A Travellerspoint blog

Sunrise in South Africa

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I can’t remember the last time Dave and I saw 6:00 am together on purpose, and it’s been a long time since we both worked 11 hours straight together, so Monday morning was quite daunting! Remarkably, we managed to do it, but when we got to the common area where we were supposed to meet Liezel or Hein, nobody was there. We’re pretty proud that we beat the manager of the entire reserve, for a few minutes anyway. Come 15 or so minutes later, we start to think we’re being hazed. Come to think of it, they did all wake up pretty late on the weekends, maybe they just thought it would be funny to make us get up at the crack of dawn. Check that, before the crack of dawn- it’s still pitch black outside. I decide to jump on the common computer and check my email while I have the opportunity, and shortly thereafter, the following conversation ensues:

“Kate, what time is it now??”
“6:22…Actually, this computer says 5:22…is it remotely possible that it’s actually 5:22?”
“I suppose it’s a remote possibility” Takes out our phone… “huh, 5:22”

The clock on our phone had been an hour slow for the first few weeks of our trip so we had been setting the alarm taking that into account, but that night it happened to connect to a wifi network and move to the correct time so our alarm clock went off an hour early, unbelievable. I was moments away from going back to bed fully dressed (don’t have to wake up until the REAL 5:59 that way!) when we realize the Oscars are actually playing Live in South Africa right now. So, we simultaneously watched the Oscars and the sun rise over South Africa to warm up for the long day ahead. The 6am start time was not a cruel joke after all! The real joke is that even in South Africa, we STILL didn’t make it to any of the good awards, though we had to have been almost there. But for a few brief shining moments of our lives we could have told you who won best animated short.

Time to get to work! We walk immediately to the elephant boma where Liezel has a quick conversation with another employee in Afrikaans. When she turns back to us with a sheepish expression she tells us we’re in for an experience…normally someone feeds the elephants a few treats in their boma to distract them while we take the pick-up with the real food and branches and haul ass out into their yard to drop it before they can get to us. Apparently, today, they’ve actually run out of said distraction, so we’re instructed to hop onto the back of the truck (which is already 100% packed with brush), make a place for ourselves to stand, watch closely, and hold on tight. Pretty exhilarating, but we “lucked out” and they actually weren’t chasing us that closely-we were able to drum up a few extra handfuls of feed to occupy them before we left and it worked. Apparently if they do catch up they like to pick you up with their trunks and play with you while your co-worker keeps asking them “Give, please Selati, give”, like you’re a hat or something, and not a full grown human! Sounds entertaining, but I think there are some less entertaining outcomes as well…

After that we learned our usual 6-9am routine-there is a small list of large animals that we need to find and log, including various factors of their atmosphere and behavior. Basically, we get to go on what is essentially a game drive every single morning for 3 hours, and we get out just a bit before the guest game drives so we get a nice edge. For the majority of animals on our morning list, we have to just drive until we find them, but for the cheetahs we use a tool called telemetry which tracks a signal given off by the cheetah’s collar. It’s not as easy as gps though, and it takes some time to narrow and cross-check the range, so it’s a pretty fun morning exercise. The male cheetah is extremely camera-shy and stand-offish, so with him it’s usually pinpointing the group of bushes he’s hiding in and moving on. The female though is awesome-her name is Inyanga and she is not shy at all. We saw her last weekend for the first time, once Monday morning on our drive, and then we got quite the special SURPRISE visit from her later in the afternoon!

