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Thursday, 20 November 2014

November's Babies

October rushed by, and included a quick two week trip to Cape Town to consult the orthopaedic specialists for hip and hip replacement scheduled for mid-January, in Cape Town.

Back in the Lowveld, we settled down to enjoying the lovely weather and listening to predictions on rain and threatening drought.  Depending on who you listen to, the water table is still high and a drought would probably be expected in mid-2016.

Nevertheless, we spent a week in Kruger, and there seems to be plenty of water around, even though the north is dry dry dry!


We had a two bedroomed cottage overlooking the river, and really this is a very comfortable and well equipped accommodation (bearing in mind that nothing in Kruger is luxurious).  On the way in, we saw herd after herd of buffalo - I have never seen so many sightings of buffalo and in such quantities over the thirty or more years we have spent visiting Kruger regularly.

In camp I found that a crested barbet was nesting in a stump just a few metres from where I was sitting.
Once the barbet had gone off to find food for its young, I went over and listened carefully at the hole in the stump.  The babies were clearly audible.

And the other babies!   Baby impala, some just a day or so old, everywhere.  We even witnessed an impala birth - quite fascinating.

Within the first ten minutes, amniotic fluid shaken from nostrils and ears, the baby was trying to stand up. life everywhere.

Punda Maria & Pafuri

As we got further north, the landscape became more and more dry and barren - in some areas you would liken it to a desolate blasted World War 2 somewhere on the Somme.   But still there was water in isolated spots.
These lion were fat and stuffed from a recent kill, so had no inclination to chase after delectable giraffe!  This was right next to a small dam that had lots of water.
We stayed in one of the newer two bedroomed cottages at Punda Maria and spent the next day doing a trip to and around Pafuri.   We had some lovely sightings, especially of elephant.  A large herd came down to the muddy parts of the river, where there is still some water, and had a glorious time swimming and mud-bathing.

This little guy was in a huge hurry to get down there and join in the fun.   He was quite small, and was hilarious as he kept slipping and falling down, both on the slope and in the mud.
This is a portion of the large herd.
Our funny baby and other young elephant enjoying the mud with an adult.
There were baby impala, vervet monkeys, baboons, warthog, and lots more.    It was hot...early forties the first two days and then dropped to a cool 38 degrees C or thereabouts!

We saw a lot of ostrich too.
I did this sketch from a photo of Wendy Alberts, which she took in Kruger.  I love the small flock of babies.
Pafuri was lovely, and we cooked a skottel breakfast/brunch there, with nyala ewes and lambs grazing around us in the picnic area.  We kept a sharp lookout for those expert and very quick thieves, the vervet monkeys.

Tsessebe cow and calf crossing the road


Staying in this bush veld camp was a first for us.   We had a three bedroomed cottage, but here the cottage consists of three bedrooms and two bathrooms and a comfortable stoep on which is your kitchenette and dining table and chairs.   It has air conditioning, which is great, and much needed in November!  It also has limited channel dstv which we did not bother with.  The camp has a very nice hide overlooking a waterhole and I spent a lot of time there bird watching, which was spectacular.   I found a family of banded mongoose very entertaining.

After two days here, we drove to Satara, and on the way had a lovely sighting of a young leopard.
Shyly emerging from behind a milestone.
He pottered about posing for a while, but wanted to hunt, and soon saw something off to the left.
A steenbok spotted in the bush, he was ready to stalk and hunt his prey.
We watched for some time, and followed him until he made his attack - unsuccessfully.  


Zebra baby drinking 

After a night at Satara our week in Kruger was over - too quickly.

On the last day there was a sudden cold front...temperatures dropped from around 37 degrees C to around 23 degrees C and I was glad that I had brought a jacket.

Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Of Monuments, Statuary and a precocious French engineer

Washington D.C.

