#BeHerd: 96 Elephants are Killed in Africa Every Day

Did you know that 96 elephants are killed in Africa every single day? Over 30,000 African elephants die each year as a result of poaching. 

I knew that the poaching and killing of elephants for their tusks was a problem however I never fully understood the enormity and magnitude of the issue until I listened to an amazing podcast on NPR’s “Fresh Air” called  “GPS Trackers In Elephant Tusks Reveal Ivory Smuggling Route” (8/12/2015). It is a story that kept me at the edge of my seat for the entire hour and led me to read the full story in National Geographic (September 2015) by journalist Bryan Christy called How Killing Elephants Finances Terror in Africa”. It is a fabulous, eye-opening account on how armed groups help fund operations by smuggling elephant ivory and how Christy developed fake tusks with hidden GPS trackers to track them down.

I love elephants and was fortunate enough to have seen them in the wild in South Africa on a safari (Check out my post: “Into the Wild My First Safari”). They are beautiful, majestic creatures. The thought that they are being killed simply for their tusks is horrible and something that must be stopped. However, it is not as easy as it seems.
South Africa SafariIMG_0255

This month, the Wildlife Conservation Society has launched a new campaign called 96 Elephants to bring awareness and take a stand on the fact that 96 elephants are killed in Africa every day.  Founded in 1895, The Wildlife Conservation Society has the clear mission to save wildlife and wild places across the globe. In 2012, poachers killed approximately 35,000 elephants in Africa for their tusks. 96 elephants are killed in Africa every day for their tusks.

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A couple days in Jo’burg

Jo’burg as she is lovingly called by locals (also Jozi, Egoli or Gauteng (the two latter terms both meaning “place of gold”) has a turbulent past which greatly mirrors the struggle and eventual overcoming of the long history of apartheid.  Although the history of modern Johannesburg is roughly only a little over 100 years old, the surrounding area of Jo’burg has a much longer past.  Often known as the “cradle of civilization”, the valley outside of Johannesburg has become a World Heritage Site and is an important paleontological site due to the discovery in 1947 of “Mrs. Ples”, the first known adult cranium of an “ape man” dating back 2.5 million years ago.

The area today which is known as Johannesburg or Jo’burg was an un-established nomadic land for thousands and thousands of years.  It could have perhaps remained that way if it was not for the discovery of gold by George Harrison, an Australian prospector, who happened to stumble upon one of the richest gold mines in the world back in 1886.  Within three short years, the land that would become Johannesburg was built on with rapid, quick-fire speed and greed by other local entrepreneurs such as Cecil Rhodes, a rich owner of nearby diamond mines who provided the cash and the power to take full advantage of the gold rush.

In order to mine the gold as fast as possible, cheap, slave labor was needed in a hurry so poor blacks from throughout South Africa came to the once deserted bushveld plains and went to work under brutal labor conditions.

Within three years, the previously low inhabited area which would become Johannesburg sprang up as the third largest city in all of South Africa, and it didn’t take much longer for Jo’burg to become one of the largest cities south of Cairo.

The years that followed were loaded with strife and conflict.  There was too much fortune at stake.  The Anglo-Boer War of 1899-1901 lead to South Africa being under British control and rule.  As the population of Johannesburg expanded, the British colonial rule decided to begin forcibly relocating the black population from the central city to the rift-raft outskirts of town.  This began the long, tragic movement towards apartheid in which blacks and whites were kept completely separate (see earlier post titled “The Rainbow Nation” for more information on the period of apartheid in South Africa).

Obviously the effects of apartheid eventually lead to a series of revolts and protests as the city’s black population (which were and still remain by far the majority) began demanding their rights and an end to this madness, tyranny and deprivation.  The “Rand Revolt” of 1922 lead to over 200 deaths, and protests and strikes remained common.

More problems arose as more blacks were brought into the city center during the time leading up to and after the Second World War.  Although black movements began to rise and form at this time, they were shortly squashed by the powerful government who wanted to repress them.  Hence began the policy of apartheid and the gradual relocation of blacks from Jo’burg to townships on the outskirts of the city.

The turning point in South Africa’s long history of apartheid and discrimination occurred on June 16, 1976 when South African police open fired on a student protest in the black township of Soweto (a name derived from South West Townships).  This created a series of violent protests throughout South Africa in the 1980s, which lead to the eventual dismantling of apartheid (in early 1990) and the first ever democratic elections in 1994.  Finally, the brutal system of segregation and deprivation was destroyed and blacks and white could begin living together peacefully and humanely.

