Friday, April 21, 2017

Picking up the Thread of a Safari Jema – Fifty Days at Sea

Picking up the Thread
Safari Jema – Fifty Days at Sea

“What’s the most stern sail on the boat?”
“You mean the sail located most aft?” I asked.
“Not exactly. Stern as in meanest, most cruel. Or to put it another way, the sail most liked by many Brits?”
I thought a minute. There are sixteen sails on the ship, five square sails and a number of jibs plus some fisherman. They all seemed very friendly to me... and not at all kinky.
“I give up. What is the meanest or most British sail on the ship?”
“The Spanker!” said my witty sailor, my Mr Sky, Yachty Scotty.

It’s Day 31 of 50 continuous days under sail. We are presently aboard the Star Flyer, a four-masted, 366-foot long, barquentine clipper ship. In two days we will pass through the Straits of Gibraltar and transition from the Atlantic Ocean to the Mediterranean Sea. This morning (after a lengthy emergency drill for crew only where water tight doors slammed shut automatically (with vigor!) while crew manned muster stations, the captain called all the passengers to the Tropical Bar, not to offer a sacrificial drink to Poseidon, but to explain why we would enter the Gibraltar Straits one day early. Fifty knot winds (damn strong winds) are expected in the channel between Africa and Europe so the captain ordered the crew to ‘batten down the hatches and full speed ahead!’ in hopes we will avoid the brunt of the ferocious winds that are swooping down from the Pillars of Hercules. This is A-OK with us because now we will cross through the strait around 4 P.M. instead of 4 A.M. so we will get a glimpse of our beloved Africa in daylight.
The first two weeks of this Sea Safari were aboard a Windjammer sailboat called The Mandalay, a 160-foot, three-mast, bare bones beauty of a ship built in 1929 by EF Hutton as a gift to his wife. Many moons later, it is a rustic 58 passenger barefoot vessel sailing the waters of the Caribbean.
There were only 26 passengers aboard (half full) so there was plenty of room to move about, which came in handy after Swizzle Time, a spirited happy hour consisting of all the rum punch sundowners we could drink.

The passenger mix was a convivial crowd of mostly Americans (many of which came from California) and a surprising number of pilots. All but two passengers were repeat customers. Most were serial sailors loyal to Windjammer and the barefoot boat concept. Some took their first Windjammer cruise back in the 60’s or 70’s. We heard wild tales about the “old days” when cruises were often singles only, and clothing was sometimes optional.
The first day aboard, Scott and I searched for a spot out of the sun to read and settled on well-worn blue mats on top of the wheelhouse. It only took a few minutes before one of the old-timers let us know, with a large degree of hope and enthusiasm, that the deck we were occupying was reserved for nude bathing.  We didn’t yet know our fellow passengers as well as we would come to know them but as we surveyed our shipmates from atop the wheelhouse we guessed that no one would be taking their clothes off any time soon and, save a few moonings directed towards monstrous 4000 passenger cruise ships that ruined our view, no one ever got completely naked.
Her loyal fans dearly love the Mandalay but she rarely operates at full capacity. The web site leaves much to be desired and advertising is nil. Without capital to fuel investment, she’s like the Velveteen Rabbit; dearly cherished, but much worn around the edges. Our first impulse upon boarding was to start a GoFundMe campaign to help replace the loose teak decking, the faded and much-repaired sails, and the torn carpeting below decks.
Why would we pay good money to go on such a ship? We too sailed the Windjammer in “the good old days”. In 1979 we took a week long trip aboard the Yankee Trader and had fond memories of riding the bowsprit, lounging in the nets, and dancing on deck after Swizzle Time. Back then, before air conditioning, most people slept on deck and only retreated to humid cramped cabins with the nightly 3 A.M. rain shower. These days, cabins are spacious and air-conditioned.
Our shipmates were some of the most interesting, fun people we have met anywhere on land or sea. The food was basic but tasty, the owner/captain capable and the crew energetic and delightful. Every morning before dawn, after the anchor was raised, we helped hoist sails to the tune of Amazing Grace. We never missed a sunrise. The entire experience was incredibly moving, calming, and healing. I wished my entire family, especially Sean and Ann and Selina, were here with me.

            Soon there was an easy rhythm to the days. We sailed through lunch then anchored in a sheltered bay of one or another beautiful island for snorkeling, swimming, or hiking. There was usually a beach bar and palm trees to sit at or under. Throughout the day, lots of catamarans and yachts also came to anchor. Before long, tenders full of boaters headed ashore for dinner and dancing in the sand.