I digress though—the schedule everyday is basically 6-9am, track and log the animals, 9-9:30am breakfast, 3 hours of various work, 1-2pm lunch, and then another 3 hours of whatever projects we have for the day. Day one we were cleaning the cheetah camps which are the five large enclosed areas where they keep and rehab cheetahs that are not wild on the reserve for one reason or another. As soon as we enter the grounds, two friendly fellows named Kevin and Caleb come out to greet us, hissing and charging at the fence. Liezel explains that they haven’t been fed yet so we’ll feed them before we clean their camps. So, the raw chicken meat comes out and Dave and I start throwing it over the fence for the cheetahs, trying not to hit them because they get upset. Fair enough, I get upset when I’m hit with raw meat as well, but their feeding space isn’t too large for the two of them together so I do miss (hit) a couple times. We’re told after they eat they’ll calm down and stop hating on us, so we move on to the other three cheetahs and feed them. One by one we then move them (via gates on a pulley system) into different sections of their homes so we can clean all of the various sections. This primarily consists of picking up dung, carcasses, bones, etc.

On our second or third camp, Liezel looks up and says, “Oh yeah, watch out for snakes guys.” She tells us the last cheetah was killed by a cape cobra while in this cage, and I start to remember multiple tales from the braai the other night…the one about the head of the reptile house being in a coma from a cottonmouth bite recently…the one about the other venomous snake that escaped the reptile house recently…the one about how they don’t use anti-venom in South Africa because allergic reactions are often worse than letting your body try to work it out itself…and so on. I have NEVER had much of a fear of snakes. Until Monday. Out of nowhere, years of no fear caught up with me and I started staring intently at the ground at all times. I’m nearly positive it was the anti-venom news. I always thought if you could get to a hospital in a reasonable amount of time, it would just end up being a character building experience, but maybe I was oversimplifying. Dave was making fun of me because he’s not even that scared, but do you know how many poisonous snakes South Africa has? Me neither, and I’m not going to look it up, but it’s a ton. And the grass we’re working on is not short. My work ethic regarding dung and bones definitely took a hit from that point forth.

We started this job around 10 and at some point, when Liezel suggests we go get lunch, we only have Kevin and Caleb still to go, and a couple of smaller jobs, so we ask if we can just stay and finish so we don’t have to come right back out after lunch-seems like it shouldn’t take too long. So, as we approach Kevin and Caleb’s cage, Liezel explains that one of their gates is broken, and so in order to get through to a certain section of their cage to clean it, you have to walk directly through it, with them in it. Dave pulls me aside and suggests that we refuse but Liezel seems confident there won’t be a problem and I don’t want to bow out of a task on the first day! I’m also a little bit excited for the adrenaline rush, as foolish as that may seem. Dave refuses to let me go in alone so it’s going to go on as planned, each with a stick or broom in our hand “just in case”. It’s very hot outside so they have calmed down a bit and are laying together under a tree probably 30 feet from where we’ll be walking (and our walk is probably about 40 feet until you get to a cage you have to crawl underneath, which is ironic since we were instructed never to turn our back to them). I kid you not though, my newfound fear of snakes is such that during this walk I was as intently focused on the ground for snakes as I was for the cheetahs who were trying to figure out what the hell we were doing in their cage. We made it into the other section without a problem though, they were interested and approached, but never got aggressive. It takes about 15 minutes to clean this part, and then we repeat the process to exit, and I’m extremely pleased to announce that it was a complete success!

So, now, we’re just about ready to go when Liezel goes to close up the last cheetah’s gate, and returns saying “Guys, we have a problem”. Now THIS gate rope has broken, and so, once again, someone has to go in with the cheetah to try to fix it. Thankfully, as even she seems pretty nervous about this one, she radios in for help. She’s never been in the cage with this fellow and so doesn’t know what to expect. While we’re waiting for help to arrive, Dave and I go clean another camp for a cheetah that will be coming, which happens to be right beside the action, so we’re set up nicely. When help arrives, they go in, and it doesn’t go quite as smoothly as ours (very different circumstances in a much smaller space) but everyone survives. Dave and I make a strong suggestion that they invest some capital into these cages!