Over time, blacks have begun moving back into previously white-only districts and some of the townships have been vacated.  However, one of the largest black townships, Soweto, remains a vibrant place of black history and life today and has a population of over 1,000 residents.

Jo’burg today is a cosmopolitan city yet voluntary segregation remains strong.  The white population has mostly retreated to the rich suburbs living in gated, secured communities while the center of town is predominantly black and exceedingly dangerous.  (We were not allowed to visit the city center without a black guide and decided not to visit since there really was nothing worthwhile to see).  Crime is rampant and people unfortunately live in a culture of fear.  Hopefully as the economic and educational opportunities improve among poor blacks, the crime will decrease.

Overall, I found it a sad testament of the negative, long-lasting effects of apartheid and a system of hate. I didn’t much care for my visit to Jo’burg because I felt like staying in the rich, gated suburbs was not really being there.  It was a tragic representation of the ill-effects of segregation and the resulting immense poverty and crime of the city.

Anyway, since most tourists will be obligated to spend at least a day or so in Jo’burg via transit, here are some photos and information on the sites we felt were worth visiting.

This is all we saw of downtown Johannesburg. It is not a safe place to visit unaccompanied. What a pity!

We stayed in the Northern Suburbs in Sandton, a wealthy enclave of gated houses, buildings, offices and shopping malls.  Unfortunately the general decay and violence of the city center has lead to a mass exodus of mostly weathy whites and businesses to leave Jo’Burg and move out to the safer yet boring suburbs.  Here is a photo our hotel area:

Photo of the barbed wire gates surrounding our hotel and literally every single home in sight.  What a crime to have to live in this kind of fear and isolation!

One of the many large, luxury malls called Sandton Square, located under the luxurious Michelangelo Hotel:

Our hotel, located nearby the Sandton Mall, the only option for dining and nightlife and a short walk away:

Inside the Sandton mall where everything is clean, expensive and white.  They are gearing up for the Christmas season hence all the decorations.

The mall even displays art!

The outdoor courtyard of the enclosed mall contains loads of fancy restaurants and even live music.  Here is the place we ate dinner at.  Nothing too exciting but it was decent.

Next morning, we had a hired guide and drove out to visit Soweto, South Africa’s Original Township.  Immediately the fancy cars, luxurious hotels and homes disappeared and we were for once the minority.

Here we are passing some slums en route to Soweto.  This is how most people live.

Inside Soweto on our tour of some of the nicer neighborhoods.  Soweto was built on farmland located 11 miles southwest of Johanneburg to house the blacks working in the gold mines in Jo’burg. The conditions were deplorable as it often took the workers over three hours to get to work each day.  In those days, there was no running water, no electricity, no shops and no roads.  The living situation became unbearable in 1933 when the government declared the “Slums Clearance Act” and forcibly moved blacks off their land, out of the city center and into the townships.

Although parts of Soweto are nice today, there still remains a high level of violence and poverty in this area.  It is definitely a worthwhile place to visit as there is an excellent Apartheid museum and the history of the place surrounds you.

Here is a photo of one of the most famous victims of the 1976 Soweto march Hector Pieterson.  The photo is at the entrance of the Museum dedicated to the history and struggle of Apartheid in Soweto.  The pain is ever so present and captured in their eyes.

Stay tuned….This is my last post on South Africa.  It was wonderful to write and remember such a fantastic, culturally stimulating trip!  My next posts will be on another gem….Iceland!  Stay posted!


Into the Wild: My First Safari Part III

The second night at Tanda Tula we were in for quite a surprise and adventure.  Clinton, our fun-loving ranger told us that we were going to go on a night safari.  First, we were to meet the happy-go-lucky always smiling bartender “Smiling” in the bar at promptly six o’clock where we were to pick out our preferred drink for cocktail hour in the midst of the wild.  Yes, you heard it right.  We were going to have happy hour right out in the middle of the game reserve!

Next, we followed Clinton obediently to the bar, picked out our drinks which were loaded into an ice-cold cooler and placed aboard the land cruiser.  Then we were off into the night filled with half-excitement half-fear.

As the sun was beginning to set:

It was time to pull over for cocktails and h’ors-d’oeuvres right smack in the middle of the game reserve.  Here is a photo of Clinton, our ranger, and our tracker setting up shop:

There were plenty of cold beverages.  We were even asked before setting out what we would prefer to drink and Smiling, our bartender, loaded up the cooler with the drink of our choice.  For me, it was my beloved South African Sav Blanc, definitely one of my favorites:

For my dad, he preferred an ice-cold beer as it was a hot and sticky day still.  My Dad and I enjoying our drinks in a land full of wonder:

After a nice buzz, the real adventure starts….our night tracking of the two dominant male lions in the reserve.  Here we caught up with them and followed them around, silently watching their every move and prowl:

Here we are playing follow the leader:

We followed the lions around for an hour, watching them pace and guard their environment.  It was a pretty amazing experience!