My birthday fell on the day we were at St Barts, a territory of France. St Barts is different than her nearest Caribbean neighbors. The vibe, with its main street of beautiful shops for beautiful people such as Prada and Tiffany’s, felt more French Riviera than Caribbean. To say that the yachts in harbor or anchored out were luxurious would be an understatement. On some of the larger yachts, the stern came equipped with enormous cargo doors for the tender that would be parked inside the yacht.
After 14 days aboard the Windjammer we arrived at St. Maarten. We did a heap of laundry and ate barbecue ribs at a beach bar. Then Scott had his hair cut at a small shop on a neighborhood street. This is always a great thing to do anywhere in the world because no one can inform you about the local sites like a barber. While Scott waited his turn, we watched a small boy getting tortured with his first hair cut. He squirmed and winced and worried until his father handed him a large roll of packing tape that the boy gripped tightly in both hands without moving a muscle for the duration of his cut. The TV was on so the barber and his regulars Monday Morning Quarterbacked the news of the day—standard barbershop talk the world over.
We met my niece Teresa (Treese to me) who, to our utter delight, decided to join us on the next legs of our sailing journey, a 20-day Atlantic Ocean crossing and a 14-day sail around the Med on a completely different type of sailing passenger vessel, the Star Flyer. With her bright new sails, polished brass, and warm teak decks she was a cut above the Mandalay in features and fixtures but could not hold a candle to the Mandalay’s special charms. I can’t say the Clipper ship was "better" than the Windjammer, just different.  We aren’t permitted to help raise any of the sails (most are raised mechanically anyway) on the Star flyer, but we are allowed to climb the mast to the crow’s nest—a horribly exciting activity I will never forget. Before I took hold of the first rung I asked a crew member, “Has anyone ever spewed while doing this?” She laughed and said no but I really don’t believe that to be true because I was one exhale away from letting my breakfast of hard boiled egg and toast rain down on the bystanders who watched with their eyes wide and mouths open from the deck below. There were so many butterflies in my stomach and so much adrenaline coursing through my body, that it took all I had to make my legs and arms move up the rope ladder, especially when a sudden gust of wind caused me to freeze and hang on for dear life halfway up the mast. I nearly backed down but a now or never feeling suddenly washed over me and my knees were able to work again. The view from the crow’s nest was worth the spent feeling I had for the rest of the day.

Treese also climbed the mast, eagerly and seemingly without fear. I am so proud of her. Born when I was ten, she was the first baby I ever took care of and we grew up together. The three of us also climbed over the gunwale and onto the net that hangs from the bowsprit. Its job is to keep crew that change the jib sails from falling into the ocean. So relaxing, I could have fallen asleep out there.
Some on board feel there is “…nothing to do, nowhere to go”. Ocean crossings aren’t for everyone. They are made for introverts. Readers. Writers. Nappers. Lovers of peace and quiet. Lovers.
I am made for an ocean journey. I treasure silence. But I also love meeting new and interesting people. If I want to converse, there are 68 other passengers from 13 nationalities, plus as many crew, around for chatting. So far each person has a great story to tell. If I sit on one of the couches in the Piano Bar I can be guaranteed of an engaging conversation with a shipmate. But I can also go to the library and browse the books and read or do a crossword puzzle. I have time to do the things I love. What a gift! And we’ve made some truly good friends. A couple from Santa Cruz and three men from Kentucky (known on board as the Bourbon Boys) will be life-long friends I’m sure, and that is a gift as well.

Treese brought back issues of the Sunday NY Times crosswords for us to conquer together, a ritual that we do most Sundays when at home. (Treese owns a house a few blocks from ours and usually strolls over most Sundays with a batch of home made bread or jam.) She, Scott and I usually participate in the daily trivia on board ship. It’s fun and “interactive” because the winning passengers make up the questions for the next quiz. With our collective knowledge of literature, geography, and science we have won a few rounds so have had to prepare questions.
Other than the daily trivia, Treese and I play Bananagrams or do crosswords or read so there is a misconception on board that we (team TNT, Teresa and Teresa) are somewhat brainy. The German engineers on board (Nerd Alert, Nerd Alert!) like us lots and are always impressed when we answer their random or obscure questions.  My niece is very well read and smart. And Scott remembers everything he ever read and is of course my favorite nerd. As I told Mom, I married Mr. Right. Mr. Always Right.
Even without Swizzle Time, it’s difficult at times to stay upright while crossing the Atlantic. We are a little boat in a big ocean. The swells can be huge. Rocking and rolling is the norm. Mealtimes are a challenge. There have been a few nights when plates, glassware, chairs and people have gone flying. One man’s head broke a chair leg as he flew off his seat and fell when the boat suddenly lurched violently. Other than bruising, he was not hurt. Speaking of bruising, Belinda, the masseuse on board, told me I win the prize for most bruises. “You have them everywhere!” Those who know me know that doorjambs and table edges like to bash into my hips and shoulders. And knees and arms and….
We did have one port of call during the crossing, on Day 14, at Ponta Delgada in the Azores where I managed to collect a few more bruises while walking with sea legs on land. We swayed while sitting or standing still, a very weird sensation. But it felt so good to walk and walk and walk. The weather was perfect, we had a great picnic in a pristine park, and we even found a cat to pet.
So while some aboard are climbing the walls with boredom and eager to disembark for good, we are happy as can be. Almost. If there were a cat or dog on board (or bunny, or duck, or otter...), it would be perfect.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Safari Jema in Audio Book Format!

Exciting news! Safari Jema is now an audio book!
Narrated by the talented Jennifer Groberg, Safari Jema is available on iTunes, and on Amazon!

I hope you enjoy the listen!

-Teresa O'Kane

Saturday, April 16, 2016

How I Saved Louie: Crabs in Bondage

     Zavora Beach Lodge is perched on a dune 17 sandy kilometers off the main road in Mozambique. It sits on what I consider the best piece of coastline in the country. The beach is clean and the waves are consistent. At low tide a perfectly round, crystal clear snorkeling pool appears just steps from the beach. A constant but soft onshore breeze keeps the mozzies at bay and the guests cool. The people are lovely. Sounds perfect, right? But it’s empty.

