If you watched the Hanna-Barbera cartoon of the 1960’s called The Flintstones, you might remember one of the things Fred loved to eat…Dodo bird eggs. In the cartoon the egg was as big as Fred, and his wife Wilma always needed help carrying it.
Because the name is kind of funny, you might think a Dodo bird is a figment of the imagination of the creators of The Flintstones. But in fact, Dodo Birds were a real animal found only here on the island of Mauritius where I am currently living for six weeks. Not only real, but prolific and healthy until the arrival of man to this island in the 1600’s. That’s when Dodo’s and other animals of Mauritius became extinct.
A Remote Island
The Dodo story is a sad one, and also one we should learn something from. But Dodos are not the only animal that became extinct after man arrived on this remote island in the Indian Ocean. The Giant Domed Tortoises and the Mauritius Saddle Back Tortoises were eaten as protein by sailors until they too became extinct. The Mauritius Giant Skink, the Mauritius Flying Fox and the Mauritius Owl are no longer in existence, as well as another dozen animals and birds. The Pink Pigeon was brought to the brink of extinction but now, thanks to preservation efforts, it is beginning to return.
A Little History
From 1502 to 1968 the tiny island of Mauritius bounced around between Arab and European sailors and eventually colonists including the Portuguese, Dutch, French and British. When the Dutch first arrived in 1598 the island was uninhabited by humans, but was home to a variety of animals only found on the island…similar to its much larger neighbor Madagascar.
Man’s arrival brought hungry sailors and slaves as well as rats, monkeys and pigs. These introductions to the uninhabited island caused Dodo eggs to be eaten from the nest and the large (3 feet tall and 45 pounds), flightless bird (a member of the pigeon family) to easily be captured and consumed.
Same is true for the two species of giant tortoise. At the time there were so many of these giant tortoises it is said a man could walk along the beach across the backs of the tortoises for miles (by the way, they CAN feel that, their shells are very sensitive). The tortoise eggs also were eaten by both man and introduced animals, and the protein provided by the giant beasts was much preferred in taste to the Dodo.
By 1681 the last Dodo was killed. Less than a century to eliminate an entire species. Sad.
Today no species resembling the Dodo is on the island or on the planet. A species of giant tortoise that is similar to the Domed Tortoise is found on the Seychelle Island. This tortoise is now being bred on Mauritius. But farewell Dodo.
Today’s Preservation Efforts
Today the Mauritian Wildlife Foundation is working to protect and reintroduce flora and fauna to the island in several protected areas both on and off shore. Their mission is;
The Mauritian Wildlife Foundation (MWF) is the only non-governmental organization (NGO) in Mauritius to be exclusively concerned with the conservation and preservation of the nation’s endangered plant and animal species.
Their work is both restoring entire eco-systems and sharing restoration knowledge both locally and internationally.
Visitors and locals are able to see first hand the conservation projects being carried out in Mauritius including the offshore islets and Rodrigues. MWF works with local and international partners, with the long-term aim of recreating lost ecosystems by saving some of rarest species from extinction and restoring the native forest. Another important part of the work is to raise awareness about conservation issues through education programs.
During our visit to Mauritius we enjoyed an amazing guided tour of the off-shore atol of Ile aux Aigrettes, as well as a self-guided tour of Petrin, a birding paradise, within the Black River Gorges National Park.
You don’t need to stay six weeks on this island to understand how unique it is on our planet as home to a diverse collection of plant and wildlife, as well as a migratory stop-over for many species. A visit to Mauritius is recommended, and while you are here be sure to connect with the Mauritian Wildlife Foundation and support the incredible work they are doing to protect, preserve and educate. Yabbadabbado!
Diani Beach Kenya – It’s been a year since the deadly Nairobi hotel terrorism attack that took 21 lives. Kenya has had its share of terrorism over the past decade, mostly attributed to Al Shabab, an African Islamic group associated with Al Qaeda.
During this same year 40000 people died in the United States from gun-related violence.
I share this comparison not to advocate against guns but to make a point; media accounts of violence around the world create a fear of faraway places, even while violence at home is often just as severe.
It’s a dilemma to decide how to travel safely around the globe. And though we take our personal safety seriously, we do not believe we are in any more danger in Kenya, with its history of terrorist hits, than in the USA, with its history of domestic and international terrorism as well as rampant gun violence.
And so we came to Kenya – specifically Diani Beach Kenya.
Diani Beach Kenya is both a dilemma and a delight. This beautiful coastal town on the Indian Ocean has seen its own share of violence including murder and bombings.
The larger image of Kenya as a violent place over the past decade has been disastrous for the tourism industry, especially in Diani. Like other places we have visited (Eastern Europe, Africa, Asia and Central America), war, coups, violent crimes and terrorism – and the media accounts of these- can devastate tourism overnight, and the damage takes decades to recover.
Think about it.
