My summer trip to Africa was a wonderful experience as always. You can experience a taste of it by watching my video Cape Town to Vic Falls to Jo'burg. The video now appears on the Drifters Adventure Travel web site: http://drifters.raykirschnervisualproductions.com/
You can also view the two commercial clips we did: Penthouse at Cape Town Inn Drifters Desert Lodge
I just came back from seeing Coming Home, an Athol Fugard play, at the Wilma Theatre in Philly. It was written by a South African and set in the Karoo. I practically ran to the theatre to see it, and it brought me to tears. It's now the fourth Fugard production I've seen. What a writer!
The storyline raises many disturbing issues though. South Africa still faces many problems including a lack of opportunity for the predominantly poor black population and the continual rise of AIDs cases. It's important for me and others to realize that Africa is a land of beauty and despair and one must be fully aware of each spectrum.
I am officially Africa-bound again. My boyfriend and I will be doing another promotional video for Drifters Tours. Ironically, I will be doing the same trip I did ten years ago. (See the photo of me at Fish River Canyon in Namibia.) We will fly into Cape Town, see a few friends and then make our way northward. We will travel through the Stellenbosch wine country in South Africa, then canoe on the Orange River in Namibia and hike around the rim of Fish River Canyon. On the coast we will be able to partake in some adventure activities such as quadding and sandboarding on the dunes before making our way to Etosha Game Park in the north. Once we cross into Botswana, we will visit the Okavango Delta. We’ll travel by mekoro, a dugout canoe, through the remote wilderness areas before making our way to Victoria Falls, the Adventure Capital of Africa. I’ve already white water rafted, taken a walk with lions, and ridden on an elephant. I’m looking forward to trying one of the new activities the town always seems to offer. We also get to experience some more game-viewing in Zimbabwe at Hwange before we make our way back to Johannesburg to catch up with some more friends before our flight home.
I just finished reading My Mercedes is Not for Sale: : From Amsterdam to Ouagadougou...an Auto-Misadventure Across the Sahara byJeroen van Bergeijk, a personal narrative about a Dutch man who travels from Amsterdam through West Africa to sell his Mercedes. The book offers a great insight into the economy of those countries as well as the reality of traveling through the Sahara. While I was reading the book in the sauna at my gym, a young Moroccan noticed me looking at the map on the inside cover. He pointed to a small town on the coast and said, “I’m from there.” What a small world. Although I have visited Tangier, I have yet to make my way into West Africa and look forward to doing so someday soon. Unfortunately, no overland tours run during our summer, which is their rainy season. A preview of the book is available on barnesandnoble.com.
My friend who was working as a safari guide in Botswana suggested that I read one of the novel’s from Alexander McCall Smith’s #1 Ladies Detective Agency series. Although I was excited about reading a book set in Botswana, I must admit that the storyline did not interest me and I didn’t get further than the first chapter. Recently, I learned that the BBC was broadcasting a series based on the books so I decided to give it another try and was pleasantly surprised. I immediately bonded with the lead female character, Mma Ramotswe, who is positive and independent. I also love Mma Makutsi, her overachieving secretary. The series was filmed in Botswana and offers a great deal of insight into the traditional beliefs. So far, I have watched the two-hour pilot and three of the 60 minutes episodes and am hooked. For more information about the series, you can visit their official website: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00jw6h4
Lateness to school is a big problem in the South Jersey high school where I work. I don’t have a great deal of empathy for these students. Most of them stay up late on the computer or play video games, so they don't get up in time to catch the bus or their ride to school. I can’t imagine how they would contend with having to get to school if they had to walk—sometimes 5 kilometers—as they do in many areas of Africa. I found a great video documenting a walk to an African school: http://www.bbc.co.uk/bigcat/video/#. I particularly liked the one excuse the Masaai student offered for being late: “I ran into an elephant.” My students couldn't top that.
When I was in Nairobi, I had the pleasure of dining in Carnivore’s restaurant, rated by Restaurant Magazine as one of the best 50 restaurants in the world. This all-you-can-eat buffet features charcoal roasted beef, chicken and lamb as well as exotic game such as ostrich and crocodile. Before a bane was placed on some of the game, delicacies such as zebra, warthog, eland and giraffe were offered. Patrons could also try roasted mopane worms, which I did, but I only managed to eat half of the black morsel. On the outskirts of Johannesburg, there is another Carnivore’s restaurant that still offers a great deal of game.
