Thursday, December 27, 2007

More on editing (and some South African eating)

What I'm reading: McKettrick's Heart, by Linda Lael Miller

What I'm working on: updating my website, a workshop on e-publishing, edits for Hidden Fire

I've added another page of photos to my website: our South African eating experiences. Check the link on my home page. It's also time to get down and dirty with the e-publishing presentation I'm working on. If anyone wants to help with a quick survey, shoot me an email. (Link to the right). Opinions and experiences from readers and authors needed.

And I've promised myself I'll have the "final submission" version of Hidden Fire to my Cerridwen editor by January 5th. As life insists, that's also a work deadline. Plus, my agent wants me to go through Unexpected Danger before she reads the full manuscript, using her guidelines. She's actually more of an editor than my editors have been.

I've worked with at least four editors (not counting my critique groups) on my publications, and each new one is like a first date. Although the Chicago Manual of Style provides a unifying thread, one holds fast, another uses it as a guide. Some editors make their presence felt on almost every page. Others are hands-off, correcting only typos and house style issues. Some are specific about what to change, others say, "there's something 'off' in this scene."

Unlike critique partners, comments by agents or editors carry that English Teacher Terror. That what they say is right and what you have is wrong. So far, I've been fortunate in that all my editors accept a two-way dialog and will listen to my justifications for word choices, character behavior, scenes. That doesn't mean they agree, but at least they listen.

Right now, I have two manuscripts to polish, but since they're for two distinctly different editors, I can't hop back and forth. Much as I want to get Unexpected Danger ready for submission, I have to keep my focus on Hidden Fire. I know some authors can work on more than one book at a time. I can't write that way. It turns out, I can't even edit that way. Or start a new book.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Back to routine and keeping tradtion alive

What I'm reading: Improbable Cause, by J. A. Jance

Recent reads:

T is for Trespass by Sue Grafton
The Mephisto Club, by Tess Gerritsen
A Family of Her Own, by Brenda Novak
My Lady’s Treasure, by Catherine Kean
Creation in Death, by J.D. Robb
Restore My Heart, by Cheryl Norman
Straight Into Darkness, by Faye Kellerman
Thin Ice, Liana Lavarentz
Desert Heat, J.A. Jance
Also, catching up on back issues of EQMM

What I'm writing: Hidden Fire cover request sheets, blurbs, dedications and all the collateral material that goes along with writing a book. Not my favorite stuff. Marketing, PR is definitely not my calling.

Yesterday ended up being another traditional Christmas Day, which is still December 25th to us. After perusing the paper and the comments left on this site, we decided to see "National Treasure." I have to admit we were both pleasantly surprised that we enjoyed the film--enough to go back and order the first one from Netflix (I didn't even know there was a first one). Plenty of action for Dan, and lots of clever lines. Of course, for me, the book-signing scene clinched it. Nobody told me there was a writer in the movie! Otherwise, it was a perfect 'no-brainer' movie. I mean, who has all that history at his fingertips? The clue in the Paris Statue of Liberty about the desks? And knowing exactly how the mechanics of a centuries-lost city worked. No getting bogged down in details for this one. Total suspension of disbelief.

And even though the theater was full (and lots of kids) order reigned. Maybe our getting there early enough to snag seats in the top row at the end of the ramp helped--nobody behind us, and nobody in front of us. I did bring my e-Bookwise and read a couple of chapters during all the pre-show promotion.

After the movie, we hit our local Chinese restaurant where we added a mussel appetizer to our normal fare. It was a holiday after all. And to this end, I even had a second glass of wine.

So now, traditions intact, I can move on. My agent sent her comments on the first 3 chapters of my next novel, formerly referred to as "Dalton & Miri's book". I tacked a working title of Unexpected Danger on it, and we'll see if she can sell it. She's a very hands-on agent, and she sent my my pages back saying she had a few suggestions, but loved what she read. Good thing she mentioned that last bit, because when I looked at the red ink and colored highlights, I wondered if I should just forget that book and try something else. And I thought my crit partners were picky!

Monday, December 24, 2007

One liners from the Protea Hotel

The drink coasters at the Protea Hotel in Sea Point, South Africa, a suburb of Cape Town weren't your run-of-the-mill ads for the hotel or some libation. Instead, they brought a smile.

Doesn’t “expecting the unexpected” make the unexpected expected?

If a word is misspelled in the dictionary, how would we ever know?

Three out of four people make up 75% of the world’s population.

How do you tell when you’ve run out of invisible ink?

I almost had a psychic girlfriend, but she left before we met.

Diplomacy is the art of saying “nice doggie” till you can find a rock.

If Webster wrote the first dictionary, where did he find the words?

What happens if you scare someone half to death twice?

Saturday, December 22, 2007

On Alternative Traditions - Note: updated post

(after some comments, I've updated -- in GREEN

Most people are running around frantically now, trying to put the finishing touches on their family traditions. Around here, we have a different approach. Like many others for whom Christmas means December 25th, our tradition is a movie and Chinese food. Why? Because Chinese restaurants are among the few open on Christmas. True, we've broken tradition from time to time if we've found an open sushi place, and once we did Indian, but it's almost always Chinese.

In case anyone doesn't understand where I'm coming from, you can check this out:

The movie is the hard part. Finding something we could agree on became too hard, so we simply alternated after the kids moved out and it was only the two of us. No whining, take it or--take it. No staying home. But for the past several years, it's been more of "No, you pick." Nothing has appealed to either of us, and neither wanted to be blamed for a lousy afternoon. It's looking like that again. We've scanned the movie section, hoping something would inspire. "Romantic Comedy", one ad says. Immediate veto from my husband (although I could insist, but I won't -- that's why we have Netflix). Christmas movies are out. After all, the whole reason we're going to the movie in the first place is because Christmas isn't anything special. One radio announcer was talking about a 'must see for the arterial blood spatter' movie. Don't think that one will be on my list.

So -- here's a plea. What "theater" movie would you recommend? Husband doesn't like anything with a message. I don't like slapstick, bathroom humor comedy. Email me or leave a comment with suggestions. PLEASE!! And remember, we try to go OUT to a "REAL" movie -- first run, in the theater.