But what of places like Paris, Las Vegas, London or Boston? All places that have had terrorism attacks over the past few years but visitors still flock there. Why do we feel safer from terrorism in a “western” culture?
Diani Beach Kenya, touted as the most beautiful beach in Africa, deserves a chance to rebuild its tourism program. Within the 17 mile stretch of white sandy beach sit several abandoned hotels, bars and even an amusement park – places unable to hold on when the tourists stopped coming.
Today, and particularly during the holiday season when we were visiting, tourism is on an uptick. Europeans from Germany, Scandinavia and Britain were abundant on the beach, in restaurants and bars and in the shopping areas.
Convincing Americans to travel here will take more time, and hopefully there will be no more attacks. Meanwhile we feel safe and happy to have enjoyed this beautiful, affordable and incredibly friendly place.
We want the best for the Kenyan people and our new friends in Diani Beach. Hardworking people who for the most part want jobs to support their families and have a good life. Tourism is the vehicle for that and they want it to thrive once again.
So here are some recommendations from our three weeks in Diani, for you to consider when planning your Kenyan adventure.
Where to stay – Frangipani Cottages – very affordable, beautiful pool and 700 meters to the beach.
Our favorite bars and restaurants – Tiki Bar, Havana Bar, The Edge, Nomad Bar and Restaurant, Kokkos, Java House, Oasis Bar, Salty Squid, Piri Piri.
The Magical History Tour, what a ride it has been. I never thought of myself as having a bucket list. Mostly because I just want to see EVERYTHING and go EVERYWHERE. But I have realized over the past two months that I do have a bucket list, and I am slowly ticking things off that list, all while adding more to it. And for the past ten weeks the Magical History Tour has taken us away.
We’ve been very lucky to see incredible things in our travels. Unimagineable things. Without even really realizing it we have seen five of the present day Seven Wonders of the World, included on that list was Petra in Jordan where we visited this week.
I saw a television program about ten years ago about Jordan and they interviewed Queen Noor standing in front of the incredible Treasury building at Petra. I was smitten and knew I would visit there some day. It was easy to add Jordan to our Egypt itinerary. Now, having been in Jordan, I realize I could have added Egypt to my Jordan itinerary. Jordan is extroardinary. A cradle of ancient, biblical, Roman and natural history. We did not allow enough time to see it all.
During out time in Jordan we visited three main sites, two on my bucket list and one I wasn’t even aware of;
Jerash – I had never heard of and yet we found this amazing ancient provincial Roman city more beautiful, interesting and preserved than Rome itself. Jerash likely dates back to the time of Alexander the Great in the 4th Century BC. It is an immense archeological site with only about 15% excavated. Unfortunately it is not a UNESCO site, despite the antiquity masterpiece that it is. Apparently one of UNESCO’s stipulations was for a music festival that is held here annually to be discontinued because of the damage it causes to the site. Our guide told us that
too many pockets are lined as a result of this music festival and the powers that be are not willing to give the festival up. Very sad as this site was truly impressive and needs UNESCO’s preservation assistance.
The Dead Sea – my “no bucket list” bucket list has include floating in the Dead Sea for a long time and here in Jordan we had that opportunity. You can access the Dead Sea from Israel as well as Jordan, and in fact more of the Dead Sea is in Israel. But Jordan has a portion of it at the south end. It is truly amazing how salty it is and how buoyant you are when floating. In fact all you can do is float. You can barely walk or stand and swimming is out of the question because you just flip over and float. It tasted horrible and you certainly don’t want to get it in your eyes. But it was warm, clean, blue and a once in a lifetime event filled with lots of giggles.
Petra – Of course here it is the main reason we came to Jordan to see Petra as part of our Magical History Tour. I can’t possibly do the vast history of Petra justice in this blog, nor were we able to see the entire site (you need two or three days), but in our five-hour visit we did and saw the most amazing highlights. Of course the Treasury (named thus because of
The Dead Sea
the Roman’s using it as such but originally it was a temple), is the most amazing of the antiquities in the site, the best preserved and most beautifully designed. There are several other amazing temples, tombs, palaces and more throughout the 60 square km site. We spent an hour and a half with a guide and then three hours wandering on our own including hiking up high above the Treasury for that iconic photo shot. We did not hike to the Monastery or the sacrificial site. We would have needed much more time than we had. I would love to come back here again some day – it is just so amazing, truly a wonder deserving its Seven Wonders status.
So Jordan was a surprise, and worth the effort to get here. We felt incredibly safe at all times. The people are friendly and helpful and speak excellent English. I am so glad we came.
And with our farewell to Jordan we say farewell to The Magical History Tour that began in August when
we left the USA. We have covered so much amazing history over the past ten and a half weeks traveling through and exploring eight countries. Highlights of the Magical History Tour have included such bucket list items as;
Romania Castles – seeing the fortress cities and castles of Romania with their ancient history and stories (Dracula) was a long bucket list destination. Read about it here.
