Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Vegetarian "French" Onion Soup (with apologies to the French)

Vegetarian "French" Onion Soup

Ingredients (this is already a double recipe... I like leftovers)
1 stick butter
2 Tbsp olive oil
4 lbs onions (was 5 large ones for me)
1.5 l vegetable stock (that's 6 cups... original recipe called for 1.9 l, but I like my soups a bit thicker. Though it was almost a bit *too* thick this time... just add more water at the end to get it to the consistency you want)
1 cup sherry (very dry) or white wine
Salt, pepper

And if you want to be good,
1 loaf French bread
gruyere cheese
maybe some parmesan

1. Put on your onion goggles. Take a self portrait.
Onion goggles, to prevent you from tearing up. No joke.

2. Peel onions. Cut in half then slice thinly in food processor
3. Heat butter and oil in large pot over medium heat and add onions
The onions at the start. These photos don't do the large size of this pot justice. For scale, my hands fit in those handles on the sides.

4. Cook onions for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally
5. In that 45 minutes, there are many things you can get done. I...
- fed Alice some canned food
- made myself a sparkling cranberry drink
I had leftover cranberry concentrate from Thanksgiving and leftover Club Soda from a silly bet I made and lost (long story). I poured about 1/6th of a glass of cranberry concentrate then filled with Club Soda. Yummy! I had seconds.

- folded a load of laundry and moved another load into the dryer
- unpacked the dishwasher
- opened my long-awaited Kiss My Face package... I needed face wash and lotion and they sent my an email saying that everything on their site was 50% off! I've been using hand soap to wash my face...
I'm *so* excited! The box smelled lovely when I opened it.

- checked email
- cleaned up the onion peels
- put away my CSA vegetables
Just don't forget to stir those onions occasionally!
The onions at 20 minutes... there's lots of liquid, but the onions have wilted a bit.

The onions at 30 minutes... less liquid.

The onions at 1 hour. Yes, I did say 45 minutes (and you can't cheat and make it shorter than that... you need the onions to caramelize slowly), but mine didn't look quite ready at 45 minutes... I think the heat was on too low at the beginning.

6. When onions have turned a lovely shade of golden, add broth, sherry, salt and pepper. At this point, I realized I had only about 1/4 cup sherry in the cupboard, so I used Marsala for the rest. It's not the same, but when else am I going to use that Marsala (like the Sherry, I bought it for cooking, but no recipes seem to ever call for it now that I have it!)?
Yummy soup goodness simmering away.

7. If you're being good, you'd slice up that bread now, top the slices with cheese, and broil them til the cheese looks extra yummy. Then you'd put a piece in the bottom of each person's bowl. If you're bad like me, just heat up whatever bread you find in your freezer first (in was Nan/Naan for me! Way to mix ethnicities!) and maybe smear some butter on it or something. 'Cos if you're like me, you don't just have gruyere lying around. And you would have decided to make this recipe when you got home a bit early one night and thus hadn't planned for it.
8. After about 30 minutes (or 10, if you're like me and just want to eat while watching The Tenant of Windfell Hall, episode 3 (of 3) on Netflix Instant Viewing and don't really care), scoop some soup up and pour it into the bowl over the piece of bread with gruyere. The bread should float to the top, but get soft enough to eat with a spoon. Serve.

Okay, so I hope at this point you understand that while this is a perfectly yummy recipe, I didn't really post it for the recipe itself... I just wanted to show off my new onion goggles (Christmas present from Santa--thanks mom and dad!). Did they work? You bet they did!!! My eyes didn't water at all. But, the onions made me sneeze and my nostrils weren't too happy--haven't ever noticed that effect of onions before, but I'm guessing that because my eyes weren't watering, I stuck it out in the kitchen longer than I normally would have, so that meant my nose got it worse than usual. Or, they could have been particularly potent onions... please don't call animal cruelty on me, but this is what Alice looked like when I went to check on her:

Is that the saddest thing? I immediately went and opened the door to our deck, even though it was cool outside, and got Alice to come sit in the fresh air by playing with her. Her eyes got better in no time, thankfully! I didn't remove my goggles until the onions had been cooking for 30 minutes. Do they make cat-size onion goggles, I wonder.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

December 1995 South Africa trip, take 2

Um, so this is a bit embarrassing... turns out I also had written a journal entry (in prose) in the same book for my 1995 trip. What I typed up earlier was just my bullet-points list. So I'm going to try again.