The next night, we were in for an even bigger surprise.  Around dinner time, we were all told to meet at the reception area and then instructed to board the land cruisers.  Where were we going?  I wondered.  They didn’t ask for a drink preference this time so it wasn’t for happy hour nor did they mention that we were going on a night safari.  Instead, it was total silence and suspense.

We drove into the thick of the game reserve, in pitch black darkness.  Everything was still in the park. There were no animals.  No noises.  Just the sound of the land cruiser leading us somewhere into the dark night.

Then, we saw it.  A light.  What was it?  As we came closer, we realized the light was coming from a circle enclosure of torches.   The flames of the fires spiralled peacefully in the light wind.  We got off the land cruiser, followed Clinton and were cheerfully greeted by the entire staff at Tanda Tula with a welcoming drink and an enormous bonfire.  Then we saw it….the huge, long table for twenty placed strategically in the middle of the circle, next to the fire where we were going to have a feast of a lifetime smack in the middle of the game reserve!  I couldn’t believe my eyes!  What a spectacular surprise!  We drank, dined and drank some more for over two hours, never once (well ok, maybe a few times) feeling the least bit concerned we would be attacked by wild animals or hungry lions who wanted to join the feast.  There were armed guards at each corner of the makeshift camp, armed with tranquilizers just in case any animals decided to crash our party.

It was a night I’ll never forget.  It was an unbelievable experience!  I woke up the next day with a headache so big I thought I’d been run over by a herd of elephants but it was worth every minute of the misery for a night of eating and drinking under the stars and into the wild!

Stay tuned….My last post on South Africa will include a two-day visit to Jo’berg where we visited Soweto and saw a completely different side and perspective on South Africa.  One of clear and total segregation. 

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Into the Wild: My First Safari Part II

I awoke the next morning to the 5 AM call of the wild.  The sun was barely up yet the jungle outside my tent was fully awake and alive.  The monkeys were in their full glory, active as a toddler at a playground.  I was exhausted but excited about the day that awaited.  It was day one of my first safari and I could hardly wait.

There was a slight tap on my door and I opened it to find Smiling, smiling as usual and holding a tray with a beautiful light breakfast of morning tea, fresh scones and fruit.  I opted to eat on the verandah but of course I was forewarned not to leave my food for even a second.  The swarms of monkeys playing jubilantly in the trees above would devour it all in a heartbeat.

By 6 am, our group of six met at the main lodge and we boarded the open air land rover.  We had our ranger Clinton, a native African tracker and a driver on board as well.  I could hardly contain my excitement and anticipation at finally after all these years actually going on a real live safari.  I had to pinch myself to make sure it was really real.

One of the lovely things about opting for a private reserve is the transportation.  In public game reserves such as Kruger National Park, you must follow and stay on the roads in your car.  However, at a private game reserve you roam in an open-air, uncovered land cruiser and can go where ever you want, without having to stick to the roads!   Here we are, setting off on our first safari drive with the animal tracker at the front and the ranger (with loaded gun just in case) on the right side, driving the vehicle.

Excitement and anticipation awaits us (and a little bit of nervousness as we are fully exposed!).  Not long after setting out, we are rewarded with the spotting of our first animal, a lovely giraffe grazing off the treetops:

Next came the gazelles (I was desperately hoping we wouldn’t see our first kill.  I wasn’t sure whether or not I could handle it even though it’s nature.  I’m a true softie at heart and also do not like the sight of blood):

Shortly after we encountered our first elephant.  Little did we know, an entire herd of 20-30 elephants were right around the corner waiting:

I was surprised how incredibly close we were able to get to the animals.  It was quite a thrill and also a little intimidating to be sitting right next to an enormous elephant with no protection.  According to our ranger, we were to remain motionless in the open-top rover.  If we remained still, the animals would view us as a large mass and would not charge us or be afraid.  In the event something went array, the ranger always carried a loaded gun with tranquilizers.  However, the animals although wild were used to having tourists come and basically ignored us.

Here is another view of the mighty elephant.

I could not get enough pictures of the elephants.  I was completely enthralled by their majestic beauty and peacefulness.

A lone elephant who at first was uninterested….

Yet then his or her curiosity got the best and we got up close and personal with this mighty creature:

As we rounded the corner, we were surrounded by a herd of 20-30 elephants, big and small.  I fell in love with the mama and her baby:

Can I take you home?

