Saturday, August 21, 2010

Walking in Virginia Bush (Upper)

Wren being carried "like the zulus do it."
This afternoon we went for a walk in Virginia Bush.  Dad and Frost cycled to the park while Wren and I took the car and brought the binoculars and a towel.  Dad thought that Wren might need a backpack carrier but we couldn't find one at home so Florence (one of the house help) suggested we carry him like the Zulus.   She demonstrated.

When Florence demonstrated how to tie Wren on it seemed very tight and snug.  Wren did not look convinced but at least he was secure.  When I tried it at the bush Wren started reassuring me that "I am not tired any more.  I want to talk."   I think it was because he did not like the sensation of sliding inexorably downwards.  At least it acted as an incentive to walk.

Virginia bush is very dry this time of year.  All the underbrush is reduced to twigs and many trees are bare stemmed.   There is a thick layer of dried leaves underfoot and the dry pods and leaves on the strelizia scrape like cardboard in the breeze.   The earth is dry red dust and you can see ant lion hollows and little piles of buck droppings along the path.  

Courtesy of
Shortly after arriving in the park I was excited to see a purple crested lourie (left).  It is a large and rather splendid bird which makes a loud call from the treetops.  I saw it well high in a tree and also saw it fly, displaying distinctive red wing feathers.

Other good sightings were some white eared barbet (which are new to the area since I was a child) and a pair of duiker (tiny forest deer which are ver timid and seldom seen when you go gallumphing along with two noisy kids whose mission is to whack everything they see with their Whacking Sticks.)

Towards the end of our walk Frost started to spot birds and became more engaged by the process of wandering through bush, stopping and peering through binoculars at things you can't see.   He told me that he could make his eyes "see things that are moving" and then notice them.  Doing so, he spotted a number of Natal Robins and some hadedahs moving skulkilly through the trees.

"Come and see!  There is a platypus in a pond
and some chickadees and a ROBIN, real real in this world... !"
After a while Wren became excited by the game of spotting and announced that he had seen "a platypus in a pond and some chickadees."   Later, after fierce interrogation by Frost (who alarmed me by wondering if Wren was telling the truth or not!) Wren admitted we were all "playing this pretending to see birds!"   I suppose it seems like that to him, since all we saw were glimmers and glimpses of things at some distance.

My "Name this Flower" competition
Both boys liked the flowers which were highly visible.  I forget their name but someone should know from this photograph of one of many splendid blossoms rising straight up out of the dust and forest debris.   Frost was also excited by a weavers nest we found and by some mysterious holes which Frost thought were snakes.  Wren added that they were probably in the hole because "snakes are very sneaky!"

This evening we went out to Spigadoro Italian restaurant in Florida Road and I had butternut agnolotti.  In the pause between the pasta course and the Chocolate Volcano deserts, the boys played iPad and the mini scrabble game I brought for the airplane.  Tomorrow, we hope to make another ride through the cane although I also hope to go to the beach on the next sunny day.  The winds have kept us away to this point and despite Ingrid's advice and dire predictions about wind by 10am, we have never managed to make it to the beach by 8am.

Note the roadworks.  The teams have been making a lot of progress
improving the road.
Finally, I can't resist putting in this picture of Frost and Grandad arriving at Virginia Bush on their bicycles.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Signs of the Times (and samosas)

Street signs are changing.

Weather Update
A huge wind came through last night, silencing the frogs and making the old house heave and shudder with each gust.  The windows are made of wood and the doors were over-sanded after a paint job.  As a result they rattle in the frames.

Adding to the sense of being aboard a ship at sea is the fact that two windows in Ansellia's attic room "were allowed to swing back and forward in a wind until they broke off and fell down into the garden."   They have been repaired but not installed so Ansellia's room is open to the elements but for the burglar bars and brown cardboard boxes taped over the hole.

Last night the wind whistled through the cardboard and the curtains billowed wildly.  Ansellia  sought relief in the living room (couch) while Wren and I tossed and shivered and I stuffed bits of clothing and toilet paper into the gaps in the frames (to stop the thudding).