Greece – although we had visited Greece before we had wanted to return for years. I suspect we will visit again too. The ancient Greek history in this country combined with the sheer beauty of the Mediterranean will keep it on our travel destination list for years to come. Read about it here.
Egypt – Of all the places we visited on the Magical History Tour, Egypt was the long-awaited
destination for me. And it did not disappoint. Seeing the Valley of the Kings, the Nile River, the Sphinx, the Pyramids and so much more was a bucket list triumph. I loved it all. And perhaps the friendliest people we have met. Read about Cairo here. And about the Nile Cruise here.
The Magical History Tour covered about 10,400 miles including 11 flights, 5 train rides, 12 ferry crossings, 6 airbnb’s, 11 hotels, one river cruise ship, and 72 days. It was educational, insightful, fascinating, delicious and fun. But time to move on.
Now we turn our attention to something new. We will spend the next four weeks and four days in Portugal and Spain. The first half of that time is focused on walking another Camino de Santiago. We start on Sunday to walk 250km to Muxia Spain. The Magical History Tour has kept us so occupied, we don’t really feel prepared either mentally or physically to tackle this next Camino. But nonetheless we will. I’m sure we will fall into the rhythm quickly.
We then spend another two weeks exploring Spain before flying on November 22nd to begin five and a
half months in the Americas (Florida, Panama, Columbia, Ecuador, Chile, Brazil, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Belize, Guatemala, Dominican Republic). I suspect there will be a great deal of magical history there as well.
As always we thank you for your continued support and interest in our travels and My Fab Fifties Life. Watch for posts from Portugal and the Camino coming soon!
Egypt gets a bad rap. Sure there are some things you need to be wary of. But this is true for anywhere you travel in the world. We have wanted to go to Egypt for years, and Cairo (its largest and most famous city) was worth the wait. And so we want to share with you our highlights of Cairo.
Morning in Giza
We saw many things on our Nile cruise that were so ancient it boggled the mind. And then we come to Cairo and see things that are 1500-2000 years older. Construction on the oldest pyramid in Giza started around 2589 BC.
When I was in fifth grade we studied Egypt. It was as early as this, and even earlier, that I knew I had the travel bug. My love for history and cultural studies began early. And finally at age 58 I stood at, touched, climbed and admired these overwhelming structures.
Camels and the pyramids go together
The best known pyramids in Egypt are the three in Giza, a suburb of Cairo. The three Egyptian pyramids known as the Giza Pyramids are Khufu, Khafre and Menkaure. Khufu is one of the largest structures ever built and is the only one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World still in existence. Egyptologists believe the pyramid was built as a tomb for the Fourth Dynasty Egyptian pharaoh Khufu. There are a total of 138 pyramids throughout Egypt, most built as tombs.
There was no city here when the pyramids were built. The city has risen up and is now a congested metropolis of 30 million people (and nearly that many cars). The city spreads far and wide and right up to the gates of the UNESCO site. Most photos don’t show the city because the pyramid site sits up on a hill. But the city and its traffic are within a few hundred meters of the pyramids.
Sunset behind the UNESCO site
Because the pyramids are such a huge tourism draw, while visiting you are subjected to a lot of people trying to sell you, guide you or take you on a tour. The government should do a better job controlling this – it takes away from the experience. Having our guide from Memphis Tours eliminated much of the hassle of dealing with the nuisance.
Museum of Egyptian Antiquities
However the government is working on some infrastructure to relieve congestion, as well as a brand new $550 million dollar Grand Egyptian Museum scheduled to open in 2019. This spectacular museum will be home to all of the antiquities including the Tutankhamen relics (many of which have never been on
display) and will replace the 100-year-old (and somewhat dowdy, disorganized, and not particularly clean) Museum of Egyptian Antiquities.
This new museum alone is worth a return visit to Cairo.
A Sphinx All To Myself
Alone at the Sphinx
Our Cairo highlights tour also included the Sphinx of course, a fantastic antiquity in itself. The Great Sphinx built in approximately 2500 BC for the pharaoh Khafra, the builder of the Second Pyramid at Giza. The sphinx was carved into the bedrock of the plateau, which also served as a quarry for the stone for the pyramid. It is 70 meters long and 20 meters high. Luckily we were there early and had the sphinx all to ourselves for our visit. What a special treat that was.
We made a brief stop in the Coptic Cairo neighborhood, an ancient christian stronghold of Cairo before the Islamic era.
At the market
A visit to Key of Life Papyrus Institute taught us the ancient Egyptian paper making process from papyrus (a reed-like plant), and gave us an opportunity to purchase a Christmas gift.
We also visited a local market and had a delicious Egyptian lunch at Abu Shakra, a favorite of tour guides because of the remarkable view of he pyramids and the sphinx.