The rest of South Africa was working at the Biennial Conference on the Biology of Marine Mammals. Nope, I don't study the critters. I'm a hired consultant and I manage membership and provide corporate memory for the Society, so they paid me to be at the conference. Hence the trip. It was the easiest job in 10 years, because instead of dealing with conference logistics and registration as I usually do, the distance and different currency made long-distance planning nigh-onto impossible, so all I had to deal with was membership. A relative piece of cake.

That means it's now time to move into real time and catch up. I do have one more Africa entry planned, but it required more photo formatting. I'll let you know when I finish.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Last Day in Port Elizabeth - Addo

Sunday, 11/25

Beautiful weather this morning. The ocean was dead-calm and the sun was already peeking through the clouds. Greg showed up at nine, and we had one more passenger today, Paul, a Jameson marketing representative from Dublin. Between his Irish accent and Greg’s not-quite-Cockney British, listening to conversation was a treat.

Today was the Addo Elephant Preserve, and our pitfall of the day was getting stuck on the road for about 45 minutes while they cleared a multi-car collision. At least four cars, maybe five, and rumor had it there were 3 fatalities.

Once traffic cleared, we were at Addo within about 10 minutes and drove for about 3 hours. The vegetation was very different from yesterday. Thick bush, making it harder to spot game, but we still enjoyed up-close and personal looks at the elephants, as well as wart hogs and kudu. It took awhile to adjust to the different appearance of the elephants and wart hogs. Here, they were covered in the red dirt so they appeared red instead of the grays we were used to seeing.

We drove alongside an ostrich who refused to yield enough of the road to get past him until Greg reached out the window and ruffled his wing feathers, at which point he moved faster until he was in front of our mini van, but now we were stuck behind him until he decided to move to the ‘animal’ side of things and leave the road to the cars.

We saw new birds, including a goshawk, and a new antelope, the red hartebeest. Zebra gathered near a water hole and terrapins swam inside it.

Road signs warn that dung beetles have the right of way—they’re very important in recycling the elephant’s output. There was also a predatory zebra snail, about the size of my hand. After a drive to the top of the mountain for some vista photographs, we stopped for lunch before the return trip to the hotel.

Tonight’s our last night before the return to Cape Town where I’ll be working. We’ve allowed a day to settle in, and I’ve said I’d be available if my assistance is needed with getting things set up. With luck, we’ll have a more reliable Internet connection and I can try to catch up on all those day-to-day routines. I have to admit, it didn’t take long at all to get used to not being in touch with the outside world. I’m not sure I’m looking forward to plunging back in.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Graaf-Reinet and the Valley of Desolation

I promised more pictures. Here's one of the view from a mountain top outside of Graaf-Reinet.

You can see the rest of our trip to Graaf-Reinet and the Valley of Desolation on my website. If you didn't see yesterday's photos, go to and click the link to Some Africa pictures on the home page and start there.

If you just want to see the new pictures, they're here

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Touring day Port Elizabeth to Graaf-Reinet

Friday, 11/23

Cool and overcast today. Our tour guide called and suggested changing our schedule to avoid what would be a bad day for looking at stuff, so we sat around and managed to log onto the Internet long enough to make sure there were no crises that couldn’t wait, and delete a bunch more spam. It began raining in earnest, so we were glad the guide wasn’t out for a buck regardless of the quality of the tour. Helps to have some flexibility.

During a lull in the rain, we wandered back to Jimmy’s Killer Prawns and had their lunch special—a bottle of grilled prawns (the service presentation was a half-bottle container, upside down) along with rice and a glass of wine. Afterward we went across the street to the aquarium/museum/snake house, although it didn’t seem the snake part of things was open. The museum part was interesting—lots of local history, plus maritime exhibits and natural history (although Dan found a few errors in the labeling, and the vestigial hind leg bones on a whale skeleton were in the wrong place). We caught part of their sea lion (Cape fur seal, actually) and dolphin show and roamed the fish tanks in the aquarium. They’re renovating, and it wasn’t as good as the one in Cape Town, but it passed the time on a rainy afternoon.

We read our new books, finished the leftover wine & paella, and called it a night.

Saturday, 11/24

We woke to discover that yesterday’s rains made for the biggest storm and flooding in the past 20 years. After breakfast, we met Greg, our guide, in the lobby and headed out for Graaf-Reinet, an historical town about 300 km away. On the way, we stopped at a cheetah breeding facility that also rehabs orphan hoofstock. We saw four cheetahs that are going to be released into the wild (a game preserve), as well as a young cub who was delighted to romp and practice hunting skills on our legs and shoes. She was playful as a kitten—a BIG kitten, and even knocked my sunglasses off when I bent to scratch her ears. Dan has a couple of tooth marks in his arm as a souvenir as well. The landscape is desolate. Red earth, scrub bush, and not a lot else, although we saw enough game to make the drive interesting: blue crane, bontebok, weaver birds, springbok, ostrich, a Cape gray mongoose, duiker, European storks, a mountain tortoise and an unidentifiable furry thing that might have been a hyrax.

Photos of the breeding project facility are on my website, here.

For pictures for the second part of the entry, you'll have to wait until tomorrow.

In town, we toured the 200+ year old downtown area with its Cape Dutch architecture, visited a small museum of home life during the settlement days—all Europe, with little or no African influence. One room was devoted to butter making—guess that was an important Dutch thing.

From town, we drove to the top of the mountains, which is the “Valley of Desolation” in the Camdeboo National Park. This part of the country is rich in dinosaur bones and is supposed to date back several hundred million years. The views of the rock formations are spectacular, even if it meant climbing a bit at altitude to get to them.

It was after seven before we got back to the hotel. We went for Indian food this time, and the waiter was very concerned that we gringos might not be able to handle the ‘medium’ heat level we ordered. We also learned that rice doesn’t come automatically the way it does at our local places in the states. There was some huge music award/festival going on by the beach and the streets were full, unlike the night before.