One of my favorite things to do is look at the photos taken by photographers who have visited the same places I have. Last night, I viewed the collection of photos that Jim Zuckerman took while visiting Africa. His work has appeared in 11 books, and he runs photography trips and offers online photo courses. I love the opening crocodile photo and his lion in sepia. His leopard, lilac breasted roller, and giraffes in front of a stormy sky are excellent: http://www.corporatefineart.com/-/corporatefineart/gallery.asp?cat=397&pID=1&row=15
In the seventies, Andre Stander, a South African police officer, was dissatisfied with the corruption in the force as well as the prevailing system of apartheid and began robbing banks during his lunch break. Later in the day, he found it amusing to investigate his own crimes. In 2003, an American director produced Stander, based on this cult hero’s life. Stander was eventually imprisoned, but escaped and formed a gang with two other inmates. After fleeing to the States, he was killed by a police officer who tried to take him into custody in Florida. To learn more about Stander, you can visit the following sites: http://www.africacrime-mystery.co.za/books/fsac/chp20.htm or http://www.cnn.com/2004/SHOWBIZ/Movies/08/11/stander.hughes/index.html
Thursday night I saw Athol Fugard’s Sizwe Bansi is Dead at the Lantern Theatre. It was first performed 35 years ago and is now running for the month of February in Philadelphia. I was interested in seeing the production since I recently read Master Harold and the Boys with my students. I had also enjoyed watching Tsotsi, the movie based on the one novel Fugard wrote. Sizwe Bansi is Dead is about a man facing the constraints of passbooks during the apartheid era in South Africa. The play wasn’t originally written down because it could have been used against the authors in the South African court. Fugard's heroic efforts are to be commended. I thoroughly enjoyed the performance and hope to see Master Harold performed someday.
After renting Kim Wolhuter’s National Geographic video Predators at War, I explored his Wildcast website. I was so impressed that I subscribed right away. The site is exceptional because it combines writing, photography, and video. Kim presently films from a reserve in Zimbabwe. The viewer can read about his daily activities in the bush as well as view the accompanying photos and video. Kim will later incorporate some of this material into his next film. I view the latest posting every morning when I arrive at school and appreciate how it makes me feel close to the bush. To learn more about Kim, you can visit his website: www.kimwolhuter.com or view some of his photos or videos: www.flickr.com/photos/wildcast/ or www.youtube.com/profile?user=wildcastr
Eating healthy while on an overland safari is tough. It has nothing to do with the meals that are provided. Breakfast is usually coffee, cereal, and bread with a choice of margarine, jam, or peanut butter. Lunch on the road is usually sandwiches, and dinner is always a hot meal. The only problem is the time in between meals. Breakfast may be at 7 a.m., lunch at 1 p.m. and dinner at 7 p.m. I, personally, cannot go six hours between meals so I, like most others, snack, and there lies the problem. In Europe and in the States, many healthy snacks are available, but in Africa many of the choices at the rest stops are chips and chocolate. Don’t get me wrong. I love these delicacies as much as the average person, but I have no self control. I cannot simply have one or two Simba chips. Over a long overland drive, I will eat the whole bag. Ice cream is also readily available, and I’m not talking low-fat Skinny Cows, but lots of flavors of Haagen daz. Yes, I do eat the fruit provided on tour and also buy biltong (their version of beef jerky), but overall, I succumb to temptation every chance I get. Next trip, I plan to bring my own snacks—my favorite protein bars—Chocolate Peanut Butter Pure Protein bars. Africa is no different than being at home. You have to keep healthy choices within reach.
Almost every day the travesties that the people of Zimbabwe face make headlines. At least one in seven has AIDS and 80 percent of the population is unemployed. The land invasions and elections have caused horrendous human rights violations, not to mention a lack of fuel, food and hyperinflation. And now there’s a cholera outbreak. According to a BBC report, 1,174 have died and over 29,000 are infected. Many are fleeing across the border into South Africa where 1279 cases have been reported. In the coming weeks, the UN fears 60,000 Zimbabweans may become infected.
With horrors like these, Zimbabwe certainly doesn’t seem to be the ideal travel destination, but I remember another place. Over the past ten years, I have visited the country five times and have some extraordinary memories.