Hire a Tour Guide
I highly recommend you hire a guide and driver if you are coming to Cairo (Memphis Tours was outstanding) to help you maneuver this congested city as well as help you mitigate the numerous people trying to sell to you and guide you. It is well worth booking a guide service.
Thank you Egypt for a great time
I would come here again in a heartbeat. In fact I’d love to come back in five years and see the new museum and see if they have been able to make some improvements to the Giza area, which is in much need of some TLC.
Thank you Egypt and Cairo for your outstanding hospitality. We loved it all. Next stop Jordan!
Our ten-day visit to the incredible countries of Egypt and Jordan included four days on the Nile River, aboard the beautiful Alexander the Great river boat. Spectacular, both boat and scenery, we are in awe of our surroundings. Here is how we spent our Nile River Cruise;
We were escorted to our boat, and our beautiful lodgings on board. The ship can hold about 60 passengers, but since it is just the start of the tourism season here in Egypt, we were on board with only thirteen other people. There were probably more staff than guests. And the staff is incredible.
After checking into our room we relaxed before enjoying a remarkable six-course lunch of Egyptian specialties. After lunch our Memphis Tours guide Azab escorted us to four wonderful sites for the afternoon.
The unfinished obelisk dates to about 1500 BC is nearly one-third larger than any ancient Egyptian obelisk ever erected. It measures around 42 m (approximately 137 feet) and would have weighed nearly 1,090 metric tons (1,200 tons).
The obelisk’s creators began to carve it directly out of bedrock but cracks appeared in the granite and the project was abandoned. The bottom side of the obelisk is still attached to the bedrock. Seeing this quarry and the unfinished obelisk was a window into the incredible stone work of the ancient Egyptians and their talent and craftsmanship.
Usually referred to as the High Dam, this dam was built on the Nile beginning in 1960 and completed in 1970 and signified a turning point in Egypt’s modernization by providing electricity for industry and agriculture, it brought Egypt into the 20th century. The dam was partially funded by the Soviet Union.
Temple of Philae
Temple of Philae
This stunning temple served both as a worship site as well as a center of commerce. Originally on an island near the expansive first cataract of the upper Nile, the temple flooded when the first Aswan Dam was built in 1902. It remained underwater until 1972 when conservations excavated and moved it to the current site as part of the UNESCO Nubia project. Today it’s hard to imagine how anyone could flood this beautiful and stately temple which has seen thousands of years of history including pharaohs and kings, British rule, Christian disfigurement, and the ravages of the Nile River.
Essence of Life Perfume Factory
At first I really didn’t want to go here. Because of my sinus issues I don’t wear fragrances and I can’t abide being around anyone who is too liberal with their perfume or cologne. But I’m glad we made the visit. We learned they create essense from the petals of many flowers as well as leaves, resin, and bark from trees. Essence is an oil, which then perfume manufacturers mix with other ingredients (mainly alcohol) to create the highly lucrative perfumes for sale around the world.
My little perfume bottle
My favorite part of the tour was watching the artists hand blow the glass containers used for the essence. I didn’t buy any perfume, but I’m bringing home a beautiful four-inch high perfume bottle.
After our busy afternoon we were ready to get back to the ship for a cold drink, as the afternoon temperatures had soared to 98 degrees fahrenheit. Dinner was served at 8pm and again, course after course was delicious and interesting.
I slept like a mummy.
Our ship stayed in port in Aswan until 4:00am when we began a slow cruise north to our first stop of the day:
The Kom Ombo Temple
Kom Ombo Tempte
This temple is unique because it honors two gods. Built from 180-47 BC the double temple also has courts, halls and sanctuaries. One side of the temple is dedicated to the crocodile god Sobek, god of fertility and creator of the world. The Northern half of the temple is dedicated to falcon god Horus. The temple is atypical because everything is symmetrical.
At first I thought we were going to a museum about crocodiles (similar to something I did in Vietnam) but I realized after visiting Kom Ombo Temple that the Crocodile museum is about Sobek the Crocodile God. And more specifically it is about the mummified crocodiles that have been unearthed here. The mummified crocodiles show how revered the animal was, as well as feared. The crocodiles were given funerals and sent to heaven as a way for the crocodile god have the animals close.
Kom Ombo Temple
After just a couple of hours on shore we continued our cruise north for four hours. We sat on deck under the shaded umbrellas and enjoyed the scenery. It’s like a movie set. I needed to keep reminding myself it was real. Though the landscape is arid, brown and incredibly dry, along the river banks is an oasis of green and lush palms and tropical plants with people going about their daily lives on and in the river.
After another amazing meal (I’m surely going to gain weight), we left the ship for our afternoon excursions;
One of my favorite things we saw on our Nile Cruise was the Edfu Temple built around 237 BC to honor the god Horus. It is one of the best preserved shrines in Egypt. It is the second largest temple in Egypt. The inscriptions on its walls provide important information on language, myth and religion during the Hellenistic period in Egypt, as well as detail on construction, tools and techniques used.