After all that, we realize it’s actually 2:30 already. I would have thought it was around 1ish-time really flies when you’re working hard! We head home for lunch at that point, and since everything in Albertinia, the tiny town closest to the lodge, closes at 5, we head to town for a quick grocery trip. Hein and Kim have provided a great stash of basics but it’s always nice to get a few things you miss from home like Chips Ahoy, Special K (Dave) and Sugar free Red Bull (yes, they have it here!). On our way through the final gate, Liezel and I nearly jump out of the car when Inyanga, the female cheetah jumps out of the bushes at us. Dave was looking the other way so fortunately he missed the panic. That incident was right before the gate to the game lodge so it was good that she jumped out when she did instead of running through them behind us. We then drive a completely different way to get out of the park so she can’t escape, and that’s essentially the end of Day One on the Game Reserve. So far, so good!

Posted by daveandk8 09:17 Comments (2)

Game Reserve Arrival!

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Garden Route Game Reserve

Get ready for some CHEETAHS! We were transferred to the Game Reserve on Saturday morning by Hein, the manager of the volunteers and, more importantly, the reserve animals. Hein is awesome, just an extremely likeable fellow, as is his wife Kim. I asked him on the drive over here how many employees he had and it turns out that though the actual lodge employs 60 or so people, he is the only employee managing the animals and he relies entirely on help from the volunteers (just Dave and I for the next 2 weeks). There is one other girl here, Liezel, who is working on the final stages of her game reserve management degree, so it’s not clear to me whether she’s paid or not but it seems like we’ll be spending most of our time with her, which is good-she seems cool.

Hein had planned a braai (read: barbeque) for that afternoon so our one allowed stop on the way to the reserve was to pick up some beer and wine-we were told we could go food shopping another day, maybe Monday. The braai was the priority that night! When we got back to his house, he showed us to our perma-tent which consists of a wardrobe and a queen sized bed. The other tents have twins, so it was nice that they had one for couples! We quickly learned to open all the “windows” in the tent as it was stifling in there in the middle of the day (temperature has consistently hovered around the low 80s on our trip, with a few jaunts up). Hein and his family live in a house mere steps from the circle of tents, and they’ve been generous enough to wall off a couple of rooms for the volunteers to use as well, so we do have a small kitchen area and a living room with TV (satellite TV in fact so a huge step up from the 4 static-filled channels we had in Knysna!). There is an outdoor shower overlooking the animal grounds which I was psyched about. The elephant shelter is about 100 feet from our tent, so the two resident elephants are pretty much always present.

Hein told us we were more than welcome to hang out at the actual lodge during the day if we liked, which we quickly (read: immediately) took him up on--they have a pool. We kind of live “with the animals” whereas the lodge is protected from the animals so we have to have someone drive us over each time we want to go to the lodge to prevent any animals from escaping, but everyone’s been cool about that so far. We spent Saturday afternoon lounging by the pool at the reserve which is very narrow but has enough length to do a little actual swimming, which is the first time we’ve seen that in South Africa. Side note: the prices at the lodge are amazing, good meals for less than $10, drinks for less than $2. This would never happen in America when you’re so far from any other options. And while we very much enjoy it, Dave and I both agree that we’d raise the prices if we owned the place…

Come evening, as the fire for the braai was getting started, Liezel had me bottle feed the baby gemsbok they’re raising as a pet since it was rejected by its mother. Do me a favor and don’t go back in my former entry and remind me that I recently REALLY enjoyed a meal of this same animal. They also have a few cats, a mini female pinscher dog that their little boy named “Cat”, and an 8 year old Labrador. The lab and the gemsbok will play with each other like littermates, and it’s absolutely adorable. Moms, maybe you should skip the next sentence, but read at your own risk: The mini pinscher is the bravest little dog-she follows us fearlessly into the elephant boma (shelter), and this weekend, when a cheetah broke into our yard and ate one of the 3 pet springbok Hein has, word has it the little dog was there the whole time, barking at him to get out.

