Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe

Shear size makes Victoria Falls hard to capture in a single photograph. It influences every aspect of the small town bearing it's name. From virtually anywhere you look there, you can find it's tell-tale plume reaching up into the sky.

The Photographs

The Story

Mosi-oa-Tuny, the smoke that thunders. Not much can prepare you for that sound. The pounding of so much falling water, the chiming of myriad insects, the hum of vegetation blown about by the fall's self made air current. You'd swear rainbows make sound too. One of the natural wonders of the world, Victoria Falls holds court between Zambia and Zimbabwe, ignoring man's need for borders. Monkeys, warthog families, and baboons roam freely among the visitors, heedless of the wonderment the cause. We spent almost two hours walking the rim of the falls, led by well qualified and engaging guide, Sim from Zim. He gave us details, histories and legends. Under the pressure of that sound, I lost it all. I don't recall anything I heard. Anything, but the insistent roar.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Near Death Taxi Incident in Durban

Matt did a write-up from his point of view, you can read it here at the Geeky Traveler Blog

The Photograph

The Story

I never want to look at these pictures again, honestly. But this is a story that needs telling. A testament to many things: Never let the taxi drive away before you've checked for working seat belts, always wear your badge to dinner after the convention, read the fine print, and have a camera handy for the sake of documentation. I spoke briefly to my dad after we got back stateside, and having lost my voice, I didn't tell any tales. His closing words were "Glad your trip was uneventful". Little did he know....

After our second day of the International Convention our group of 7 made the decision to taxi to uShaka Marine World's Zulu themed restaurant, Moya. Three of our group went on ahead, sending their taxi back to pick up the remaining 4 of us afterward. It shouldn't have been a long wait for them seeing that the round trip between the restaurant lay a mere 1.9 kilometers (just over a mile) south of our hotel at the Garden Court South Beach, which should have taken all of 10 minutes round trip. Should have....

Christi, Judith, and myself slid across the back seat of the taxi while Matt took the left front seat (they drive on the opposite side of the road here), chatting with the taxi driver about his night so far, how many Rand the drive would cost, if his night was just beginning or just ending, how he liked his occupation, and what brought us to his corner of the globe. It had begun to rain again, as it had off and on all day. The air hung muggy around the windows but I had no trouble seeing a silver car off to the right speeding into the intersection ahead of us, racing into the space where we would be seconds later. Our driver was looking to the left. I made a sound that was supposed to be a "watch out!" but came out more like an urgent "uuuhhhhaa!" The driver turned his head back too late to make much difference, but he slowed some as our cars collided front passenger side to front passenger side. In my minds eye I can see us all float a little in the air on impact as gravity did it's thing and we all slammed back into our relative places.

When we were all still again, and a momentary silence passed, Christi and I both started asking if everyone was ok, and we all seemed to be in one piece. Matt was quiet, which scared me immensely, but I walked around to his side of the car, wrenched his door open and assured myself that he too was in one piece. Then I noticed the cracked windshield in front of him. But his head didn't look swollen, and there wasn't a cut to be seen, so I didn't know what to think. Just as the panic began to rise, paramedics appeared out of nowhere. They had heard the crash and came running from a nearby hospital. They assessed us all, and decided Matt and Judith should have x-rays to rule out possible concussion or compression fractures. Matt for his head and neck, and Judith for her shins which had smacked the console between the front seats. Minutes after the paramedics showed up, a couple from a local congregation happened upon us as if directed there, and seeing Christi's badge, came rushing over to our aid. The neighborhood wasn't the kind you could just walk home from without a care. Our vehicle had already been surrounded completely by 50 or so sketchy looking lurkers commenting on how nice my camera was. As if a personal guard, our kindly local friends whisked Christi safely off to the hotel where she could call her family that sat waiting at a table for us to arrive, and to notify the appropriate local brothers. After deciding we had travel insurance enough, we had to choose between going to: a) Government Hospital: cheap cheap cheap, b) semi-private hospital: so-so service, and c) private hospital: closer to the standards we'd be used to. So, private hospital it was. The ambulance arrived and swept us off to St. Augustine's hospital about 15 minutes away. Matt seemed chipper along the way, probably adrenalin induced, and our ambulance guy seemed comfortable enough with our well being to pull out his camera too (since Judith and I both had ours out documenting the process) interviewing us all to show his friends that he had Americans in his bus.