Sunrise balloons over the Nile
We arrived in Luxor after cruising overnight and passing through locks on the Nile. We had an early excursion so we were awake and looking out the window we discovered the sky full of beautiful hot air balloons at sunrise over the Nile. A very special picture to wake to. After breakfast on board, we took a small boat across the Nile to the East Bank where we met our driver and began our very busy tour of Luxor.
Valley of the Kings
One of the most significant sites in all of Egypt is the Valley of the Kings, where 62 tombs, including that of of Tutankhamen, are located. Many of the tombs were looted in ancient times, others only discovered in the last few centuries. Many of the artifacts, such as tombs, sarcophagi, and mummies, can now be seen in museums around the world.
Inside the tombs
So visiting Valley of the Kings is to see the actual tombs, which are dug from the soft limestone deep into the earth. We visited three tombs; Ramses II, III and IV. We did not visit Tutankhamen, which requires another ticket. However my husband and I have seen the treasures of Tutankhamen twice when it has visited Seattle, and we will see this again when we return back to Cairo.
The tombs we went to were very fascinating. I am astounded at how they could dig these remarkable tunnels into the earth so deep without modern tools. The tunnels are lined with fantastic artwork, well-preserved and still retaining much of its original color (unlike most of the outdoor temples). We loved seeing this.
Stone Workers Factory
Because so many people try to sell imitation stone work in the markets and on the street, the Egyptian government maintains some authentic factories. Here you can visit to see how the work is done, still today, using the ancient tools and colors (and after the tour buy something to take home – of course I did!).
Temple of Hatshepsut
This temple honors Hatshepsut, “Foremost of Noble Ladies”, who was the second historically-confirmed female pharaoh. She also was one of the longest reigning and most successful pharaohs. This incredible temple was unknown and buried under the sand and lost for thousands of years. The temple is an example of perfect symmetry predating the Parthenon. After Hatshepsut chose this site for her mortuary temple, the nearby valley became a favored site for tombs that we now call the Valley of the Kings. Hatshepsut also commissioned two obelisks constructed to mark her 16th year on the throne. One of those is the uncompleted broken obelisk mentioned above on day one. This was one of my favorite sites.
We returned to the ship for our lunch and an afternoon rest and then continued on the West Bank of the Nile in Luxor where there are two significant temples:
Karnak Temple and Luxor Temple
Columns at Karnak
Karnak is the largest temple in Egypt and the second most visited site in this country. It is a marvel. The two temples (Karnak and Luxor) were once connected by a 3km road (some still visible) lined with innumerable sphinx statues. Karnak was a sacred site, and it’s easy to see why. Only partly restored, the towering pillars and cavernous spaces are remarkable. There are 122 columns over 10 meters tall and 12 columns that are 21 meters tall. Decorative architraves sit on top of these columns, each estimate to weigh 70 tons. It is so incredible to imagine how these were constructed and positioned; archeologists and physicists have marveled and studied this question for generations.
The Luxor Temple built around 1400 BC was also buried for ages. Partially reconstructed, with work ongoing, this religious site has been used by ancient Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, Egyptian Christians and of course is a revered site in today’s Islamic Egypt. A Christian church was built on the site before the rest of the temple was discovered buried below. Today after excavation, the church door is 20 feet above ground, and serves as a mosque.
These two temples are both within sight of the Nile River and in the center of modern-day Luxor. Their historic significance as part of the cradle of civilization is mind-boggling.
Back to the ship we went for our final dinner and night on board. The crew of Alexander the Great sang to us at dinner and we all danced and sang along. We have enjoyed our time on board so much, and highly recommend this boat as well as Memphis Tours.
We now return to Cairo, where we will spend a full day at the pyramids, sphinx, and Egyptian museum before continuing on to Jordan.
If you have ever hesitated about visiting Egypt please stop. It is truly remarkable, beautiful and fascinating. With our guides we have felt safe constantly. And the people could not be any friendlier. I am so glad we came.
They call it the Rainbow Nation. A country with an extraordinary political and social background, with a kaleidoscope of ethnic Peoples, blended into one nation. Shaken not stirred.
But here it is – amazing South Africa. Hundreds and hundreds of years of slavery and oppression, colonization and apartheid but surprisingly today
together. A mere 25 years after the end of apartheid (meaning apartness in Afrikaans) people of all backgrounds seem to get along here, quit happily.
But despite equal rights it’s clear to see the economic difference still between white South Africans, “non- whites” and colored. These terms are from the apartheid era, when every person fit into one of these three categories and laws kept groups separate in all aspects of life. Today you’ll still find people living separately in historically separate neighborhoods such as the
Colorful Bo Kaap
Muslim Bo Kaap and the Black Townships, but progress is slowly changing this.
