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New Newport News News: Venice edition

Waterbus from the airport

Venice is simply amazing.  We got a waterbus at the airport and had a grand tour of the many islands of Venice, as we made our way to St. Zaccharia’s square, near where our hotel was located.  Pulling our wheeled suitcases [that are big enough for a moderate sized human], we crossed on 2 arched pedestrian bridges to the tiny alley we needed.

Typical pedestrian bridge

When I say tiny, I mean we could have stretched out our arms and touched the buildings looming on either side.  Following written directions from the hotel, we then turned left into a really tiny alley, which gave onto a tiny alcove, in which were set up several outdoor dining sets and umbrellas.  There were 3 doors, none labeled.  However, the desk clerk saw us and buzzed the door open.  The Ca’ dei Doge [it means “the Doge’s House” NOT the Dog House] has an absolutely charming tiny lobby, with steps leading up to our room; the restaurant led off the lobby, where we had a lavish breakfast each morning.  Our room had a balcony, large French windows leading to it, and a Jacuzzi tub in the bathroom.  Pronounce the zz as you would for pizza.

Just another church in Venice

There are no cars in Venice.  There are limestone streets of varying widths, but no logic whatsoever.  Foot traffic is daunting, especially if you walk with a cane.  People are so busy taking selfies everywhere that you can’t use the handrails on the bridges.  The charm is palpable, but so many frantic people!!  Goods are moved through the streets on large hand-carts, fitted with bicycle bells and courteous men saying "coming through" in polite Italian.

We had planned to take a gondola ride, but they are literally bow-to-stern as they go.  There are no little by-ways to escape to—water traffic everywhere.  We used the water busses a lot [expensive], took one tour of the Grand Canal in a water taxi [I had to crawl off the boat as I couldn’t negotiate the bobbing at the dock].  I am so very glad that we went there, but I would never want to go back.

Well, I wouldn’t want to go back and walk anywhere.

In fact, I would go back in a heartbeat.

In our 3 days in Venice, we did 2 major museums: the Academy Galleria [featuring a marvelous array of early Medieval art] and Museo Correr, housed in a palace purpose-built by Napoleon, right on St. Mark’s Square.  The outstanding piece here was a 6-part wood block set, made in 1500, for a bird’s eye view of Venice.  They had one of the original prints as well.  This was so stunning, that Ron and I were the only ones to look at it.  Everyone else walked through the room on their phones.

St. Mark’s Cathedral is enormous and sits next to the Doge’s Palace.  The square is composed of 4 storey buildings, with arched covered sidewalks [like cloisters] framing expensive shops, with Napoleon’s palace and Correr museum above.  You see this in every movie which is set in Venice.

St. Mark’s Square

I had wanted to visit St. Mark’s Cathedral because the actual body of the apostle was there.  He had originally been buried in Egypt, but the Venetians hated him to be in the land of the Muslims, so they stole the body in 828 AD, hiding it in pork so the inspectors would not search their cargo.  But, as we were deciding whether the long wait to get in was worth it, I read in the guidebook that the body had been burned in the fire of 922 AD.  When they rebuilt the church, they miraculously “found” Mark’s ashes.  I snorted at this concept, but Ron said, “All they had to do was sniff around for the smell of pork rinds.”    Still, there were so many people waiting to get in to the Doge’s Palace and St. Marks that we decided it was not worth the wait.  Pork rinds notwithstanding.

Unique chimneys in Venice: since there is low pressure everyday, the chimneys are engineered to draw the smoke anyway.

In addition to museums, we had an agenda of steeple-chasing.  Literally.  There are more churches in Venice that in Newport News!  Many have fine art.  There is no rhyme or reason to what they charge for entry; so we decided based on what we knew was inside.  The Basilica of Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari was arguably the best and a bargain at €3.  “The Assumption [of the Virgin]” by Titian is an enormous and gorgeous work, and the numerous chapels within the basilica were all rich in art.

Massive fish die-off in Venice lagoon!