The next few hours went quickly for me, and tortuously for Matt mostly due to the trauma board they insisted he remain on until the x-rays came back. Our paramedics pushed Matt's gurney in to the room announcing with gusto that we came from the USA instead of saying things that I expected to hear like head trauma and car crash. Waiting for the x-ray results was difficult. If there was a fracture, trip over, then and there. If not, we could go on with the help of plenty of rest, and some pain killers. We had a pack of well wishers in the waiting room, one of the local brothers joking that Matt was an Israelite: Hard headed and stiff necked. The hospital staff worked quickly and efficiently despite having only one doctor and two nurses on staff at the time. Our physician's assistant assured us that it was slow right then, and wouldn't get backed up until after one am or so. That's when the local scene would kick up the drunks, the drug lord interactions, the stabbings, gun battles, and such. Our arriving between dinner and midnight was one more thing to be thankful for.

So, after donating one evening to getting to know St. Augustine's hospital and environs, we walked away relatively unscathed. We learned that we were hit by a drunk driver who ran a stop sign, and walked away unhurt. Our taxi man came to the hospital to make sure we were alright, which was very thoughtful of him seeing as how he'd lost his means of making a living, at least for the night. Thankful for so much; for our safety, for the organization that kept us in good care, for the love and dedication of the friends who came to our rescue, and for the good outcome to a bad night, we returned to our hotel and too deep deep, codeine assisted sleep.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Shaka Zululand, South Africa

The Photograph

The Story

Just north of Durban, in the KwaZulu - Natal Province of South Africa, a girl kneels at a grinding stone. Corn meal in one hand, the other shooing at a chicken looking for scraps, she grinds in service of the chief. This is the first step in making the mash to ferment the Zulu beer she will serve the village guests as a welcome sip from a round wooden dipper passed first to the men, then to the women. Sharp and pungent, unfiltered and thick, most American palates dislike the first taste of her unrefined offering, but I could see how it would grow on me. These are the things that take us outside our comfortable, known lives and step by small step into experiencing someone else's comfortable and known life.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Back in the USA

What a contrast...

We left Botswana at 9 am 3 days ago on Friday morning, the sun strong enough to make us glad for our sunscreen. We arrived home in Walnut Creek, California around 9:30 pm on Saturday night wishing for another layer against an icy wind. 48 hours of non stop travel.

I left my journal on the plane (sadness) so I'm relying on boarding passes and Matt for the timing of the part between Zambia and Johannesburg. Sorry we couldn't get online between Durban and Botswana...

I'll be uploading pics to flickr and posting our tales soon, so check back :)

Friday Dec 18th, Botswana:
5:30 am - Wake up call
5:45 am - Coffee and biscuits
6:00 am - Zambezi River cruise through Chobe Game Park
8:15 am - Breakfast at the lodge
9:00 am - Board safari vehicles back to the Botswana/Zimbabwe boarder
10:00 am - Bus to Victoria Falls Airport
11:15 am - Flight to JoBurg delayed
1:15 am - Depart Vic Falls
2:15 pm - Stop over in Zambia at Livingstone airport because Vic Falls didn't have enough fuel for our plane to make it to JoBurg...
2:50 pm - Finally take off from Zambia to Johannesburg after sitting with no water or air conditioning like sardines marinating in our own juices....
5:15 pm - Arrive three hours late at Johannesburg airport to catch our flight back to JFK
8:15 pm - Fly out Johannesburg to JFK

Saturday Dec 19th
8:00 am - Arrive JFK just in time to reschedule our canceled 6:30 pm flight to a 3:30 pm flight. The rest of our group went to Newark to catch flights out.
3:30 pm - Fly out JFK to SFO as the snow begins to stick to the tarmac
7:30 pm - Arrive SFO to catch Bart home
8:04 pm - Catch BART home to Walnut creek
9:15 pm - Walk the 10 minutes home

Sunday December 20th
9:00 am - Attend our congregation's Special Assembly Day at Fairfield Assembly Hall
4:00 pm - fall unconscious at home since it's 10 hours ahead in my head still....