There are nine South African native tribes who lived as hunter gatherers and pastoral people for thousands of years before the Dutch East India Company arrived 1652. As the Dutch entrenched (and later the British) they used indigenous people as slaves and began bringing in slaves from Angola, Mozambique, Madagascar, Malaysia, Indonesia and India as well as others.
Today’s South Africa is made up of the ancestors of all of these races, a colorful mix of cultures truly
Cooking on the Braai
making it The Rainbow Nation.
The gastronomic effects of such a blended nation cannot be overstated, and luckily for visitors the reward is superb. Taking the foods of these groups and combining it with the wide variety of fresh produce, local seafood and game you get a melded and delicious South African cuisine.
Pumpkin Pap curried cabbage
I am no expert, but I sure like to eat, and during my time so far in South Africa I have joyfully discovered wonderful foods and flavors and also took a fun cooking class to delve even deeper.
Let me share with you some of my favorite discoveries;
Pap – for breakfast or anytime, pap is a staple food with a long history. It is very much like fufou that we ate in Burkina Faso (made from plantain) and when made from maize (the most frequently used grain) it tastes much like grits or polenta. We have enjoyed pap several times and my favorite by far was the Pumpkin Pap we made together at our
cooking class with Nadege Cuisine. It was served with a curried cabbage and delicious smoked Snoek.
Snoek – is a very popular (and very ugly) locally caught white fish that can grow very large. It is of the mackerel family and is known as barracuda in other parts of the world. One of the favorite ways to enjoy this fish is grilled on the Braai (see below) or smoked. Smoked Snoek is available in grocery stores. It tasted very much like smoked sturgeon to me. The smokey and salty mixed with the sweet pumpkin pap was a real winner.
Seasoning for the Braai
Braai – the local word for BBQ is as much a social function as a food. Most anything can be thrown on the Braai, but most meats and fish are slathered with a spicy rub mix of chili, salt and herbs. Braais happen frequently where neighbors and friends gather to enjoy each other’s company around the Braai. The host provides the salad and the guests bring their own meat and drink. It’s very popular to cook Snoek on the Braai slathered in apricot jam.
Bobotie – my favorite of all the foods I have tried so
far, this is the unofficial national dish of South Africa. The dish likely has its roots in Indonesia and it is a savory mix of ground spiced meat with a custard topping and usually served or combined with rice. We had this at a famous Bo Kaap restaurant called Biesmiellah and it was fantastic. Always served with chutney.
Chutney – Nearly every meal in South Africa is served with chutney, a sweet preserve usually of fruits but it also can include onions or savory produce. Mango chutney is very popular and usually served with the Bobotie.
Breyani – we also tried this dish at Biesmiellah and it was great. The masala spice noted the heritage of this dish as Indian or Malaysian. It can be made with different meats, we enjoyed it with chicken. The dish is a fragrant mix of cumin, corrrinder, cinnamon, cardamom,lentils, rice and sometimes hard-boiled eggs and is served with a yogurt sauce on the side.
Crayfish – I ordered this item at a nice restaurant we
went to in Cape Town called Aubergine and it was fantastic. It’s nothing at all like what I think of as the small crayfish we sometimes eat at home. It actually is a small lobster. Lucky for me this appetizer dish was perfectly cooked and served with a luscious squid ink pasta. Perfection.
Ostrich – a very popular red meat all over the
Nadege pan frys the ostrich
southern parts of Africa you will find ostrich on menus and in grocery stores everywhere. It is a very dark red meat, best prepared and served simply, and we enjoyed it flash pan-fried and medium rare at our cooking class with Nadege. Ostrich is farmed in South Africa and all parts of the animal are used including the skin for leather, the feathers for down, the beak and bones for jewelry and the egg shells for jewelry and decorative items. It’s not as easy though to find a fresh ostrich egg. Each egg is the equivalent of 24 chicken eggs. I still hope to buy and cook one soon.
Mealie Bread – I love this delicious bread, similar to cornbread we make at home but lighter. My favorite preparation I’ve had so far was at Aubergine where they added a hint of caraway. Delicious.
Cape Malay Curry – Sweeter than other curries I’ve had, Cape Malay curry once again uses the favorite apricot of South Africa as well as cinnamon and ginger and makes a delicious not to be missed meal.
Game – much of the game meat is farmed and
available and shows up on restaurant menus including Warthog, Impala and Springbok, which is small deer-like animal we saw a lot of in Namibia. We enjoyed the Springbok at Aubergine where it was perfectly cooked medium rare and served with a nice black mushroom sauce with a hint of walnut.
Malva Pudding – using the word pudding in the British way for cake, Malva pudding is one of several popular dessert and sweet dishes uniquely South African. This dark spongy cake made from butter, vanilla and apricot jam (there it is again) tastes much like a bread pudding and is usually
Potatoe pudding with peach compote
served with a warm custard or ice cream.