We have less stamina than we used to, so by lunchtime, we were usually dragging.  One day, we made it to the Rialto Bridge, one of 4 remaining bridges in the world that have shops all the way across. Ron had the day planned beautifully and chose for us a canal-side café, right at the foot of the bridge, and where we ordered salads and cokes.  Even at €18 for the salad and €4 for each coke, it was flat out worth it! 4

Rialto Bridge

We took many pictures and the waiter took ours, all the while the foaming crowds were breaking like waves over the walkways.  We watched as a man on the cell phone gestured wildly with his free hand to make a point.  We listened as the bells of the churches rang the changes [this means actual human ringers] with no perceptible reason or timing.  We admired the gondolas gliding by, and even the water taxis, making little noise.  We explained to the ducks that we would not share our food.  We were impressed that the notoriously stinky canals have been cleaned up despite rain run-off from the streets and gasoline from all the boats.  And we regretted sleeping with our balcony doors open because, despite the screening, we were eaten alive by mosquitos.

Fortified by our rest, we slogged around for a few more hours, shopping and chasing steeples.  The shopping is of high quality and varied price.  Venice is known for hand-printed paper, glass and Carnival masks.  We bought some of each.

Venice is unique.  It is no wonder that czars and emperors have wanted to create “a Venice” in Amsterdam, Netherlands; in St. Petersburg, Russia; even Venice, CA.  But none of these is really anything like Venice.  The sea sweeps in twice a day to flush out the canals; not a large tidal surge, but enough to clean things.  There are no cars, Vespas or bicycles as there is simply nowhere for them to go.  Real estate is almost as pricey as Monaco so that most who are born in Venice leave to find a better life.  FYI, only 55,000 live there full-time.

But Venice, from its beginnings was a city-state of free men who governed themselves and thrived by capitalism, albeit with a taste for conquest thrown in.  Venice is unique.

If you are planning to travel, here are some lessons we learned:

August is a miserable time to go cruising the Mediterranean.  We had been misled about temperatures in Italy; Ron spent a lot of time online looking at daily temps, but perhaps what he was given were averages or outright lies.  So we packed too many warm clothes, but, since we believe in layering, it only meant that we didn’t wear a lot of what we brought.  Still, we brought home our swimsuits unused, preferring to be in the air conditioning of our cabin.

We flew British Airways to London and on to Venice.  I will never willingly fly the old BA again.  They have crushed the cheap seats down to absurd dimensions.  I laughed out loud when the showed how to put your head on your knees for crash position.  There was simply not enough room from the seat ahead to assume this position.  Fortunately, we didn’t crash.

Once upon a time, I had a new pair of white Crocs.  I was vastly excited by my Crocs, as they were the most comfortable shoe I ever owned; I wore them everywhere.

Me on the deck

One summer day, around 2008, I had a friend visit.  Though she has Parkinson’s, I insisted that I could get her out in the canoe on Lucas Creek, and home safely.  She is a small [but mighty] woman.  I launched flawlessly, and we had a lovely voyage, with sightings of thousands of fiddler crabs, swallows, kingfisher, great blue heron, egrets and a single very bold night-heron.  He played with us by going around each bend in the creek, then peering back to see if we were coming along.

The slapstick began when we came to shore at my house.  She was not capable of climbing the ladder to my dock, nor climbing out of the canoe and scrambling ashore.  I got out and began to haul the canoe up the bank, with her in it.  I was walking on logs and debris I had put along the muddy banks for this purpose [and to halt erosion], gamely inching the boat ashore [alleluia, Michael], when my feet slipped off the log and into the mud.  I am a heavy person and continued to sink to knee depth.  I felt very foolish.

The muck had hold of my beautiful Crocs and would not let go.  I slipped my feet out and tried to pull the Crocs out by the strap; I broke the strap.  Trying to look like a competent person, I left the shoes and hauled the canoe out, got my friend out and we went inside to rest.

Over the years, the Crocs would occasionally rise to the surface of the mud, just enough that I could see them, and mourn all over again, but never enough to grab them.  Finally, this year, I was down in the creek arranging some logs for the above purposes, when I realized that I could actually grab one Croc with a stick and bring it to shore.

Hosed down, the Croc resumed its whiteness.

I suppose I will watch for the other Croc to rise.  I would not hesitate to wear them again, though I had long replaced them with black ones.

Scientifically, it would be fascinating to study how and why there is a convection, or tidal current in the mud of the creek.  Anyone ready to do the research, I’ll be glad to take you out in the canoe.

Going Home

I have recently had an adventure involving my computer and several of my mother’s treasured toys.

My mother was nigh on to a hoarder, with pretty good reason.  Her family moved so often in her young life and she never knew for sure which of her treasures would get left behind, “lost” [sold?] or  simply disappear.  In fact, her worries when {I thought} she was dying was, “What about my things?”  Ref. also “The Quiet Man” with John Wayne.