September 9th to 12th, 2014

Pierre Charles L'Enfant - artist, engineer, architect, Freemason, soldier, designer of cities.  A Parisian who at the age of 23 abandoned his studies at the Louvre and embarked upon a sea journey in 1777 to join General Lafayette on the side of the rebels in the American Civil War.  

His design of the capitol city was basically followed, but changed by later, less visionary, architect Andrew Ellicott.   Nevertheless, the layout is the best by far of any US city that we have visited, and there is definite French influence in the buildings closer to Georgetown.
Somewhere close to Georgetown, near or on Pennsylvania Avenue
President George Washington received the plan, fired the Frenchman with his grandiose ideas, and hired Ellicott, who revised the plan a bit.  Nevertheless, the result was a happy one....lovely streets and lots of green spaces.

Occult Conspiracy Theory

There's always going to be someone out there with nothing better to do....
No really - an upside down pentagon?   Its only a man-made drawing, all the idiots out there! 
The layout is of north-south and east-west parallel streets, with well placed circles through which large avenues run, connecting the major places - White House, Capitol, Congress, etc.  A conspiracy theorist's delight.

Of Heights and skies

D.C. (the name is District of Columbia, and was nicknamed Washington DC when Georgetown was merged with it in 1871).   Because there is a height restriction on buildings to the height of a fire truck ladder (about 1894), there are no skyscrapers....very very nice!

So you do see lots of sky, and open spaces.

Of Monuments and Statues, Museums and Memorials

Seen from the boat trip on the Potomac...lots of memorials, statues and monuments adorn the city.
D.C. has so many monuments, memorials and suchlike that one could travel about for weeks searching for them all.   But then what about the museums, galleries, parks and cemeteries?

Moving About

We stayed at the Avenue Suites, which are large, open plan suites that have a kitchenette and a sitting room.  They are on Pennsylvania Avenue, close to Georgetown, and so one can walk to the White House.

There is a Big Bus stop nearby so we bought a two day ticket with a night tour and a boat trip thrown in.
Russ enjoying the boat trip - cool on a hot day

The DC Big Bus, hop-on hop-off, is a good option, having extensive routes and lots of stops that take in the major areas for monuments, museums, galleries, notable buildings, etc.

Waiting for a change of bus at Union Station (which is also a good place to visit, with an attractive interior), I found myself doodling a decorative concrete eagle on a ledge on the building.
As we had a fair amount of time when waiting for buses, I found that I managed a few quick sketches that I might not otherwise have attempted.

Cafe du Parc is close to the White House
The great thing about the hop-on, hop-off bus is just that.  You can get off and wait for another, while you investigate places and things, or sketch 'em!

100, Constitution Avenue - the Capitol Building is where the US Congress meets.
The building was almost destroyed in the 1812 war by the British, but it rained, which put the fires out and saved some of it.  That's the statue of Freedom on top - is impossible to make out here so you'll have to trust me.

1963...."I have a Dream" 

Martin Luther King, Jr made his speech from the Lincoln Memorial.  The memorial was built only in the early 20th century, by the way.

French was a very well known American sculptor, and this is an impressive work.

The view from the Lincoln Memorial across the reflecting pool towards the Washington Monument is rather lovely, and of course is only too well known.

Perhaps not the greatest sketch - I tried to show the memorial to WW2 below where the two large flags are for the Pacific and one for the European  theatre of war.
We found various smaller memorials and statues that resonated with us, including this one, a huge statue outside one of the Smithsonian buildings.

The Jefferson Memorial
Thomas Jefferson - who wrote the Declaration of Independence, also kept mockingbirds as pets.

The Anniversary of 9/11

We caught the local Circulator bus to Union Station (much quicker than the Big Bus) and from the top of our bus, waiting for it to depart, I did this quick sketch of the fountain and a flag at half mast - all flags all over the city were, of course, at half mast.

We went to Arlington Cemetery, and it was a pretty hot day - hoping to see the silent drill that the marines did last time we were there.  Unfortunately despite a long and very hot trek to the monument there was only the changing of the guard and some kids laying a wreath.  The silent drill is done elsewhere these days.