So, as I said, we also got to feed the elephants in their (optional) shelter before dinner. That involved dragging a lot of branches and leaves into their shelter, as well as hand-feeding them some form of feed. I’ve never before seen the inside of an elephant’s trunk-it’s kind of divided into two sections, and they just curl it towards you and you drop the food in, then they feed it to their mouth with their trunk. What could very well have ended up being the most memorable portion of our trip so far was when I completely missed Hein mention that all the chains in the shelter were electrified at around 9,000 volts (such that it would shock a 2 ton elephant). There were about 15 of them, spread out every 2 feet or so that we were walking back and forth between constantly. As clumsy as I am, it was a stroke of insane luck that I never unintentionally ran into what I thought were mere powerless chains! Thankfully, as it was, the most memorable part of that experience was the elephants using their trunks and the limited tools around them to attack us, spraying us with water from the trough and absolutely covering Dave in mud.

And now for the braai…what a meal. And experience-all of the domestic animals were present, gemsbok included, as well as several very notable wild animals just by our fence. Oh, and about 8-10 humans as well. We ate, drank, and were merry until late into the night, and the food was delicious. Being a huge carnivore I was in heaven when they joked that the vegetable for the night was chicken (apologies to all you vegetarians out there who are probably gagging right now)! As it turns out there were also two very legit vegetables present: a creamy mushroom sauce and oven roasted potatoes that I had at least two helpings of. The rest of the meal was chicken kabobs, sausages, ostrich filet, and beef filet. I can’t believe I didn’t take a picture of my plate-well, yes I can, I could think of nothing but digging in, but I do now regret my haste. This meal has a very safe spot in both Dave’s and my top ten meals.

When we returned to our tent it was somehow FREEZING, so cold that we both put layers and coats on to go to bed. In the middle of the night though, when we got up to follow in the escaped cheetah’s steps from last weekend to run to the bathroom, the cold didn’t seem so dramatic-or perhaps we were thinking about other things. 

Sunday morning Hein took us on our first drive. We saw wildebeest, zebras, giraffes (the female is pregnant and due any time now!), kudu, eland, mongoose, rhinos, and, best of all-a female cheetah within 10 feet of our vehicle. In fact, we hung out with her for about 5-10 minutes, but she must have wanted more. As we were pulling away, she chased after us, not once, but twice! Hein thinks she heard his young son in the car and cheetahs love young animals of all varieties….in fact we ran across the male cheetah’s morning kill, a baby eland, unfortunately with no sign of the male cheetah still around. Hopefully we see him tomorrow-one of our jobs over the next two weeks is to aid in darting (tranquilizing) him and taking him to the cheetah rehab center so the female giraffe can give birth without him salivating on the sidelines. Outside of that, they try to avoid interfering with the animals at all, and if the giraffe has trouble giving birth or the baby is struggling, they will release the cheetah and let nature take its course.

We spent the rest of the day by the pool again, and had both lunch and dinner at the reserve which was a terrible, terrible mistake. We ate lunch around 1:30 and our dinner at 7:00 was a fantastic buffet…you get the idea…after 24 hours of binging I absolutely despised myself for the remainder of the night (I think even Dave may have experienced something akin to this feeling, which I don’t believe has ever happened to him before). I’ve since worked pretty hard on our first official day of work so I feel remotely better about it, but today’s tales (there are some pretty good ones) will have to wait for the next blog, it’s time to rest! And please don't be disappointed in the lack of animal pictures, we have lots of great ones, and they will be posted in the next one, likely tomorrow night!

Posted by daveandk8 05:43 Archived in South Africa Comments (0)

Abelungu!

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Abelungu!!