Her most treasured things were her toys.  She had a Skippy doll, originally made by Effenbee Co., in his original clothing; a doll she named Kathleen, with no identifying marks; and a funny little dog, with jointed arms and legs, dressed in overalls, whose name I can’t remember.  His nose was painted bright red by a nurse at Miss Shirley’s final assisted living home, only days before {she really did} die.  I am sorry to say that the nurse begged me for the dog-boy to remember Miss Shirley by and I just couldn’t decide.

Skippy [Effanbee]                                        Kathleen                                                   Dog-boy

I researched the possible value of these items online, only finding the Effanbee Co., with price lists and information about collecting.  I didn’t want to sell the toys; but I didn’t want to keep them either, as I have plenty of my mother’s things for sentiment.  I fired off a letter to Effenbee.  It came back.  My next thought was to see if FIDM Museum in LA wanted Skippy.

But, more research showed me that Effenbee had been bought out by Tonner Toy Co. and there was a link “contact us.”

I got in touch with a very lovely soul named Michelle, who co-owns the company.  She was very excited to learn about Skippy; afraid that my siblings would be furious if I gave away; that I would regret giving, rather than selling him.  Very thoughtful and gracious concerns, but I was convinced that my mother would love the idea of Skippy “going home.”  Then after Skippy left, wrapped to the nines in bubbles, Kathleen and the dog-boy insisted that they wanted to go along too, to be with Skippy. Michelle kindly agreed.  More bubbles, one more journey to a new home.

Come to find out Michelle’s mother loved dogs, so dog-boy became a symbol of Michelle’s mother.  Kathleen, with her badly cracked face wears a mob-cap, donated by my American Girl Doll Felicity, and, ironically, I now live near Williamsburg.  And Skippy now supervises things at the Tonner office.  Full circle, indeed.

Come visit, Michelle!


Jo’berg, aka Jozi, South Africa, is a raw, edgy town.  Founded by gold-miners, filled with people resentful of their past history, and ready to rumble, it is a prosperous town, but very divided.

We declined the tours offered by Gate1 [to Soweto and the Apartheid Museum] and went off on our own, taking the Hop On / Hop Off bus that we have enjoyed in many a town across Europe.  These buses offer tour commentary in many languages, while it ferries you from tourist place to tourist place.  Our plan was to take the bus to the zoo, then take the full circle tour when we were tired.

But then we missed the zoo stop, and so went on around the Green Route through the upscale, tree-rich neighborhood of Rosebank and thence to Constitution Hill, seat of government offices.  And back to the zoo.

We love zoos.  Stuart, our guide, was disdainful of our plan for this day, but we did not want to wallow in Soweto.  Why, when we followed all that on the news. 

We went on the Cat Walk, past some cramped Victorian era zoo enclosures [now offices—how fitting!].  You can only imagine my thrill when I saw the African Wild Cat, the progenitor species of all domestic cats.  About 1 ½ size of the domestic, with long legs and tawny coat, he stalked his enclosure like…like…a domestic cat.  We also saw a serval [only 1] and a caracal.  Later in the day, we made our way to huge cats—lion, cheetah, and a Siberian Tiger [about 1 ½ times the size of any other tiger I’ve ever seen—and this one was a female!  She apparently loved being watched, as she came over to strut in front of any window where she could see admirers.  At the cheetah enclosure, Ron got 14 hugs from each of a 2nd grade class, all in a line.

Wild cat                                                                    Tiger, tiger burning bright

We saw everything from a tiny Fenec fox to jackals to hyenas.  In the antelope category, we added Sable to our list from the parks.  And Bactrian camel, a new species for me, and a very long way from the Silk Road.

Fenec                                                                         Bactrians

The crocodiles were the most amazing, simply the size of them.  They just look meaner to me than alligators [and both are man-killers!]


Shovel-tailed sloth                                                Boy-legged antelope

The zoo is enormous and begged us to stay, but we were feeble of foot.  So we boarded the bus, changed over to the Red Line and went for a long ride.  We passed the exclusive British boys’ school, suitably perched on a hill overlooking vast playing fields.  We viewed the Nelson Mandela Foundation, where the cult is going strong.  We were flipped off by a fat black chick in the park.  We were impressed with the crowded jitney vans that took folks to work or shop.  The  Mining District streets are punctuated by old equipment painted brightly as “art”;  clever and it gave us machinery types a chance to look it over. 