Tonight is still chilly (19C) but not as windy.  I hope it clears before our beach visit next week.

Signs of the Times
We had a quiet day today - visiting Adams Books at Musgrave Center and the playground at Mitchell Park.  I drove Frost and Wren past my childhood home and Mum's house on Essenwood Rd.   Along the way we kept our eyes out for strange signs.  Frost likes this idea because he loves his Signspotting 1 and 2 books and chortles endlessly over them.  He says he has seen one funny sign already:  a question mark crossed out.  He thinks this means "DO NOT ASK QUESTIONS HERE."

Driving around Durban there are many signs of change.  Street signs, that is.  Major roads are being renamed rapidly and local maps cannot keep pace.  All around the area you see signs like that above - the old name crossed out and the new one signed.

Gladys Mazibuko was a trade unionist, community activist and member of the ANC's military wing, Umkhonto weSizwe (MK), helped many comrades escape into exile. 
No informal traders here.

Another sign we noticed was at the entrance to the park.  The sign tells you that no informal traders can do business there.  All around the city traders set up their tables, umbrellas, chairs and/or blankets with fruit, vegetables or other commodities.  Inside the playground, an older black woman wearing a blanket had a huge bag of potato crisps she was selling "under the bench."

Most of the time, this is a legitimate trade, but sometimes the good or service is a piece of theatre, a prop for begging.  Within days of arriving Frost observed that "they have many jobs here that people don't do in America."  

He's right.   Just off the top of my head, here are a couple of  jobs I haven't seen in cities outside South Africa:
  • Car parking guards:  Informally, people take possession of a series of free parking spaces (they can be in mall parkings or open street) and wave you to their open spot.  They gesture as you pull in and then offer to "look after" the car.  You give them R2 each time. Sometimes they wear quasi official looking florescent coats but often they are just some guy waving at you.  Most are black africans but on the beachfront there were a number of Caucasian attendents. 
  • People with rubbish bags at intersections.  I haven't really figured this one out but at major intersections young black people approach your car with large rubbish bags and gesture at them and rub fingers for money.  I guess they are offering the service of throwing away your car debris?  If not, help me guess it.
 I'm not going into the guard dogs again.  They are ubiquitous, loud, gnashing teeth and scary.

Dad plans to take Charlie to the vet tomorrow to get him neutered.  Orion is in opposition and believes we should try behavioral adjustment first.

Visiting Adams
The kids enjoyed visiting Adams Books at Musgrave.  Frost bought a Tin Tin, Wren bought a Postman Pat and I bought a couple of kids books on Safaris and animal identification. Neither of them can identify even the large South African mammals and I was rusty on the pangolin and some of the antelope (aka buck).

I just hope we see enough of them to get the kids excited.

The kids outside Adams Books.
Note:  Wren is wearing Chris's hand-me-down pants!
While in Musgrave, I also visited an Indian supply store where I bought Urud Dahl (for Lauren's South Indian food) and more samosas for Frost.  Frost is living on chicken samosas.  Yes, he wants to be vegetarian but it seems that the only non-spicy samosa is chicken.  I eat the spicy potato ones.  Divine!

Tonight for dinner we ate puri and patha (little fried breads with rolled leaves and lemon) which was delicious.  I have thai raw papaya salad for lunch (because those paw-paws keep staring at me).

Dad, David and I are going for an early morning bike ride tomorrow so I need to get to sleep. 

Frost eating his 3rd samosa.  Spices in the background
include a tub of MSG which alarmed Frost.
Joshua, what are you up to?  I have had very positive response to your blog post.  Can we have another?

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Somtseu Road Hindu Temple

We visited a Hindu temple a few days ago and I've just uploaded the pictures from David's camera.  I told the kids they had to be respectful since there were devotees at prayer.  I don't think either of them had ever been to a church so they were very cautious and took off their shoes at the line.  Frost kept telling Wren to "Shshshshsh" and Wren alternated between careful slow motion silence and rushes of running as he forgot to restrain himself.