13 December 1995
7:42 pm Seattle time [written while in an airplane]

Well, here I am on my way to a new continent: S. America! São Paulo, Brazil, to be exact. I am $400 richer, have a $14 airport meal in my stomach, but am losing at least 15 hours of precious time with friends and relatives in South Africa. 

My story of the last 48 hours is enough to write a short story on. I will start 48 hours ago: I was in Seattle, in my apartment, recovering from my Microbiology final exam and thinking about getting down to studying for my Physics final. The rest of the night was fairly uneventful. My roommate, Jason, brought a few (female) friends over, and Genevieve and I ended up keeping two of them company while Jason flirted and had chocolate syrup fights in his room with the third young woman. [G and I shared a 3-bedroom apartment with Jason, who I think we had met in the dorms the previous year, for two quarters. Then G moved out and joined a sorority for half a day, but that's a different story, and maybe G should tell it :-) ]

On the morning of the 12th of December, at 8:30 am, I started writing my Physics final. At 10:30 am, I was done. I went and accepted gifts from my work colleagues and shared a grad. student's birthday cake with the lab. By 12:30 pm, I was on the Ave depositing a paycheck and finally, after literally months of looking, buying myself a new pair of athletic shoes and they were on sale [note to Samantha of the past... you should have spent more on athletic shoes, and you should have bought new ones more often... those shoes wound up causing you a lot of foot problems when you took up running a couple of years later].

At 2:30 pm when I returned to me apartment with the rain and wind just starting ahead of the major wind storm, the fire alarms had just started to go off. We all evacuated the building; Genevieve had been in the shower when the alarms went off, and so had to walk outside with conditioner still in her hair. [G, do you remember that? I didn't.]

Eventually, that was over too. At 3 pm, my dad was supposed to pick us up to take us down to Olympia. At 4 pm he still hadn't arrived but we got a phone call from my mother: my dad had been in a car accident. His car had been hit from behind and he hit the person in front of him, who hit the person in front of him, who hit the person in front of him-->5 cars! [hmmn, this sounds familiar. Didn't I just write that?] My dad's car was the only one with major damage. He has a large triangular dent in the back of his car, so his boot (trunk) doesn't close and his back bumper is now held on with bungie cords [I totally forgot about the damage to the boot... I think he managed to "fix" that and get the boot closed by drilling holes in the back of the car, attaching a piece of wood or something from behind it with screws, then attaching that to a rope attached to my mother's car... then he drove my mother's car slowly forward to pull the bent metal on his car out... clever dad! Another problems was that the back driver's side door was a bit tight... and he fixed that my adjusting the hinge. Good as new! Except for the accordian-like scrunched metal under the carpet in the boot.] His front bumper is slighted damaged. He was jolted hard enough that he broke his seat and his neck was hurting him. However, he tied up the car and came to pick us up at 5 pm [I'm impressed!].

When we got to Olympia, we found that the power at my parents' house had been out since 3 pm that afternoon. Luckily, we had a little propane car-camping stove, so we had warm canned corn, some rice, and spinach for supper. Then I remembered--I had 2.5 weeks' worth of dirty laundry that I wanted to do so I could take some clean clothes and underwear to South Africa with me. But, there was no power. So, by the light of a propane lantern, I packed my dirty clothes into a suitcase. Our water heater was well enough insulated that there was warm water for a shower [thank goodness! Imagine starting a holiday with a suitcase of dirty clothes AND no shower!].

After waking at 5 am this morning (Wednesday of finals week), we headed off to SeaTac. There was a lot of tree debris in the road from the windstorm, but luckily nothing to prevent us from getting to SeaTac. Our plane left only 30 minutes late, and we had a pleasant surprise when we found our assigned seats in the business section--yes! There was SO much leg room! The flight to New York was about 4.5 hours and was uneventful. We could see the Cascades as we flew over them and they were beautiful!