Gold Reef City theme park and gambling casino are at the very south of the city; there they still do the Gumboot Dance, which I first saw in Washington DC in 1966.  [“Wait-a-minum!” also featured H.M. musical instruments, like a digeridoo.  H.M., said a footnote, means Homemade.  There are actually uTube videos from this show!!].  The dance involves lots of stomping, clapping and jumping about, sort of like “Stomp.”  Other than that, the park looks a lot like Knott’s Berry Farm in CA, with the old mining town theme.

Too feeble to go into the park, we bussed on past.  And regretfully also passed by the Origins Center, with Saan paintings.  We were wise enough to know that the walk over to the museum and back to the bus was simply beyond us.  That’s truly the only disappointment about the trip, to come so far and never seen the ancient rock art of the Saan [aka Bushmen] of the Kalahari Desert.  [Ron says this is TMI, so you've been warned----I saw a film about them in college.  They have the true Paleolithic diet.  The men stick a poison arrow into a large giraffe; follow him for 4  days while he dies; eat the raw liver and tongue; cut as much meat as they can carry back some days to home; where everyone eats themselves into a stupor, and, with bellies distended; they sleep it off.  The women have spent them time digging roots and grubs to survive. Their skin is enormously wrinkled so it can accommodate the boom-and-bust living.]

That evening, we joined the whole group for a Farewell Dinner, featuring a palate cleanser made of cucumber and citrus.  And an “amuse bouche,” a “mouth amusement” of a chicken-based, butternut squash soup, with a hint of curry.  And loads of other yummy stuff.  I listened throughout the meal of the astounding adventures of a Vietnamese lady who saved herself after the fall of Saigon.  I had told her during the trip that I was ashamed of how our government left Viet Nam, but she would hear none of it.  She remains enormously grateful to our troops.

In summary, my thoughts about South Africa:

  • It is a young country, like Virginia, with the same history of colonization, exploitation by the Europeans of the natives and land and uneasy race relations among the races.

  • Cape Town is a delight to visit, very urban, very Indian, but with a looming water crisis, like CA.

  • Jo’berg is struggling to find itself and define itself.  It has a young population, with money to be made; a wise person never goes out at night.  There is a a mixture of every race and culture in the world, drawn by the gold mines. It couple boil over at any minute.

  • Rural people seem happy and content, following tradition, yet change is coming, as more wealth comes into the country, with agribusiness and tourism.

  • The National Parks are worth more than gold.  There is a resource that money cannot buy and people around the world pay millions to see.  South Africa seems to be on top of the poaching problem and the parks are well patrolled and maintained.

  • It is a L-O-N-G trip to get there, but it is truly like nowhere I have ever gone before.  I would go again, but spend more time in the Parks and less time on the road, though the round the country tour is a must for the first visit!  And probably take a sleeping pill for the first leg of the flight.


Just when you think the rest of the tour will be anticlimactic, we spent a day on the bus, with one amazement after another.

As I mentioned before, the weather in the highlands of South Africa is fickle; the mountains catch any moisture coming along and are covered in fog in a heartbeat.  Such was God’s Window, as we passed.  But when God closes a window, He opens a door.

We passed tree plantations—pine for paper and eucalyptus for fencing and building.  We went through alpine tunnels, which are open on one side, rather than cut through solid rock.  It gives a feeling of driving through a covered bridge.  We learned a little Afrikaans:

  • Graskop, meaning “grassy head”.  What we would call High Plains.

  • Pannekoek = pancake.  Sounds quite similar.

  • Rondavel, meaning round hut, is pronounced ron-DA-vel.

We had 2 natural wonder stops: Bourke’s Luck Potholes and the Blyde River Canyon.

Bourke found gold in his lucky potholes, washed down from the mountains of Johannesburg [we reached Jo’berg next day]. 

Bourke's Luck Potholes

The Blyde River Canyon is third in the world’s grandest canyons and you have likely seen its photo at some time.  It is 16 miles long and 2400 feet straight down.  The part we saw was the place where the Trier [meaning sad] River joins the Blyde [meaning happy] in a huge bend.  Apparently some folks happily survived the Blyde River, and someone else named the sad river to contrast.  Naturally no one thought to ask the locals what the names of these rivers were.  [One thing that John Smith did when he explored Virginia].