Durban Hindu Temple built in 1901, primarily for Hindu Laborers
A local Hindi visitor to the shrine explained that each of the 'icons' or murtis (images) represented one of the mother - protectors of the people.  You could identify with one of them, seek prayer with one of them, or visit all of them.  People leave offerings of fruit, money, incense and flowers on the altars although signs warn that you must not touch the murthis or use camphor.

Parvati / Durga:  The Divine Mother.
She rides a tiger to show her unlimited power.
 Frost and Wren were very interested in the fact that the Durga icon had many arms and weapons.    Oddly, when I imported these images into iPhoto and asked it to identify faces, it suggested that these were pictures of me.

The boys look at an icon of Durga.

Lord Krishna playing his flute.
He is often portrayed with distinctive blue skin because the sanskrit word
Krsna means "dark skinned, blue or black."
Frost liked Kali because it reminded him of the temple
of Kali Ma in Indiana Jones.
 There were a few elements at the temple which we did not understand.  Some of the trees were wrapped around with string, binding rags and flowers to the trunk.  I presume these are prayers but am not sure why the trees were honored.   Also, this blue basin (below) contained a small murti with red paste on it and water around it.  Frost worried that it might be blood but I assured him it was not.

A beautiful but mysterious murti.
The face looks like hanuman but why does he
carry a fish?
We also saw a large lingam sculpture made of black marble.  Set beside it was a carton of milk.  This brought back memories of long ago when I studied Hindu altars in my art practice.  The Shiva Lingams are either thought to be representations of all beings, a formless shape of all creation, or a penis resting on a vagina (lingam yoni).  I googled it and found this:
Shiva lingam with
milk and ghee.
The most common use of the Shiva Lingam is for sacred bathing (abhisheka) and so the worship of a Shiva Lingam always includes an abhisheka usually of milk and water, but commonly with other liquids, including yogurt, honey and clarified butter as well.

Durban Botanic Garden
Later, we visited the Botanic Gardens near Greyville.  The boys loved it - running around looking at birds, seed pods and cycads.  Frost found out that cycads are prickly.  Wren feared the rotating sprinklers and everyone enjoyed cream and jam scones with milkshakes at the kiosk still staffed by elderly white ladies with tinted hair.

I enjoyed sneaking crumbs to the begging birds (bulbuls, collared barbets, masked weavers and hadedahs) but did not see monkeys.

Frost and Wren were particularly impressed by the jackfruit.  Frost kept asking if he could PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE PICK IT!   I don't know what he thought he would do with it.  I told him you could buy them at the produce market but I think he wanted to OBTAIN it himself.  These jackfruit are not mature - they are really quite small but still impressive.

Frost reads about the jackfruit while Wren admires WHAT WE FOUND.

Frost has a sneaky look as he wants to pick it.
He complains that his smart shirt makes him look "not cool" in this picture.

I am getting sick of all the drama about monkeys.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Sardine Run

The annual sardine run is a big event along the South Coast of South Africa.   Many millions of sardines travel north from Cape Point, hugging the shore into KZ Natal and ending up near Durban.

As a child I remember seeing crowds of people wading into the shallows to grab fish when the school ran aground.   Sardine season creates a frenzy among fishermen who head out in droves to catch the sardines and the fish chasing them, they call it "sardine fever."   Large predators follow the run (you can often see whales and sharks leaping) as well as flocks of gannets and other sea birds.

The run is usually from May - July but this year, unexpectedly, the sardines have hung around Durban for a long while.  They are still here in August!   Many fishermen are thrilled by this event but the tourist operators down the Golden Mile are upset because all the swimming beaches along the Durban beachfront are closed.   The local paper made a joke that if this continues they will have to call the tourist area "The Silver Mile" instead!

This happens because the Shark Board pulls the shark nets out of the water during the sardine run which makes it impossible to keep swimmers safe from sharks following the run who are present in greater numbers.  All up and down the beach we are seeing NO SWIMMING signs and fishermen lined up with their long surf rods.