     Perhaps it’s the steep, sandy, traction-resistant road which leads to the bluff campsite that keeps people away, or that the lodge is mainly known for its scuba center, which caters to groups too tired to stroll the beach after two boat dives a day, but the beach here is practically (beautifully) deserted. I was often the only person walking the beach a kilometer in either direction.

One late afternoon Scott and I made our way down the beach farther than we had gone before. We rounded a bend in the coastline until we came to twenty or more small fishing boats perched higher than high tide on the slope of a dune. Soon we began seeing heavy clumps of fishing net bound up with sand and seaweed. Then we saw a tangled mess that contained not only seaweed and sand, but crabs trapped hopelessly in the web.
     “Oh how sad!” I said bending at a mound with three dead crabs. Up to that point on our walk we had been in blissful, life is perfect moods but now we turned away from the scene with empty sails. We walked only a little further before deciding to turn back to camp. As we passed the lump of sand and net with the three crabs I stopped to lift it to see how much it weighed. Just as I bent down to get a good hold, an eye on one of the crabs went sproing! and locked eyes, rather eye, with mine. I looked closer to see that his other eye was ensnared tightly under a line of netting.
     “Oh Scott, one of these guys is alive! Oh, poor thing. We’ve got to help him.” I carefully took hold of a strand of netting and tried to pull it over his head but the net was too tightly wrapped around the crab’s body, head, and ten legs.
     “This is awful. We can’t just leave him here to die like this. Do you have anything sharp in your pocket?” I asked.
     We tried using the teeth of our car keys to no effect. I looked frantically for something sharper in the sand.
     “Oh Scott," I moaned. "Would you please walk to camp and bring my Swiss Army Knife back with you? It has a little scissor attachment. That will be the perfect tool.”
     After some protest (did I mention we were at least a kilometer from camp?) Scott set off down the beach in a grudgey trudge towards the lodge.
(Photo taken during sunset trudge the previous night)
     I searched the area near the boats for something sharp. I tried a piece of hard black plastic to no avail.
     “Hang on Buddy,” I said aloud. Then “Oh brother. I’m talking to a crab.”  Then, because his eye popped up again when I spoke, I imagined that the crab could understand I was trying to help. I knelt next to his good eye and, channeling Band of Brothers, urged, “Stay with me little guy. Help is coming!” He peered up at me with the trust of the innocent and pure.
     I continued searching for anything sharp enough to cut through sturdy plastic net. I peered into each of the boats looking for a left behind tool or utensil. A few of the boats had small outboards attached so I looked for something I could borrow, uh, detach, okay, yes, break off and use to free the crab, who I had named Louie during my frantic and audible search.
     Finally, I found a broken bottle. Perfect! When I picked up a piece of glass the size of a toddler’s palm a small but dangerously sharp shard miraculously broke off and fell at my feet. Even better!
     “Sorry Louie, but this may be a little uncomfortable,” I said returning to the crab with the piece of glass that was as sharp as a surgical knife, or at least a steak knife. His eye sprang up again. He looked at me as if to say, I’m terrified right now, and you are a little manic, but your salty tears are somewhat refreshing, and it seems that this is hurting you more than it’s hurting me so, go for it!
I started cutting with a sawing motion on the strand that trapped his other eye down in the prone position. Sproing! Now both eyes gazed into mine begging for parole.
     “Okay, now lets free a leg Louie.”
     By the time Scott returned with the Swiss Army Knife I had managed to slice away only two more strands. There were dozens to go.
     “Here,” Scott said somewhat impatiently handing me the tool. But when Louie looked at him with both eyes he softened. “Hey! He doesn’t look like a Cyclops anymore!”
     “Didn’t you bring a camera? I wanted to have a photo of him.”
     “No Tris, I did not bring a camera so you could take a picture of your crab. Sheesh,” he added, impatient once more. “Get a move on. It’s going to be dark soon.
     I used the tiny scissors and painstakingly cut strand after strand from Louie’s body, his legs, his head. I had freed most of Louie from his wet, heavy bondage but he still had two legs entwined in a small piece of net. Suddenly he took off running. Not far though. He stopped, turned, and looked at us as if to say, If you don’t mind, I’ll stick around until you finish the job. I picked him up and turned him over to cut the last few strands from his back legs then returned him to the sand. Now it got weird. He just sat there looking at us.
     “What’s the matter Louie?” I looked up and down the beach around us and noticed many holes where crabs had dug in for the night.
     “Oh! He needs a home! He’s probably so exhausted he can’t even dig.” So, I dug a hole for him. Louie watched while I dug sideways into the sand above the high tide line to create a haven from the crows, dogs and whatever else preys on crabs. It was so weird. He watched and waited and then, when I was done, he scampered over to the hole and moved in to the deepest corner, comfy-cozy.
     “Good night Crab Louie. Be well. And stay away from nets!” We walked back to camp feeling good that something in the world, finally, was a little better for us in.
     Three nights later and many kilometers away, at Bahia Mar Resort where we were splashing out for my birthday, while Scott shook his head in disbelief, I ordered crab ravioli for dinner. 

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Oh Great. The War is Starting and I'm Naked.

Oh Great. The War is Starting and I’m Naked.