We did hear rifle shots and a Last Post, however.   Did you know that there are ladies called the Arlington Ladies, about 65 of them, who ensure (since the Vietnam War) that no member of the Armed Forces is ever buried alone.

At one of our bus stop waits, I did this sketch of the Monument, with all the surrounding flags at half mast.

We walked to the Museum of the American Indian, which was not very crowded at all, and thoroughly enjoyed it.

Having met wolves in Colorado, I can see why they are so highly regarded...
one learns not from Wolf, but from Spirit Wolf
The exhibits are lovely, and one can start with a very good video, giving an overview to help one gain a little understanding of the Indian peoples of the north and south American continents.  I enjoyed the videos of folklore, and the various special exhibits for various tribal peoples.

The bus stop was right outside, and we waited to carry on and connect with the night tour -
once again a sketch opportunity.

The night tour guide - as with most US guides, whenever the words "famous" or "celebrity" are mentioned, a film star or film celebrity's name will follow...even in Washington DC!  
It's as though everyone else is just ordinary, and you can only be famous or a celebrity if you're known in Hollywood.  I wonder, if I were to be arrested by the Hollywood police, would I be a celebrity?  Perhaps - but not if arrested in San Francisco or Philadelphia.

We started with the White House at night.

And here I am, looking surprised at the protests?  Oddly enough we were not invited in for a drink, but Barack was probably busy thinking about ISIS.

The Korean Memorial, showing army, air force and navy statues in a sort of jungly setting.

Not even our tour guide seemed to be aware that the Korean War was technically a United Nations war, not a USA one, till we pointed out the very long  list of countries that were involved, discreetly engraved along the opposite sidewalk.

Of course this included South Africa (the Flying Cheetahs, who flew P51 Mustangs attached to the USAF Fighter-Bomber wing, and earned the US Presidential Unit Citation for extraordinary service despite severe losses).

Nevertheless, the UN would possibly not have got involved if the USA had not sent arms and also navy and air 1950 the US was very powerful indeed, so soon after WW2.  

Well you can hardly tell Americans that they had been the aggressor and in contradiction of the UN charter, can you?  And how about the fact that the war is not over?  No peace was ever signed.  Hmmm!

The night tour included a great many more memorials such as the Roosevelt one, Martin Luther King Jr, Vietnam, and so on.

It was a very worthwhile tour, I thought.

Lunch with Crissy & Going Home

We were by now very very pleased to be packing for our return journey home, after five weeks away.

We were all packed up and had arranged to meet Carolyn's daughter Crissy for an early lunch.  It was a lovely lunch and Crissy is a delightful person - warm, intelligent and caring.   After lunch she drove us to the airport - Dulles, which is about 45 minutes from where we were - and then we simply relaxed till our flight was called and we boarded for Johannesburg.

Once again Dakar was a challenge.   The Captain advised that we would have a slight delay as one of the tyres was reading lower than regulation pressure, so the ground engineers (or whatever passes for them in Dakar) were bringing up nitrogen cylinders to restore acceptable pressures.

After a somewhat lengthy pause, the Captain, sounding a bit too mirthful for my liking, announced that the nitrogen cylinders having been found to have less nitrogen in them than the tyres, more nitrogen cylinders were being requisitioned with great urgency from the suppliers.

We eventually took off, and somehow the crew made up the lost time....I suppose they're used to it.

Flying east is worse for jet lag.  We arrived, John met us, and we enjoyed a good ol' braai before going to bed and sleeping till morning.  We drove home to White River and an ecstatic Vixie, my wire fox terrier.

Home again.....time to start sketching again, and to get my wildlife creative ideas stimulated once again.   Unlike statues and buildings, wildlife does not wait for one......

Sunday, 28 September 2014

Colorado Springs

September 2nd to 9th, 2014

We flew from San Francisco to Colorado Springs, arriving at the extremely uncivilised hour of a few minutes to midnight!   Carolyn's friend John met us, and drove us to Carolyn's home up against the mountainside above the town.