This morning, I called the Sardine Hotline - a service set up to monitor the sardine's location and advise fishermen - and they said that the latest catches were at Addington.  I'd seen the fishing boats and the birds on Monday when we were at UShaka so we went down to get a closer look.

At Addington, there were only a few fishing boats on the beach - not much going on - but we noticed a large crowd at the waterline at South Beach.  As we arrived people were running towards the water, wading in and gathering in a tight knot.  Here is the scene that greeted us:

The intriguing crowd at South Beach, notice the long surf
rod in the foreground
All around the beach were pieces of sardine - some were just heads but some were whole.   The smell of slightly decaying fish is familiar to anyone who has walked out a jetty frequented by surf fishermen.   They can't resist leaving fish heads and bits around.

When we approached I saw that people were crowding around a truck of Oceanographic Research Institute, with men wearing UShaka Marine World badges.   With some peering and questioning, I learned that people had 'found' or 'caught' a large skate which was being collected for the aquarium.

They ORI guys lifted the skate into a mesh sling and slid it into a special water tank on the trailer of their truck.

A crowd gathers to watch the ORI guys load a skate
into their holding tank.
Many people were disappointed about the skate.  When people saw the crowd they came running, hoping that the sardines had come ashore and they could scoop some up for dinner.   I spoke with one lady who said "I ran SO FAST when I thought they were sardines but I didn't get any."

This was as close as we came to sardines today.  However, we did see the fishermen catch two fish, about a foot long.   Frost and Wren enjoyed making sand castles and destroying them.  After a while Wren stopped being so anxious about the waves although he did not get his feet wet.  Frost collected wet mud to make mud balls and the boys threw them around until Frost got too wet and we left.

The surf fishermen at South Beach with a view to the bluff.
We did some grocery shopping on the way home and bought lots of awfully wicked nostalgia (for me) food, including peppermint crisps, guava roll, Liquifruit, potato samosas and vegetable curry pies.

I am being called to make tea for the boys so they can have Chockits with it.

UShaka Aquarium

Its latish and a huge frog (possibly the Guttural has been performing a percussive gargle for about an hour.  I don't know how I am going to sleep with it going outside the window.   I have earplugs but Wren doesn't.  Apparently these frogs come to the ornamental pond (read sludgy wallow) seasonally and have made such a noise in the past that Dad set out to capture them.

One night he caught a few of them and put them in a box.  He decided to drive them to a local forest and release them near a pond.  Unfortunately they escaped in his car and led him on a merry chase before their relocation could be completed.

Within three days 'they' had returned.

Frost and I went out there with a head lamp (Ingrid was afraid we were going to get attacked by the dog but he was not there) and tried to see the frogs but as soon as we turned on the light they shut up.

Even while they were quiet I could here other frogs making the same loud call from neighboring water features.   Argh.

So, anyway.  We went to the aquarium yesterday.  Today we visited the Somtseu Road Hindu temple and the Botanic Gardens - but more on that.  I am tired so shall simply share some pictures from our UShaka Marine World visit.

View of the beaches from UShaka.
Wren still thinks the waves are huge.
The Dolphin show was on as we arrived.
This is Gambit - a huge dolphin who has been at the Aquarium since 1976.
UShaka is inside an inverted ship.   You can look through
portholes into the tanks.

We saw "open water ocean" feeding.   The rays were
amazing as they came to take fish.

This is Frost's favorite picture.
Wren says "this stingray was going very close to us."
Frost seeing a big fish!
Wren says "we are seeing a big crab.  He is VERY BIG and very UNDER OCEAN."
Frost says "I know this is a Japanese crab because I have seen this kind
in Katamari."

This is a picture of living nautilus squid.
I had never seen them before (this is for mum!)
Wren says "I really want to eat those!"

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Conversations you don't have in Seattle

I have just got of the phone with Dr Govinda.  He is a specialist in travel medicine. He says its not necessary to give Frost a course of rabies shots if we are able to monitor the dog  for rabies.  The background to this conversation is that Ingrid found out that Dad's evil dogs have not had their rabies shots "for a while."