     “When you are in the convoy, don’t drive near vehicles carrying soldiers. Don’t get anywhere near the armored personnel carrier either. It’s a good thing you don’t drive a Ford Ranger because they like to shoot at those. That’s the car favored by government officials. Get to the beginning of the convoy early but not too early. If you arrive too early the police will have time to search your car and find something to confiscate or a reason to fine or arrest you.”

     I wonder how long it would take for us to relax in a country where these statements are said to us the same way one might suggest, “Order the lemon herb chicken because the peri peri chicken will give you gas and a runny tummy.”

     We entered Mozambique several weeks ago with a plan to stay at camps along the stunningly beautiful coastline from Maputo to Vilankulos and up to Inhassoro, which folks in South Africa claim is the most breathtaking of them all. Well, the mechanic near the border who filled our almost empty gearbox with fluid and sold us new tires sure raved about it. After Inhassoro, the plan went, we would turn around and drive back the way we came until we could cross the border into Kruger Park. That was the plan. 
     We spent the days swimming in the Indian Ocean and soaking up the sun and Thank God For Ocean Breezes at Xai Xai (Shy Shy), Zavora (best bluff campsite, rescued a crab caught in fishermen net), Inhambane (So-so. Inhamblah), Vilankulos (splash out at Bahia Mar Resort for my birthday, facial, massage, and swim up bar included), Morrungulu (where South Africans next to us who have been coming for 10 years without incident, had their tents slashed and were robbed while they slept) and finally Inhassoro (at the dreamy Dream Catcher Lodge where we sat in the sparkling clean pool until we were pruney all over and watched fisherman lay a five kilometer long net and spend all day pulling it in before dividing it among the community of women who rushed to the beach with buckets or empty maize bags at the end of the day). 
     All of these lodges and or campsites used to be packed to the gills during school holidays and at Easter but these days there are just a handful of guests and minimal staff (except for Bahia Mar which is owned by a Government Minister and has steady occupancy). The drought, the fall of the Rand, and political unrest are to blame for keeping folks away.

     At each stop we asked our hosts about the “troubles” between the Renamo Party in the North and the government party in power. We heard that anyone driving between Rio Save (an hour from Inhassoro) and Muxungwe, about 100 kilometers North, would only be able to proceed in military convoy and that some vehicles had come under attack. This was the main reason for our plan to turn around at Inhassoro, before the Rio Save. I mean we aren’t stupid. A military convoy means that the road runs through an unsafe area, right? While backpacking around the world in 1995, in Laos we hitched a ride with a trucker who was part of a convoy through an area of turmoil and terrorism. What I most remember about that was that we had to wait a long time for the military to arrive and organize the convoy. Also the truck driver needed a shower. So did we. (Unlike this Zig Zag World Tour, our trip in ’95 was The Young and Sweaty with their Two Sweaty Backpacks.)

      When asked why we were turning tail at Inhassoro I explained, “I’ve been in a convoy before and I’m never doing that again. No way, no how. Do I look stupid or something?” But as we drove further and further north, the less we wanted to retrace the same potholed or sandy roads we took to get there. Our ultimate destination was and is Namibia. Driving all the way back to South Africa wouldn’t be nearly as interesting as driving through Zimbabwe and Botswana to get to Namibia.

     We met fishermen from Zimbabwe at Dream Catcher Lodge in Inhassoro who said, “We just came by convoy today! It’s perfectly safe. It was only annoying because they kept stopping so much. The road is bad in places but your Landy can handle that, no problem.”

     “I read in the news this morning that Renamo dug three trenches across the road yesterday to make drivers slow down or stop,”I said.

     “There are big pot holes to be sure but I don’t remember any trenches.”

     I asked our practical, born and bred in Zimbabwe host her opinion.
     “There have been incidences of shootings but a lot of what the media reports is rubbish.” She paused before adding, “Only you can make the decision but I can tell you that I wouldn’t hesitate to go towards Zim by convoy.”

     I posted the question to several Mozambican on-line communities and received a full range of responses from, “Don’t do it! Not worth the risk” to “I did it without incident two weeks ago. Go for it.”

     Scott and I spent two days deciding. On most ballots Scott voted FOR using the convoy to get to Zim. Ninety percent of the time I voted AGAINST mostly because I couldn’t bare thinking about what our families would go through if someone did end up taking a pot shot at us. In the end, on the eve of March 30th, I looked at Scott and said, “We drive an old Landy not a new Ford. Let’s do it.” I spent the next day reading about the convoy and general advice for driving through Mozambique. Mozambique has a lot of rules; “Don’t carry a knife, or machete, or pepper spray. They are deemed weapons and you’ll be arrested. If they search your car they might find a reason to confiscate your alcohol. Hide all your electronics!” Preparing the car (hiding the pepper spray, machete, computer, and the gin for good measure) and all the stress involved with coming to a decision made me kind of constipated so the next night I had peri peri chicken for dinner.

     On April 1st we left camp at 6:30 AM so we would get to the Rio Save in time for the 9AM convoy. We arrived with just a few minutes to spare, just enough time for a few policemen to inquire what we had brought for them. More came to the window, even after I used the usually successful line I borrowed from a woman called Alice during an overland trip from Cairo to Nairobi in 2010 when she was threatened with a fine for breaking a mirror in a pub in Ethiopia, “We are but humble travelers.” Finally a red-flag-bearing woman expressed her impatience for a delay that would result in no reward for her and shouted something in Portuguese at the policeman while waving us on to the bridge with the same motion the “Gentlemen start your engines” guy uses to get the Indy 500 Race started.

