Monthly Archives: January 2013

Hartbeespoort

Joburg can be a bit boring on the weekends.  So on Friday, Al and I drove an hour to Hartbeespoort (known by locals as “Harties”), a resort town in the North West Province.  Harties is home to a picturesque cluster of adorable cottages sitting around a large, lake-sized dam, plus a bunch of tourist attractions such as a cheesy “African crafts market,” a snake park, a monkey reserve, an elephant sanctuary, and an aquarium.  It’s kind of a weekend getaway for rich Joburgers who want to escape the traffic and noise of the “big city” (although Joburg on weekends is one of the quietest cities I’ve ever been in – but whatever).

We stayed in this cute lodge/bed and breakfast called the Hartbeespoortdam Lodge, which I highly recommend.

View from the lodge - not bad!

View from the lodge – not bad!

It’s located in an upmarket but aging gated community called Kosmos, which reminded Al and me of a cross between the chi-chi Colorado resort town Beaver Creek, southern California, and Italy.  It’s all narrow winding roads and jacaranda and cacti and glimpses of blue water past the front gates of houses looking out over the dam.  But, being South Africa, directly outside the gates of this cozy little resort community is an honest-to-God shanty town, where poor black South Africans live in tin shacks — looking out over the same blue dam.  Very sad, very weird, and very typical of the huge discrepancy between rich and poor that is often visible (even in such close proximity) in this country.

On our first night in Harties, we ate dinner at a restaurant called the Silver Orange, which was very good, and shockingly affordable.

The Silver Orange

The Silver Orange

The next day, we got up, ate breakfast at the lodge, and then wandered to the “flea market”/African crafts bazaar down the road.  The craft market was a veritable explosion of what one of Al’s friends once dubbed “Africrap:” wood carvings of naked African women with weird, alien-shaped heads and pointy breasts, bottle openers carved out of giraffe bones, preserved ostrich eggs with taxidermied baby ostriches popping out from within, paintings of Nelson Mandela, lava lamps, Hello Kitty bling, painted wood jewelry strung together with cheap elastic and glue, and so on.  Aggressive sales people would reach out and grab us by the hand and try to lead us into their stall, where they’d promise us a “special price” for that beautiful wooden hippo they knew we had our eye on.  Ugh.  My husband, bless his heart, has a soft spot for all things Africrap, with a particular weakness for bottle openers in the shape of safari animals, and he’d pick things up and admire them, which led to much fruitless haggling and bluffing with the salespeople.  I got tired of the crafts market quickly.

We had a mediocre cappuccino and a milkshake at a “coffee cafe” (they should really consider changing their name) and then went to Bushbabies Monkey Sanctuary.  I was excited for the monkey sanctuary because I love animals and thought it would be cool to see monkeys up close and personal.  Turns out, though, monkeys are kinda creepy.

Apie stealing sunscreen from Al

Apie stealing sunscreen from Al

Throughout the hour-long tour of the sanctuary, which rescues abandoned monkeys (many of whom were kept as pets by a**holes), we were accosted by a capuchin monkey named Apie, who searched all of our pockets, took what he could get, and then ran off into the trees.  Then he’d come back and do it again, often settling on people’s heads and wrapping his tail around people’s necks.  Awkward.  At one point, he stole Al’s sunscreen out of his back pocket and escaped into a tree and proceeded to eat the sunscreen.  We were watching the monkey bang the sunscreen bottle against a tree branch as if it were a coconut, when our guide, the improbably named Simba, told us in a grave voice that the sunscreen would make Apie very sick, and that he would probably spread his sickness to the other monkeys.  Uh, guilt trip alert.

At some point, Apie got tired of the sunscreen and dropped it into the underbrush, and Simba went down to retrieve it.  Apie seemed remarkably unaffected by his consumption of the sunscreen and went back to marauding, trying to extract water bottles, purses, keys, cellphones, and cameras from everyone else.