As our last days in Knysna drew to a close, a great mystery was revealed unto us. The indecipherable excited yelling we received when kids would run up to us and high five us was actually a chorus composed of one word on a loop: “Abulungu”. On our last day our co-worker Zima deemed it was finally time to tell us that they were yelling “White people!” in Xhose. Makes sense, and their excitement is going to be hard not to miss…I’m pretty sure our own kids won’t be that excited to see us! We spent the last morning playing pool and ping pong with Lina, Zima, Yster, and some girls we’d met at a local community center and the afternoon was spent swimming in the lagoon (in close proximity to a couple of seals) and playing beach soccer with Yster and Zima. Not exactly a tough day of volunteering, but a great note to end on. We made a few great friends in a short time, and we learned a lot about how things really work in this country between the races…and so now we’re going to take this opportunity to talk seriously about the state of things here-it will probably be the last entry on the topic of racism as we’ve officially arrived at the Game Reserve and are having a blast-but more on the fun stuff next time.

In a recent study of 4,000 women, 1 in 3 women in South Africa admitted to having been raped in the past year alone. In another recent study 1 in 4 men admitted to having raped a women, and nearly half of those admitted to raping more than 1 woman. I couldn’t tell you the actual statistic but I would assume at least 90% of those occur in the townships, so the number of women we spoke and interacted with that had been raped (many multiple times) was astounding. And the number of journal entries that the female children spent writing about an uncle or a cousin raping them, and how it made them feel, was absolutely gut-wrenching. We were able to request and conduct a few no-holds-barred conversations on our last day with a couple of people with whom we’d built good friendships and I promised I wouldn’t go into detail, but many tears were involved, and it became evident that the face they try to show us while we’re volunteering is extremely different from reality. The link below provides far more detail into the topic of rape in South Africa, but be forewarned, it’s hard to believe. Especially upsetting is the increase in the rape of children under the age of 7, and a poll in a Johannesburg township that revealed 25% of the school boys interviewed admitted that gang-rape was “fun”.

http://www.rape.co.za/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=875:rape-statistics-south-africa-a-worldwide-2010&catid=65:resources&Itemid=137

Rape was not the only social issue that was discussed though-the extreme contrast in quality of life between the Blacks who represent 80% of the population (and that’s not including 10% classified as Colored) and the White 10% is reminiscent of a time Dave and I have only heard about. And now I’m taking the afternoon off to relax by the pool, so introducing a cameo from Dave to discuss his thoughts on the economics of it all…

The difference between the standard of living of Black (about 90% of the South African population) and White people (about 10% of the population) here is staggering, with the standard of living of the Black people in South Africa (at least 99% of the Black people) being shockingly bad. They all live in "townships" on the outskirts of the cities they were forced out of in one room huts that look like they could get blown over by a gust of wind. There are also cows and pigs roaming around freely in the streets and "yards" of the townships, not that the roaming animals mean much, but it should give you a better picture of things.

As for what can be done to fix this problem, the answer appears to be nothing, at least in the short-term. At first I was thinking that raising the minimum wage is the answer since it's about US$1.50 per hour and although South Africa is cheaper than the US, it's only slightly cheaper in general. The only thing that does appear to be noticeably cheaper is eating out. My theory on this is that eating out is cheaper because most White South Africans employ Black cooks at a cheap rate, so the incentive to pay a lot to eat out is much less when you don't have to cook or clean the dishes. So my thought was raise the minimum wage since then at least some people will have a decent standard of living even if it does increase unemployment (which raising the minimum wage obviously would).

But then I saw that South Africa's unemployment rate is already a very high 25%. And that 25% is probably even significantly lower than reality since there are a lot of “discouraged workers” in South Africa that have tried and failed to find work, so then they just give up and stop looking. And once you stop looking for work you no longer count as part of the labor pool that is used to determine the unemployment rate. So it makes it a lot harder to justify raising the minimum wage with such high unemployment since that will cause even higher unemployment levels. For example, we were at dinner and this one guy’s entire job was to prevent people on the street from trying to sell stuff to the restaurant patrons. There’s no way a job like that exists with a higher minimum wage. Also, there was a story from about a year ago where a factory was shutdown because they were paying the workers only $36 per week instead of the minimum wage of $57 per week. But when the factory was shutdown the workers were all very upset since they much preferred working for $36 per week than not working at all.