     We couldn't tell how many vehicles were in the convoy. But we never saw another tourist vehicle. Overloaded semi-trucks and logging trucks were what took up 99% of the convoy. There were of course armored personnel carriers, pickup trucks filled with fully kitted out soldiers wearing helmets and flak jackets and carrying large ass-kicking weapons. Hot in heavy body armor, thirsty soldiers lined the road in random spots along the route. If the convoy was going slow enough, soldiers asked for water and Scott let them drink from his water bottle. In two areas, there were makeshift army camps along the road.

     The advantage of a convoy in Africa, beside the obvious, is that it turns the road into one-way traffic. For the first time in all our journeys in Ndoto, we didn’t have to worry about oncoming traffic or trucks passing us on a blind curve. All we had to worry about were bathtub sized potholes and watching out for the man-made trenches. There were three trenches and I was glad we knew they were coming because if we had hit one at speed it would have meant the end to an axle.

     Sometimes the convoy spread out and we could barely see the truck in front or behind us but most of the time it was an orderly train of semis and Ndoto. At one point the convoy stopped completely. Soon truckers were climbing down and heading to the side of the road for a wee. I was desperate to do the same. I debated going between Ndoto and the truck in front of us but during a rehearsal Scott said he could see my bottom under the car. So off I went into the bushes with my trusty golf umbrella, which I never leave home without. Truckers threw me thumbs up all around when I returned.

     Finally we arrived at the end of the convoy route. Truckers pulled over to rest and buy cashews from street vendors. We bought cashews too but had no desire to linger. We carried on and six hours after we crossed the Rio Save we arrived at the Shop Rite in Chimoio. We needed supplies and I badly needed to use the facilities. While Scott shopped I asked to use the toilet in my best Portuguese by asking, “Toilet?” with unabashed urgency. Soon a young man whose job was sweeping the aisles led me to double doors that led to the bowels of Shop Rite. He handed me off to a woman who guided me through a maze and upstairs to the ladies room. (Word of advice: If you later want to eat the food you buy at the Shop Rite in Chimoio, do NOT look at what is behind the double doors because the bowels of Shop Rite are literally like the bowels of anything.)

     The ladies room had three loos (with doors!) but none of them had toilet paper. “Toilet paper?” I asked the woman. She answered in rapid Portuguese and made a motion as if she were birthing her eighth child, easy peezy, ‘Well, just go.’

     “Uh, I really need some paper.” I thought, Maybe high school Spanish would help. "Papel?" Or was it El papel? Los papeles?

     Hands on hips, losing patience with me, the mzungu woman who can’t pee without paper, she encouraged me again in Portuguese to just go dammit. By this time, I was near panic and broke into a flop sweat.

     “No pee pee. Big business. Number two, you know?" 

     Blank stare. I pictured myself, dejected and horrified, sinking slowly to the employee restroom floor with acceptance of the inevitable like the bride-to-be with sudden, unstoppable food poisoning while crossing the street in the movie Bridesmaids.
     Portuguese, think of something to say in Portuguese! I said sotto voce. I remembered the time I was in Brazil floating down the Amazon in a small wooden boat. The place where the women prepared our meals was just outside our cabin so every morning I greeted them with, "Bom dia!" which I was sure meant good morning. But every morning after I said it they giggled and blushed. Finally, the captain pulled me aside and told me that my accent was a little "off" and that instead of wishing the cooks good day, I was telling them they had nice bums. 
     "Bom! Bom!," I said motioning to my behind, to the area my gentile Aunt Martha called patootie. Not knowing what language patootie comes from, I threw that in for good measure; "Patootie!!"
     Nothing. By now her impatience was turning to fear.

     “For God’s sake woman! I had peri peri last night!”

     At that, she left and returned with a roll of paper towels.

     An hour later we finally arrived at our camp for the night, Msika, a once hopping resort near the border of Zimbabwe on Lake Chicamba. The regular campsites were overgrown from lack of use so they let us park next to a chalet and gave us a key so we could use the toilet and shower. It was Saturday night but except for a few upper class Mozambicans getting their drink on at the bar there were few guests at the resort and even fewer staying over. The young Mozambican couple let me hold their soft baby, which sent all sorts of warm endorphins coursing through my body. The manager said, “If war doesn’t break out, we are set to have a big fishing competition here at months end”, which sent the cozy vibes crashing.

     I was exhausted, sweaty, and desperate for a shower. I grabbed my towel and toiletry bag and headed to the chalet while Scott unfolded our rooftop tent. I peeled off my sweaty, dusty, anxiety-ridden convoy clothes, tossed them in the corner and padded to the bathroom in my birthday suit. Just as I was about to step into the shower there was a massive explosion that shook the building. My heart stopped. I was glad the peri peri was through my system.

     “Oh great. I’m naked and the war is starting,” I mumbled to myself wearily. Back on went the funky clothes. I opened the door to the chalet just as Scott was about to enter.

     “I forgot to tell you. They are blasting the mountain across from us to get fill for the new highway.”