Apie's antics got pretty old pretty fast

Apie’s antics got pretty old pretty fast

To my surprise, I found myself wanting nothing to do with Apie.  I didn’t want him on my shoulders, I didn’t want to pet him, I didn’t want him staring at me with those beady little eyes. He creeped me out.  This was weird for me, because normally I love all sorts of animals, but something about this little kleptomaniac with finger toes and sharp teeth didn’t sit right with me.  I think Apie had a bad streak.  At one point, he tortured a big, black monkey of a different species because she had come into his “territory.”  Then, when he was draped over the head of some lady who clearly did not want him draped over her head, Al offered his arm to Apie and Apie quite matter-of-factly turned his head and bit Al on the arm.  He didn’t break the skin but he nipped him through his shirt.  And at that point, I was pretty much done with Apie.

After the monkey sanctuary, we went to a cheese farm we had seen signs for along the road.  We had high hopes for this cheese farm, since we like cheese, but the cheese was lackluster.  But the countryside itself was beautiful and peaceful, and we sat outside for a long time while a couple of dogs slept under our table.

Overall, our trip to Hartbeespoort was a very successful mini getaway.  It’s fun to get outside the city without spending hours and hours on the road.  Methinks that more of these little trips need to happen before we leave South Africa.  Except no more monkeys, please.

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Revising

Oof, you guys, I don’t have much energy for blogging today, since I’ve been working on a bunch of side writing projects and — sigh — revising my novel.  I got some really great feedback from the few people I gave the manuscript to for comments, which is fantastic . . . but implementing those comments? UGH.

This process of revision is all for the good, because my novel is going to be so much better when I’m done revising,  but it’s hard. I’ve ended up rewriting whole sections, adding in weird plot twists that I didn’t see coming, and fleshing out relationships between characters.  This takes effort, but it also takes more thought than just writing with no plan, which is how I wrote the first draft of the novel.  Revising requires me to think hard about other people’s reactions to what I wrote and try to find a way to integrate changes, some of which are narrow and others of which are quite broad.  So it’s a process that forces me to be creative while forcing the story into certain constraints that will make it work better.

In short, it’s exhausting.  But it’s almost done!  So now I am going to let my brain rest and enjoy a little get-away with Al.  We’re going to the hilariously named Hartbeestpoort and are eating dinner here tonight.

Catch you all later!

Sound Advice Thursday: The Instagram Addict’s Lover

Happy Thursday everyone! I’m introducing an exciting new feature to my blog. To compliment Book Review Tuesdays, I’ll now be offering Sound Advice Thursdays, in which all of your burning questions on manners, relationships, and other human interactions will be decisively answered, or at the very least, guessed at. Please send questions to stephanie.early.green@gmail.com with subject line Advice.

I'm listening.

I’m listening.

Dear Steph:

I spend most of my free time with my boyfriend, whom I adore. The problem is that we have radically different views on what’s an appropriate amount for him to use his iPhone camera when we’re together. While I would rather that we take in our life as it comes and create genuine memories – like, in our minds – he would prefer to record every second of every day by taking photos with his iPhone. I understand that this is a decision he’s made on how he wants to live his life, but it’s not the way I want to live my life and it leads to a lot of conflict.

My main issues with his constant photo-journaling are: 1) I don’t like to be photographed all the time, 2) I don’t like taking pictures in front of people, and 3) I don’t want to have my own ability to process experiences determined by him in that way. But he’s addicted to taking photos and then posting them on social-media sites for his friends to enjoy. What do you suggest?

Sincerely,
Living with a Paparazzo

Dear LWAP,

I must confess that I, like your darling boyfriend, am a digital shutterbug. I whip out my iPhone and take Instagram photos in line at the grocery store or while having a romantic dinner with my husband. So perhaps I am not the most objective person to offer advice on this particular issue. But maybe I can give you a window into the psyche of the compulsive photo-taker. People like your boyfriend and me like to take photos partly to maintain a visual record of our lives so that we won’t forget our experiences, but also partly to demonstrate to others what we’re up to. It’s not easy to admit, but some of the allure of posting photos on certain social media sites (which shall remain nameless) is to show off. There, I said it.