As for the reasons for the high unemployment, ironically, it seems that one of the major reasons is that it’s very hard to fire workers once they’ve been hired in South Africa. In the US it’s relatively easy to fire/lay-off workers so employers feel comfortable hiring workers since they know that if times get tough they can let the workers go. But in South Africa it’s very difficult/expensive to fire/lay-off workers. As a result, companies are very reluctant to hire new employees. So one thing the organization we volunteer with does (and presumably lots of other companies) is hire workers for a 3 month temporary term since then they can easily fire them after that time is up, but if they decide to keep the employee past that 3 month term they have to be very sure it’s the right decision since it becomes very hard/expensive to fire/lay-off the employee after that 3 month period has passed. So this creates a lot of extra unnecessary unemployment and uncertainty in the work force. But even fixing this problem will only help lower unemployment, it won’t help the fact that the standard of living of the employed Black workers is still very low.

The only sure thing that would almost certainly help in the long-term is free and compulsory education. As it stands now you have to pay the equivalent of US $15 per month to go to school in the townships, which is enough to prevent a large number of kids from going to school. As a result you see lots of 7 year old kids running around by themselves on or near streets in the middle of the day, it's crazy (this also leads to lots of kids being hit by cars, we saw the aftermath of it happening once, very sad). But the effects of free education would take a long time before you really saw the benefits.

The effects of apartheid (separate, but unequal housing, restaurants, transportation, park benches, etc) are still very recent here, since it was only abolished in 1994. So it is in many ways understandable that this racial disparity exists and is still prevalent today, so it’s kind of like the US in the 1960’s here. So hopefully 25 years from now when we look at South Africa the racial differences will be much smaller than they are today. But free education seems to be a key to get to this point since that would really increase the amount of Black skilled labor in the country. Having not lived through it in the US it’s hard for me to say, but it seems that there’s a much bigger uphill battle to climb here in South Africa though.

Somewhat unrelated, but unlike in many other parts of the world, there’s a very pro-American sentiment here, and it’s true among all races. Everyone realizes how important tourism is for the economy here. And the Black people realize that political pressure from the US and the rest of the world was a huge part of ending apartheid here. Also, Americans tip much better, so that’s another reason they like us! We’ve been told that South Africans often only tip between 2 and 10 rands total regardless of meal price (8 South African rands equal about US $1). We’ve lowered our tipping to about 15% here, but that’s consistently been viewed as very generous by our servers. I think it’s rather sad that tipping here is so small since that would be one easy and voluntary way to help to bridge that racial economic inequality gap (all the patrons at the restaurants we’ve been to have been White and almost all of the waiters have been Black). And it could be done without making a noticeable dent in most White people’s income levels, but it’s another opportunity missed to close that economic gap. That’s all I have to say about that.

Wow, that was quite long Dave!

Posted by daveandk8 22:58 Archived in South Africa Comments (0)

Phantom Forest

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Week 2 started off at a primary school that was about a half hour away, and quite literally in the middle of nowhere. I asked how the 60 or so kids got to school (no houses anywhere around, no buses), and I was told the teacher wakes up before the crack of dawn every morning and takes several trips in her 15 seater van to a town about 15 minutes away and brings the kids to school in several trips-school starts promptly at 7:45. Can you imagine? These kids were by far the most elated kids to see us of any thus far, maybe because there isn’t a soul to be seen for miles! We should have brought the video camera. Each one wanted to be picked up by us over and over again, it was both nice and exhausting! We spent the morning playing sports with the kids, soccer, volleyball, keep away and some of their own games they wanted to teach us. When we left the kids were crawling all over our car which was terrifying, I can’t believe they all survived!