For those of you who don't know, rabies is a serious issue in Africa.  Every year, the WHO estimates, 25 000 odd people die of rabies and 14 million doses of 'vaccine' are administered in cases of exposure.

The vaccination is tricky.  You can't save a person once symptoms emerge BUT the animal that bites may not display symptoms for a while.   So, do you do it prophylactically?  

Dr Govinda said "There isn't a rabies outbreak at the moment but you should keep an eye on the dog and if it starts running around and biting people, if it gets sick, then you should bring him in."

"Well, that doesn't sound charming."  I commented.  Is that ok to wait?

He added "Well, my son just had the series of shots... in India... where he is studying... and it wasn't pleasant.  There was a rabid dog, a stray, that ran around and bit 20 people.  Its 5 shots over a week or so and two in the beginning.   I don't think you need to if you can monitor the animal, if its not a stray it should get sick pretty quickly if its rabid."

Ingrid is taking the dogs to have their rabies shots this afternoon.

Durban Mini Town

This morning I was left to my own devices WITH A CAR.   Dad has headed off to Joburg for his booksellers event, Ingrid was at Cleopatra's in the Midlands and David was at business meetings.   Ansellia and Orion were at school and uni respectively.

I decided to take the kids to Mini Town.    Mini-town is a miniature city inspired by Durban.  As a child I remember my visits there and had told Frost about it.   Nobody believed it was still here - Ingrid was sure it had been demolished and Ansellia had never been but it remains, a relic to the 1970s beachfront tourist zone.
The New Face of Mini Town 

 We arrived at 9.30am, just as the gates were opening.    A man climbed into the little booth overlooking the 'city' and turned on the train, harbor, airport and music (which blared in an over-amped exhausted distortion).

Wren and Frost in front of Durban City Hall -
their great-grandad was once mayor.  You can see
the real hotels of the Golden Mile in the background.
Wren's favorite part of mini-town was the train which runs on a track around the whole perimeter and snakes in past the amusement park and harbor.  He liked to run along chasing the train rather than following the path designated by arrows.   Another popular destination was the car accident.   Either my memory has faded or mini-town has changed in the new South Africa.   Regardless, the kids thought it was very entertaining. I don't recall this as a child.  Perhaps there are more accidents now, or the artists have more creative license.

Look, there is a man climbing out of the car by the CorobriK factory.
Another part that I don't recall is the mosque, featuring women in hijab.   Frost thought they might be in mourning.  I thought they might be ninjas.   There are many fabulous hindu temples and muslim temples around Durban.  I shall take the kids to the Hindu Temple this week.  I think it is dedicated to Shiva.  There used to be a temple to Hanuman but I can't find any record of it.  Wonder why not?

Mourners?  Ninjas?  Hijab?
Durban Harbor at Minitown.  Frost said
"Take a picture of me to send to Alex."
The harbor is a big part of Durban - the port has a huge sugar terminal and many ships are lined up across the horizon which we can see from Dad's window.   The ships at minitown move along tracks underwater into the port.

The Crocodiles and huts in the 'country' 
I don't recall the Crocodile Creek and hutted village where people farm cows, goats and pigs by patches of real red earth.  Wren is on a crocodile theme at the moment and both boys wanted to go and visit "the Crocodile Farm" which I think is the point of sponsorship of specific exhibits for advertising.    The website for the Crocodile Creek shows kids petting crocodiles, girls holding crocodiles and a man riding a crocodile.  In light of the Dog Bite Experience yesterday (all recovering well from anxiety and Frost holding no grudge against Charlie) I think we shall avoid petting fanged beasts.

Speaking of beasts, a vast real live Egyptian Goose was enjoying Durban Harbor in minitown. Wren saw it and was very excited.    Here he calls out to me to look at the Real Live Duck.

"Look Mummy - by me, a real live duck is come!"
Frost making a "tasty" pose outside the Sugar Terminal building.
We hope to tour the sugar terminal later this week.