Now I know why they called him Dumbo:

As we rounded the corner and ventured further into the park, we came across a herd of zebras:

We spent some time chasing the elusive leopard and finally found him up in his favorite spot, a tree.  Unfortunately once we approached he was gone before I was able to snap a photo.

Then in the heart of the game reserve, we found the Lion King and the pride.  By that point, I was getting used to being in an open-air vehicle but I was glad that the ranger was ready in case of any attack!

Here he is, the King of the Jungle (note how close the other rover is):

Here is a better shot (he is hanging out right next to the rustic, small airstrip for those adventurous souls who prefer to land right inside the reserve):

The Lion King:

Isn’t he cuddly and cute?

He has such a beautiful mane!

The female of the pride…she looks so sweet….but:

She can definitely bite!

The pride:

The pride with the male:

One of the kids playing around with big,old dad:

Look who decided to show up…a hyena….very mean and dangerous.  We were hoping there would not be a fight…

After all the excitement, we decided to get out in the middle of the game reserve and WALK BACK to our lodging….

(Notice how Clinton, our ranger, had an armed gun just in case we were attacked by a herd of elephants or worse yet, a lion).

My heart was beating like an African drum and I definitely didn’t want to be at the end of the line and first on the lunch list.  I was thankful yet slightly disappointed we did not encounter any wild animals on our hour walk back!  Phew!!!

Stay tuned…next post will include our surprise night safari tracking the two dominant male lions, an outdoor feast in the middle of the park and cocktails au naturale!

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Into the Wild: My First Safari Part I

Our package deal from South African Airlines included a three-day stay and safari at the Tanda Tula Private Game Reserve located in the northeast section of South Africa adjacent to the world-famous Kruger National Park.  Tanda Tula was one of the first luxury private reserve camps established in the area and prides itself in giving the visitor beautifully appointed African safari styled “tents” in a gorgeous reserve with no boundaries and no fences.

During our three-day stay at Tanda Tula, we would be going on an early morning safari ride, a late afternoon one and a surprise evening safari where we would be tracking the two dominant male lions in the reserve.  We were also surprised with a candlelight dinner IN THE WILD….yes that is right.  We ate an enormous feast right smack in the middle of the game reserve, while the rangers stood by on the watch.

We took the morning flight out of Cape Town non-stop to Hoedspruit, one of three airports located near the Kruger National Park.  Here are some photos of my first day into the wild.

Boarding the plane to Hoedspruit Eastgate Airport:

View from the plane of the Southern Cape:

Small, clean airport in Hoedspruit, one of three airports in the vicinity of Kruger National Park:

After collecting our luggage, we were met by our driver from Tanda Tula Private Game Reserve in the Timbavati Reserve adjacent to Kruger National Park.   Our two-hour van ride was like nothing I’d ever experienced (at this point, I had not been to India or Nepal thus passing through the African villages felt like being on a movie set).  There was village after village located right next to the roadway filled with Africans in traditional dress and women walking along the side of the street carrying their goods on their heads and children wrapped around them in brightly colored fabrics.   Men and children were loaded into the backs of trucks and there was no sign of anything remotely modern.  I desperately wanted to take some photos along the way but held back thinking that not the proper thing to do.  Our van was the nicest vehicle for miles so getting out of the car to snap some photos would be extremely rude!

As we approached the numerous private game reserves, the roads became more modern and the villages disappeared.  Here is a view not far from the entrance of Tanda Tula Game Reserve:

Arrival at Tanda Tula Game Reserve.  Tanda Tula which means “to love the quiet”:

Checking out the surroundings….there are NO FENCES!  Yes that is correct.  One of the beauties of visiting a private reserve is that you are literally in the wild.  The entire base “camp” is without fences or boundaries meaning the animals are free to roam wherever they please.  You must take extreme caution, especially at night.  No one is allowed out of their tent once darkness hits as elephants, lions and leopards have been known to invade the campsite.  There is always a ranger on alert just in case a herd of 20-30 elephants decides to trample through your camp!

Here is a picture of the most annoying, yet charming friend….the neighboring monkeys that live in the trees surrounding the “tents”.  You better watch your breakfast when eating on the outdoor verrandah….or it will be gone!

Ok….drum roll please….here is a picture of our “tents”.  Yep, these are our luxurious tents.  There are eight in total and apparently they run for about $1000 a night if you were to show up and rent one.  Our incredibly, amazing package deal from South African Airlines (remember $1800 for our Atlanta-Jo’berg flight, two other internal flights and lodging in three places including here!) must have really been getting a steal on this part of the deal.  When we arrived at Tanda Tula and checked in, my dad mentioned that I was his daughter, not his wife (they had us originally in one “tent” and it only has one bed, not two like we requested), their simple response was “no worries” you can stay in the tent next door at no charge.  Can you believe it?  I got a $1000/night tent for free!  Wow!!!!!