Back in our room, we took a few moments to enjoy the full moon peeking through a halo of clouds over the water. Turndown service at this hotel means marshmallows on the pillows (in plastic, though). I’m starting to have chocolate withdrawal, although the hot chocolate I had with lunch helped.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Thanksgiving in Port Elizabeth

First things first -- it may be Thanksgiving Day in my journal, but it's December 18th. Yesterday in the wee hours, my son and his wife delivered my first grandson. 8 lbs. 15.6 oz. He was ready to walk off the delivery table, I think.

Thursday, 11/22 (Happy Thanksgiving).

Day crew was what one expects from hotel staff. Granted, it’s not one of the high-end places from the tour since we’re now paying as individuals and there are no group rates, but these guys bent over backward to make sure everything was in order. We walked to the waterfront and down the beach about 2 km (15 minutes or so—no idea of the distance, really), to the Boardwalk, which is more like a mall with a big casino. We found a nifty bookstore and I got a Faye Kellerman, which I think is the one my mother picked up in Italy, and Dan found a two-in-one Carl Hiaasen. I couldn’t resist two romances by Kelsey Roberts, just because it’s cool to see authors you know personally represented so far from home. On the way home, we had lunch at a tea shop below the hotel, which has no coffee shop or meal service other than breakfast.

Hair dryers are loaners, wash cloths by request, but everything worked. Not many tv channels for Dan, but he did check them all out. I planned to sit by the pool and do laundry, leaving Dan with his new book and the tube, and things went fine until the power went out. Took about 2 hours to get it back on, but things seemed fine after that. We found another shopping center with restaurants the opposite direction from our morning walk, and hit the ATM for the cash we’d need for our tour of the elephant park tomorrow. We ate at a Mediterranean seafood place—not a conventional Thanksgiving dinner, but I had paella and it was fantastic, and there was enough left over for another meal. I’m still not used to seeing the bills come with Rand amounts—things seem terribly expensive until you remember to divide by about 6. Dinner was 275 Rand, and according to my AmEx statement, our Thanksgiving dinner (including a nice bottle of South African wine) was $41.75. We've eaten out on Thanksgiving locally, and it usually costs two or three times that.

Monday, December 17, 2007


I subscribe to a writer's Quote of the Day. This morning's quote was:

Conflict is the fundamental element of fiction, fundamental because in literature only trouble is interesting. It takes trouble to turn the great themes of life into a story: birth, love, sex, work, and death.
~Janet Burroway

In a surprising bit of synchronicity, I had just finished posting my guest blog at The Romance Studio where I discussed this topic in relation to my travels.
Stop by and take a peek. Leave a comment. Share your own travel glitches.

I'll be back with my travel journal tomorrow.

Friday, December 14, 2007

The one-week at home mark

A brief interruption of my journal entries to reflect on the trip. It's taken a week, but I feel almost normal again, whatever normal means. At least I don't feel like my rear end is twenty feet behind me. Chaos still abounds, but it's the everyday level of chaos. The kind I'm used to.

My ‘to do’ lists and piles don’t seem much bigger than they usually are. I decided to sit back and reflect about the things I noticed, both on my trip and then what struck me about being home; the good and the not-so-good.

In no particular order.

Things I noticed in Africa:

That the one thing I forgot to pack was my binoculars, but Dan was busy with his camera most of the time, so we shared without too much conflict.

Driving on the ‘wrong’ side of the street. Glad we weren’t driving. Takes awhile to adjust to small children and dogs sitting in the ‘driver’s’ seat. And to know which way to look when crossing streets.

No big gas guzzling cars. And the busses, both city and the fancy tour busses are manual transmission. I saw more of ‘my’ car (Honda Fit Sport) while we were there than I have since I bought it here last February.

Everything sounds different, even though English is spoken. The accents, the cadences are much more varied over there. Of course, here, nobody asks me where I’m from.

No Internet access most of the time. A true vacation!

Someone else made the bed every day.

I didn’t have to cook or grocery shop. Some hotels had guest laundry facilities, thank goodness.

Huge breakfast buffets daily.

Almost no clocks in the hotel rooms. Only one hotel on our entire trip had a clock.

Haphazard provision of wash cloths, but bathroom towels, even the less-than-plush ones, were twice the size of US hotel towels. Nice to have something that wrapped all the way around.

Having to remember room numbers and how to navigate from bed to bathroom in the dark. Figuring out how the toilet flushed. Adjusting to different beds and pillows almost nightly.

The contrast between city and veld, of cattle wandering the streets, of people wearing bright-colored native attire and carrying loads on their heads. For some reason, I thought that was only in the movies. Becoming complacent about seeing certain species of wildlife. Signs in hotels warning against feeding monkeys.

And, now that I’m home:

No more five-am telephone wakeup calls. Instead, it’s the seven-am roller coasters at Universal.

Brewed decaf in the morning, which wasn’t ever available (see Rooibos tea, below; my switch rather than dealing with the icky instant stuff)

Being able to pee on my own schedule, not the tour guide’s.

Finding the bathroom in the same place every night, and the furniture hardly moves at all (aside from the universal law that says inanimate objects move just enough to get in your way).

Light switches where they belong, in the room where they turn on the light, not somewhere on another wall entirely.

Feta cheese no longer appears on almost everything (although I like it, I think I had enough. Even the Palak Paneer I ordered at an Indian restaurant used feta instead of the traditional cheese.

Remembering to continue taking the malaria pills until the 20th.

No longer living in one room, usually smaller than our master bedroom and only one bathroom. A month is a LONG time to be in close quarters. Thank goodness for the two hotels we stayed in with suite layouts.

The language itself is different, drawing heavily on British and Dutch roots. Some vocabulary adjustments I made:

Bakkie – pickup truck
Biltong – dried, spiced meat (jerky) usually made from game
Biscuit – cookie
Boerwors – sausage, grilled on the braii
Braii – barbeque
Chips, crisps – French fries and potato chips, respectively
Ja (pronounced ‘yah’) – yes – usually repeated. Ja ja.
Just now – Any time from immediately to the next millennium. (You’re in Africa)
Mealie – corn (maize), ground into a fine powder, mixed with water and cooked like very thick grits or polenta. Served as a side dish under many different names depending on where you are.
Robot – traffic signal
Rooibos – (pronounced ROY boss) red South African tea (available here too, usually called ‘red bush’).