But in order to scratch the twin itches of recording memories for posterity and showing off, one or two photos at each event, activity, or place should suffice even for the avid iPhone photographer. There’s no need to live behind the lens of the camera unless you’re being paid for it, I say.

I think a compromise can be reached here. Tell your boyfriend that while you think he’s a fabulous photographer, the Instagram equivalent of Ansel Adams, you wish he’d confine himself to one or two photos at each activity or event in your lives. Explain that you don’t want your picture taken often and don’t enjoy posing in front of other people. Request that after he’s captured the moment, then the camera should be put away so that you two can enjoy your time together, sans technology. Explain that while you don’t want to ban his photographic efforts entirely, you enjoy his company more when he’s not squinting at you from behind an iPhone. As a cautionary tale, you might also show him this video, which demonstrates the perils of Instagram obsession.

However, as for your not wanting your memories and experiences to be shaped by his photos, you, my dear, are in control of that. If his photographic portfolio warps your memories, simply don’t look at it, or else record the memories in your own way, by keeping a journal, for example.

Yours, Steph

Rome

And now for the final post on our Italy trip.  After the Amalfi coast, the next stop on our adventure was Rome.  The last time I was in Rome, I was in ninth grade and spent most of my time there eating gelato, buying crap, and not appreciating being in Rome.  I mean, I appreciated it as best I could for being fifteen, but I think seeing Rome as an adult is a different, richer experience, mostly because I’m less of an idiot now.  But I still like gelato.

Also making this trip better than my previous trip to Italy was the fact that I wasn’t stuck eating terrible meals at crappy restaurants pre-selected by a tour company.  Hooray!  In fact, my family took eating in Rome very seriously, and we had some truly memorable meals.  Probably the best meal we had was at Taverna Trilussa, where we all shared a fantastic cheese plate and then several sumptuous pasta dishes served in the metal pans they were cooked in, followed by a few lovely (but unnecessary) meat dishes.  We also had great meals at Osteria della Gensola (seafood pasta and a great bottle of Pinot Blanc), Dar Poeta (pizza), and various other little eateries around the city.  We consumed a frightening amount of fresh mozzarella cheese, red wine, and cappuccini (<– I speak Italian now).

The only thing that dampened my enjoyment of our trip to Rome was the fact that I was suffering from a number of ailments, including a sore throat, cough, headache, and stomachaches.  But I powered through and self-medicated with plenty of pasta and red wine.  One week and four pounds later, I’m still kinda sick, so I guess that didn’t totally work, but man, it tasted good.

We weren’t overly ambitious sight-seers in Rome, partly because I was ill, and also because we wanted to make time for our real priorities: food and shopping.  However, we did take half a day and go to the Vatican.

No wrestling singlets or 1920s bathing costumes allowed inside the Vatican.

No wrestling singlets or 1920s bathing costumes allowed inside the Vatican.

We started out in St. Peter’s Basilica, which is just as impressive as one would expect it to be.  The light in there is breathtaking.  Seriously.

Holy light!

Holy light!

There were also some unexpected surprises, like a couple of mummified Popes.  Because why not?

Just a mummified Pope dressed like Santa, NBD

Just a mummified Pope dressed like Santa, NBD

We wandered around the Basilica and observed a fair amount of pushing and shoving in order to get closer to the creche to see the baby Jesus, which struck me as a *tad* ironic.  Then my mom got told off by a priest for stepping on the wooden step of a confessional booth while a procession of singers was passing through.  Well, you know what they say — you haven’t truly been to the Vatican until you’ve been yelled at by a clergy member!

After the Basilica, we wanted to see the Sistine Chapel.  Unfortunately, we didn’t realize that the Sistine Chapel, despite being directly next to the Basilica, is actually part of the Vatican Museums and thus requires something like three hours of standing in line to get in.  So, dumbly, we got into a long line for an attraction that we believed to be the Sistine Chapel, but actually was not.  Turns out, we were waiting in line for the Vatican Cupola, which requires climbing 550 steps to the top of the dome over the Basilica, which admittedly provides some nice views of Rome.   Oops.