The inside view.  Note the minimalistic structure.  It is sturdy yet not too enclosed so there is no avoiding the sounds of the wild.  My first night sleeping alone was a little scary as I would jump at every noise and it took me awhile to finally fall asleep to the bizarre, dramatic sounds of the wild.

Plus your own private bath tub and bathroom which includes an OUTDOOR shower, right in the thick of things.  It felt a little strange actually taking a shower that first night as dusk settled in and the animals began to make noise.  Plus there were more bugs than I’d ever seen but this was so cool!

Tanda Tula has beautiful, lush grounds and even a pool in case you are interested in taking a dip (it gets quite hot there in the afternoon).

Every meal is prepared from scratch and contains a delightful selection of South Africa’s finest.  Our meals were eaten on the large, open-air dining hall which afforded views of the game reserve and if lucky, a curious giraffe or two.

Here is a photo of our first dinner, a delicious, spoiling buffet:

Me and the friendly bartender, known as “smiling” because he ALWAYS smiles!

View from the open-air verandah into THE WILD…..

I wondered what on earth was out there?  Would it come near the camp or even scarier, my tent while I am alone, tucked away under the luxurious white covers?  Those thoughts swirled around my head as I turned off the lights, closed my eyes and listened to the call of the wild.  Nature at it’s finest.

Stay tuned….next post will be of my first 5 am safari!  (And yes….I saw lots and lots of wild animals!)

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The Southern Cape: A Wine Lovers Paradise

With an ideal, temperate, Mediterranean climate full of sunshine, adequate rain and fertile, unspoiled land, the Southern tip of South Africa has a long 300-year-old tradition and history of creating fabulous wines.   Just like the immense diversity of South Africa’s people, the Rainbow Nation also produces some of the most exciting, diverse wines in the world.  The Southern Cape in particular is one of the great wine capitals of the world, home to over 800 wineries not a far drive away from Cape Town.

There are 13 designated wine routes comprising the Winelands area of South Africa (the most popular include Stellenbosch, Paarl, Franschhoek, and Somerset West).  A true wine lover could spend weeks exloring the many beautiful estates and vine-covered rolling hills.  Unfortunately, I only had one afternoon.   But a few hours in South Africa’s wineland convinced me that the wines are delicious, the scenary is magnificent and I would love to come back!

Here are some photos of my afternoon exploring the wineyards of the Southern Cape.  Hope it makes you thirsty for more! 🙂

Drive from Cape Town to nearby Wine Country.  Stellenbosch is only a mere 46k/29 miles away!

Stop for a liquid lunch in lovely, charming Stellenbosch. Stellenbosch is primarily a university town with a relaxed, carefree attitude and tons of fantastic outdoor cafes.  The primary beauty of Stellenbosch is its vast display of Colonial Dutch architecture; arguably some of the oldest in South Africa.  Stellenbosch was founded in 1679 by Governor Simon van der Stel who founded one of the best vineyards in the Cape, Groot Constantia and also planted hundreds of  oak trees making the city informally known as the “city of oaks”.

Gorgeous Dutch Colonial architecture:

Sensational purple flowered jacaranda trees in full bloom:

Checking out the options for lunch.  Way too many delightful ones to choose from!

Me, enjoying a fabulous lunch of course with an excellent bottle of local Sav Blanc—what could be better than this?

Drive to Seidelberg Wine Estate:

The wine line-up at Seidelberg Wine Estate

The gorgeous grounds of the Seidelberg Vineyard….I could live here!

The lush vineyards coating the hillside….I could smell the fragrant wines inside my head.

A bench with a view (and incredible wine):

For more information on South Africa’s wine country, here is a great site: Vineyard Varieties, which gives the historical background of the wines of the Southern Cape:  http://www.vineyardvarieties.com/vineyard-variety-wines/history-of-south-african-wine/

Stay tuned….next stop is at the heart of South Africa’s Big Game…my first visit to a game reserve and a safari of a lifetime!

Note about photos in this post:  All these pictures from my South Africa trip are over 7 years old.  It is amazing to see the difference that seven years can make in technology!  Most of these pictures are from my first digital camera.  If you compare these photos with the quality of my more recent ones from my trips to Nepal and Morocco, the difference is astounding!  Thank goodness for modern technology!  I’ve also had to scan a few of the photos in as I took them with my other camera at the time.  This explains the grainy quality.  I felt it was more important to “show” all of South Africa even if some of the pictures weren’t the best quality.   Hope you enjoy!


