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