This was a home exchange, and Carolyn and her daughter & son-in-law Crissy and Heng, plus her good friend Lonnie, had already been to South Africa in early 2013.  Carolyn was at her Wisconsin cottage, and we had her large house to ourselves...but left it till the morning to explore as we were pretty bushed by the time we arrived there.

Colorado Springs is in a lovely setting at the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, and Pikes Peak towers nearby.   There are lots of interesting places to see and some of the history is quite exciting and different.

The house itself is spacious, with lots of sitting room, a hot tub, humming bird feeders, and other delightful nooks and crannies.

John came around the next day to take us up Pikes Peak - he had, at one time, been a tour guide taking parties up there.   We drove up in Carolyn's Lexus, which she had left for us to use, and up and up and up we went to the full 14,110 feet.  It was pretty chilly at the top, and one could get lightheaded at that altitude, but a glorious view and a large gift shop with do-nuts and stuff.

I have no idea how I got the variegated effect on this photo - done while exporting from iPhoto.  Nevertheless, here Russ and I are at the viewing platform at the very top of Pikes Peak.
The tree line is quite a long way down from the top, and John being a botanist was wonderfully informative on what trees we were seeing as we climbed higher and higher.

Photo taken just above where the tree line ends and bare rock begins
We had a really great time with John, and went into the little historic village of Manitou Springs to have lunch at a little bar John likes...nice food and I had a good salad.

The next day we decided to visit the WW2 Aviation Museum - Colorado Springs has a large air force base, but this museum is on a property adjacent to the airport.  We had booked a tour on line, and this was essential to enjoying a visit to the museum.  The guides are all volunteers and the museum is rather much a work in progress.  It is however, very well laid out and the exhibits, with their historical narrations, are very interesting and carefully assembled.

D-Day Invasion markings
After the introduction and the historical side of things was done, we were taken out to a hangar, where we found that aircraft recovered from being buried in jungles or found elsewhere, were being lovingly restored - by hand.

Craftsman/engineer at work in restoring the WW2 bomber behind him.
Outside, a WW2 Corsair torpedo bomber was being fired up - clouds of smoke and an amazing but deafening sound....

Corsair with WW2 jeep
This was a really interesting and enjoyable museum visit.   The intention is to build a HUGE museum, and lots of money towards this end has already been raised.   Many very wealthy enthusiasts support the museum, and many of the restored planes are privately owned.

Alastair and Lauren arrived and we drove them around, stopping at the Santa's Workshop at the bottom of Pikes Peak.

The weather was becoming rainy - Santa's Workshop visit was fun
We went into Manitou Springs, which they enjoyed, and we found a micro brewery, where we went in for lunch - just as well as the rain started about then.

Face pulling competition?   Inside the brewery bar, where a surprisingly good lunch was served.
John took us up to the Garden of the Gods, but unfortunately a big race was taking place, so we could not go to the nicest section.  Even so, we enjoyed the section we visited, and did a walk along one of the trails.

Alastair taking photo and Russ reading about this spot in the Garden of the Gods.

I was trying out my new Nikon P600's extreme zoom, and took this at maximum zoom...really amazing what the camera picked up and that the eye could barely make out!

Maximum zoom brought the detail into view.
We had lots of fun and interesting things to do in Colorado Springs, but one thing that we did that was extremely top notch, and that pulled at the conservation heart strings, was a visit to the Colorado Wolf & Wildlife Centre just outside a little town called Divide.

Akela the arctic wolf - Akela is Hawaiian for Noble Leader

The story of how wolves are no longer protected in the United States, and Canada, and how they are slaughtered in their packs from helicopters, putting their survival very much at risk, was pretty harrowing.