Exploring the Cape

Part of the reason why South Africa is such a magical place is because she is blessed with an immensely varied terrain which provides a vast array of flora and fauna.  When most people think of South Africa, they immediately dream of her Big Game Parks and are perhaps unaware that South Africa is also has one of the most varied botanic kingdoms in the world (over 9,000 different species on its fertile, mountainous slopes).

South Africa’s rugged coastline features gorgeous white sandy beaches, rolling hills covered in vineyards, craggy green mountains (such as Cape Town’s famous natural landmark, Table Mountain), lush, tropical botanical gardens and of course, the world famous savanna land where the lions, elephants, rhinos, leopards, zebras, wildebeests, giraffes, and more roam.

The southern tip of South Africa is an adventure-lovers paradise offering hiking, biking, golfing, paragliding, surfing and beach sports abound not to mention world class dining, shopping, entertainment and culture.   Cape Town is often considered one of the most beautiful cities in the world and when I first saw this spectacular city, her aura, beauty, excitement and adventure captivated my heart and soul.

Some of the outdoor highlights of our second day in Cape Town included a hike at Table Mountain, a visit to the spectacular Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens, and an afternoon spent in Clifton Beach.

Riding the Gondola up to Table Mountain (often covered in a gorgeous “tablecloth” of clouds):

It’s a long way down:

Views of Cape Town fron the top of Table Mountain:

Next stop:  A Visit to lovely Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens, arguably one of the most beautiful gardens in the world, containing 8,000 of South Africa’s 22,000 plant species!

South Africa’s Grand Protea, my favorite flower of all….normally the size of an adult hand!

Another favorite of mine, The Bird of Paradise….

Lush, tropical greenery!

Located only about 15-20 minutes away from the center of Cape Town,is the local white sand beaches.  We decided to walk there and here are the photos along the way to Clifton Beach.

Leaving our hotel, we followed the sidewalks around the jagged coast.  Here is a gorgeous pool right against a delightful ocean backdrop…

The wild, rocky coastline:

Our destination awaits…

Entering Clifton Beach…notice this is where the ultra wealthy live….

Some lucky person’s house….

Main drag along Clifton beach:

Some cabbies from the Rainbow Nation happy to have their photo taken:

In search of an outdoor cafe or restaurant for a wine-indulging lunch facing the beach:

View of the beach town where everyone comes to hang out and have fun:

The gorgous Clifton Beach:

Next stop….South Africa’s Wine Country…..stay tuned!!!!

Getting to know South Africa better:  Some noteworthy facts about South Africa (Statistics found from www.statssa.gov.za)

Population (2010): 49.99 million. Composition–black 79.4%; white 9.2%;

colored 8.7%; Asian (Indian) 2.7%. (2010 Mid-Year Population Estimate Report at

Annual population growth rate (2009): 1.2%.

Languages: Afrikaans, English, isiNdebele, isiXhosa, isiZulu, Sepedi, Sesotho,
Setswana, siSwati, Tshivenda, and Xitsonga (all official languages).

Religions: Predominantly Christian; traditional African, Hindu, Muslim, Jewish..

Health: Infant mortality rate (2010)–47 per 1,000 live births. Life expectancy–55.2 yrs. women; 53.3 yrs. men. (Health data from 2010 Mid-Year Population Estimate Report: http://www.statssa.gov.za)


GDP (2009): $287 billion.

Real GDP growth rate: (2008) 3.7%; (2009) -1.8%; (5-year average) 3.7%.

GDP per capita (2009): $5,787.

Unemployment (first quarter 2010): 25.2%.


The Rainbow Nation

The dismantling and end of apartheid in 1994 marked a dramatic step forward towards hope and reconciliation for the world’s pariah, the amazingly diverse South Africa.  Over 300 years of white dominance and racial discrimination had lasting, heartbreaking effects on the “rainbow nation” an incredibly diverse melting pot with over 11 national languages.  

The promise and hope of Nelson Mandela, the first democratically elected president who was inaugurated on May 10, 1994, thrust South Africa to finally come to terms with its brutal past of discrimination, hatred and injustice that occurred under the many long years of apartheid (which literally means “separateness”). 