After we had done two circuits of Mini Town, I bought a lovely woven grass basket to use while we are here.  I may try and stuff a few in our suitcase.     Then it was off to UShaka Aquarium.  More on that later.

Monday, August 16, 2010

The Dishwasher

This morning there were piles of dishes heaped up by the sink, so I packed and turned on the dishwashers.

This has caused something of a ruckus.

The maid / housekeeper came in around 7am and opened her eyes wide.  When it was packed she asked if I knew how to turn it on.  I pressed ON and Start but nothing happened.

After a while she had the idea that the power outlet was turned off.

I turned the dishwasher on and it worked.

This was something of a surprise to the people in the kitchen at the time.

Since then, staff keep coming in from the office to make tea.  When they ask for a mug, Irene tells them I put the dishwasher on and they shrug and they laugh and make a funny face.     There are no mugs in the cupboard.  People are drinking tea out of small tea-cups.

Apparently here everything is hand-washed for you and I have broken the system by trying to do some work using a labor-saving device.

Dear Josh: Notes on packing to visit Durban

Dear Joshua,
I have been keeping a running list in my head of things I should mention as you pack to get ready.  Some of them I have already spoken about on the phone, like the charger to my new camera.   Apparently the Panasonic Lumix is not sold in any of the mall camera  shops in Durban and nobody sells chargers or batteries.   I hope you can find it or I shall be using Dad's 8 year old Canon EOS with its 64 Meg memory chip.   

Dad said it was top of the line at the time, taking 5 MB pictures.   

David commented that it meant we could only take 10 shots.

Another thing we are looking for (but you can't really help with) is black primer.  We haven't found a hobby shop yet and Frost has been building Warhammer Zombies.  There was a slight accident with the kit he packed - the plastic glue leaked in the suitcase and melted through the plastic box we had it stored in.  It melted an entire Warhammer skeleton during the flight, leaving a sticky grey residue and a hole in the hard box.  Thankfully, the clothes were spared by a plastic bag.

Frost says that the plastic glue did not melt the plastic bag because it is not polystyrene plastic and that is the only kind of plastic it melts.

You might also consider bringing a muzzle for a large dog.  Dad has three dogs.  Two of them are very sweet (or rather, too old to bother with us).   Puppy is ancient with a bald patch the length of his back.  He dodders around looking like a scabby hyena.  Cotton, the one who is allegedly brain damaged from jumping out a car as a puppy, has all her fur but not all her marbles and Wren has taken her for a walk and petted her.

Charlie is young and Wren calls him "the Bad Dog."   I think he is a bit wicked too.

Last night Frost was petting him and Charlie bit him.  It drew blood on the edge of his nail and there was a big tooth-round bruise on Frost's hand.  Charlie is now in disgrace and kept outside.   I have googled dog biting and apparently it does not work to "punish" (David has threatened a baseball bat if That Dog threatens My Nephews!) because it can escalate the behavior or cause the dog to live in heightened anxiety leading to more aggression.

Wren witnessed the bite and is now even more alarmed about Bad Dogs.

Its not hard to be alarmed by dogs out here.  Every home in the neighborhood has a pack of guard [kill] dogs gnashing at the gate.  Rotweillers are popular as are german shepherds.  As you walk down the street the dogs rush to the bars of the automatic gates and gnash out heaving barks at you.  Frost said that "all the dogs are on guard around here but that dog is really scary - you can hear it panting between barks."

The American Embassy residence has a corgi.  Apparently the US relies on other lines of defense.

The Chinese Embassy Residence has no visible dog but is lit up like a Christmas Tree with electric fence and surveillance.

The Angolan Embassy residence has a guy with a walkie-talkie, on his cell-phone.  They looked pretty relaxed.

Now, about the weather.  Its winter here but its not like winter.   Its always sunny and very very dry.  Dad says its the driest he can ever remember.  The grass is all dried up and the red-dust earth blows around a bunch.  Even the hardy plants like the dracina are looking depleted.

