as if they are frozen in permanently fearful expressions.

The monkeys pisouthafrica_roadside_baboon2ctured above were in Zimbabwe. I didn’t see any monkeys again until the Cape of Good Hope at the southern tip of South Africa.  On the drive back to Cape Town, the guide spotted a small family of baboons in the wild, including a baby (not pictured) that was climbing a tree by the side of the road.

Tales were told that baboons have been known to open the unlocked doors of parked cars and hop inside, so the driver was careful to keep moving right along.

Posted in Africa, Animals, May 2016, Safari, South Africa, Zimbabwe | Leave a comment

The Big Five

In Africa, you often hear of what is referred to as The Big Five.  Including the African lion, the Big Five are what every safari tourist hopes to see before they have to head home.  They are the large game animals that hunters have gone after on foot, considered some of the most difficult animals to hunt.  On a typical safari trip to Africa, tourists get to see most if not all of the Big Five game.

The Big Five are comprised of the cape buffalo, the African elephant, the African leopard, the African lion, and the rhinoceros.  Of these five, we saw four, but only three in the wild, and the lions we saw were mostly  white lions, except for one brown female lion, but all of the lions we saw were in a reserve — none in the wild.

We never did see the African leopard — in the wild or in a game reserve. white-lions-m-and-f-sleeping

We did, however, see white lions (male and female, photo at right) in a game reserve, and one brown lion (female, below).  An African lion in the wild is the one thing you really hope to see in the wild, but it is no less awe inspiring to safrican-lion-femaleee in a reserve.  Here I have included a shot of each type.  When we saw the white or albino lions, they were mostly sleeping — something lions do the vast majority of the time, we learned, on average 20 hours a day.

The Cape Buffalo is the hefty horned animal with a broad flat snout that always looks like its hair is parted down the center.  Seemingly sweet (but apparently not, according to the Wikipedia entry that points out that they gore about 200 people annually!), it was possible to view them without risking them charging, thus allowing for a few photo ops.

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The rhinoceros is somewhat the opposite in that sense:  It has quite a formidable appearance, largely due to its threatening and dangerous looking center horn (a double horn, among the African species), in fact rhinos are vegetarians.  Rather than being a threat to humans, it is the reverse; unfortunately, humans are threatening the rhino population — to the point where certain species of rhino are on endangered lists.

We observed a mini-drama among a group of grazing rhinos one afternoon.  A large bull attempted to horn in on the pasture of a mama and her baby, at which point the baby — feeling emboldened by the knowledge that the bull wouldn’t try trhino-bullo mess with Mama Rhino — successfully chased him off.

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Coming face to face with an African elephant is a magnificent experience.  Seeing these awesome and fascinating animals up close is like looking our humanity in the eye — much like seeing one of the Great Apes face to face (something that I hope to find out for myself first hand).

african-elephantThese family oriented, brainy, complex mammals have so much heart, yet they, too, continue to be at risk from human predatory practices that continue to this day.

african-elephant-close-up-2And below, just for fun, are a few extra pictures thrown in:  One is of a couple of playful hippos, one is of a small band of slightly hidden wild dogs, and one is of a wart hog, described by many a tour guide as “not winning any beauty contests.

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Posted in Africa, Animals, May 2016, Safari | Leave a comment