We saw a range of different types of wolves and foxes, all rescued from often dreadful conditions and torture, or genetic tampering for commercial purposes.   They do not breed at this centre - they merely rescue animals and give them a safe home.  Wolves are really very very interesting and one can understand why the indigenous peoples often endowed them with spiritual properties.

On our way back to Colorado Springs we stopped at a tiny place called Woodland, where many shops looked like they had been restored to "old West" appearance.

The Cowhand Shop and other pretty shops 

We went into the Cowhand and it was a really fun shop, all filled with stuff guessed it....cowhands.  Or people wanting to look like cowboys.

Buy your bots and your belts at the Cowhand

Or buy your hat or your belt buckle - so many to choose from!  This is a portion of the wide range stocked.

The last evening with Alastair and Lauren had to be special, so we took them to the local least, that is what it is described English pub called the Bumble Bee, at a really upmarket 6 star lodge close by (I think they have at least three full golf courses).

No English pub even looked this smart!  The service was excellent and the food very good, so we thoroughly enjoyed our last evening together.
The remainder of our stay was spent packing and organising - and also doing a bit of shopping.   Alastair and Lauren flew back to Houston and we tried to find out where the maggots were coming from.....oh, did I not mention these little goodies before!?

Poor Carolyn nearly died of horror to hear that somehow maggots seemed to be falling from somewhere into a small area of the kitchen.   We thought that something had, after she had left for Wisconsin, crawled in somewhere and died, and that these maggots were the result. There weren't that many of them - just a few each day.   We were rather amused, but Carolyn certainly was not!

We had heard something running across the roof in the small section of the house that is single storey - probably a raccoon.  I had had a lot of fun watching hummingbirds feed at the feeder - such amazing little birds.  We also saw our first black squirrels in Carolyn's trees.  We had seen deer wandering through gardens, and marmots on Pikes Peak.  So all in all a refreshing break from cities.

However, it was time to fly away to Washington DC, for three days before catching our SAA flight homewards.

Alastair and Lauren loved their visit with us in Colorado Springs and went away wondering how they could move there as soon as possible!   We loved it because it is lovely, and the people we met were so friendly and hospitable, especially Carolyn herself and John.

We were sorry not to have allocated more time to spend there!

Saturday, 27 September 2014

San Francisco

San Francisco.   August 29th to September 2nd.  Too long.

Ok maybe I'm being a bit cruel, due to our unfortunate introduction to this fabled US city.  Be warned to expect nothing complimentary, although I do think that I have exercised my usual diplomatic constraint, given the circumstances.

We flew Hawaiian Air to somewhere called Oaklands.  This is supposed to be a quick half hour taxi ride into SF proper.  We arrived around 8 pm at the airport.

Oh but no!  Not tonight the quick taxi ride!   According to the information desk lady, and I trusted her, I did - we had arrived at the start (Friday night) of the Labour Day long weekend and San Francisco had decided that this was an appropriate time to close some lanes of some bridge or other (probably not the famous one), and so traffic was backed up for miles because there was also a game (football?  baseball?) coming out and welllll..... what to do?  What to do??

So she recommended we take the shuttle to this place where we would then take a train into San Francisco, and then we could take a taxi and in the process save ourselves an hour or two of frustration and about $60 plus in fares.

Blindly we followed these instructions.

The shuttle was great, and cost a meagre $1,10 per person.

Then we reached the train station and we discovered SF's unique fragrance....hobo piss.   Disturbed but undaunted, we made for the ticket machines, more or less back to back for protection, checking around us like WW2 fighter pilots, and dragging our suitcases and cabin luggage and.....and discovered that San Francisco quaintly provides ticket machines with detailed instructions totally incomprehensible to anyone other than...hmmmm...make that just anyone.

We then found a lady in a box similar to the one that Sandra Bullock inhabited in "While you were Sleeping"....and I now realise that I have been infected with a sort of US Hollywood ebola in referring to movies whenever wanting to make a point.....and consulted her.

After several long winded and time consuming consultations with various persons both in uniform and out, we were referred back to said ticket machines and abandoned to our fate.  