     The next day we read the news. At 9AM the previous day, at the exact time we crossed the Rio Save and joined the convoy, government troops began bombing the hell out of the Renamo base in Gorongosa National Park, the park once filled with animals that went to fill soldier's bellies during the previous war. 
     This is all very bad, very sad news for Mozambique. In addition, there's a shortage of maize and food prices are soaring. Up north, kids are barefoot and their clothes are in taters. In the South, in the area controlled by the government, children have uniforms, shoes, backpacks, and schoolbooks. But there are a lot of children. If you drive through Vilankulos at noon you'll have to weave your way through a sea of blue uniforms. Hundreds of children, all the same age are leaving school, while hundreds more are arriving for session two. There aren't enough jobs to go around now so it's hard to imagine what these children will do when they graduate.

     Tomorrow we will cross the border into the most beautiful country in Africa, Zimbabwe. First stop, the amazing Musangano Lodge at the gateway to the highlands.


Monday, January 25, 2016

Something Fishy

Something Fishy!

Happy New Year!

2016 started out on a very positive note. The foot funk that began after getting that fish pedicure (you know, the kind where you put your feet in an acrylic tub filled with callus-nibbling fish) in Crete and that has followed us around like Pigpen’s little cloud has finally disappeared. No matter how much we scrubbed or soaked, an unpleasant air biscuit type smell floated up from our feet and embraced us like a long lost lover. It’s embarrassing to admit, but we didn’t mind as much as we should have. The weather was cooler in Turkey so it was easy to ignore it by keeping our feet encased in shoes and socks for a few weeks. I felt badly about it though while we stayed with my nephew Brian at his colleague’s apartment in Gaziantep Turkey over Christmas. His colleague was in America for the holidays and was kind enough to offer her place to Brian so that he, Scott, and I could spend the yuletide together. Her only request was that we remove our shoes, Hawaii style, at the doorway (and she didn’t even know about our funky feet!) On Christmas morning, as Scott and I padded around in our bare feet, I cooked scrambled eggs for breakfast. When Brian came into the kitchen with a “what’s that smell” look on his face I mumbled, “Er, the eggs must not be very fresh." But since arriving in Spain last week we’ve caught nary a whiff. I can’t explain that at all. Perhaps Cava and paella (and lots of it!) are good for guppy foot. Anyway, a few words of advice—if you ever get a fishy-pedi do NOT decline the offer of a foot scrub afterwards.

Hey, what kind of a safari is this!?

I hear you saying, “Wait a minute. Last time I checked, Crete, Turkey, and Spain weren’t in Africa.” And you would be right! So let’s back up.
In early September we headed to South Africa and to our beloved 1973 Landy as planned. But once there, she almost killed us!  Not the Landy. Ndoto (En-doto) was good as new and ready to roll. Especially after she acquired a rebuilt engine block after we cracked her original (So sad and expensive) just a few weeks into the trip.  It was South Africa’s weather that nearly done me in. If you know me, you know I am a hot weather wimp. The day the temperature rose to over 114 degrees (45 degrees Celsius) was the day we came up with plan E for Escape, which, after master web browser Scott viewed the options, meant that we would take our safari to the high seas. A good plan because we love being on the water, and we love to use ships as transportation, and because we don’t love heat stroke.  We boarded The Beautiful Ocean Princess, as she was referred to by the Captain whenever he spoke of her (and she was), in Cape Town for a 36-day Indian Ocean adventure, only we got off the ship a few days early on Malta. You can read about that by clicking HERE. Or just read on below about other stuff.

Seeing Star Wars in Oman

…After a week in Malta petting all the cats and eating all the gelato we could stand (which is a lot!), we ferried to Sicily where we boarded a different ship heading back to Dubai with no repeat ports of call except for Salalah Oman. This was perfect. Since we had already explored Salalah and eaten her camel stew, we used the time to go to the brand new mall in town and see Star Wars, The Force Awakens in 3-D! My favorite part of the experience, other than loving all the girl power, er, strong female role modeling, was viewing the movie with Burka-clad women who lifted their veils to put on their 3-D glasses as the theater lights went dim. I am pretty sure they enjoyed all the girl power in the film too.

Anyway the second ship was not as beautiful or as intimate as the Beautiful Ocean Princess but it was more Italian so had better bread, desserts, and prosciutto, and it had bottles of good quality olive oil available 24-7 in numerous locations on many decks. (The chef told us they go through 5000 liters of olive oil every 14 days). Best of all, the ship took us to places we hadn’t seen or been to in a really long time: Crete, Marmaris, Eilat, Muscat, and To Aqaba! (can’t think of Aqaba without invoking Peter O’Toole in Lawrence of Arabia). All interesting ports to be sure, rife with culture and history. But that ship-trip will always be most memorable to me because it was where I met Wren Schultz, a juggler in the circus and an actual New York Times Crossword constructor. Scott said he had never seen me that excited to meet anyone, including royalty or movie star or presidential candidate. And it’s true. I am a crossword addict and to meet someone in person who creates such a pleasurable and rewarding pastime (only you crossword fanatics will understand) was a life event I thought not possible. Wren also won over $50,000 on Wheel of Fortune, and has shaken the hand of Will Shortz. And Wren is also the love of Della’s life, which makes him luckiest of all. Della is his juggling and rope slinging partner and the nicest person I’ve ever met. I am serious. Della is so nice that she kept letting Italians cut in front of her and had to take the last bus out of the port, after all the Italians were gone. We waited for her because she is SO NICE.