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Guest Blogging: Needlepoint Approach to Plotting

I'm guest blogging at Romance Junkies about my Needlepoint approach to plotting. Stop by and leave a comment, and you'll be entered in a drawing for a free download.

See you there!

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Port Elizabeth

It's been a week since we got onto the plane to head home. For the first time since we returned, I slept past 4:30 AM. I even spent much of the day doing tedious paperwork for my job, the first time I trusted myself to balance their bank statement. Haven't tackled our household account yet!

Wednesday, 11/21

Departing Zimbabwe is a lot easier than entering. No more departure tax (at least not obviously—it’s included in our ticket prices), and very low security checks. Nobody in Africa ever made us take our shoes off, and here they didn’t even screen laptops. Dan's belt (we think it was his belt) set off the security alarm. The guard looked at him, shrugged, and said to go on through. Even through it was a short flight of less than two hours, they served lunch and the wine & beer were free. Tell that to Delta.

In Jo'burg, baggage came off the conveyor one piece at a time, with huge lags between pieces. Maybe they were going back to the plane for one cartload at a time—the planes land out on the tarmac and we’re bussed to the terminal. Although this was the end of the formal tour, we still had 5 days before the Cape Town conference. We were looking forward to a little decompression time. We bade everyone a farewell at the airport and braced ourselves for another flight. Our next stop was Port Elizabeth

In Jo’burg, our porter knew a lot better route to the luggage storage; the escalators are ‘trolley friendly’ as someone with more than half a brain designed the wheel base to fit the riser spreads. We managed to convince the man issuing boarding passes to let us check our three bags, then proceeded to the gate. This was a snack flight (sandwich), and the booze was still free. No bus to the terminal this time, but baggage wasn’t much faster off the plane. Cab to the hotel, where they expected us—two days from now.

The night crew seemed pretty spaced out, but they did find a room for us (given that we had a confirmation and a voucher saying we’d paid), but showed very little in the ‘customer service’ arena. “Go have a seat,” was the best they could do. We ended up in a two bedroom-two bath time share apartment for the night, with the promise that our real room would be vacated in the morning. With no help from them, we found a place to eat within walking distance (Jimmy’s Killer Prawns).

Room had a great view, though. The Indian Ocean was right out there.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Another Day, Another Country

Tuesday, 11/20

Another day, another country. Today we drove across the border to Botswana for a tour of Chobe National Park. Everything moves slowly as we get our passports stamped. For whatever reason, they wouldn't allow our guide to get copies of the entry forms ahead of time, so we had to wait until we arrived at the tiny building, pick up a form and fill it out, then wait to be approved. More entry and exit stamps. Looking at my passport, you'd think I was a major world traveler. Today we exit Zimbabwe, enter Botswana, then do the reverse as we leave. Four more stamps!

Unlike Zimbabwe, Botswana has a stable economy. Its population is diminished as well, however, due to HIV and AIDS. Roadside billboards and posters urging “real men” to get checked, and to use condoms (which are handed out via free dispensers in the border crossing offices, and I assume elsewhere) abound.

In the park, we boarded a boat for a river cruise. Lots and lots of hippos and elephants,

plus a glimpse of nature in action. Crocodiles are maternal, and we watched a mother croc in the water below her nest.

A water monitor lizard wandered by

and she shot out of the water with hearty vocalizations to let him know he wasn’t welcome.

Waterbuck antelope, plus numerous birds again, many with familiar Florida counterparts, like the anhinga. Same genus, different species. A pair of African fish-eating eagles, looking very much like small American bald eagles, perched in a tree, screeching. Females are larger and have a lower-pitched voice. After lunch (guess what! A buffet!), we boarded the open vehicles for a land tour of the park. Although the literature spoke of the multitudes of elephant in the park, we’d actually seen more on the river. We did see several puka, antelope which are found only in Chobe, and a leopard tortoise as new species, but most of the critters were taking refuge from the heat.

The weather changed, and we were caught in a thunderstorm, so our tour was cut short. Nothing like driving down the highway in an open vehicle in the rain. There’s a canvas top, but no side windows, and not a whole lot in the front. Camera protection was the watchword.

We had great seats for dinner at the hotel, overlooking the waterhole. Everything is open—no glass to spoil the views.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Vic Falls, continued

It's Monday, and unfortunately, I have 'real' work to do. Today's entry is late because I know most of you click over here just to look at the pictures. To start, here's a lion left over from my Kruger posts.

More on our stay in Victoria Falls:

Breakfast here was only half buffet. The package included a menu of hot breakfast choices rather than cooking stations, with the exception of a crepe station. After breakfast, we took off for Victoria Falls, Mosa Oa Tunya, or, “The Smoke that Thunders.” From the distance, it does look like there’s a fire, but the smoke is actually spray from the falls. The falls are three times wider and twice as high as Niagara. It was the “dry” season, which means there were places where the cataracts weren’t in full force, but it also meant we could see everything without getting drenched.

A fair enough tradeoff as far as I was concerned. We walked the trails for close to 2 hours, seeing more wildlife and amazing views of the falls. Fantastic rainbows.

The sounds of the water mixed with the hum of cicadas for a symphonic background, punctuated by the helicopter tours. Lots of vervet monkeys, some baboons, and another antelope species, the bush buck.

From the falls, we went to a local craft market and were subjected to the high-pressure pitches of the vendors. Browsing was almost impossible as each insisted on stopping you to show you his personal store (a spot on the ground) with carvings of all sorts laid out. I think I got through maybe a tenth of the stalls, buying a bowl, a mask, and a variety of carved animals. I’m not fond of haggling, but we were told that the asking price would be about half of what the items were “worth.” However, given the extreme poverty of the country, if I paid a few dollars more than I might have been able to bargain for, I figure it was worth it. What we spend on a coffee at Starbucks can make a major difference in the lives of these people. Tourism is about the only industry in the area, and the population is shrinking due to starvation. The sad thing is, they export most of what they produce, leaving nothing for the natives. Our driver told us that when we go to Botswana tomorrow, he’s going to be buying cooking oil, rice, and staples for people he knows in Zimbabwe, because it’s not available in the local shops. He said sometimes they go months without seeing loaves of bread for sale.