View from the top

View from the top

I had read about “climbing the dome” in my guidebook, and I remember thinking, Who the hell would want to do that?  Again, oops.  My dad, who makes a habit of avoiding exercise of all shapes and forms, was not pleased. But he made it!  We also got some cool views of the Basilica from above, and saw some lovely mosaics.

St. Peter's from above

St. Peter’s from above

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Coming out of the Vatican, I got a kick out of the tacky religious articles shops, including this one that was selling a decidedly crazy-eyed baby Jesus.

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After browsing in one of the less tacky religious articles stores, we stopped in its attached cafe for some (terrible) mulled wine for me and Al and coffees for my parents.  At the table behind us, some French people were feeding a chihuahua at the table.  The waiter caught wind of this and was so disgusted that he yelled at them in Italian and then took the plate the dog had been eating off of and threw it dramatically into the trash, while muttering angrily under his breath.  (Hey, no one ever accused the Italians of being passive-aggressive.)  Alas, the French people were undaunted and seemed entirely unfazed by this display.

Another highlight of our trip was Al’s Italian haircut.  His hair was getting really shaggy and he wanted to get it cut, so we wandered down the street from our apartment and found a salon that looked promising.  The girl who cut his hair spoke no English but Al’s Italian is good enough that he managed to convey what he wanted, and he came out looking like a red-headed Italian model, which I approved of.

Before

Before

During

During

After

After – in our apartment building’s tiny elevator

The salon was also home to two tiny, barking chihuahuas, one of whom was named Ercoles.

Hercules (Ercoles)

Hercules (Ercoles)

Pretty cute.

All in all, despite my various illnesses, Rome was a huge success.  And I hope one of these days I get to go back and actually see the Sistine Chapel, rather than climbing a giant dome by mistake.  Anyway, here are a few other photos of the trip, just to end on a high note.

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Piazza Cafour

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(F)atto Vannucci

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Quasi-Romans

 

Book review Tuesday: Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell

I read the novel Cloud Atlas when I was back in San Francisco visiting my family. It took me almost a week to plow through, because it’s massive and complex and it can be a tad long-winded. But to my surprise, I really enjoyed it.  You see, I didn’t expect to like Cloud Atlas, mostly because of this hot mess of a trailer for the movie, starring Tom Hanks and Halle Berry in a number of unflattering wigs and facial prostheses:

Yikes.

Based on that trailer, this movie did not look good. Grand? Yes. Sweeping, even? Sure. But good? No. It looked, as I said above, like a hot mess that took itself WAY too seriously.  So the book could have been the same, for all I knew.

But, in fact, the book is seriously good.  David Mitchell has created a novel that takes place in six layered vignettes, each of which takes place in a different time period with different, but sometimes overlapping characters, each written in a completely different voice and style.  Sounds confusing, but it makes perfect sense once you get past the first chapter.

The book begins with The Pacific Journal of Adam Ewing, the diary of an American lawyer who is making the journey from San Francisco to Hawaii, via several Pacific islands.  He’s slowly dying and can’t figure out why.  The diary cuts out halfway and we enter the next vignette, Letters from Zedelghem, a series of letters written in 1931 by a young musician named Robert Frobischer to his good friend Rupert Sixsmith.  The next vignette is called Half-Lives: The First Luisa Rey Mystery, which is in the form of a novelette about an intrepid young reporter, Luisa Rey, who gets in over her head investigating the shady dealings at a nuclear facility in the 1970s.  After that we have The Ghastly Ordeal of Timothy Cavendish, a story about a publisher, sometime around the present day, who is involuntarily committed to a seemingly inescapable, abusive nursing home.  Next is An Orison of Sonmi, which is a recording made in the future by a clone in a so-called “corporatist” society who rebelled, with disastrous consequences.  Finally, in the very distant, post-apocalyptic future, there is a vignette called Sloosha’s Crossin’ An Ev’rythin’ After, which is told from the perspective of Zachary, a boy living on what is now Hawaii and who’s on the run from murderous cannibals.  Then, Mitchell steps down backwards through the vignettes again and ties them all together.