We arrived at JFK airport in New York at 1:55 pm Seattle time. Our next plane was supposed to take off at 3:20 pm Seattle time, so we didn't have long. Genevieve and I ran to catch a shuttle bus to our terminal in 29 degree icy New York weather. We got to the South African Airways (SAA) counter at about 2:20 pm, Seattle time. They told us they were still processing seats so we would have to wait. (Dude, fly American Airways--they give you the whole can of whatever you are drinking--TWA only gave us a cupful! [Well, the mention of TWA (that we took for the Seattle-NY leg) dates this a bit, doesn't it! And I've since discovered that getting the whole can is a hit-and-miss thing in general]). So, wait we did... with about 50 other people. Now is a good time to mention that we booked our tickets from New York to Johannesburg 8 months ago. Two months ago, we confirmed the tickets and my South African grandmother paid for them in full [sweet Ouma].

The story behind our wait started to emerge: the plane sitting at the gate was smaller than they had expected it would be, so there wasn't enough room on the plane for all of us [I now wonder if that was really true, or if they had simply overbooked]. They were taking us in order of check in and handing out boarding passes. Our pack of milling, angry, frustrated and frazzled people thinned down with time: at 3:30 pm Seattle time, there were 16 of us left. Sixteen people who had bought tickets, but for whom there was no space on the plane.

We were told that we were each going to be compensated $400 and they had got us onto the next-quickest set of plane flights to Johannesburg. We were each given a free phone card--we used the 3 minutes of international calls on one to phone our friend in South Africa who was supposed to pick us up at the airport, and the 12 minutes of domestic calls on the other to phone my mom, as we had promised. Anyway, so at 7 pm Seattle time, we were told there was a flight to São Paulo, Brazil, and after a 5 hour layover there, a flight to Johannesburg. Total extra time: 15 hours. 

In May of this year, when I was registering for my fall classes, I registered for an 8:30 am Physics class that messed up my day by meaning I had to insert work [as an assistant in a research lab... I worked ~20 hours a week during the quarter there, and full time in the summers I didn't take classes] between classes, just so that I would finish my exams two days earlier so we could get on the Wednesday flight to Johannesburg. And then, I didn't even get the flight. But, look on the bright side: $400 compensation (the whole trip, 6 flights, cost $2300 each [YIKES! I didn't remember that it was that much. My flights this year, also 6, cost $1600. So much for flying getting more expensive]). I get to see South America for the first time, albeit from an airport window (if I leave, I would have to go through customs). They also gave us a voucher worth $15 at a deli down the hallway. You don't get change for what you don't use, so I got a $6 sandwich (you wouldn't have known by looking at it), two $1.50 bottles of mineral water, a $2 pecan roll, a banana (I don't know the price) and a $1.50 apple/cranberry drink--just short of $15! [Is it just me, or do those prices sound like they're not that much less than what you'd pay now?]. We also found out how rude and unhelpful New Yorkers (at least those working at the airport) are.

Now, here I sit on the plane to Brazil, in economy class but with a seat free next to me, and a window to sleep against when I need it. Genevieve has the same (she was assigned the seat next to me, but there were two seats two rows back that were open, and the nice steward invited her to move there).

So anyway, I have one less night in South Africa now, and another 5 hour (PS turned out to be 7) wait in an airport coming up tomorrow morning (and even more airline food--yuck!). Oh! And on this flight, they gave us a toothbrush, a little bit of toothpaste, a hair comb AND the movie is going to be "A walk in the clouds", which I have wanted to see for a while (edit: it was "Free Willy" [and "A walk in the clouds," which I must have seen some other time was pretty silly anyway]). AND I get to listen to a lot of Portugese being spoken. Ooh--turbulence.

Signing off, Sam, 8:40 pm Seattle time.

[Strange... I think I write essentially the same now as I did then.]