The apartheid system was widespread and touched every spectrum of the population based on skin color.  Whites were the privileged class who retained control and power of the government, the land and the nation’s wealth.  Blacks were at the lowest spectrum of the group and basically had no rights, no land and lived in poverty, desolation and constant fear.  A new class of people originated during this time called the “coloured” peoples.  These were people of mixed descent who were all grouped together as one race called the “coloured” and had to pretty much give up their “blackness” altogether resulting in destruction of families, livelihood and spirit.   Under apartheid, mixed race marriages were banned; and education, job opportunity, housing and living areas were all determined based on color leading to severe oppression, poverty and destruction of an entire race of people.

The dismantling of apartheid occurred in the early 1990s, when a new leader F.W. de Klerk took over power, unbanned the ANC and ended the 27-year-long imprisonment of Nelson Mandela, the infamous leader of the ANC.  Over the next four years through difficult negotiations, the first democratic elections were held and the New South Africa was born when Nelson Mandela, age 76, was able to cast his first ballot ever. 

Shortly after coming into power, Mandela launched the Truth and Reconciliations Commission to investigate the human rights abuses which occurred under the years of apartheid.  Although forgiveness was difficult to achieve, the country was somehow able to peacefully move forward to a new future of hope and freedom.  Long deprived and oppressed South Africans were slowly able to reclaim a sense of dignity and pride yet of course without problems.  Severe poverty exists throughout much of South Africa as there remains a large imbalance of wealth based on color, and the AIDS pandemic has struck the country like lightening.  Positive things are in the works as well, though.  Since the end of apartheid, South Africa has gained one of the world’s most progressive constitutions, has become a leading player throughout Africa, and has won the status of one of the world’s fastest growing tourist destinations, which has brought in much-needed capital to the country.

It was a decade after the end of apartheid, right in the midst of all this change, that I saw the ad in Conde Nast Traveler sponsored by South African Airlines and the government of South Africa, featuring an enormous gray elephant across the page with the words “Visit South Africa”.  The deal sounded too good to be true.  For US$1800, you received a coach fare ticket non-stop from Atlanta to Johannesburg, and then on to Cape Town for three days, a private safari near Kruger National Park for the next three days, and finally two days in Johannesburg—-including lodging and all flights!  We called South African Airways and it was indeed true. The government was trying to get more tourists into South Africa to help the economy and lucky us got to take advantage of this incredible deal.

We left on the eighteen hour flight from Atlanta with one short stop in Cape Verde, a small island off the western coast of Africa, in order to refuel.  It was the longest flight of my life and our lucky streak continued with a near empty 747. My dad and I both got an entire row of seats across so were both able to lie down flat and sleep!  (An unheard of rarity in today’s over-crowded, full flights).

We landed in Jo’berg and had a couple hour layover until our next flight to Cape Town.  It was late November back at home in Minnesota meaning cold, brown and ugly.  Cape Town, being on the opposite side of the equator, was in the midst of spring.  As we landed, lush green landscape surrounded me and awoken my senses.  The rebirth of spring and of myself had finally begun!

Here are few of my favorite photos from our first day in Cape Town, a magical, richly diverse town that offers endless amounts of fun and adventure.

The rugged, beautiful landscape:

View from the hotel…the beach isn’t far:

The gorgeous rugged beach:

The trendy, hip Victoria and Alfred Waterfront and marina:

Loaded with restaurants and yachts galore:

Me outside a restaurant featuring the “biggest wine bar in the world”…look at this extensive list!

The colorful streets portray Cape Town’s multitude of culture:

A veritable melting pot:

Dinner in Cape Town offers an amazing array of international delights given the immense variety of cultures. We chose a fantastic Indian restaurant for our first night in the Cape and enjoyed the savory, spicy flavors of curries, samosas along with a bottle of delicious South African pinotage. I went to bed feeling excited about the day ahead. On the agenda included a hike around Table Mountain and a visit to the famous Cape Town beach at the end of town. I couldn’t wait to learn more about this fascinating place!


Out of the Baby Blues…and into Africa


As a child, I had always dreamed of Africa.  It was a place of imagination.  A place of wonder.  A place full of wild animals and people who lived in huts.  I place that a young, dreamer of a child like myself always wanted to explore.   Africa to me conjured up images of elephants, giraffes, lions, and zebras roaming freely among nature at its purest; a place that I held fiercely in my young mind for many years to come.

One year after the birth of my first child, Max, my father and I had the chance to finally fulfill my childhood dream.  We went to Africa.   Physically getting to Africa was a piece of cake.  All I had to do was board a plane.  Mentally getting to Africa was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done in my life.  I had to overcome over three months of severe Postpartum Depression, and pull myself out of the darkness and up onto the road to recovery.  To this day, that was the most difficult, life-changing experience I’ve ever had to survive and at the thick of it, survival didn’t seem possible. 