Confused yet?  Don’t be, just read it.

The book is thematically complex, weaving together issues such as corporate greed, cannibalism (both figurative and literal), sexuality, past-lives and karma, religion, dreams, premonitions, the connection between past and future, the value of human life, the moral value of honesty versus dishonesty, and so on.  Although the topics are weighty, the book is not, for the most part, heavy-handed or preachy, and is often quite funny.

My favorite of all the vignettes were the Letters from Zedelghem, written by the spirited Robert Frobischer to his dear friend Sixsmith, reporting on his life as the amanuensis of a famous composer living in a small town in Belgium.  Frobsicher gets up to a fair amount of mischief and manages to piss off nearly everyone in the composer’s family, with whom he boards.  The descriptions of his misadventures are really entertaining.  His description of his visit to a Belgian family full of homely daughters particularly tickled me:

“The v.d.V. daughters, a hydra of heads named Marie-Louise, Stephanie, Zenobe, Alphonsine, and I forget the last, ranged from nine years of age to said Marie-Louise… All girls possess a thoroughly unjustified self-confidence.  A v. long sofa sagged beneath this family of porkers.”

And then:

“Luncheon was served on fine Dresden crocks in a dining room with large reproduction of The Last Supper over floral wallpaper.  Food a disappointment.  Dry trout, greens steamed to a sludge, gâteau simply vulgar; thought I was back dining in London.   The girls tittered glissando at my trivial missteps in French — yet their frightful English rasps on one’s ear unbearably.  Mme. v.d.V., who also summered in Switzerland, gave laborious accounts of how Marie-Louise had been eulogized in Berne as ‘the Flower of the Alps’ by Countess Slãck-Jawski or the Duchess of Sümdümpstadt.  Couldn’t even force out a civil ‘Comme c’est charmant!’.”

I don’t see how any of this wit could come out in the movie unless the entire thing is narrated word for word as it appeared in the book.  Based on the trailer, they didn’t seem to go in that direction. Oh, well. You know what they say about the movie always being worse than the book.

Overall, I recommend Cloud Atlas for anyone who’s looking for a meaty but light-footed piece of literary fiction with the capacity to make you ponder the long-term future of our society.  Also, for writers, Mitchell’s ability to switch between voices and styles is astonishing and envy-inspiring.

And you know what? I kinda want to see the movie now.

Sorrento and the Amalfi coast

As I mentioned a few days ago, Al and my parents and I went to Italy for Christmas this year.  It was a big trip for a couple of reasons: first, it was a belated (by one year) celebration of my parents’ 40th wedding anniversary (wowza!), it was the first time I’ve spent Christmas with my parents since 2008 (and the first ever Christmas together for the four of us), and it was a chance for my dad to see the Motherland (literally – his mother was from Italy).  So we were all very excited, and Italy did not disappoint.

We all flew into Rome and met in the Fiumicino airport on Christmas eve day.  Then we rented a teeny-weeny rental car, apparently the only automatic in the entire country, which was so small that my parents had to sit in the back with suitcases and shopping bags on their laps, and we wedged the rest of the luggage in the rearview window.  Not the safest or most comfortable trip we’ve ever taken, but what are you gonna do?  Stuffed into our Ford Fiesta like sardines, we made the three-hour drive to Sorrento, which is a city south of Naples on the Amalfi Coast, and is frickin’ adorable.  To wit:

Sorrento street

Sorrento street

Sorrento waterfront

Sorrento waterfront

Sorrento main piazza

Sorrento main piazza

Sorrento street with Christmas decorations

Sorrento street with Christmas decorations (a bit blurry, sorry)

We loved Sorrento and spent most of our time there consuming delicious food.  Here are some pictures from our Christmas lunch, which we ate at a lovely, garden-like restaurant called O’ Perucchiano:

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My mom and me at lunch

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Dad and Al

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The restaurant

My lunch – amazing

We also sampled pizza, plenty of cappuccinos (cappuccini), Italian cookies, and gelato from a shop that has been frequented by the Pope.  Who knew the Pope even liked gelato?