Blyde River Canyon                                                      3 Rondavels  

We were driving through the territory of the great Zulu wars, when Britain controlled South Africa, though the Afrikaaners never really recognized that fact.  “Shaka Zulu” and “Rourke’s Drift” are fact-based films about this time.  And looking at the land here, you understand why it was worth all the bloodshed.  It is rich grazing and/or farm land, well watered from the mountains and open to the sun, with no freezing.  Nowdays, it is filled with massive agribusiness of macadamia trees, banana groves, corn and wheat.


We passed through Lydenburg, where chromium is mined and smelted.  The ingots then go into the stainless steel manufacturing.  Lyden means “suffering,” but we weren’t told if it was named that before or after the mines opened.

Climbing again to 6300 feet, we stopped in Dullstroom for lunch.  There were several very nice restaurants and we choose a British-themed one.  My salad had warm fried cheese [haloumi], with cold artichokes, raw cukes [marrows], cooked butternut squash, carrot shavings, raw tiny tomatoes and roasted peppers, over lettuce shreds.  And getting back on the bus, we bought a pound of macadamia nuts.

Haloumi and roast veg. salad--mmmmmm

We passed an ore train, narrow gauge, with mysterious 3’ cairns along the track.  No one on the bus had a guess for these.

And on a long leg into Johannesburg, aka Jo’burg.  We must have slept through this because I have no notes in my book until the outskirts, where we learned that ¼ of the South African population lives in a 12 ½ mile radius around the Jo’burg province of Gauteng.

Fire and Ice hotel.  Game of Thrones, anyone?


Some days are more perfect that you ever expect.  We had a clue what to expect, since we had traveled Hluhluwe, but there is nowhere on earth like Kruger National Park.

It dawned on us.

Kruger is the second oldest national park in the world; Yellowstone is first.  So that’s the company it keeps.  Shades of John Muir, the park was begun by 3 Scots stationed in South Africa.  And, as it is patrolled by armed game wardens, there is a very low poaching rate.

The guidebook to the park is written for self-touring in your own car.  The first page states that you must declare your firearms at the gate, followed by a warning that malaria is endemic in the park.  Can you imagine such a publication in the USA, where no risk is acceptable? 

We got another pre-dawn start from Hazyview [after an after dark check-in the night before], but we have found that Gate1 really knows how to run a tour to avoid crowds and get the best stuff done!  We entered the Numbi Gate, down the Voortrekker Rd, past Jock of the Bushveld, up the Malelane-Skukuza Rd. and, after lunch and shopping at Skukuza, we exited the Phabeni Gate by way of the Doispane Rd.  I only put all this in to make myself sound like I know something.  These are the paved roads and we spent a lot of time bumping over dirt roads and skidding off corners in the middle of who-knows-land.  But the point being, that we tooled around perhaps ¼ of the park in a day, from dawn to supper-time.  I’m not going to write much; here are some photos.

The Big 5
We saw a leopard, the most elusive of the Big 5, but could not get a photo.



"White" Rhino

4 of the Ugly 5

Crocodile and hippopotami

Hyena--It's been a hard day's night


Impala.  The have an "M" on their rump for McDonalds = fast food


Cape buffalo



Fishing eagle                              Burchell's starling

Blacksmith lapwing  [who names birds, anyway?]       I call this one Carol's stilted crestwart

Our driver Sanky was a master at his craft, we discovered.  So at the beginning of the day, we’re goggling over elephants and Sanky says, “If you see something you want to photograph, let me know.”

Sanky and his "mother", a term of respect

At one point he speeds up leaving a dust cloud behind; we’re all point to elephants and giraffe but he pays us no mind!  An elephant takes offense at our speed and charges!  Sanky pays no mind!  We’re beginning to think Sanky has lost his ever-loving mind, when he get us to a pod of vehicles overlooking a cheetah mom and 3 cubs!  We caught a photo as the mom slinked off.

2 cheetah babies: “MOM!!  What’s up, mom!?!?”

Thus we found out that all the drivers of the safari-jeeps were in constant contact via radio; if one saw one of the Big 5, they all went haring over to the site for the sight [so to speak].
And that was enough for one day.  At a rough count we got 350 photos that day, most of them stunning.  We bussed back to Hazyview for a rest and supper.  A number of folks went out to an elepahnt ranch; another group went back to Kruger for a ride in the dark.  Both got drowned in a cloudburst.  It was dramatic even at the hotel, where even the frogs came in out of the rain!
A clever frog in the bar at Hazyview, where the wifi is
Early next morning, we were having a lavish breakfast in the dining hall over -looking the swimming pool, when we noticed some birds hanging head down to drink from the pool, clinging  to the brickwork.  We were suitably enchanted and, when we were coming out to get on the bus, we saw hundreds of these birds hanging from their tear-drop nests.  We had found the African weaver birds!  We’d been seeing their image on T-shirts and the like, but they were more marvelous than we expected.