The rest of the week has been about the same as last week outside of trying to learn cricket one afternoon, but yesterday afternoon was notable. The kids were making ribbons for HIV (think the pink ribbon for breast cancer) and there was a note on the board for “HIV Questions” at the end of the period. Come the end of the period, we find out the questions are for us. We’d luckily read a remarkably graphic pamphlet about HIV during the primary school lesson on Monday (the explicit nature of which we were foolishly laughing about with each other), and so, while still completely unprepared, we had some knowledge. Once the questions started, they didn’t stop, and the lurid content of the questions was shocking-apparently the kids here are quite often “active” around the tender age of 10 or 11. In America if you heard these questions, the kids would be trying to be funny, but here, they were completely serious. I’ve never had such a blunt conversation in my entire life, so it was interesting to find myself having it for the first time with children. At one point the teacher very seriously asked for our advice as her sister’s husband is HIV positive but her sister is not and they want to try to have children. My immediate instinct was to just say no, but luckily Dave and I settled on advising her to talk to a doctor about it at the same time (as it turns out, with medication, there can be a very small chance of your baby getting HIV through pregnancy). At another point that same teacher jokingly made an extremely vulgar extended gesture that would have had her fired in an instant in any other country. It was a memorable experience and we were forced to leave after our ride had been waiting for 15 minutes, even though the questions were flying up until we walked out the door.

On an entirely different subject, my amazing husband woke me up this morning with a “Happy Anniversary”. Assuming he was just being silly, I responded with the like, until he quizzed me on said anniversary. Umm, our first ski trip? Silly me, it was our 18 month wedding anniversary (how could I forget? ), and Dave had made plans to go to a fancy restaurant suggested by the Todes’, family friends of the Ettingoffs that have been to Knysna several times. The restaurant was called Phantom Forest, and for a mere 300 Rand per person (less than $50-and the beers were less than $2!), a car would take you up a mountain to the lodge and serve you a 6 course meal. It’s rare that I have a 3 course meal and I’m pretty sure I’ve never had 4 or more, so it promised to be a fun and unique date. When we got there however, heartbreakingly, nearly every single thing on the menu had something in it that I hate. I’m not THAT high maintenance but I have pretty simple taste preferences-I’m a meat and potato girl if you will. Things like truffle oil, anchovy and caper aioli, fennel, olives-I can’t do them. So the excitement was dampered, but I told Dave if they could somehow take these ingredients I hate and make it into something I enjoyed, this restaurant really must be as amazing as we’ve heard. And they literally brought us out a plate of olives in the middle of this discussion, which was hilarious. That said…

This restaurant was as amazing as we’d heard. It started off with a fennel tomato soup (in this case I actually hate both ingredients!) that I decided was “not bad”…”actually not bad at all”…”this is wonderful”…”umm..are you going to finish yours?”. Next up was a shrimp ravioli in a “martini” sauce which was actually a cream sauce-AMAZING. Tied with 2 other courses for best. Next up was a pallet cleanser-cucumber, mint, and apple sorbet-for me it was the cucumbers that were obviously going to ruin this course, and for Dave it was worse, both the mint and cucumbers. But no, it was delicious, somehow cucumber+mint+apple=lime sherbet, or so it seems. We’ve now arrived at the main course which was the only disappointment, and that was just on Dave’s side-clearly the anchovy and caper aioli was just too great an obstacle to tackle, and made the kingclip fish pretty much inedible for our simple tastebuds. On my side however, the gemsbok was better than steak (I’ve already told you about me and steak), and there was plenty to share with Dave. Course 5 was a cheese course and I actually skipped it but I’m sure it was wonderful. Now-Sue-this is for you-Course 6 was dessert and sweets generally do nothing for me (salt is my downfall). Of course, much like the rest of the meal, it surprised me. I’m unsuccessfully begging Dave to go back there on Friday so I can eat it one more time. Although the selections will probably have changed, what if they haven’t and we’re leaving on Saturday morning... "Everything in moderation" has never been my strength! My selection was mint chocolate ice cream with a chocolate fondant (read: cake), a fruit compote that I didn’t need, and a little chocolate cone that I didn't get to either. Dave got a crème brulee that he raved about but I had no extra time or room for such things, so I can’t attest to that. So, cross your fingers for me on Friday…