My first game drive was in Hwange National Park, where I sat at a water hole at sunset watching elephants drink alongside zebra and various antelope. I climbed the hills interspersed with boulders at Matobo National Park. One of the few times I experienced rain in Africa was at the Great Zimbabwe Ruins where I marveled at the complex the indigenous people created between 1250 and 1450 AD.
I had my hair braided by a local girl at Victoria Falls and then immersed myself in the water every way I could---white water rafting, jet boating, and a more tranquil sunset cruise amongst the crocs and hippos. Some other close encounters with wildlife I enjoyed included horseback riding through the bush, an elephant back ride at sunrise and a morning walk with lions.
To regroup, I enjoyed some more tranquil activities such as a stroll around the falls, letting the spray cool me as I dodged the baboons and warthogs on the trail. When I was ready for another adrenaline rush, I took a micro light flight over this Natural Wonder of the World.
In order to experience some of the grandeur of colonial life, I had a drink at Victoria Falls hotel with a spectacular view of the bridge. Then, as a contrast, I enjoyed dinner and a tribal dancing show at the modern Kingdom Hotel and Casino.
Despite all these amazing activities, on my last visit two years ago, I observed some of the problems Zimbabweans face firsthand. Victoria Falls, normally a booming tourist town, was experiencing a dramatic economic decline. As we strolled through town, local touts aggressively followed us, desperate to sell us shoddy carvings for money or clothing. (One such sculpture now adorns my bathroom.) My friend and I had a drink at the Elephant Hills Resort, overlooking the Zambezi River, and we had the bar to ourselves. Later that evening, my friend won a few million at The Kingdom casino, enough to buy me a wooden necklace fastened with string and a piece of metal in the hotel gift shop.
We also meet some white farmers while jet boating who said that they were barely making enough to survive. Since the shelves were bare in Victoria Falls when we made our way into Zambia, we stopped to buy some goods in a supermarket. A white Zimbabwean woman approached me as I was browsing. She was desperate to talk to someone with an empathetic white face. “You can’t imagine how bad it is. I have to leave my country to shop,” she said. Actually, I was aware of her plight. I have a friend who runs the Turgwe Hippo Reserve in Chiredzi, and I do not know how she has the courage to stay in the country. One of her e-mails contained a story about one of her neighbors. A group of squatters surrounded her and thrust weapons toward her as they chanted.
I was actually booked to go to Zimbabwe last summer, but changed my mind. During the time, there was a mass exodus of refugees who were settling in South Africa and facing xenophobia there. My friend and I were also planning on bringing our professional video and camera equipment for our safari, but the U.S. Department of State issued a warning: Those carrying professional equipment could be mistaken for being journalists and be deported or worse yet, imprisoned. (Ironically, I went to Egypt instead and left just before gunmen abducted eleven tourists in August.)
Because of the violence and political turmoil, tourists like me are opting to go to other areas of Africa. Even those wanting to view Victoria Falls are doing so from Livingstone on the Zambian side instead. They are visiting Botswana, Zambia, Mozambique and South Africa, but how long will that last with the cholera epidemic advancing across the borders?
It is not the tourists though who have my empathy, but the thirteen million suffering in Zimbabwe. According to the United Nations World Health Organization, the life expectancy for men is 37 years and 34 years for a woman, one of the lowest in the world. Zimbabwe is a remarkable place, even in the time of cholera. I just wish enough international agencies would intervene while there is still time to save it.
Published in Gloucester County Times January 11, 2009
According to the Lonely Planet guide, Sierra Leone is now one of West Africa’s safest tourist destinations. Although I have ventured into Rwanda, I’m still a bit hesitant to visit this West African country. Maybe it’s because of the tens of thousands of people who were killed during the 1991-2002 civil war or the two million who were displaced. Maybe it’s because of the child soldiers brandishing AK-47s. Or maybe the violence and corruption depicted in the 2006 film Blood Diamonds is too fresh in my mind. I’m not thinking tropical drinks on the beach in Freetown. I’m thinking warlords, rebel forces, and military coups. It’s also not comforting thinking that the country’s neighbors—Liberia and Guinea—also aren’t known for their stable governments. If a problem arose, I’d be looking out at the Atlantic Ocean, thinking that New Jersey is a long way away.