Weaver stance

Another day of travel, across the last bits of Swaziland, including a good sized town, where folks were preparing for a wedding [or other] feast buying goats and other goodies.  It’s considered a snobbish thing to say that people are happy in poverty, but the vibrancy and bustle of the folks we saw in rural Africa convinced me that most people live life surrounded by the love of their families and the love of God and make the best of it.  Only in the cities did we see bitterness and unrest.

We stopped at Ngwenya Glass Complex in Swaziland, quite a sophisticated place that turns trash-glass into wonderful tourist art.  I myself bought a glass warthog, with pewter head and legs.  And who wouldn’t want such a fine thing?  Other folks were buying huge things which we marveled over their ability to get them on the bus, let alone the airplanes.  There were wonderful linens, baskets, bowls and legions of peafowl screaming on the grounds.  We bought a small one of each but the fowl.  Ngwenya Glass claims, “The glass is always greener on our side.”

We crossed the border back into South Africa without incident and our next stop was at the Matsumo Village, home to ex-pat Swazi people who can gain the right to vote in SA.  The village is a living history example of a Swazi village [and not ancient history, either].  We were given a wonderful tour by a gorgeous young lady in native dress, sort of a wrap-around dress of stiff fabric [likely originally bark cloth].  Married women added a shawl over one shoulder and darker colors.  The men wore short kilts, with fur around upper arms and calves.

The women of our tour were told that we had to allow the men to enter the huts first, as befitted their status.  Many a lady was bitterly complaining, when I pointed out to them how low the entryway was.  If they preceded the men, there would be very awkward face to butt proceedings.  There is sometimes logic in these things.

Bowing to enter

I watched an "older" lady weaving large loose baskets which I could see were used to shelter chickens.  Some of the young men were on a hut roof tying down the thatch and they gave me a hank of rope as a souvenir.  I was baffled to see that the rest of our group had bee-lined to the amphitheater, grabbing up the seats as if their very lives depended on it.

Chicken houses                                 and the weaver of them

We found excellent standing room along the back wall; perfect since when the music and dance began I could dance along [discretely, I assure you].  Oh it was a marvelous show!  Imagine the best gospel choir you’ve ever heard, with one voice leading and singing over, under, around and through the other voices.  Hear them singing four part harmony, with sopranos sweetly arcing over deep bass.  Add drums and dancing featuring high kicks and short spear brandishing and you get a shadow of the beauty.  I was entranced, and, when suddenly I realized the group was singing in English “Jesus died and rose again” I raised my hands in worship.  I thought, these are truly my brothers and sisters in Christ, though we are from different hemispheres, indeed, different worlds altogether.

Men as they are meant to be

From the sublime to the mundane, we made our way to a buffet lunch, where the same performers served us lunch and bussed the tables! 

A good doze on the bus and we awoke near our hotel at Hazyview, hard by Kruger National Park.  Another of the Protea chain, it is a charming camp-type hotel, sprawling over grassy lawns and tended trees, where you could stay a month.  We had two nights.

But what a night!  We had impala meat and bread pudding.


We were up at 5 am, eating “rusks” in the hotel lobby.  We thought they were dog biscuits at first, but they went down all right with coffee.  The hotel had packed take along boxes for us and, clutching these and shivering, we piled into the bus, well ahead of dawn.  All so that we could arrive at Hluhluwe National Park right at first light.  Hluhluwe is pronounced Shu-shu-we of course, sort of like the Phil Colllins song. 

We piled into safari trucks that seated 10 and we were off. 

Safari, so goodie

There were quite a number of private vehicles, so it was like a safari park tourist thing in the US.  [I look forward to going to one of these to compare.  And we did ride such a thing at Disney’s Animal Kingdom in FL.]  But this comparison did not diminish in any way the thrill and amazement of seeing this animals in the native bush country.

Here are the animals we saw:

White rhinos


Wart hogs

Nyala [nee-A-la] antelope
Cape buffalo
All kinds of birds
Vervet monkeys
Lion [just barely]
And ant nests in the trees that look like big black goiters.

Sometime in all of this, we stopped for breakfast at Hilltop Camp, where the crew had made a lavish hot breakfast.  But we knew it was still “camp” food because there was merely instant coffee.  A vervet monkey was nearby, in case anyone dropped any crumbs; he ran across the tin roof to try to assure that would happen.  But, we were all too hungry to share. 