During the day we wear t-shirts and shorts or jeans, but as the dusk falls you will need a sweater.  I haven't worn the Blundstones once - its all sandals - but the sneakers are good if you want to ride the bikes through the cane, take Frost for a ride or do some exercise.

Although you always travel light, this time you really don't need to pack many clothes.  At home, it takes about a week to get clothes back through the laundry (no wonder you hide your lightly used clothes behind the door).  Here, there is a mysterious process by which anything you set down ends up in the laundry, and returns, cleaned, to your cupboard before you notice it gone.  Other times, it never returns.  I guess that things are 'mis-filed' into other people's closets.  Underwear is particularly prone to loss.

Perhaps you should pack extra underwear.

You don't need to bring toys.  The kids are watching television and romping around with their new guns.  I bought them each another gun because we left ours at home.  The guns are identical - they are black plastic, semi-automatic-looking, handguns but the boys have found a way to fight over them.  One gun makes sparks in its interior when the trigger is pulled.  The other does not.  Both want the one with the sparks because Wren says those are the bullets shooting and Frost says that is cool.

Frost says that is his gun.

Wren says that is his gun.

They fight and cry over it but also play a game where each one has a base on a bed and mounds up pillows for defenses.  Sometimes Wren uses "magical attack" instead of the gun.

The toyshop also sold real replica firearms that shoot blanks or pellets.  They look like the kind of thing bank robbers use to pretend to have a gun.   Perhaps these are sold in toyshops elsewhere in America but I have never seen them in a toyshop in Seattle and found them alarming.

Please remember to call SAA and change your food preference to something other than vegan vegetarian.  Perhaps even away from Vegetarian.  I know you will be grumpy if you have to eat what we had.  

If any boxes of things are delivered before you arrive.  Could you open them and bring them with you if they are not yours?  David and Orion are thinking of ordering a few clothes to bring with you.

Wren had a sore throat the night before last but it was gone in the morning.  He complained once about it during the day but has not since.  Dad and Ingrid don't seem to own a thermometer so it might be good to have ours.

Oh, and remember to print out your United frequent flyer number to get airmiles.

List of things I need:
Lumix charger
Lumix charger
Lumix charger
The digital thermometer.

Mysteriously, the LAN connection persists a while after I unplug.  Nobody can explain it.  I am sitting in the kitchen unhooked but still online.  The network connection says the same thing.  Orion thinks that perhaps my laptop is hooked up to some neighboring wi-fi but we cannot tell from where.  Also, it doesn't hook up unless I get a connection via the LAN first.  I wonder if you can solve this puzzle or will simply enjoy it.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Mountain biking through the cane

This morning David, Orion and I went mountain biking through the cane fields up the north coast.  Dad dropped us off and then drove ahead with the kids to meet us at Umhloti Beach.  Thankfully we had a few Blackberrys on us because we became rather turned around in the cane and had to stop a few times for directions (from Dad).   They were something like this "head a few kms along that road to an open space and then turn down the gully.  After a while you will see a tunnel under the freeway.  Go up a hill and bear left and you'll find a bridge across the ring road (turns out there were 4 bridges).   Continue... "

So we got lost and Dad drove up the cane road to find us.

There was a strong wind blowing and it was soughing and shushing in the dry cane leaves, tumbling dry cane leaves across the trails.   At one point the bikes stopped shifting because there were so many cane leaves tangled around our deraillers and we stopped to unclog them.

Orion said "my throat is so dry I think I am going to throw up."

It wasn't that bad but the wind made it hard at times and I haven't done any off-road cycling for over a decade so I found the rocky paths hazardous at times and wasn't ready to go with David's advice (gained from biking on Table Mountain rocky trails) "pick a line and stick with it, don't stop, momentum is your friend."   I felt that if I hit a rock at speed I would fall off and didn't want to.   The earth is very dry and red dust flew up in my eyes with gusts.

Anyway, all was good.  I have shared it on Google Maps as Sibaya Bike Ride... approx 5 miles.

View Sibaya Bike Ride in a larger map

We made it to the hill above Umhloti before rescue [aka Dad] arrived and had only to roll down the main road into the coffee shop for lattes and some kind of panini served there.