During our three days in the Sorrento area, we wanted to see a bit of the surrounding environs, so on our second day, we took a drive up the Amalfi coast to Positano, which was stunning.  My dad couldn’t enjoy the sights because he was carsick from the winding roads, so my mom and Al and I trooped down to the waterfront to eat lunch and look at the variety of beautiful cats that live down there, getting fat off pasta donations from tourists.

Positano, viewed from above

Positano, viewed from above

Positano

Positano

Gatto

Gatto

Lunch in Positano

Lunch in Positano

The next day, we took a boat to Capri, a beautiful island that I remember loving when I went there as a ninth-grader on a school trip.  Turns out I wasn’t misremembering – Capri is lovely. We checked out the Roman ruins, Villa Jovis, at the tip of the island, which was a bit of a hike, but worth it.

Capri

Capri

Capri port

Capri port

Villa Jovis, Roman ruins

Villa Jovis, Roman ruins

Skinny tree

Skinny tree

Boat to Capri

Boat to Capri

Capri

Capri hillside

All in all, we loved Sorrento and the Amalfi coast. I think winter is the perfect time to go, because the weather is still nice (50’s-60’s), it’s sunny, everything’s open, and there aren’t the hordes of tourists that you get in the summer.  Highly recommended.

Next post up: Rome!

Malarial dreams

I’m taking anti-malarials since Botswana, on top of everything else, is a malarial zone, and man, my dreams are weird.  I usually have weird dreams, and I always remember them, and I always insist on telling Al about them.  But these ones, the last few days, have been off-the-charts weird. But fun!

Last night, my dream involved stowing away on a boat AND a plane, climbing on a skyscraper on a balloon ladder, having my face turned into claymation (and attempting to take an Instagram picture of my face while it was claymation), meeting a woman with a pink-and-white leopard print face, attending LA fashion week and having to restrain a dog from walking in front of Tyra Banks (who entered on a purple horse with fake eyelashes), watching Lady Gaga perform on stilts, and seeing various other celebrities, including Selena Gomez.

Tyra smized at me

Tyra smized at me

One of my favorite details of my dream last night took place in New York (the dream took place in New York, San Francisco, LA, and the high seas).  There was a fancy children’s dentist office there that tried to make going to the dentist “fun” by staging robot/dinosaur battles in the front window of the office and then blasting out the window (movie explosion style) to entice children to come in and save the dinosaur, or whatever.  The kids would rush in and get to watch another fanciful, expensively staged battle while their teeth were being cleaned. Only in New York (in my dream).

But seriously, my dream made me want to go to fashion week. And see a Lady Gaga concert. Although, truth be told, her costumes in my dream were probably more outrageous than they could be in real life, since she was on 20-foot stilts and wearing a shiny white dress with a giant butt built in.  Actually, that sounds like a normal Lady Gaga costume, now that I’m writing it out.

Anyway, I kinda didn’t want my dream to end, but I’m up now, and slowly accepting the sad fact that I didn’t actually make eye contact with Tyra Banks or successfully cling to the bottom of an airplane as it was taxiing in order to sneak aboard. Dang.  Life can be disappointing sometimes.

Botswana fail

In the five-plus years that Al and I have known each other and traveled together, we’ve seen a lot of stuff but run into very few snags.  I was wracking my brain the other day trying to think of one trip that we had taken where something had gone wrong and all I could think of was that one time our rental car broke down in historic downtown Fredericksburg, Virginia and we had to wait, like, an hour for Triple A to come.  Horrors! Seriously, that’s the worst thing that’s ever happened to us and we’ve been to over 20 countries and many states (plus two Canadian provinces!).  So I guess we were bound to encounter a true failure of a trip eventually, and that’s what we got on our trip to Botswana.

The plan was to drive to Botswana (about five hours to the border with South Africa), go to this cool bush camp, do a walking safari and a driving safari, and then go to this rhino sanctuary where we’d gawp at baby rhinos.  Sounds fun, right?