Potato Pudding – similarly this lovely cake, also much like custard or bread pudding, is made from potatoes, coconut oil, cardamom, almond extract and condensed milk and is served with a stewed fruit sauce of dried peaches and cinnamon. A perfect end to the meal we had at Nadege Cuisine.
Through out the Cape Town region you will also find many offerings that reflect the British, French and Dutch population as well as other African nations. We enjoyed a fabulous Ethiopian meal one afternoon for lunch at Madam Taitou’s and a
beautiful Eggs Benedict the next day for breakfast at the historic and gorgeous British colonial hotel Mount Nelson. However, you won’t find a restaurant calling itself a “South African” restaurant. The cuisine is just really coming into its own as a stand alone fare, and rightfully so. Hopefully soon, South African will be as common as Mexican or Italian.
Namibia quickly became one of my favorite countries for its varied landscape, colorful cultures and interesting history. So although I did not see the entire country, Namibia Part II is an opportunity for me to share a bit about what I saw and learned during my fascinating ten days touring with Wild Wind Safaris. Namibia Part II – Oh the Places You’ll Go.
Only a few years ago Namibia never showed up in articles or blogs about travel destinations. But then all of the sudden there it was – stunning photos of dunes and mountains, animals and oceans. Article after article listing it as a must see destination of 2017 or an out of the way place to see before the crowds of tourists discover it.
The furthest south latitude at which the sun is directly overhead at the solstice.
And so, I wanted to be there. I wanted to see what few people had yet seen. Namibia was high on my list.
Don’t get me wrong – there are plenty of tourists, and plenty of tour operators and companies to help you find your way (check out the company we used and were so happy with: Wild Wind Safaris). But we didn’t meet any other Americans, and 99% of the tourists we met were German. Germans know about this place and flock here, partly because German is spoken here as is English, Afrikaans and tribal languages.
Most visitors come to go on safari in Etosha
National Park and it is a must of any visit to Namibia (see blog here). Etosha is not even remotely as crowded as the safari I did seven years ago in the Serengeti with about a million other people. Etosha was quiet and beautiful and amazing.
Sociable Weaver nest can House up to 200 birds
But a trip to Namibia really needs to include time to see and experience more than Etosha. I’ve come away from the country with an even greater appreciation of the remarkable geology of our earth, and an incredible insight to the importance of preserving cultures and not just objects and nature.
Our guide explains to Arne
Until 1990 Namibia was part of South Africa (and from 1884 until after WWI it was a German colony). Gaining its independence the country has embraced tourism but being such a new country it still has its share of problems. Like many places we have been, government corruption takes much away from the average person and tribal cultures suffer. But the roads were remarkably good (even though Namibia has the highest car accident death rate in the world) and the people we met (mostly in the service industry) were incredibly friendly both with each other and us. In fact some of the friendliest and most genuine people we have met anywhere in our travels are the Namibians. That really hit home. We never felt like we were unsafe or being cheated in anyway – although warnings of pick pockets we took seriously.
Himba women with mud hut
Namibia has 13 ethnic groups scattered about the country and the native people identify with an ancestral tribe even if they no longer live in the region where that group is. Our amazing tour guide “Seven” explained to us some of the differences and he could look at nearly every person and know immediately what ethnic group they were from. Since we didn’t see the entire country we missed learning about most tribes, including the Owambo of the north, the tribe Seven is from.
We did get to learn about two distinctive tribes – the Himba and the Damara as well as a little bit about the Herero, an offshoot of the Himba.
Little Himba girl
Using smoke to “wash” hair
One of my favorite experiences of the entire ten days was our short visit to a special Himba village where we were able to meet Himba women and children. Note the photos of these remarkable people. These are not costumes. This is the way they dress everyday. The hair style is really remarkable, and a female Himba begins wearing this hairstyle at puberty. The adornments are made partially of their real hair and animal hair and are updated every three months. Because of the shortage of water in the north of Namibia where the Himba people are found, they do not bath with water. Instead they daily “wash” their hair with smoke – literally holding their head as well as their underarms over a special perfumed smoke (similar to incense) that keeps bugs and (most) odor away. They also cover their bodies daily with a mixture of butter and ochre as a cleanser and repellant, this is what lends the red tone to their skin.
Me with ten-year old girl
The village we visited was a special place because all the children here are orphans. This is a place where Himba orphans are brought to be raised in the culture of their parents rather than being adopted out of the culture. The women here care for these children as if they are their own and there is a school here too. The people are sustained by raising goats and cattle and they have access to a well so water is available but their bathing customs remain the same.