Egg substitutes

Another piece of paper I found in the pile:

Substitute for 1 egg when baking:

1/2 of a very ripe banana

1/2 tsp ground/milled flaxseed in 1/4 cup warm water, stirred until gooey (it really does start seeming like egg whites, and this provides omega-3 fatty acids without needing to eat fish)

1/4 cup applesauce

I've never tried the banana, but I do use the other two options with great success, especially applesauce in sweet breads, such as banana, zucchini or cranberry-apple, that I make entirely vegan (the applesauce helps make and keep them moist) and flaxseed as a partial egg substitute in brownies (I just cut back the number of eggs and substitute flaxseed for the missing ones). I wouldn't try them in cookies or pumpkin pie filling... just don't think they'd do as well in those. But, please let me know if they work for you in other things.


December 1995 South Africa trip

I discovered right after posting the last entry on my 2008 trip to South Africa that I had just typed up my last real journal entry! After that, I more took notes in my journal rather than writing stories. I may still try to turn those notes into stories some time--we'll see! In the meantime, I am cleaning off the top of my bedroom dresser today. It is where I keep a lot of paper. It has gotten a little out of control. I found this in a notebook, and wanted to record it so I could throw away the paper... 

In 1995, my sister and I went on a trip to South Africa together. The getting-there part was a bit of a nightmare. Here're my notes:

~April 1995: decided to make trip; ordered tickets

~May 1995: planned Autumn 1995 class schedule so that final exams would be before the flight [G and I were undergraduates in Seattle at the time, and we specifically planned our Autumn quarter schedule for the final exams to be finished as early as possible, to give us more time in South Africa before we had to be back in Seattle for the beginning of the next quarter; I took an 8:30 am physics lab (I found that to be a bit early for 3 hours of physics) because the final was earlier for that section than for the 11:30 am one]

12 December 1995 [the day my dad was going to pick us up in Seattle to take us to my parents' house, so that they could take us to the airport the next day]
8:30 am: final exam in Physics 122
10:30 am: to work; Noel's birthday; presents from Sally and Terry [I was working as an assistant in a Toxicology research lab... Terry was my big boss and Sally and Noel were graduate students]
12:30 pm: to Ave [street in University district]... cash paycheck, buy shoes and leotard and aerobics pants and waterproof shoe spray at Big 5 [a sports store; I was a big aerobicizer back in those days]
2:30 pm: get to apartment, fire alarm going off [this was a bit of a problem as my dad was supposed to arrive at 3 pm to pick me and my packed luggage up... I needed to get in so I could pack!]
4 pm: phone call from mom... dad has been in an accident, but would pick us up at 5 pm [this was the accident that turned his Honda Accord into his Honda Accordian... he was hit from behind while stopped at an offramp light... he hit the car in front of him, which hit the car in front of it, which hit the car in front of it (that's 5 cars total)... his car was a bit crumpled, hence its new nickname, and was later deemed a right-off by the insurance company, but he bought it back from the insurance company for $150 (in addition to getting the $2000 for it's value when it was written off) and that car kept going as my sister's car at least until she sold it when it had >250,000 miles on it... quite the car]
4 pm: wind really starts blowing... "Windstorm of 1995"
5 pm: dad picks us up in damaged car; traffic good to Olympia
6:30 pm: arrive in Tumwater [where my parents lived]; power is out [due to wind storm], can't do 2.5 weeks' worth of laundry
That evening: pack my dirty clothes by light of torch and propane lantern

[Perhaps we should have given up here?]

13 December, 1995 [day of flight]
5 am: rise and shine
9:30 am: take off half an hour late from SeaTac for New York... in Business class though [about the only thing going well!]
2:15 pm Seattle time: get to SAA desk in New York [we hadn't been given boarding passes for the New York to Johannesburg leg in Seattle so had been told to go to the ticket counter when we got to NY]... a big crowd of people there that got smaller as names were called and people were given boarding passes... wait and wait to get our boarding passes
-->plane takes off without us because the flight was overbooked [never mind that we'd got the tickets 8 months earlier]
-->get $400 voucher [the tickets were about $1600 each, I think]
-->get $15 meal voucher: one sandwich, two waters, one cran-apple juice, one pecan roll, 1 banana =$14 [and a very rude cashier--I understood then what people said about New Yorkers being gruff]
-->told our luggage has been lost, presumably left on the tarmac in Seattle but they have no record of it after we checked in
10 pm: plane to São Paulo, Brazil [the airline rerouted us through Brazil and Argentina to get to South Africa... we were supposed to be on a direct NY-Joburg flight]