Sunday, December 13, 2009


Greetings from Johannesburg Airport :)

Here's a time line:

Tuesday: Tala Game drive where we spotted the first on our list of the Big Five: The White Rhino, as seen below.

Wednesday: Shaka Zulu Land where we saw a recreated Zulu village and experienced a day in the life of traditional Zulu people, complete with dancing, singing, and traditional food for lunch.

Thursday: Shopping at the Workplace outdoor market in the morning, followed by our first afternoon of Convention

Friday: Convention, where it almost rained us out, and an evening near death experience in a local Durban taxi.

Saturday: Convention and dinner at uShaka's Moya restaurant where they sing at your table side and do Zulu dancing

Sunday: Last day of convention (where we got sunburned and nearly drowned by rain all in one day) lots of teary goodbyes followed by a local congregation BBQ (they call a Braai) on a horse farm between the airport and the a refinery. We had to leave this morning at 4:30 am to catch this flight.

Next post will hopefully come to you from Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe or Chobe Mowana in Botswana.


Monday, December 7, 2009

Hello from Durbin, South Africa! We are about to go on a game drive, but we have arrived safe and sound.

I'm planning on uploading pictures sometime this week, but there's already way too many to deal with easily - so I'll mess with it whenever we can spend a chunk of time at an internet cafe.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

About to get on the shuttle to the airport for our 16 hour flight to Johannesburg South Africa.... the adventure begins :)

Friday, December 4, 2009

Since we are getting ourselves ready to leave for Durban, South Africa tonight, my travel photography juices are flowing. Here is one of my favorites of all so far...

The Photograph

The Story

Wandering around the Forbidden City, overwhelmed, somehow finding the far side, where the Temple of Heaven looms, reaching to join earth to sky. Jostling people from the wide-world over lining up to take the exact same picture everyone else just took....and here's something unexpected: Chinese people in what look like traditional dress, but playing tourist. I don't know why that should be so arresting to me, but they pulled my attention more than anything else that day. A cluster of perhaps 20 women and men all dressed in the same traditional clothing. The women in bright blue tops, black skirts, and pink accents; dainty caps on their heads topping impossibly long dark braids. In the distance, clustered to themselves, their menfolk complement their dress in black pants, dark brown fur jackets and matching round fur hats. I asked our guide, and anyone around who looked like they might know, but no one could tell me much about them except that they were most likely from a tribal part of far western China, and Muslim because of the women's modest head coverings.

I made eye contact with one of the women, smiled. Her face remained neutral, but attentive as I held up my camera, mimicking taking a picture of her while I asked her permission, sure that she wouldn't understand my words. Sudden understanding lit up her face, and with a huge smile, she turned and walked away. I stood a moment longer unsure if I had offended her so that she left, or if I was to follow her. But she only walked a little ways off to take the hands of two other women (I called them sisters) and leading them with her, she returned to smile in the center of my photograph. I smiled back and thanked her. We both said things the other didn't comprehend. But there was understanding between us, and happiness shared in reaching out to know the unknown.

Thursday, December 3, 2009


The Photograph

The Story

Last month, My husband's company invited us to share in enjoying a prize won by Matt's new team-members. Although he's a month old in the ranks, they graciously extended the invite to both of us to come romp through wineries, spa treatments, and upscale meals in Sonoma. The above shot was mid tour at Ravenswood Winery. It's an interesting thing to stand between a native of Champagne, France (one of Matt's co-worker's) and a veteran California Wine Guide in a battle of snobbery. Standing on a slope in a fresh green field, sun warming our faces enough to make us forget that in the shade we could see our breath, looking up to 4 lonely rows planted at higher altitude for a particular vintage, full tasting glasses in hand, feeling erudite and elite, THIS is California.