At the hotel, we went to the observation deck on the top level—the entire hotel is laid out in ‘layers’ and you’re forever going either up or down to get where you want to be. Three days won’t be enough for me to figure it all out.

From the balcony outside our room, I saw a mother wart hog nursing her 4 piglets.

I looked up and five elephants came to the waterhole for a drink, ears flapping.

We cleaned up and went to “The Boma” for dinner. This is on property, but far enough away so you have to ride a shuttle—not for distance, but because there are critters out there who might decide you’d make a nice meal, or just want you off their property. This is an “experience” as much as a restaurant. As we arrive, women tie African cloth wraps around our shoulders.

We walk past a huge grill where half an animal (impala, we find out) is roasting on a spit. We’re brought the local beer to sample as a welcome—and it’s no better than what we had in Zululand. Then we have warm water poured over our hands, and dry off with a proffered towel before we get an ‘appetizer’ platter of corn, which seems to be made from dried corn, although our waiter said they prepare it by boiling; roasted peanuts, which are smaller and toastier than what we’re used to; and fritters made of their local corn flour. From there, we had a choice of ‘normal’ appetizers. Dan had crocodile and fish, and I had goat cheese. The buffet had just about every possible game animal, plus salads, vegetables, and on and on. We both took the challenge and ate the mopani worms (which were grilled until they were nothing but charcoal-flavored crunch) and got a certificate proving we’d done so. After dinner, there was more dancing, then everyone got a drum and we were taught some basic African drumming. I can’t say that we were good, but we were loud, and we had a great time.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Moving to Phase 2: Vic

Jet lag lingers. Yesterday I managed to do a load of laundry only to find the cup of detergent I'd poured never made it into the machine, so I had to re-do that load. I'm still waking up too early, so I decided I'd just get up this morning and get back to proofing When Danger Calls instead of tossing and turning and disturbing my husband. But before I do that, here's another journal post.

Sunday, 11/18

Last night was our 'farewell' although 2/3 of the group is continuing to Vic Falls for the 3 day extension of the tour. Nothing fancy; a private room at the hotel's dining room, and yes, it was a buffet. Did I mention it's pronounced "BOO-fay"?

Departed the hotel on time. Jo’burg airport was still chaos, although Andres (under Allenby’s direction) parked the bus outside the terminal instead of 400 yards away in coach parking. Getting to the luggage storage for our excess bag took close to forever—two of the elevators were closed because of the construction, and these were the main elevators to the parking garage as well. Only 4 or 5 people, depending on luggage, could squeeze in at a time. Once that was done, we schlepped back upstairs, got in line to have our checked baggage weighed, then continued in the queue for boarding passes. From there it was through security, where they had all of one person screening everyone. Then passport control, where there were two people at first, but eventually, they had four windows open. And this is a major airport’s International terminal, although I think it was the South African Airlines end of things, for flights to other African countries, because once we got through the process, we followed signs to our gate and ended up in a modern, “normal” looking airport. The hike to the gate was another ‘forever’, then a bus to the airplane. As we boarded, we discovered the bag we put in storage would have fit as a carryon despite Allenby’s warning. He also didn’t get the message about liquids in the quart ziplock, and told everyone ‘no liquids’ and made them put them in checked baggage. As it turned out, they let me through with my half-empty bottle of water.

If leaving the Jo’burg airport was crazy, that was nothing compared to the entry in Zimbabwe. There, they have a $30 visa fee to enter the country. Tiny airport, no air con, and what looked like two lines to get the visa. There was a restroom, although there was one stall, no lock, and an attendant to deal with flushing since there was no handle. However, as long as that ‘break’ took, it didn’t appear the line had moved. Turned out, the two lines were really part 1 and part 2, and all semblance of who was next disappeared. You paid one man, showed him the passport, and he wrote something down, then passed you off to the man seated next to you who filled out the visa form by hand and stuck it in your passport. For $30, at least it had a pretty hologram. Eventually, two more clerks showed up so there was another line, but people now thought there were 4 lines. I’d estimate something like 90 minutes or longer until our group made it through. Once you did get your visa, it was just a matter of finding your luggage (no carousel, just lined up on the floor), pushing it through customs and then finding our new guide, Mike, in the lobby. Native dancers outside gave us something to occupy ourselves as we waited. The harmonies they create have been impressive all throughout the trip.

Mike is African, so we had a new accent to get used to. He speaks something like 10 African languages, plus English and a smattering of probably half a dozen more. We got to the hotel, the Victoria Falls Safari Lodge, which was a thatch-roofed structure that looked very appropriate for the setting, albeit a bit on the ‘elegant’ side for the sparse country. There, we had our welcome drink and an orientation with strict caveats about keeping the balcony doors closed when we left the room because the monkeys liked nothing better than to get inside and trash them. Turndown service would be provided nightly, which entailed lowering the mosquito netting around the beds, closing the louvered shutters on the balcony and delivering two bottles of drinking water, as well as an aromatherapy disc on an electric burner. It wasn’t clear if it also contained a mosquito repellent, as we were officially in malaria country again. We were also pleasantly surprised to learn SmarTours’ caveat that cash in Rand or US dollars was the only option for payment due to the unstable economy, was wrong, and the hotel would take AmEx.

We went to the bar for a drink and late light lunch and stared out over the waterhole onto the red-earth of the flat veldt beyond. We recognized Maribou stork, and there were weaver bird nests (although a different species—‘sloppier’ nests than in Hluhluwe) and some kind of vulture type birds as well. We spotted a croc, too, and antelope that were probably kudu, but might have been eland. Wart hogs with cavorting piglets were all over the property.

Our room was ‘roughing it in luxury’. There was an a/c, but you could only run it with your room key in the control. No television (will Dan survive?). Limited space, but a decent bathroom, although the shower curtain was chest high.

Our evening’s event was a river boat cruise down the Zambezi River where we were served drinks and hors d’oeuvres as we watched elephants, hippos and crocodiles, as well as many more species of birds. There were probably some impala, but we hardly notice them anymore. The weather changed abruptly shortly after we turned back, and it was a race to beat the rain. We did, just barely, but the wind captured Simone’s sunglasses.