14 December 1995
11 am Brazil time: arrive in São Paulo (11 hr flight). In transit lounge until 6 pm

15 December 1995
11 am South African time: arrive in Johannesburg from Brazil via Argentina (~11 hr flight with ~1 hr in Buenos Aires). That's ~7 am Brazil time.

Well, we made it to South Africa (a day later than planned), and our luggage did make it a couple of days later. We got to see the Amazon jungle (and its destruction) from the sky and breath South American air for the only time (so far) in our lives. There were 16 people who were re-routed through South America, and all of us had our luggage lost, so G and I weren't the only poor saps. There was no SAA representative in the airport in Brazil for the first ~4 hours we were there, so the 16 of us banded together and managed to get a cafe in the airport to give us as much free food and drinks as we wanted... and before that, since cans of Heineken (beer) was the same price as cans of soda (US$2), G and I bought Heinekens to drink (we were both legal drinking age in Brazil, but not in the USA). There's a photo of us in the lounge with a can of Heineken somewhere.

Let me recap the things that went wrong:
-fire alarm kept me from my apartment for a while when I needed to pack
-dad in car accident on way to pick us up in Seattle
-power outage due to wind storm=no laundry, had to pack by lantern
-8 hours wait in New York, diverted through South America, 7 hours in a transit lounge in Brazil, 1 hour sitting on tarmac in Argentina while they cleaned the plane
-our vegetarian meals were on the wrong plane, so I actually ate a bit of chicken (last time I intentionally ate chicken; I had been a vegetarian for over 7 years at this point)
-luggage misplaced for a few days

But most importantly, over a day of our precious holiday time was lost! We also had to go shopping for underwear etc. when we finally arrived, since we didn't have our luggage. I think our holiday was supposed to have two weeks in South Africa total.

We had a good time in South Africa at least. And the flights to and out of South America were fairly empty, so G and I had a few seats to ourselves.

Perhaps some other time I will write down the story of how I got 2 hours of sleep before my Wisconsin graduate school interview because of another travel horror story.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

A letter about a childhood

I totally forgot to post this back when I was writing about the Hermanus phase of my trip. While in Hermanus, my aunt Anne shared a letter with me. The letter was hand-written about nine years ago to my grandmother from one of her childhood friends. While there, I typed it up and had my cousin Diana send it to me. I feel a bit like I am intruding on someone else's privacy by posting this, but I think it's so lovely that I want to share it and I don't see that it will do any harm.

13 August 1999

Dearest Cathy [my grandmother]

My eyesight is not too good so I do not enjoy writing--I hope you can decipher this letter. I have been telling my family what you and your family meant to me so now I have decided to tell it to you.

I remember the details of your dad’s tidy garden, the fruit and rose trees all pruned and the trunks white washed, the grape vines that we climbed in and the grenadillas [passion fruits] below the water tank.

I visited often for morning tea. We had bossie [bush... I assume rooibos/red] tee [tea] made with hot milk and lovely rusks [kind of like biscotti... for dunking into tea]--at Sonop [the name of the writer's family's house--means Sunrise], if we children were hungry, we found raw sweet potatoes in the shed under the tank!

I remember your mother so well--I remember the pincushion on her dressing table that looked like a piece of watermelon--black pips [seeds] and all.

She covered your Topsy doll regularly--new beady earrings and all. Do you remember the sweets [candies] she used to make--the peppermint syrup that she pulled as soon as it was cool enough to handle--when long enough, she cut it into sweet-size pieces. The other sweets she used to make were reddish brown and had peanut in them.