As we visited the women let us take photos and then they wanted to look at the photos on our phones. They seem to very much like to see themselves in a photo. The women’s first question to us was if we had children. When we said we had grown sons they wanted to know if we had grandchildren. When I said not yet they wanted to know why not? Why had we not yet chosen wives for our sons? My answer that our sons would hopefully marry someday and have kids didn’t seem to satisfy them. Their entire existence and culture is wrapped around family, child-bearing and daily survival.
Once again I am reminded of how many people live every day hand to mouth.
Dancers at Damara village
We did not visit a Herero village but these people endured near genocide by the Germans who wanted their land and intended to eliminate the Herero race to have it and the 1904 Battle of Waterberg ensued. Half of the total Herero population was
killed. Luckily not all were massacred and today the women have developed a very unique dress that is a unique mix of Victorian gown and petticoat and a unique cloth headpiece that is designed to resemble the horns of a cow. Today the Herero people continue a battle in court with the German government for retribution for all they lost during the genocide period.
Damara man building fire
The Damara people, the other tribe we learned about, are the oldest tribe in Namibia. They came from the East and settled in the middle region of the country. This tribe was primarily hunter gatherers and pastoral, raising cattle and sheep and living off the land. The Damara have an incredibly unique language known as “click” language. The language uses a complicated system of mouth and tongue clicks and is very musical and fun to hear. The village we visited was a reproduction of how a village would have looked hundreds of years ago. Where the Himba live in huts made from wood, mud and cow dung, the Damara live in huts made of wood and thatch. The Damara dress was tied to the animals they raised creating clothing from
Damara Medicine Woman
sheepskins. The women use ochre on their cheeks much like we use blush today. Music and dance and making ornamental jewelry and carvings were a big part of their culture, where the women did domestic chores and the men tended the livestock.
Cape Cross Fur Seal colony
Pink Flamingoes in Walvis Bay
The geology and scenery of Namibia is as diverse as its ancient people. The incredibly beautiful red sand dunes of the Sossusvlei region are the oldest dunes in the world and the stark beauty of these dunes is remarkable. The turquoise blue water of the Atlantic Ocean at Swakopmund in contrast provides visitors and locals a cool get-away from the heat of the interior. Here on the Atlantic the fog settles every day and so do thousands and thousands of fur seals, flamingoes and other shore birds. Local seafood is a treat including the KingKlip and Kabaljou two of the most popular and most delicious fish caught locally and served everywhere.
From the ocean heading east within minutes you are back in the arid desert where the welwitschia plant grows – the only region in the world this unusual plant is found and growing as big as ten feet across and living as much as 2000 years I was reminded of Audrey Two in Little Shop of Horrors. The inhospitable environment has little greenery and almost no animals except birds. The valley of the moon and eroding mountain range are desolate yet beautiful in their own way – especially the interesting dolerite dike a natural phenomenon of black sunburnt rock that runs along the ridge of the mountains like the spine of a dragon. This area is home to the largest Uranium mine in the world.
Ancient rock etchings
ANcient rock etchings
Namibia’s storage hunter-gatherers and Bushman (San) people were nomadic and traveled the country wherever the animals were. Their history is written on stones in several regions and we visited two fascinating sights to learn more. The Twyfelfontein site is today a UNESCO Heritage site in the Kuene region. Guides take visitors on a walking tour of the hundreds of rock etchings estimated to be several thousands of years old. The etchings depict animals as well as human footprints and tell a story of the nomad life and the animals they followed for substenance. It is thought this place was both a message board and a spiritual gathering place for thousands of years.
“The White Lady” is the pale figure on the left
Even more amazing though was the preserved painting of “The White Lady” estimated to be 6000 years old. This painting is located in a very remote region of the Brandberg Mountain, Namibia’s highest mountain. It is a two mile hike to visit it. Not as many people see The White Lady because the trek and the heat make it difficult. I’m glad we endured it however in 100 degree temperatures. Very different than the rock etchings, these paintings are preserved because they are inside a cave and out of direct sunlight. Discovered in 1918 and now a protected heritage site, the White Lady is actually not a lady at all. Early anthropologists believed it to be an Egyptian women, but today archeologist know it is a local tribal shaman, painted with the traditional white a shaman would have on his legs and body from dust and mud. The painting includes other human figures and many animals all painted with ochre (red), egg, animals oils, charcoal and blood. The painting has luckily withstood the test of time, although since its discovery humans have touched it and thrown liquid on it to try and see it better and this has deteriorated it. Today though it is protected and can only be reached with a guide who makes sure no one does any damage to it. It was a beautiful and remarkable world heritage site to enjoy.
The Namibian people have a great deal to be proud of and I hope this beautiful country overcomes its problems and finds its strength in the world. It has so much to offer, charm and beauty, history and culture. I will never forget my time here and I can say with all seriousness it is by far my favorite African country of the seven I have been to.
Thank you Namibia. Thank you Wild Wind Safaris. Thank you Seven for showing us your remarkable home.
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