The day after we got back from Italy, we packed up our 2008 Toyota Yaris with food for braai-ing (since the bush camp was self-catering), our fun new safari hats that we got for Christmas from Al’s dad and step-mom, and many electronic devices, which we assumed we would be able to use in our $90/night cottage.  We set off on our adventure with the radio blasting and joyful excitement in our hearts. Fools!

Things started going wrong a couple of hours into the trip.  The first three hours of driving were on highways – easy peasy! – but then, without warning, the roads abruptly became unpaved and littered with potholes and giant, lake-sized puddles that were deep and stretched across the entire length of the road.  No one had told us that it really isn’t advisable to drive to Botswana on a two-wheel drive and our poor little Yaris was taking a beating.  This is what it looked like from the passenger seat after driving through one of the giant lake puddles:

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The last two hours of the drive were grueling and our car shook and moaned as we forced it over rock-strewn unpaved roads.  This was probably the best paved road we traveled on:

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When we finally reached Molema bush camp, over seven hours after leaving Joburg, we staggered into the pitch-dark reception area, where a woman with a flashlight searched for our names on the list.  “Is the electricity out?” asked Al.  “No,” she said with what looked like a smirk, although it was hard to tell since it was so dark.  “There is no electricity here. This is the real bush.”

Great.

We filled out some forms and then the woman told us she’d accompany us in our car to our “chalet,” which was up another bumpy, rocky road.  We piled into the car and Al turned the key and — nothing. Yes, that’s right, our battery had chosen that moment to die.  Hooray!

The next hour was spent with some kindly Afrikaner people who jumped the battery and, when that didn’t work, poured distilled water into the battery.  They jumped it again and the car struggled to life.  We were told to let the engine run for another 10-15 minutes or it might die again.  We drove it up to our chalet and let it run for a full 20 minutes before turning it off, just to be safe.  Then we started braai-ing.

Now, normally, I love a good braai.  I love being outside in the warm night air and breathing in the smell of the fire and eating corn on the cob and everything else braai-ing entails. This braai, however, I did not enjoy.  Al was standing by the fire, turning steaks over on the grill, and I was lighting my way back and forth from the outdoor kitchen with a paraffin lamp, when I felt something bumping into my legs and hands.  The paraffin lamp flickered and I realized, to my horror, that I was surrounded by GIANT MOTHS and they were dive-bombing into my lamp.

First, let me be clear: these moths were not your run-of-the-mill giant moths.  These were mutant, hairy, African-cousins-of-Mothra moths, with big, fuzzy bodies and black wings and poor senses of direction.  They flew in crazy circles, yet always somehow managed to bump into me and flutter their creepy, dusty wings on or near my face.  I must also tell you that I have one truly irrational phobia, and that is moths.  I have always, ALWAYS hated moths, since time immemorial, and I totally lose my cool around them, to put it mildly.  Al looked up from his steaks with dismay when I started flapping my arms and squawking like a scared goose.  He took swift action and led me into our chalet with a plate of food, which would have been fine, except the chalet was FULL OF MOTHS.

What seemed like an eternity later, Al managed to burn up most of the moths with the paraffin lamp.  We then sealed the doors and windows of the chalet, which made the interior approach oven-like temperatures, but honestly, I would rather die of heat exhaustion than have to share a room with a moth.  I didn’t eat much that night, partly because a moth walked on my steak.  Al and I joked that if I ever need to lose weight fast, he’ll just buy a giant crate of moths and set them loose at the dinner table.

We went to bed that night in our sweaty chalet and told each other that tomorrow would be better, because we’d go on our game drive and see cool animals and all would be well.  The next day we woke up with renewed optimism and checked in with reception to see what time the game drive would start and were informed that we’d need to drive back about 20 km. to a fancier safari lodge to start the drive.  We told the woman that there was no way our battered car was going to make it back over those roads again, and she shrugged.  Seeing no alternative, we got into our car to drive it back to the safari lodge, but — you guessed it! — it wouldn’t start.