Since we’d had a late lunch and more food on the boat, we opted for room service and called it a night. Figuring out where the mosquito netting opened was a bit of a feat, but the bigger challenge was navigating the three steps between bathroom and bedroom in the dark.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

South Africa diary, continued.

Some pictures from yesterday's journal entries

The Potholes, Blyde River Canyon

Dancers at The Potholes

God's Window (in the clouds)

Slowly -- very slowly -- settling in. Readjusting to the States. Everything sounds different -- the prevailing language is "American" and despite numerous dialects, there's a sameness to it, unlike all the variations in South Africa, where people shifted from English to Afrikaans mid-sentence, or spoke with the accent and cadence of one of the tribal languages. And since we're not in a hotel, the 'politeness' is gone, not that anyone is rude. Well, of course some people are, but it's not the norm. And just when I got the hang of which way to look when crossing streets, we're back where people drive on the right. Even walking is different--here, it's 'keep right' and the up escalators, etc., are all on the 'other' side. In traffic, I have to remember that the driver is sitting on the left again, not the right.
I can get my usual brewed decaf again. Over there, it was always instant, so I switched to the local Rooibos tea (which I drink at home, too, but it's a standard offering there.) If you'd like to try some, leave a comment today and I'll pick someone and send them a sample.

Saturday 11/17

Frabjous day – no wakeup call, although we’re attuned to getting up relatively early and had to board the bus by 8:30, so it wasn’t really sleeping in. The hotel doesn’t provide washcloths. I like washcloths. The shower also has two waist-high mounted sprays. Downside is, they point right at you when you’re standing in the doorway to turn on the water, and unbeknownst to either of us, that’s the default setting for the pipes.
Note the two nozzles pointing right at whoever's trying to turn on the water.

Talk about a quick awakening. And a wet bathroom floor. The shower is built flush to the floor, too. Took awhile for hot water, but it arrived. The hair dryer, which I’ve learned to look for at the desk, worked only on lukewarm, but was still better than wet hair. And – at last – the weather was what they’d told us to expect. Clear and cool.

Breakfast was similar to the Protea in Cape Town, although they had more cook to order selections. There was a strange juice -- Granadilla – which tasted pretty good, and they had Granadilla yogurt too. I asked Allenby what it was, and he said passionfruit, which explained the slightly familiar taste. Lilikoi in Hawaii. The breakfast room is contiguous with the courtyard, and pigeons wander in and out at will. Flowers in bloom provide a beautiful and relaxing setting.

Our first stop was the ‘wholesale warehouse’ Allenby had been telling us to wait for. “Don’t buy all the stuff at the local marketplaces, I’m taking you to a warehouse where you can get the same stuff cheap, pay by credit card, and they’ll ship it.” Well, he was right about credit cards and shipping, but I regretted not buying more of the local stuff, because the prices were NOT low (maybe lower than places like the Waterfront stores in Cape Town), and there was so much other stuff I’d seen in the local markets that I wanted. We ended up stocking up on relatively cheap stuff for thank-you gifts, and a blown ostrich egg for us, which warranted having them ship most of the stuff back. Because it’s more than we can deal with since we’re not going home tomorrow, or even after the Vic Falls trip, we’re having them ship everything. We’ll find out in about 2-3 months. (Not paying for air).

Group consensus seemed to be that either Allenby or SmarTours had a good arrangement with the store. If nothing else, it does give us a modicum of confidence that we will see it in Florida someday.

From there, we did a history tour, going through the poverty stricken downtown areas, and on to the Township of Soweto, which is not part of the city. It’s predominantly black, although there are no restrictions. I was never much of a history buff, and Allenby obviously was, plus he grew up here, so we saw endless examples of the various income level housing, from mansions to shanty towns, and listened to his repeated commentary on a PA system that was too muddy to understand most of the time. He did tell us that during apartheid he’d entered the area illegally, bringing groups to see it, and that he also trained the first black tour bus drivers once they were allowed to drive tour groups. The limiting factor was that they couldn’t stay in the hotels, not so much that they couldn’t drive a bus.

We saw schools, street vendors selling live chickens and cutting hair (not the same ones, of course, but there seems to be a preponderance of hair styling venues everywhere we’ve toured. In fact, the mall by our hotel had four or five salons, and only one shoe store, unlike US malls.) The construction of the new stadium for the soccer team, the Orlando Pirates (yes, there’s a suburb of Soweto called Orlando—two actually—East and West). Where the Soweto riots broke out. An interesting tour, but it could have been cut back by at least a third.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Home Again

After a 34 hour travel 'day', I'm back home. I think my brain is a few days behind me, though, or at least seven time zones away. One travel observation (among many): Due to new regulations, we couldn't bring liquids of any kind above the standard 3 ounce containers onto the plane even though they would be purchased AFTER passing through security. So much for buying booze at the duty-free shop. We had some Rand to dispose of, so I bit the bullet and bought chocolate. I figured I'd buy some spirits on the plane when they do their duty-free merchandise hustle mid-flight. They didn't offer the Amarulla I wanted, so I got a bottle of brandy instead. BUT -- as we were about to disembark (I'm so glad they don't say 'deplane' anymore), they announced any liquids would have to be transferred to checked baggage. What a pain, and had I known, I wouldn't have bothered. The savings wasn't THAT much, and it wasn't anything I can't get here.

I'm staring at an empty fridge, an overflowing laundry room and enough junk mail and holiday catalogs to reforest half of North America. Also a dining room table covered with baskets, carvings and other assorted memorabilia. There's still a box en route (we hope) with things we had shipped.

I'll be continuing to post journal excerpts and pictures, so please keep coming back. I can't promise excerpts will be posted daily; I have two manuscripts to review, but I'll get things up as I can.

Meanwhile, waking up in the middle of the night is still disorienting. For the last month, it's been a constant challenge to remember where the bathroom is, where the toilet paper is, and how the toilet flushes. They're all different. I imagine it will take another day or two before it feels familiar. Maybe I won't get any new bruises now that the furniture is back where I remember it being.