Monkey pic--- this is not actually the monkey, but that's the label that came up.

This is the vervet monkey

Finished at Hluhluwe, we piled back on our coach and snoozed a bit on the long drive to Swaziland.  A small kingdom, surrounded by South Africa, Swaziland hearkens back to tribal times.  Ruled by a king, no one has voting rights; every year there is a festival where the Swazi girls dance bare-breasted before the king.  He gets to choose one as a bride.  Yes, every year.  The Swazi flag features a lion to represent the king and a she elephant to represent his mother, who acts as Queen.  The black and white Swazi shield, lozenge-shaped, is on a field of red, with gold and blue stripes edging the red.  Adopted in 1967, the flag is all highly symbolic, with the gold literally meaning gold, which is the source of income for the Swazi.

We walked through customs, leaving South Africa and entering Swaziland.  This is taken very seriously, for you cannot get into SA if you do not have the proper stamps.  We noticed a large container on one of the desks full of free condoms.  Stuart [our guide] later told us that working girls hitch a ride with a trucker as he passes through the tiny country; and return with another going the other way.  Indeed, we saw a young [!] woman carefully counting out how many condoms she would need.  AIDS has taken a horrific toll in Africa, so it was actually a good thing to see her being careful.

Swazi village fence at Nisela

We stopped to eat our carry-along boxes for lunch at Nisela Camp, a sprawling Cousin Vinny’s where you can sit outside and have drinks brought to you.  There is a small Swazi village for rent for special occasions.  We watched as a group set up for a wedding.  Ron had Sibebe Premium Lager.  Ron now says, “It was wet.”  I believe that at the time, he said, “It tastes like American beer.  It’s good.”  But I didn’t write it down word for word.  Our carry-out boxes from the hotel were lavish and we had a lot let over for Stuart to take to his friends at the Candle Factory.

We conked out on the long drive to our next Cousin Vinny stop, the Swazi Candle Factory, much as we hated to miss the scenery.  From what we saw, Swaziland is wide open range country, with rustic, but not poverty stricken villages along a major, well-kept express way.  The King and Queen each have lavish palaces perched on low hills, approached by long, well-watered boulevards. 

The Swazi Candle Factory is not at all what we expected, but a compound of shops selling very nice stuff, as well as CTC.  If you are interested, their brochure lists their address as—Malkerns Valley 26° 31’ 49” S 31° 11’ 60” E.  And <www.swazicandles.com>

What we bought was good quality, so we were glad to buy.  My favorite store was Yebo!, where I bought postcards that state, “Rabbits against fascism.”  Then we repaired to the diner, where we bought carrot cake to go, and then proceeded to eat it right then and there.  I personally wanted to have to go-box refilled, but wiser heads prevailed.

And another long drive.  For a tiny country, it did take all day to cross, what with border crossing and 2 Cousin Vinny’s.  Quite worn out, we ate in our room from our stash of cheese, crackers, dried fruit and cookies.  We watched the sun set on Sheba’s Breasts…which are mountains.  The tour guide says, “The distinctive twin peaks are clearly visible from the Malagwane Hill when traveling from Mbabane into the Ezulwini Valley.”  Be that as it may, we stayed at the Mountain Inn.

A little bit of Sheba

The inn has an open layout, with many rooms opening to the courtyards and others along cloister-like and balcony hallways.  Very charming, it was the kind of place you’d like to settle in for a week to do nothing.



Bright and early, we flew from Cape Town to the Durban airport, named after Shaka Zulu.  An  Attila the Hun sort of a guy, he tried to bring all the Zulu tribes under his dictate; it was a very bloody empire and did not survive him.  Just so you know, very little of his territory was in what is now South Africa, so this wasn’t a “native vs. white invaders” thing.   South Africa was very underpopulated and a wild country; no one really wanted it until they all wanted it.  You can read popular history of South Africa in James Michener’s The Covenant.

A good read

About 2 hours ahead of sundown, we arrived at the St. Lucia Estuary, a sort of fistula of the Indian Ocean on Africa’s east coast, though it is sweet water.  As soon as we approached the water, we saw hippos, yes HIPPOPOTAMI!!  They are enormous, ugly, beasts, left over from the Pleistocene era of mammal gigantism. [as are elephants and rhinos]. 