Not to sound melodramatic, but the implications of our car’s dead battery were ghastly.  We were stuck on a moth farm with literally nothing to do except sit and stare at each other.  There were no animals to see (except a few dung beetles and the aforementioned moths), no activities to do, no hiking trails, and worse, no electricity.  Also, did I mention that Al was sick with a sore throat this entire time? Well, he was.

My safari hat was for naught.

My safari hat was for naught.

At one point we walked down to the shitty little river behind the chalet and looked at it for a few minutes.  The riverside was strewn with dung and we tried to guess which animal had left it.  “Giraffe,” said Al, pointing to a large pile of dung.  What a tease, these giraffes, I thought. They come and poop all over the riverside and yet don’t show themselves to humans? That’s bull-s**t. Or, giraffe-s**t, I guess.

The day passed slowly and at night, we repeated the same braai-moth dance as the night before.  I locked myself in the chalet for dinner and picked at the food Al brought me, scared that it had been trodden on by moth feet.   I spent a long, sleepless night in our hot chalet, keeping one eye open for moth interlopers and being eaten alive by mosquitos.

Meanwhile, that day we had been negotiating with the woman at reception to try to get a mechanic at the camp so we could get the hell out of Botswana, but the mechanic was otherwise indisposed and could not come.  Finally, we were told that he’d arrive at 7 am the next day – hallelujah!  Perhaps unsurprisingly, he showed up at 8:30 the next day and forgot to bring a wrench.

IMG_3885

 

Eventually, a wrench was procured and the mechanic replaced our battery and we tore out of there.  Well, we metaphorically tore out of there.  We actually left at about 1 mph, because the roads were so bad.

We got back to Joburg that afternoon and collapsed gratefully onto our couch, in our apartment with lights and a fan and no moths.  Now we’re enjoying a bit of a staycation, catching up on blogging (me) and taking antibiotics (Al).  If nothing else, our Botswana adventure gave me a new appreciation for Joburg and its many creature comforts (and lack of creatures).  It’s good to be back!

Off to Botswana

Al and I are going to Botswana today to look at some animals, and will be internet-less until we’re back.  So you’ll have to manage the first week of 2013 without me. But I’ll be back!

In the meantime, please enjoy this video of two adorable baby badgers playing with each other and SQUEAKING.

 

2013

Happy new year to all my readers, friends, family, and people who clicked on this accidentally!

Well, guys, we made it. Here we are in 2013. The world didn’t end after all. Which means from here on out, I’m definitely going to take everything the ancient Mayans say with a huge grain of salt.   The whole heart-eating thing? I’m really reconsidering that now.

Anyway.  2012 was a big year for me. In chronological order, the following things happened in my life:

  1. I started a manuscript of a novel
  2. I got married
  3. I quit a terrible, no-good-for-me job
  4. I got typhoid fever (but recovered!)
  5. I moved to South Africa
  6. I finished a manuscript of a novel (huzzah!)
  7. I went to Italy with my parents and Al
  8. The world didn’t end

All in all, not bad.  I know 2012 was sort of a stinker of a year globally. Bad things happened to a lot of people: wars, hurricanes, unexpected celebrity divorces (I’m looking at you, Amy Poehler and Will Arnett), fiscal cliffs, and, most disturbingly, a decision by Kim Kardashian and Kanye West to reproduce. With each other.  God help us all.  But for me, overall, 2012 was great.

I got to go to Capri in 2012.

For example: I got to go to Capri in 2012.  Sigh!

The passage into the new year was rather anti-climactic for me this year.  I spent New Year’s Eve on an 11-hour Lufthansa flight from Frankfurt to Joburg.  At midnight the flight attendants handed out glasses of sparkling wine and the pilot counted down from ten in German. Which was fun!  And it’s the first New Year’s Day in recent memory where I haven’t woke up hungover, so I feel very adult and responsible.  Right now Al is making bread and later we’re going to get New Year’s “sundowners” at some fancy hotel nearby.  Aren’t we grown-up!

Anyway, instead of boring you with my many New Year’s resolutions, I’ll keep this short and wish everyone a happy, healthy, and non-apocalyptic 2013.  Feliz ano novo, amigos!