It had all secretly started months before the birth of my son yet blindingly, I was unaware of the symptoms.   Pregnancy was supposed to be a time of great joy and happiness.  You are surrounded by attention from family, friends and strangers.  You are often complimented on how “cute” you look and how “happy” you must be to be expecting.  Yet, I didn’t always feel that way.  I missed the old me, the active adventurer who loves to run, bike, golf, hike,ski and do anything outdoors.  I found my changing body to be difficult.  I suffered serious morning sickness for sixteen long weeks, crazy moodiness and hormones, and then had difficulty sleeping.  By the second trimester, however things were finally perking up.  I was feeling better, stopped eating saltines in the middle of the night, and was finally walking around the lake again and playing golf.  My rollercoaster hormones subsided and I finally felt “happy” again and excited about the new bundle of joy growing inside of me. 

I rolled along for the next few months until complications struck and I wound up in the hospital with pre-term labor at 34 weeks. Scared and sick, the anxiety of pregnancy crept in and I was confined to weeks of bedrest, isolation, boredom and fear.  I was absolutely miserable.  Being confined and all alone in my house for a month straight was not good on my body and soul, especially given my physically and socially active spirit.  It was hell.  But what came after the birth was even worse than I had ever imagined.  A day or two after the birth of my son Max, something was not right.  Instead of joy and happiness at the birth of my first child, I felt anxiety, fear and dread.  These feelings combined with a huge drop in hormones and lack of sleep worked in a vicious circle perpetuating the problems and making me completely unable to eat or sleep or literally do anything.  Completely and utterly taken off guard, postpartum depression had hit me like a brick.  It was the most horrifying experience and state of being I’ve ever had in my life and unfortunately it took weeks to finally get the right kind of help and get my life back under control.  It took a ton of support, love and care by my husband, my family (especially my mother and mother-in-law who spent weeks with me) and doctors, to pull me out of the darkness and debilitating anxiety and fear that I was in.  At my worst point, I was sleeping only an hour a night, had lost all 35 pounds gained during my pregnancy in a month and couldn’t even hold my baby.  I was beyond afraid and shrouded in darkness.  I didn’t know how on earth I’d ever manage to survive let alone care for a brand new infant.  About six weeks into it, I finally found the right professional help and slowly was able to pull myself up to the surface over time.   Although each day was a struggle, I finally could see a light at the end of the tunnel and knew that I’d get through this horrible thing, I would survive.  Everything would be ok.  It wasn’t my fault.  I wasn’t a failure. It was just something that had happened.  I felt relieved in finally realizing that soon I’d be able to resume nurturing and loving my child.

Six months had passed and I was truly on the road to recovery.  My son Max was finally sleeping through the night and no longer colicky (he used to cry for hours on end as a baby which fed into my anxiety, depression and sleeplessness).  I was running again, sleeping again, and rediscovering myself. I was feeling good and so relieved to be myself again, not this miserable, crying, depressed new mother. I found a new support group of new moms, a babysitter and was able to get my life back to normal.  It was around this time that the idea brewed about taking a special trip with my dad. 

My father and I had done a lot of special trips together, one-on-one, throughout the years.  We went to Ireland to visit my uncle, Peru to climb Machu Pichu, Australia to see the Great Barrier Reef and the French and Italian Alps to go skiing.  I had thought that our traveling days would be numbered once I had a baby, however, I remembered a promise my mother had made me after I got married.  Like her parents did for her, she promised to babysit my children one week a year as long as she was able.   Thus, here I found myself a year after the birth of my first child, doing something that was completely unimaginable just a few months before:  Boarding an 18-hour plane ride to South Africa.

I left right after my son turned one and took his first steps.  Leaving him, after all that we had been through together was extremely difficult.  I had nightmares for weeks before I left and had this insane fear that I wouldn’t come back.  Going half way around the world didn’t feel right.  How on earth could I leave my son?  Conflict and anxiety arose once again, but thankfully my mother and husband were able to talk me through it.  I knew deep down inside that getting away would be the best thing I could do even though it didn’t seem right to leave my son. 

The day of my departure was very hard.  I cried and cried as I loaded my bags into the cab and saw my tiny yet somehow bigger son blowing kisses at me through the window. But once I made it to the airport, met my dad in Atlanta and had a cold glass of white wine, I was fine.  In fact, I was more than fine.  I was me, that crazy, wanderlust, adventurous woman who couldn’t wait to fulfill a lifelong dream….a trip to South Africa! 

Stay posted…..there will be more stories to come about my first adventure sans enfant to South Africa!