Posted by daveandk8 10:26 Comments (2)

Monkey business

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Try as I might (and I have!), I simply cannot get my camera stolen in South Africa. Knock on wood! First I unknowingly dropped my camera in the township (the poor area we’re working in for anyone new to this blog) amongst 140 kids but 10 or 20 minutes later a little girl around 12 seeks me out to return it-I’m probably the only one with a camera there, but it was pretty cool she found it and then set out to find me. Next, I leave it in a bathroom of a hotel we stopped in yesterday but when I return (out of breath from running down a beach for one of the first times in my life!), reception is all too happy to return it to me thanks to the good Samaritan that turned it in. Clearly we’re having a lot of luck on our side, but as I’ve said a million times, it’s interesting how nice everyone has been.

This weekend was great, with Jim and Elsie coming through to visit us in Knysna (an event of such import that Dave decided to shave off his two week beard). Jim was my boss’ boss at CFG, during my forex trading days in Richmond, and I was always close to his wife Elsie as well. They took us to Plettenberg Bay which is about a half hour away and, like everything else along these parts, gorgeous. It was the first beach that we’d seen with actual people in the water (we’re now on the Indian Ocean instead of the Atlantic so it’s mildly warmer), and we ate at a great beach-side shack that happened to be named after one of our favorite eating establishments at home, Moby Dicks. In fact, we liked “Plet” so much we decided to rent a car and go back again on Sunday since it was supposed to be close to 90 so that ruled out our planned hike. And the rest of Saturday was nice too-after 4 or 5 hours with Elsie and Jim, they dropped us back in town and we got a couple of drinks at different places we hadn’t tried around Knysna, ending at the only spot we could find with live music. By the end of the night, the singer was sitting at our table telling us about meeting our favorite musician, Dave Matthews, who is actually from South Africa but seems to be almost entirely unknown here.

The next day (today) was my first day of driving a stick shift on the left side of the road-left side of the road I’ve conquered before, but the stick shift on the left was new-and I rocked it! Man, do I miss having a manual, so this was fun. Dave doesn’t do manual, so driving’s on me for the next couple months-but I’ll get him back on the US portion of our trip. Aside of the occasional person or baboon jumping into the road unexpectedly, it went smoothly, and I believe I managed to avoid all of those obstacles as well!

It’s time for a completely irrelevant side note: the Colonel is EVERYWHERE here. KFC is to South Africa as Starbucks is to America. Ok, even I know that’s extreme, so let’s say CVS. I’d love to see their international verses domestic revenues but it’s getting late so that’s going to have to wait for another day…

We spent the day laying on the beach and taking quick jaunts into the water until our late lunch at….Moby Dick’s. We’re firm believers in sticking with what you know and like, and not ashamed of it. The blackened butterfish and creamed spinach were almost as delicious as they were yesterday, but I attribute the slight differential to my degree of hunger. Afterwards we were toying with the idea of driving in the opposite direction of home for a little longer in search of a mystical place we’d heard of called “Monkeyland”. Of course, the debate was pretty silly, because what else do we have to do? At home our housemate, Mel, rents dvds of Criminal Minds everyday, which is awesome, but that’s a better evening activity. So off we went, and I’m so glad we did-Monkeyland is like heaven on Earth. I LOVE monkeys (and apes), and apparently it’s rubbed off on Dave. We had to walk within inches of three just to get inside the gates, and once inside, there are over 400 monkeys roaming free on 12 hectares (another thing I need to google). They were everywhere, and I took pictures until my camera died. Stupidly, we didn’t get any pictures of us with the monkeys, and we also forgot the video camera so unfortunately…a return trip is definitely in order! But with only a $15 per person entry fee, we can’t afford not to return!

Posted by daveandk8 10:59 Comments (1)

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