Hippos in the St. Lucia Estuary

We climbed on the boat, a large version of The African Queen, [book by Forster, who wrote the Hornblower series], with the awning and the noisy motor.  There were about 50 of us, rather than Bogart and Hepburn.  We then saw the full pod, which included babies.  Our 2 hour cruise [♪♫♪♪♫] took us up the estuary and back down the other side.  Each hippo pod has its own area, rather like any suburban neighborhood.  The hippos lounge in the water all day, but only feed at night, when they come onshore to graze.  It is then that they are the most dangerous to people.  And with the sun setting in the west, we stayed aboard our boat.  We saw 1 small Nile crocodile as well.  These are extinct now in the Nile itself, but were a big deal in ancient Egypt, where they and the hippos were greatly [and justly] feared.

There were also many many birds.

A fishing eagle

African Pied Wagtail


And, finally, a hippo skull on the boat

Back on the bus, we drove to the charming Hluhluwe Protea hotel.  Hluhluwe is pronounced Shu-shu-we of course, sort of like the Phil Colllins song.  We had a splendid meaty dinner polished off by bread pudding.  This is the Africaans cuisine; who needs veg anyway?

God’s own country.

A day on our own.  The tour group was going to optional tours, such as Shark Cage Diving and Wine Country.  We had planned our own day before we left home.  I should mention that we always buy the DK guidebook to anywhere we plan to go.  They are not cheap but are in full color and have wonderful advice.  The pictures provide a souvenir as well.  The South Africa version included a section on game spotting.

Swing Bridge with 2 swingers

So Ron and I returned to Victoria Wharf.  We shopped and greatly enjoyed the Water Shed, a cavernous building of tin siding full of booths selling arts and crafts.  The US $ is at a great rate vs. the Rand right now and we found fabulous bargains and endless cleverness.  The lion [and many other animals] are made from used flip flops, glued together and carved.

Flip Flop Lion

We had cold tabouleh and husami [rice pilaf and fried cheese] for lunch and made our way to the Two Oceans Aquarium.  As we entered, we could already see a feeding frenzy taking place.

Feeding Times

I was hoping from the name [Two Oceans] that the aquarium would be set up to compare and contrast the Atlantic and the Indian Oceans, which do come together off the southern coast of Africa, not at the Cape of Good Hope, but Cape Agulhas.  Although it was a nice aquarium, with a truly fine café latte in the snack bar, it was modest in scope.  We saw a number of critters we’re not familiar with.

Jimmy Durante  fish = Black musselcracker
Tail up Pipe Fish

And a nice display of African penguins which was nifty but paled in comparison with the wild ones.  The jellyfish display was psychedelic.


Right outside the aquarium was a large low building that we took for a grocery store, but was in fact, an array of food booths like you find at major urban rail stations.  Both take-away foods and food fixings, we bought some Malay spices and candy [for our hosts, see below].

We walked back to the museum, toting our finds, and actually did have time to visit Mambo’s, a plastic wonderland.  Oh, how I wished for an extra suitcase, but I settled for some jewelry-size zipper bags and some glue and scissors.  [No matter how I plan, I never seem to have these items when I travel.]

We rested a bit [2 hour nap!] and freshened up, for our dinner was to be at the home of a local family [an optional tour, that we are growing very fond of].  We bussed to the home of proud “colored” family, the Gordons.  Under apartheid, regular folks like you and me would be classed as “colored” if you had any mixed ancestry.  Melting pot, in other words.  Might be black African, Indian, Malay or any other mix.  This is not a shameful term to most of these people, they told us, and welcomed any questions.  Our hostess had made us a lavish dinner of Cape Cuisine dishes, which included a mix of spicy chili-like stew based on Indian spices; wraps of pita and hashed meats; flavorful rice dishes, with a pudding dish for dessert.


Included in the family at table were her husband, a blue collar worker and her brother, a professor at a local college; her teenaged daughter helped cook and serve and left after they were introduced.  There were 10 or so of our tour group, so it was a crowded, noisy room, but our hosts circulated and talked to all of us.  They were quite interested when I told them that the history of South Africa is also the history of Virginia:
·         founded by a private company who ran the colony for profit;
·         slavery was introduced by the Dutch early on;
·         women were scarce;
·         natives and colonists had an up and down relationship;
·         land ownership was grossly unfair;
·         SA had a gold rush, VA had a tobacco rush;
·         20th century attempt to keep the races separate [but “equal”], the results of which we are all still dealing with.