Super Trivia
Our Super Trivia team (Super because it lasted three sea days) consisted of Scott and me, and 70-year-old world traveler Paul, a super smart Romanian engineer named Virgil, crossword constructor Wren, and super nice person Della. We did not win the prize for most questions answered correctly but we did win Most Entertaining for the way we creatively spun the doghouse sized multicolored die. We passed it like a quarterback. We hiked it. We leapt for it like a jump ball. We rubbed it on the Italian winning team for luck. They later gave us one of their prizes saying, “Your team-a is the best-a.” For me, it was enough that I was on a trivia team with a crossword constructor! Oh my gosh.

After Scott and I ate one last loaf of delicious crusty Italian bread drowned in olive oil, we disembarked the ship in Dubai and flew to Gaziantep Turkey to be with my nephew Brian and stink up an otherwise lovely apartment.

Christmas was very special. I’m so grateful for time with family during the holidays. We gave Brian a toaster and he gave us Star Wars action figures. We cooked for each other. We watched movies. We walked. We had baklava every day and we toured museums and a castle. We met some of Brian’s young, hip, and attractive colleagues who also administer aid to displaced folks that remain across the border in war torn Syria. We went to an uplifting concert comprised of 10 musicians, half Syrians, half Turks. By the end of the concert everyone was dancing. Being in Gazientep made me feel hopeful.

What about New Year’s Eve?

New Years Eve was muy bueno! We spent it in Barcelona, which has to be one of the top places on earth to bring in the New Year.

First, we ate tapas. Lots and lots of tapas. That made us thirsty for Estrella Beer. Lots of beer.

On New Years Eve, tens of thousands of people converge at the Magic Fountains at Plaza Espana. During the daylight hours, people build towering human pyramids called Castells while children chase bubbles the size of children. Then, at the stroke of midnight, when most everyone in the rest of the world is blowing horns and popping poppers, citizens all over the Spain, the hopeful and the superstitious, go silent and reach for a grape - the first of twelve grapes they will consume for each toll of the bell. We did it too. It’s bad luck not to. It was quite something to watch all the giddy revelers packed in around us suddenly get very pensive and quiet as they concentrated on finishing all twelve grapes before the last chime. It was delightful. And scary. Nothing like ingesting 12 choking risks at the same time. But we planned ahead and bought the smallest grapes we could find.

                          On our last day in Barcelona I took a cooking class. Paella, roasted veggie, pumpkin cannoli, and wine-soaked pears. We students were soaked in wine too by the end.  

We were a long way from South Africa but not far from the African continent. 
A few weeks ago we headed for Morocco where we celebrated the wedding of cousin Ariana in Marrakesh.

This is the life I always dreamed of living. Life long learning and traveling the world in a zig-zag  fashion is truly a Safari Ndefu Jema, A Good Long Journey.

We’ll return to South Africa when the weather is better suited for camping. Until then, there are a lot more fish to feed in other parts of the world, such as Hoi An Vietnam where we were a few days ago.

Happy 2016 to you and yours. May all your dreams come true!

For more stories, read my book, Safari Jema, A Journey of Love and Adventure from Casablanca to Cape Town.
Safari Jema

Much love and wishes for peace, love, happiness, and adventure.

Scott and Tris
January 26, 2016
Manila, The Philippines

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

An Indian Ocean Adventure and a Few Maltese Moments - Cathedrals, Cappuccinos, and Cats.

An Indian Ocean Adventure

Did we really interrupt our safari in Africa for a 35-day Indian Ocean Cruise?
Yes, and I was surprised how much I enjoyed the cruising part of the cruise. We got the urge to book the cruise for the ports-- places we had never been; Reunion, Mauritius, Seychelles, Nosy Be Madagascar, Oman, Dubai, Suez Canal, Malta. But it turned out I loved the sea days almost as much.  We were truly sorry to leave the comfort, routine, and companions on board "The Beautiful Ocean Princess" as the Officer on watch called her each noon after he reported where we were in the world (latitude and longitude), how fast we were traveling (in knots and miles), and the current weather (Fahrenheit and Celsius). Scott and I were always well aware of the weather because we spent most of our time reading outside on teak loungers on deck 5. In 33 days, Scott read more than 20 books  from the ship's library on Deck 9. Up and down the stairs we went every day, from library to deck chair, stopping in at the fan tail buffet for chocolate chip cookies or an Arnold Palmer. I read a few Tony Park books which I had brought along with me to remind me of Africa, and Blink by Malcolm Gladwell, and I went for the peanut butter cookies and straight ice tea or lemonade instead of the Palmers.

I loved our little nest, our cabin.  Way down on Deck 4 and in the bow, we were the first to feel the "motion in the ocean" in the Gulf of Aden and in the Mediterranean Sea. The cabin was tiny but I had fewer clothes and shoes than the 12-year-old girl on board so it was just the right size for us. We even had empty drawers! I can hear my cruising friends gasp in disbelief, but it's true.

 Routine can be lovely. 

Every morning at 7:30 AM, a carafe of boiling water was delivered to our cabin. With a French Press from Ndoto, and our own strong coffee, we started each day off with a familiar jolt.  I had homey touches around the cabin too. On Reunion Island, I bought two bouquets of flowers which lasted for 30 days.

We did walking laps around the jogging track each sunset and struggled each morning to see the sun rise from the highest deck. We love being a-sea. Not witnessing the beginning and ending of each day would have seemed ungrateful.