Here's a bit more from the journal -- no pictures to upload yet; they're still on the laptop.

Wednesday 11/14

The new bus showed up on time, luggage was loaded, and we repeated the border crossing back into South Africa and headed for Kruger National Park. Even from the bus, we got some great up-close glimpses of impala, kudu, giraffe, zebra, rhino and elephant.

We got to the hotel around lunchtime, then to our chalets. We have a two-bedroom chalet with living room, kitchen, and two bathrooms. And they’ll do a whole bag of laundry for R60, which is about 10 dollars, and worth it as far as I’m concerned. Washed, dried, ironed, and ready the next day. The resort is an ‘upgrade’ on the tour, and I’m pretty sure it’s because they’re doing some major renovations, but it’s still a gorgeous place. About a five minute walk from our chalet is the ‘hippo hide’, and observation platform for watching a small herd of river hippo. Also assorted birds, and a troop of monkeys.

There are no street lights, and it’s strange to be in a ‘hotel’ without all the light bleeding in under doors from the corridors, or through gaps in curtains. One adjustment to traveling is always navigating to the bathroom in the middle of the night, finding the requisite seating and trying to remember where the hell the toilet paper is this time. This place was purely a ‘by touch’ affair.


By 7 am, we loaded onto the small open vehicles for the scheduled game drive through Kruger Park. Within 10 minutes of entering the park, we’d seen a leopard. Well-camouflaged, but Bert, the driver, was patient, and moved back and forth until everyone had seen it. By now, we’re not even stopping for impala. There’s a herd of them on the hotel grounds. How soon we become nonchalant. Today’s drive afforded some better views of elephants and Cape buffalo, but the giraffes we saw yesterday were closer, and we didn’t see zebra today. But we also saw a lion, so we’ve seen the official “Big Five” of Kruger Park: Lion, leopard, rhino, elephant

In the shuffling of hat and binocular straps off and on, I lost one of my earrings, which turned up in the shoe of the woman seated next to me. She found it after we got off the vehicle and were having lunch. They weren’t expensive, but I was glad to have it, even if I’ll have to dig out a replacement back for it. I hardly expected it to be found.

Friday 11/16

We had an 05:15 wake-up, with bags due outside for pickup at six. Breakfast, then on the bus by 7 for the drive to Sandton, a suburb of Johannesburg. It was going to be a LONG day over a panoramic route, but the weather was overcast and we didn’t expect to see much. We were all surprised by the stop at The Potholes. Expecting a kind of leg-stretch and yet another “shop-stop” we found ourselves at something much closer to a miniature Grand Canyon. We hiked down a trail to an overlook of the Blyde River Canyon, with rock formations carved out by the water. Most impressive. There was a local artisan bazaar, and I bought a carved wart hog and a couple of baskets. Lightweight and relatively easy to pack. After a demonstration by local dancers, we proceeded to the next stop, an overlook called God’s Window. Due to the weather, the curtains were partially drawn, but we did get a glimpse of the country—probably a hundred miles or more of it. Then, we had to stop the bus so people could take a picture of a road sign saying “God’s Window” because the one at the actual overlook was too faded.

We went to Pilgrim’s Rest, an old mining town. Exactly what you’d expect of an old mining town, but inhabited by native South Africans selling their wares. Vendors with macadamia nuts and cashews greeted the bus, and I broke down and bought a bag. I also bought a stone carving. “Give you good price” is the local greeting. We had a late lunch in Dullstroom – again, the Dutch heritage showed, and pancake houses are the norm. The town is much more like Winter Park or Carmel, I’d say, and we ate at Harrie’s Pancake House, which doubles as an art gallery. Dark Belgian chocolate mousse and ice cream filled pancake (and these weren’t crepes, but thick, “US style” pancakes, and the mousse was more like a chocolate truffle than a light, fluffy pudding). I managed about half of it, then walked some of it off to get more Rand because we’ll be heading into a cash only zone shortly.

After a spectacular lightning display, we finally rolled into the hotel at about 7:30 pm. Like I said, a LONG day. Because it was raining, they directed us through the hotel rather than across the courtyard, and the rooms in our section are laid out in a long, long, long, line—eventually, we got to ours. I regretted not leaving a breadcrumb trail. Someone had arranged a bottle of wine—a 2004 Zonnebloem Pinotage—for Dan (and luckily, Dan travels with a corkscrew at all times). We assumed it was Allenby, but much later (once we found Internet access) it turned out to be from our daughter in Northern Ireland. Very nice. Too bad Allenby took credit for it when we asked if it came from him. The hotel hadn’t taken her name and sent it from “the management.” We found our way back to the lobby, went down to a middle-eastern restaurant in the attached mall and got some take out and had dinner in the room (with wine, of course).

Monday, December 03, 2007

Swaziland + more photos

First, another polite African sign

And a picture of me in my hole at the Convention Centre
And, a note that today is my last day working in the above hole, and the end of my Internet access until I get back to the states.

Back to the journal (photos are still in 'catch up' mode). Speaking of 'catch up', here, what we call catsup or ketcup is "tomato sauce."

We departed for the Kingdom of Swaziland, about 40 minutes from our Hluhluwe hotel. There, we showed our passports to exit South Africa, walked a short distance across the border and got them stamped again as we entered Swaziland. The drive took us through the gamut—subsistence farmers living in little more than shacks, and up through more ‘modern’ buildings built of concrete, and then into the capital city with some exorbitant mansions on the hillsides, parks, and typical urban bustle. Along the way, it seemed there was an abundance of hair salons. Not sure why. We stopped for lunch in a small craft village, then got back on the bus for the drive to the Piggs Peak Hotel and Casino. The travel gods were not with us this time, however, and after being stuck behind a slow-moving tractor trailer hauling who knows what, with a driver who refused to pull off to the shoulder to let anyone pass, our bus began to overheat.