The storeroom key was attached to a piece of smooth wood. The smell in that store room was heavenly! Especially the dried peaches [funny--I loved the smell in my grandmother's store room, when she had one. She kept onions there, for one thing].

Because you were the middle child, I was taken here and there with you to keep you company--I remember going to the Findleys in Sunnyside--I remember coming back from Johannesburg with your family one evening. You mother was trying to get Elise [my great aunt... my grandmother's sister] to sleep when I mentioned all the car lights. Of course Elise sat up to look--you can be sure I was not too popular!

I remember details in the house--the photographs of Ben and Rene’s children with their pink cheeks and blue eyes--And the photo of the Catherine after whom you were called--it was the Titanic in which she drowned, was it not [actually the Lusitania, I think]?

I remember the cosy atmosphere in front of the fire in the sitting room when your dad used to melt lead to make sinkers for his fishing. I can still see him pouring the lead into the tiny mould and before it cooled down, he put in a small hook.

When I was 6 and you 5, I spent a whole month at Hermanus with you--I remember the mussels, the seaweed jelly and the penguin eggs--And Voelklip-the rock from which your dad fell and broke his nose! You had to practice your music before we were allowed to play. I used to sit on the stool with you and we sang all the songs whilst you played.

Your Edison records and the diamond needle was the great attraction--with you I really loved the operas--music I never had at Sonop--The other night on TV, I looked at the Great Caruso with Miro Lanza--it was then that I decided to get hold of you.

At Sonop, we never had any family life--we hardly ever saw our parents--we had meals with a nursemaid--the only real family life I knew was at your place--Do you remember the mosquito nets and the citronella oil?

I hope you can read this--all my love--we had lovely times together when we were young.

Love, Eth [Ethelwyn]

Lovely, hey?

PS. The photo at the top is one of mine... I used some iPhoto tricks to give it an older style 'cos I thought it fit the mood.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

11 September 2008

11 September 2008

Apparently there was frost on the roof of the Kalahari Trails lodge this morning and it was 1°C out, but it didn't feel all that bad to me. We had a breakfast that finished off the guava juice and milk and got on our way. After ~10 minutes, I realized we'd left the rest of our stuff in their fridge, so we headed back to get that. The rest of the drive to Upington was mostly uneventful except for all the birds that dodged our truck--I hope they were all successful. Oh! On our way back to retrieve our fridge goodies (a soaking wet Cadbury's bar and bag of apples), we almost hit a Roller [type of bird] of some sort--probably a Lilac-breasted Roller--that was sitting in the road. We both thought it was a dove until the last few seconds, then it took off and just missed our windshield. We hadn't seen any Rollers well while in the park, but I had briefly seen one flying next to us on our way to Mata-Mata. Jesse may have seen one other, but the one in front of the windshield was the best for both of us.

The front of the main house at Kalahari Trails.

We got to Upington just before 11 am and thought we'd see if Neil [guy who rented us the 4x4] would still refund us a day's rental as he'd said he would if we brought it back early (we were 1 h into the 7th day). He readily agreed, and also refunded us for the freezer/fridge not working and didn't care that the battery case was shattered and the one plastic tub was cracked [see post from two days earlier about my crazy driving over sand dunes]. That was a relief. With money back on my credit card, we headed on foot over to the Pick 'n' Pay center (where we'd loaded up with provisions before our northward trip) in search of an Internet cafe. Was a bit of a wild-goose chase, since it doesn't seem there is one any more in that center. However, after we bought a koeksister [basically a donut soaked in sugar syrup] and a tray of melkterts [milk tarts] at a home-bakes store, we were re-directed to an Internet cafe on the next block that only cost R30 (about $4 at the time) an hour.

Jesse got bad news via email--our friend Sergio Palacios* died in a car crash about a week and a half ago. No details except that it happened in Mexico. Leo [my co-worker and cat sitter] wrote to say that the cats are fine and that my plants "are still green." He should have defended his thesis yesterday. It was nice to hear that all is well in San Diego. Saw a few of Genevieve's wedding photos [Genevieve is my sister--she'd sent me the link to the photographer's website to see the just-released photos of her wedding that took place at the beginning of August], but the connection was a bit slow to see more. 