We attended lectures on most days at sea. Our favorite talks were about the history of the automobile and all the characters involved (Ford, Dodge, Edsel...) given by a man who wore a Kaiser Mustache like no other. Mike's talks always gave us a hankering for a bratwurst, which we could get just off the grill next to the pool.
We didn't just eat on the ship. We had camel in Oman and zebu (a Malagasy beast of burden) in Nosy Be Madagascar. The white strands you see hanging from a line in the third photo below are pure camel fat, a delicacy for some.

We became friends with the six others at our dining table, and were served by waiters extraordinaire- Ferdinand from the Philippines, and Jefferey from Indonesia. Extraordinary because no matter what we asked for; extra platters of steamed veggies each night or fresh fruits and berries, they always seemed to find one more papaya or sweet potato. Even hoarding moist dark meat on Thanksgiving for us.

We used 3:30 tea time to eat some more and to spend time with nice folk we met who were not seated at our regular table, Late Seating, Table 63. Tea Time was where we learned about the love affair on board, and that if you go to the Captains cocktail party you can decline the fru fru umbrella drinks and order a double G and T, and that what ailed the passenger who was taken off the ship and transported by a small boat manned by an inept crew to Egypt at the mouth of the Suez was not as serious as thought. When the line holding the boat to the ship snapped and the gunwale on the smaller boat cracked up and fell into the water during the patient transfer Scott said, "Remind me never to get sick aboard ship."

Glad I went. 

Cape Town, where we embarked, did not disappoint. The Waterfront provided us an opportunity to buy "cruise clothes" and her foggy tablecloth was laid over Table Mountain as we sailed away.

I'll remember Oman for the friendly people, tasty camel meat, and for our cab driver Muhammad who was the happiest person in Oman. He especially liked to sing and dance with his hands in the air while driving. He showed us the sap from the frankincense tree and treated us to rich coconut meat and juice at a roadside stall.

-Reunion, for its sublime Frenchness, exotic flowers, charming shoppers of all ages in the local markets, good Creole food, and for the people who rowed out in canoes as we anchored to try and get the crew on board to buy their fresh produce. And for the Reunion Immigration entourage who took selfies on deck and who left the ship with tighter skirts and trousers after spending 7 hours in or near the ship's buffet.

-Nosy Be Madagascar for women carrying Africa on their heads, colorful markets, the zebu (raw and cooked), and the old Renault cab we hired. The gas tank was an old Palm Oil container that sat in the passenger foot well and was attached to the engine via surgical tubing. The door hinges were leather, and each time the car was started it had to be hot-wired.

-Seychelles for spectacular beach vistas, the boy scout founder memorialized in stained glass in a tiny church, the fish market, our cab driver's dash board bumper sticker, and political pamphlets. Elections, which will possibly replace the man who has been in power for 42 years, are about to take place.

 (Coincidentally, the sailboat in the foreground is a longer version of the 40 foot Wharram Scott, I and his brother sailed to Hawaii from Santa Cruz in 1983)

-Dubai for the architecture, dressing modestly with my head covered, eating fabulous Lebanese food at Ab del Wahab overlooking fountains that dance to music (ala Bellagio in Vegas) with the tallest building in the world in the background, excess, sandy air, and getting a chance to have dinner with the son of a close friend.

-Suez Canal for sand, dove cotes and calls to prayer from minarets in passing villages, convoys of massive ships, guard towers, and almost every person on shore or in small fishing canoes waving and smiling, wanting to connect in some way.

I'll remember too that in Mauritius and in Oman, when we told our drivers we wanted to eat some local food for lunch they both first suggested McDonalds.

We disembarked from the ship after 33 days, two days early, in Malta instead of Rome. We've never been to Malta and there is a lot to see: 313 churches (about 1 every square kilometer), a lot to eat: rabbit stew, ricotta pies, pea cakes, and gelato and a lot to do: watch a dapper gent fire a canon over the ramparts of the old walled city daily at 4PM while we chase after and try to pet the many aloof, chubby cats that waddle through Upper Barracca Gardens. The blast of the canon seems to be their signal to feed because after the boom, all the carb-loading cats make there way to a nearby pastry stall.  

Malta is the land of honey and bunny (rabbit stew). It's the ninth smallest country in the world and it consists mostly of cathedrals, cappuccinos, and cats. We can see almost all 300 church spires, domes, or pediments from the rooftop patio of the small apartment we have rented for a week. I feel very comfortable here. Malta reminds me of Santiago in Spain, for the sandstone streets and buildings and churches, and it reminds me of San Francisco for the narrow hilly streets leading to the sea. I could spend a lot more time here. Today we took a local bus to see the Tarxien Temples, ruins that date to 3150 BC, older than the pyramids in Egypt, but it was closed for restoration. We saw symbols for the Camino de Santiago, and we paired the best gelato with the best cappuccino. We have yet to visit St John's Cathedral or the historic town of Mdina where the apostle Paul is thought to have lived. There is a lot packed into these 122 square miles. So much more to see, do, and eat.

Africa is missed, not forgotten. We'll be back to Africa when the heat breaks and the rains are finished (if they come at all.) Inspired and refreshed, we'll drive through Kruger Park again before heading for points West and North.

I so love seeing the world but as always, I miss home and wish those I love were here with me.

Valletta, Malta
December 1, 2015