Seat rotation had put us in the front seat behind Allenby, giving us a view of his shirt as he stood to point out everything along the way. We could see the temperature indicator on the driver’s side climb into the red, and when he and Allenby discussed which way to go at the turnoff to Piggs Peak (all spoken in Afrikaans, but fairly easy to figure out), and we went in the other direction, we figured something was wrong. Allenby announced another comfort and shopping stop at a glass factory, even though we had just stopped about 45 minutes earlier, and his normal “pace” between stops is more like 2 hours. However, he didn’t indicate anything was wrong to the passengers, told us to be ready in 40 minutes. At that point, what with numerous people poking around the bus’s engine and speaking rapid-fire Afrikaans, it was clear something was wrong, and probably a little more than an overheated engine. Allenby reported an extension for another half hour, but by now most of us had figured out there was a serious problem.

I don’t know why people can’t just be honest – most folks will tolerate at LOT if they’re told what’s going on. Finally, he wandered back and said we’d blown a head gasket, but he was ‘working on it’ as far as getting us to the hotel and getting a replacement bus.

Due to the kindhearted nature of another tour bus driver, we waited for him to drop off his tour group about 5 km up the road, come back, load all our luggage, and drive us another hour to the hotel. The replacement bus was supposed to be on its way and would be crossing the border into Swaziland when it opened at 7 the next morning. We got to our hotel by about 8 and I crashed.

Zebra in Hluhluwe

Note the "5th leg" on this male elephant.

Now -- in an earlier post, I said that as a writer, naming characters is a challenge because people often have preconceived images of someone with that name. Of course, as parents, we can't be sure how our kids will 'grow into' their names, but I promised you a picture of our guide, Allenby. He's on the left. Does he look like what you pictured? (Andres, our bus driver, is on the right.)

An aside: Allenby reported that he was the first to train blacks to become bus drivers for tours. Under apartheid, they couldn't stay at the hotels with the tour groups, but after it was abolished, he pushed to get jobs for them with tour companies.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Last night's dinner at Mama Africa was very good, even though they lost our order and we had to wait over an hour for our food. The 'garden salad' was a combination plate of cucumbers, tomatoes, pineapple, carrot-raisin salad, corn salad and I'm sure something else I've forgotten, so it wasn't like we were starving. The waiter came by several time to say our food would be out "in just a few minutes". He also made a point of telling us there was no gratuity included in the check, although there was a R10 cover charge per person for the live music which started about 5 minutes before we left. We picked up a cab from outside the restaurant and gave the driver the name of our hotel, which is "Southern Sun Waterfront" to distinguish it from "Southern Sun Cullonen" (almost adjacent). We got within sight of the hotel and he turned the other way taking us to the entrance to the waterfront. We said, no, it's a HOTEL, the Southern Sun and pointed to the big sign on the top of the building. He still couldn't find it, trying three other hotels. Finally, we told him to drop us at the Cullonen, and we walked the rest of the way. Needless to say, we paid him what the fare should have been, not what he ran up on the meter.

Now, back to the journal:

At 1:45 am, the smoke detector in our room started chirping that its battery was low. It didn’t take long to decide that we wouldn’t sleep with it beeping, so Dan climbed up and disabled it. However, by now, I was awake enough and didn’t get back to sleep well, so when I woke up at 4:50, I got up and decided to shower before the drive. From listening to others, the early morning hours seem to be the best time to get hot water. There was coffee and tea and rusk in the courtyard under a tree filled with bright yellow and black weaver birds and their intricate nests.

We drove the short distance (everyone’s figured out their seating in the new bus, and someone actually managed to convince Allenby that she’d switched seats with the consent of the previous occupant) to the Hwuhwule Game Preserve. We switched to the 10 passenger open vehicles, met Roy, our driver and headed out at a little after 6. It was well past ‘first light—I think that’s around 4 am—but I don’t think anyone minded. The sun was out, and it was glorious. Our first glimpse of wildlife was a small group of impala, followed by zebra and white rhino. Over the course of the drive, we also saw giraffe, brindle wildebeest, Cape buffalo, wart hogs, Nyala, and numerous birds, including the widow bird, stone chat, purple crested lurie, and kite.
And there was a working dung beetle, forming a sphere twice as tall as it was. By 8 am, the weather had grown overcast and colder, and the wind chill subtracted a few more degrees from the temperature. The sweatshirt moved from being a cushion for Dan’s camera to a needed article of clothing.

Dan’s camera seemed to be working, and his lens afforded much better wildlife pictures than my little point and shoot, although I still snapped away. This morning was the first time it really “felt” like Africa, although that’s an unfair generalization, since the country is far more than wild animals and scenic vistas.

We drove back to the hotel in the open vehicles this time, having to stop occasionally for cows crossing the highway. Highway speed in those vehicles is a windy affair indeed.

Back to another sumptuous buffet breakfast (ox liver was one option), a bit of a break, and then off to Zululand for a tourist’s view of their culture. The tour begins with a greeting from a Zulu warrior in his language, after which our tour guide explains in something closer to English that we cannot enter without asking permission from the inhabitants and the spirits, and she tells us what to shout. The response to enter is given, and we file in: men first, then the ‘mamas’ followed by the maidens (there were a few on the tour). We moved from craft area to craft area, each time requesting permission to enter. I wonder if the artisans ever get fed up with all the tourists and their cameras and say “no.”

We saw spear making, shield making, pottery making, basket making, a beehive shaped home, bead making (where we learned that if a young man wants a bride, he sends beads to her, and if she accepts, she makes a necklace which her sister returns for her. The bead colors are significant: white for purity, red for ‘my heart bleeds for you’ and black for ‘give my father 11 cows so we can set the date’) a healer, a fortune teller. We also learned that married women wear read hats and cover their bodies, while unmarried women go topless. We sampled Zulu home brew (pretty awful). A dance demonstration followed, with yet another buffet meal after that. These included Zulu offerings as well as more familiar dishes. I don’t think ice cream is a traditional native food, but it was good. The guides loved my “Will Sell Husband for Chocolate” t-shirt, and I would have given it to our guide had I anything else to wear with me.

Back to the hotel for the rest of the day ‘at leisure’. Since we were stuffed from two buffets, and the choices around here are the hotel’s dinner buffet, a KFC and a Wimpy, we walked down to the supermarket and found the fixings for a light meal of scones and cheese.