Helplessly considering said machines, we found a San Francisco resident, a youngish woman, who was purchasing her own ticket.  She assisted us with ours, and seemingly reassured by our out of town accents, was most useful.   It seemed that even she did not fully understand how the things worked, and so a homeless person who had been watching the unfolding of events with great interest, shuffled up and intervened and filled in the gaps.

After which we headed for the elevators, only to find that it was escalators or nothing.   Which was when I somehow miscalculated the width of the steps as compered with the width of my suitcase, and it toppled backwards, and I tried to catch it but I toppled backwards, and Russ, who was behind me, balancing his own luggage, somehow braced and managed to catch me, luggage and cabin luggage and get us, albeit in an embarrassing posture, to the top of the escalator reasonably safely.   Eisch!

Our heroine shepherded us to the proper station platform and ensured we were on the right train (she was headed in the same direction) and we eventually - after a long long time that included a 20 minute standing room only wait for the train - arrived in a place where we could catch a cab.   They do not have any benches or seating on their platforms - the mind boggles - do these get stolen?

Meantime, Alastair and Lauren had landed over an hour after we had and were already installed in the apartmentt that we had rented through Airbnb!  They had arrived at San Francisco Airport rather than Oakland.

It was lovely to see them, and the apartment was very nice, and well appointed.  It was, however, at the very top of one of those unbelievably cruel and steep hills.

There was very little space to put our clothes, but that was a minor inconvenience.  

Ginger the resident cat welcomed us and took advantage of our opening a patio door to dodge out - later we read that we should on no account let him out and that led to serious door to door searches, but he finally came back a couple of hours later, much refreshed by his little bout of freedom.

Ginger - under house arrest, poor thing.

The Hills

The bloody hills.  Supposed to be oh so cute and San can have them.   Up a backbreaking, exhaust-fumed, steep hill and down ditto.   So what's to like?   Its all some spin doctor trying to get people to buy into some mad touristy belief.

The Food

Nyaaaah.   Just like the rest of the US, unless you pay an absolute fortune for stuff we would consider average here.   They have something like pork belly donuts....I don't want to know!   So much fried carb stuff and fries and ...Mexican!   Mexican is either chilli or cheese and floats in either blowtorch spices or cheesy fats.   You can have my share.

However, we met Julia and RJ at a Mexican restaurant for brunch...I managed to find something suitable, and we had a lovely brunch.
Russ, Alastair, Lauren, Juli and RJ

The next day....Down the road we found somewhere to have a reasonable brunch ..

The Squat & Gobble seen as we walked down the hill

We bought tickets for the hop-on hop-off bus and managed to get around a bit more than we would otherwise have done.  However, its not as easy as some other cities, and the narration was pretty poor.  We bought the ticket that included a night tour.

It was pretty busy, perhaps because of the long weekend.  We stopped first at the Golden Gate bridge - nothing golden on it at all....
Pretty busy but a clear day, despite the bit of wind.
Then we went along to some place or other, very touristy so we did not stay long.
The bridge, from the site below, when we stopped on the street car part of the Big Bus ticket.
We stopped at Pier 39 (what a nightmare!) and transferred to the night tour from there.

The Bay Bridge is beautifully lit up at night
The next day we went to Chinatown, which is apparently the largest Chinatown in the United States.

The entrance to Chinatown - we were on a walking tour as part of the Big Bus ticket
We also went to Japan town, which is much smaller but just as touristy and filled with the sort of stuff you would not chose to buy anytime soon.

Waiting for the walking tour

If it had not been a great time to be with Alastair and Lauren, I would have been thinking longingly of the Higginses and Hahns, flying over volcanoes and waterfalls in helicopters on Big Island and swimming with manta rays.

We were so cold on the night drive - was it Mark Twain who said that the coldest winter he ever knew was the summer he spent in San Francisco?

We're glad we visited SF, but were equally glad to be moving Colorado Springs.