After that, we headed back to the Pick 'n' Pay center for a subdued [because of the news we'd just got about Sergio] lunch at a cafe (toasted cheese and tomato, with chips and a Grapetizer for me, and a vanilla milkshake for Jesse). Then, to Pick 'n' Pay for some snacks for the bus ride and to a pharmacy to buy postcards. We sat in the parking lot to write our postcards, then went to post them at a Postnet (R9 each! Ridiculous). [I don't know why I didn't write about this in my journal, but Das Rollende Hotel pulled up into the parking lot of Pick 'n' Pay while we were there and its passengers spread our all over the mall--there were very few postcards left!]

And guess who we saw in the parking lot of Pick 'n' Pay? Richard [the son of the proprietress, and who we'd waved goodbye to earlier that morning] from Kalahari Trails! He was looking to buy some mattresses. As he said, we seem to be followed by Richards (Richard the tourist Brit [see post from our first stay at Kalahari Trails] showed up at Kalahari Trails while we were there last night to look for stuff they'd lost and talked to Jesse about Namibia and the Garden Route... also, we'd seen him at the lion kill earlier in the day [Richard the tourist was a bit of an oddball, and Richard the son of the proprietress, was not to fond of him. Long story, and this paragraph is filled with "in" jokes that I can't really explain]).

After some aimless walking around [we had hours to kill before our bus left], we stopped at "Friends" coffee shop and had some Rooibos [red tea] and mini carrot cake. We sat there as long as our butts would take it and then did some more aimless wondering--looking at Mr. Price Home and Mr. Price (clothes) stores. Some nicely-patterned duvet covers at the home store, but they didn't look particularly well made. Too bad. Then we decided to see what Game [a store] sold and bought a bag of mints for Jesse and some red Bic click pens for me ;-) [those pens are one of my favorite things I brought back. I love them].

By that time, it was finally 5 pm and we felt we could show up at Elron motors/Mahindra/Kalahari 4x4 to wait for Neil to take us to the Intercape (bus) office, which he did at 6 pm [we'd left our bags at the dealership when we dropped off our truck. Neil was a very accommodating, nice guy]. Now, we're on the bus to Cape Town and Jesse is quite uncomfortable because he doesn't fit [Jesse is 6'4" and has problems with airline seats etc.]. :-( Let's hope we get a bit of sleep! [It was an overnight bus ride].

[*Sergio was a very interesting guy--oh, the stories there are about him! He was Mexican, but had lived in England for a while and thus had a British accent when he spoke English. The Mexican government gave Sergio a scholarship to go to graduate school in the USA... he got his PhD in Wisconsin (working in the same lab as Jesse) and then did a postdoc in the USA too. He was back in Mexico to comply with the terms of his scholarship--that he return there to work (I don't know the exact details, but sending Sergio to get further education in the USA was an investment by Mexico).  He was a very good runner and entered local road races (I think 5 km was his specialty) to win the prize money and was quite upset when he didn't win his entrance fees back. He also quite liked to drink... one time, he was still drunk from a night of drinking when an early-morning race was going to start, but he ran it anyway. The photo below is from my first Halloween in graduate school (1997). Sergio is on the left--he went as a box. For the record, next to him is Jason Hickman (Chicago Bears fan), Tracey Grimek (biohazardous waste), Jeff Gralnick (monk) and that's me, the cleaning lady in front. We were all first-year graduate students here. I had a brand new kitchen towel I took as part of my outfit and was quite upset (I didn't let on) when someone I didn't know at the party asked to borrow it to clean up spilled beer... it never did come clean. The bright spot on the bottom left is because my camera was on self-timer on a glass table and the flash got reflected back.

10 September 2008

10 September 2008

What a difference a day makes! This morning, I got up at ~6:15 am and had to fight my way to a sink because the bathroom was packed with German women from Das Rollende Hotel. We got on our way at 7:30 am, after getting a lecture from the East Londoners about how SA is "heading the way of Zimbabwe."

