Saturday, January 31, 2009

Barberton SA, 2009

Barberton, South Africa – Mazwita Bush Camp

There are entirely too many photos in our collection to tell the story of two days in Barberton in one journal – nevertheless, here goes. Starting with Mazwita, the hospitality, landscaping (see picture), service, amenities and food, were excellent.

It’s a small place and Diane, the owner, said that she prefers word-of-mouth references over advertising. “It’s a way of managing the type of clients that we host at Mazwita. Those who enjoy what we offer recommend us to others with similar tastes.”

The first night, January 20th, we were invited up to the lodge to watch the inauguration. It was interesting watching the Africans who had one eye on the TV and one eye on us to see how we were reacting.

Breakfasts and dinners found us out next to the pool, in the game-viewing area. There is a water hole down among the trees and critters wandered through. Lots of birds in the mornings, sitting around the fire in the evenings, relaxing at other times.

Up at the lodge it is their practice to throw out occasional snacks for the local
animals. Here you see vervets (green monkeys) and a striped mongoose. We also saw warthogs at other times.

Becky made friends with a group of mongooses as they sniffed her toes. She admits to thinking they might have been about to spray her feet, marking their territory.

Zebra, Impala, and Red Duiker appear in this photo of animal interaction. Wildebeest, Warthogs, Giraffes, Grey Duikers, and Mongooses also put in appearances.

We spent the second day in Barberton on a rock-hunting trip. Shades of ESCONI! Kurt had arranged for us to visit with Tony Ferrar, who walked us through his own collection of mineral specimens, introduced us to the geology of the region and then took us to the oldest gold mine in the area. The greenstone found throughout the Barberton area is an outcropping of the earth’s crust dating 3.5 billion years old. There are very few sites that old in the world.


The museum at the mine office was a collection of objects dating back over 100 years. This upper plate, made of some amalgam of metals, was particularly interesting as we speculated on the composition.

Tony arranged for us to go into the mine during our visit. We had been in mines before, but not one where we could hear the rumbling of active mining. The safety precautions were minimal, the holes deep, the lighting non-existent. It was great! But no samples.

Red Ochre, found along the road after our mine visit. It is a form of Jasper and was ground up to use in rock paintings and for other decorative purposes. This chunk was rather large, six+ inches on all sides.

Tony led us to this outcropping of sedimentary rock. It goes back billions of years and documents the tides at that time. PhD theses have used these rocks to calculate the strength of the tides, the pull of the moon, the distance of the moon from earth, and the rate at which the moon is moving away from the earth, about 1cm per year.

Wrapping up our stay in Barberton, this is a photo of a “Barberton Daisy.” You might also know it as a Gerber Daisy. It is the original Gerber from which all of the other colors and sizes have been hybridized.

Love to all, Swaziland is next.


Friday, January 30, 2009

Kruger Trip 2009

January 20th, 2009, we departed Cape Town for an eight-day holiday. Stop one was 1,400 kilometers away, two hours by air, the airport in Johannesburg where we rented a car for the drive east. Our first destination, stop two, was the town of Barberton, about 400km from Joburg. We spent two nights at the Mazwita Bush Camp, moving on across the border into the country of Swaziland, not a terribly long drive in length, but a bit dodgy due to road construction on the South Africa side and road quality on the Swazi side. Stop three was in the Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary where we spent two nights at Reilly’s Rock Hilltop Lodge. Departing Swaziland by way of Jeppe’s Reef, we drove to stop four in Kruger National Park at the Biyamiti Bushveld Camp. Two nights at Biyamiti, then drove to stop five, the Shimuwini Bushveld Camp. Two nights then back to Joburg via Limpopo and Polokwane.

That’s the outline for the next series of journals from the other side (of the world). You have noticed that the schedule allowed two nights at each location. That fine bit of planning gave us an entire day to explore the particular area or rest up – this was a holiday.

Kurt is involved with some of the tourism planning for the 2010 World Cup in Nelspruit (near Kruger and Barberton) so is familiar with the area and has made contacts there. We stopped in Nelspruit to say hello and to stock up on enough provisions to cover us for the next few days, until we made it out of Swaziland and back into South Africa. Drinking water is not an issue in South Africa but we were not so sure about Swaziland. Since people are dying of cholera in the Limpopo area, near Zimbabwe, we played it safe and carried water.

Most of the South African electricity comes from coal-fired plants such as this one between Johannesburg and Nelspruit. The area is rich in coal and we saw many strip mines and processing facilities. Nuclear provides much of the power but more is needed and new plants take time to get online.

The area is also heavily mined for gold and diamonds. We didn’t get samples, but we did get pictures. More on that later.

It was a full day of travel. Also a day full of memories for us. Eight years ago, January 20, 2000, we were in Zimbabwe, sitting around a campfire, in the bush, with three well-educated Zim guides, being grilled on George Bush and his policies toward Africa. Eight years later the attitudes toward America and Americans is different ... and hopeful.

That’s enough for now.


Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Cape Town Christmas Dinner

January 12, 2009

Dear Friends and Family:

Many of you know that one of the missions of our church here in Cape Town is to feed the homeless on the street each Sunday. From Monday through Saturday most homeless can beg monies from the tourists and are fed at a few low cost feeding facilities, but on Sunday most of the shops close down and there is no place for them to go. Our friend John started this food ministry 33 years ago, then feeding 15 people each week. This last Sunday, we fed over 160 people, literally on the street: a cup of soup, a sandwich, and apples; for them a very good meal. This food is brought in by individuals in the church who want to help. And they have been doing it each week for over 25 years, a monumental effort in a society where the average wage is still
approximately R2500 per month ($250). Each week, our small part is to provide soup or fruit as needed and to go out on the street, into the parks and sometimes under the bridges of Cape Town to distribute the food.

When Floyd and I arrived here in December, the ladies of the church were preparing to feed the homeless a Christmas dinner. Thanks to a donation of $200 from Southminster Presbyterian, our Glen Ellyn church, the ladies were able to purchase the meat for the meal, plus some “goodies” for each of the homeless to take with them: a toothbrush, toothpaste, washcloth, soap, tinned meat, and a bit of candy.

The picture on the right shows the Women’s Circle putting together the “goodie” bags. Note the tinned meat in the foreground, a special treat.

120 homeless were invited to the dinner. Since we could only squeeze 85 chairs into the small room in the church office building, not all were actually able to sit at a table or even in the same room. Some had to be fed on the street and in the corridors. This always presents a problem. We fill the back row of seats first, no tables, against the wall with their food in the window sills, then the farthest seat at the table, and the next, and so on, with no spaces because once you are in, there is no room to get out.

That was the scene at the top of the stairs: quiet, orderly, peaceful. It was an entirely different story at the front door. We were collecting invitations and sending groups of ten at a time up the stairs. That went reasonably well until the upper room approached capacity. The remaining crowd began to sense they might not get food (which wasn’t true) and desperation settled onto the people. They began to surge through the glass doors and onto the stairs. Five of us tried to physically restrain them but the wave of silent humanity continued. Floyd relates fearing someone would be trampled and is not sure how or why the push ended but somehow it did. Not many of us have ever been that desperate – it brought a new dimension to hunger.

The food was beautiful. The ladies did a spectacular job. Chicken is the meat of choice in Africa, and there was some chicken, a thin slice each of beef and ham, potato, spaghetti, curried rice, and for the veggie, beetroot. For dessert, there was malva pudding and ice cream. This is a typical South African Christmas dinner. We were so thankful to be able to give them dinner size plates of food. Last year there was only enough for small bowls.

Even those that had to eat outside enjoyed the feast. Hopefully next year we will actually be able to get the permits needed to put tables and chairs outside on the Square where there is more room. All would then be able to sit together.

There were a lot of very happy people that day, grateful to be remembered. Again thanks to our friends at Southminster and to my sister Sue for her support in helping to fund this effort. Have a great 2009.

One additional anecdote related to our mission that day. A film crew was shooting scenes involving Formula 1 cars on the street ½ block away. One of those involved witnessed our efforts to help the hungry. She was so touched that she went to the rest of the film crew, collected money, and brought it to us to help future efforts. It brought tears to our eyes and joy to our hearts.

Love to all,

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Calitzdorp January 2009

Back in August of 2008 we wrote of our search for the wild gazanias in the Klein Karoo and our trip to Calitzdorp. Well, we made that trip again last week, but for a different purpose.

We did stay at the old schoolhouse, and we did visit the makers of port wine, but the real purpose of the trip was to get away from telephones, cell phones, and computers. There was no way for us to check email or use a phone. It was a lovely,
quiet, peaceful time.

Calitzdorp is about a five hour drive east of Cape Town, in the Klein Karoo, a very dry desert-like area which gets very hot in the summertime. We were extremely fortunate to have three days of relatively cool weather; highs in the 80s and nights cool enough for fleece. Our August trip was highlighted by the blooms of the aloes in this area. They don’t do as well in the summer.

They tend to turn red, a sign of stress, and the younger ones fold up in defense. Actually, I think the top surface cells lose moisture and shrink, causing the appearance of folding up. This brings to mind the whole process of adaptation and evolution, but that’s another whole set of articles.

The old schoolhouse is located near a river and its dam. We saw some birds, like this heron; heard some baboons, definitely pests here because they raid the fruit orchards;

and Kurt, reminding Zindzi how to swim. He also tried Thula, their year old puppy, but met with limited success.

Other high points were some of the succulents that we saw on our walks while out in the country. This protea with its stunning flower was an unexpected find.

The fantastic geometrics of this little succulent just make you wonder how and why.

And then we spotted these bright yellow blooms and went to investigate. There are no leaves on the stems of this plant. Just stubby little fingers. Amazing!

I just had to save the best for last. This flower greeted us on our return to Cape Town. It was blooming in Becky & Kurt’s front yard. It is one of the group of plants nicknamed “Carrion” flowers because the pollinators are flies attracted by the perfume of rotting meat. Eeeewwwww! And, did I mention adaptation?

We all had a restful holiday – no parties or fireworks – just the stars and peace. We wish the same for you and yours in 2009.