Dad had not had much luck at the beach with the kids.  Wren took his first look at the sea and said "we should go back".   Then he became scareder and scareder and didn't want to go on the beach.  Grandad cut him some sugar cane to distract him from the sea (and kite boarders, leaping the large surf) and he found it very tasty.  He opined that this was TSUNAMIS and was Dangerous.

It was pretty unpleasant beach weather which is when Dad brought them to find us.

We have bought our first curios:  beaded ladybug baby and mummy.  Wren says he will put them in his room.  Frost wants to send a gift to his friend Alex but I am not sure whether the mail is a good idea.

The Noisy Birds

According to Frost, Hadedahs are birds "that make very, very, very annoying sounds and sometimes they wake me up.  They have very long beaks and look a little bit like miniature cranes."   I sense I will be talking about them a bit more on this trip so I recorded a short movie of one we saw on a walk today, unfortunately our upload speed is so slow that I can't share their forlorn honking. 

Here is a borrowed picture of a hadedah.  Mine are inadequate.

A hadedah courtesy of

On our walk we also saw:

A squashed frog
A dove, killed on the electric fence of one of the neighbors
A blue-headed lizard
Crested Barbet
A hatched birds egg.

And we collected seed pods from various sprawling trees.

Notes From the Homefront

(From Joshua)

While Shannon and the children are swanning around South Africa, I'm left home to hold the fort, at least for a couple of weeks. And though it's tempting to just eat cookie dough and watch MLS matches (and I'm certainly doing that), there's a bit of work to do before I head off, and I thought I'd keep Shannon and her audience updated via the blog.

Our main concern when leaving for any length of time is the safety of our stupid chickens, with whom I have a love/hate relationship. That is, I love two of them and hate the third — but as with children you can't admit that you have a favorite.

The chickens originally lived in a coop, which we had built by a friendly coop-carpenter in Stanwood. But with PETA videos of battery hens fresh in our minds and Shannon's previous experience owning chickens that roamed the yard, we were concerned about the amount of space they'd get, so we but an external run as well.

Once they grew past the pullet stage, they became quite sure that even the run was not enough space, and we began letting them run around the yard, which they greatly enjoyed and became quite accustomed to. Unfortunately, chickens have the worst bathroom habits in the animal kingdom and once our kids felt so besieged by chicken poop that they wouldn't even go outside, I built a 144 square foot chicken yard for them. Since chickens go through plants like locusts, their yard is quite barren and we occasionally feel sorry for them and let them out into the yard, but that's generally their home.

Unfortunately, the yard was never raccoon-proofed, since that would take a great deal more work and we've had run-ins with raccoons in the past and have no doubt they'd kill the chickens and eat the eggs in a heartbeat if they got the chance. So every night we lock the chickens into the coop and every morning we let them out. And if we're late letting them out, they let us know. They let us know like a fire alarm. So we drag ourselves out of bed at 6 in the morning in the summer and stagger out to free the chickens into the yard, all the while hoping that our neighbors aren't casting ancient curses on us. And it means that when we go on vacation, even for one night, we have to hire a neighborhood child to come lock up and free our chickens.

But we've had enough of that and I've decided to go through the work of predator-proofing our chicken yard. Mostly that involves digging chicken wire about 8 inches into the ground around the fence, so they can't dig under, and netting over the top so they can't climb in. I've considered that it might be less work to just wander the neighborhood and kill all the raccoons in a 3 mile radius, but I'm trying to be a good Buddhist, so instead I dig chicken wire all day in 90 degree weather. And while I'm at it, I'm trying to make the yard a little more livable with some vegetation that the chickens don't mow through. Shannon's quite pessimistic about this, but I think if the plants get established enough, they might leave them alone. They seem to avoid the big bushes in our yard when they're let out.

Anywho, here's some pictures of today's progress, including a little fenced off area where I've planted some shrub grasses as well as lawn grass, which I hope will grow large enough in a few weeks that I can let the chooks into it without them killing everything.