Within a couple of kilometers, we were passing a stopped car when we noticed why they were stopped--2 cheetahs lying in the grass!!!!!! Jesse slammed on the brakes while looking at the cheetahs so we ended up going over the edge of the road with one tire and made quite a dent in the gravel. For ~5 minutes, we watched them lie there, then as one got up and walked to the other, who had a radio collar on*.
Cheetahs in the grass.

The cheetahs start moving about.

Soon after that, they both got up and started walking away, getting quite close to another stopped car just ahead of us. And who should roll up, but Das Rollende Hotel. Actually, perhaps the cheetahs departure was a bit timed by their arrival. The cheetahs paused at a fallen over tree stump and both jumped up, the smaller (younger) one without a collar not being quite as successful at first and having to leap right off. Then the collared one got down and started rubbing her neck against the tree. After a while, they both walked off and up a dune, giving us a great silhouette view. 

One cheetah is in the tree and the collared one is scratching her neck.

We continued on our way and after a few kilometers we came across some parked cars--a sure sign that there's a lion in the neighborhood! On our left was a massive male lion with a black mane, posing very nicely. He got up and walked over the hill as we watched, around the same time that Das Rollende Hotel showed up (we'd passed them a little way back). They caused quite the traffic jam as they tried to position truck and trailer around the parked cars. We actually had to move our truck to let them get ahead, then they penned in another vehicle that we had to reverse for, to let it out. Craziness. But, we then noticed two more females (maybe three) and a male on the right, who all started to pose nicely before conking out in the grass. We watched them for quite a while (D.R.H. didn't stay for long), then got moving. 

A happy-looking cat.

A *BIG* cat.

A female lion showing how well her coat color matches that of the grass.

We came across a herd of giraffe in the distance and watched them for a while, but then someone pulled up and told us there was a lion kill just up the road. We watched the giraffes for a couple more minutes then headed for the lion kill. Sure enough, there were eight lions around a dead baby giraffe :-( with five males (all with stubby manes [a sign of youth or old age]) nibbling on the giraffe, and three females flat on their sides in the shade. The upper and right parts of the giraffe's head had been eaten away, so we could see its lower teeth/jaw. They'd really gouged out the giraffe's belly and exposed more and more of the rib cage as we watched. The two cars with the best view didn't move while we were there, so I didn't get great photos, and I was looking through the windshield, so Jesse had to take the photos out of his window for me. The lions and giraffe body were 2-3 meters from the road (the other pride we'd seen was ~5 meters from the road).

Lions at the breakfast table.

Well, to top of our "good" animal day, we saw a mommy and daddy ostrich taking a stroll with their eighteen chicks and I got some good photos of swallow-tailed bee-eaters. And we saw some cardinal-breasted shrikes. And we saw Namibia and Botswana on the same day (without actually entering either).

The ostriches and their 18 kids out for a stroll.

We're back at Kalahari Trails tonight, but are sleeping inside the house because Prof. Anne Rasa [the proprietress] thinks there'll be a frost tonight. I got to take a shower and that feels very nice! We've repacked all the camping gear in preparation for returning it tomorrow. Then, there will be the bus ride to Cape Town.

Oh--ran into Jared and Susan [who had been our neighbors at an earlier camp in the park] at Twee Rivieren... Susan said Das Rollende Hotel showed up at the picnic site they were at earlier in the day and that they'd totally taken over the place. Of course. We also saw a museum of the dwellings of early settlers today--must have been tough folks! It was a 14-day oxen ride to Upington...

[*I sent information on our cheetah sightings to some people who are studying them in Kgalagadi and they sent me the following:
"Thank you so much for the photos of the cheetah. They are of a female
Elena that we first found in September 2006 with her mother (they parted
ways shortly afterwards) and her one remaining cub of her first ever
litter. She had the 4 cubs in September 2007 and unfortunately they
slowly got whittled down to just this one son. We think that she was
struggling to feed them and they were struggling to keep up with her. It
sure is tough out there!! Her son is now beginning to play a bit of a
role in her hunting attempts and he will be with his mother until he is
about 18 months old, so 6 more months to go before he is on his own".]