About Me

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Hello! Welcome to my online travel-food-life journal/virtual scrapbook. I am a poet, playwright, journalist, editor and basic jack-of-all-trades writer. I was born in El Salvador and raised in Minnesota. I have just returned home from a year and a half in South Africa.

30 June 2011

Pinnacle Point

So -- finally, the site! 

It's been quite an adventure, I can tell you.

Indiana Jones and his fedora have nothing on me and my hard hat!

We're up at 5:30 am, out of the house by 6:45 and after our trek, working at the site by 8am.  We work till 4:30pm or so, then dinner, errands and we don't get back to the house sometimes till almost 8 pm.  And by the time every one has taken turns showering, making lunches for the next day, etc. it's time for bed!

And although it's crazy, everyone tells me that this is the Rolls Royce of archaeological digs as we are not living in a tent or bathing in rivers.

It's hard, physically demanding work.  And for an absolute novice like me, a little overwhelming.

But it's also very cool.

So, first of all, the overall complex of sites is called "Pinnacle Point."  It is near the town of Mossel Bay on the Southern Coast of South Africa on the Indian Ocean.  Here's what good ole Wikipedia has to say about it:

"The site consists of caves that have revealed occupation by Middle Stone Age people between 170,000 and 40,000 years ago. The focus of excavations has been at Pinnacle Point Cave 13B (PP13B) where the earliest evidence for the systematic exploitation of marine resources (shellfish) and symbolic behavior have been documentedand at Pinnacle Point Cave 5-6 (PP5-6), where the oldest evidence for the heat treatment of rock to make stone tools has been documented."

Here's what PP 5-6 looks like as we walk up to it.

Basically, what it amounts to is evidence of complex behavior by human beings much earlier than people used to think.  For many years the perception was that more advanced human behavior began in Europe with things like the cave paintings in France (which are aprox. 30,000 years old) -- but what PP 5-6 and PP 13B (and other sites) are showing is that complex human behavior began right here in Africa much earlier than that.

So, even for complete civilians like me, it really is fascinating stuff.  And I've always had a fascination with archeology (if not the discipline or patience to ever make it my life's work) so this has just been an amazing experience.

As far as what my work at the site has actually entailed, I've worked as a "recorder" -- essentially helping the excavators record the hundreds upon hundreds of tiny finds (anything from slivers of bone to tiny shell fragments -- I tell you, these people have A LOT of patience.)

I've taken pictures, filled out forms, helped make diagrams of finds on grids and of course have done basic fetching and carrying.  As I said, it's been physically tough (especially coming on the heels of my IBS attacks) but it's been totally worth it -- especially as I have finally gotten to see this dude at work:

Yes kids, that's a Vikings hard hat!

And I can now much more fully appreciate what his work entails. 

And as hard and confusing and terrifying (have I mentioned what a klutz I am? I am continuously terrified of falling in the pit!) as it has been, there are many perks!  Like rainbows!  And whales!  And of course the very cool team of people -- they're funny -- a lot like poets -- very serious one moment, and totally insane the next ... pictures of the insanity will be forthcoming ...

27 June 2011

The Stairs of Cirith Ungol

Hiya folks!

Lots more to come on the archeological site, but first, I had to introduce you to these ...

All you Tolkien fans will understand what I mean when I say that I think of them as the "Stairs of Cirith Ungol."

These are the mother-effers that we have to climb up and down each day (with backpacks) to get to the site.  After this there's another 15-minute hike over very slippery rocks, up rocky paths ... have mercy!  I am a serious klutz, and will often trip on flat surfaces.  So each moment as I get to the site I'm chanting in my head, "sí se puede, sí se puede, sí se puede ..."

But treacherous though the walk may be, the views  are pretty stunning:


23 June 2011

First Day in Mossel Bay

I finally made it to the archeological site in Mossel Bay!

Can't tell you how excited I am.  Finally, after years and years of being left behind while Aaron goes off on his archeological adventures, here I am!  The NOVA nerd in me is so excited!

My first day was spent recuperating from my long bus ride and little sleep ... so I just walked up and down the beach (which is a one minute walk from the house where the archeological team is staying) for a couple of hours. 

As I mentioned when we went to the Cape of Good Hope, I have a deep affinity for the ocean, for water.  In fact one of my favorite poems I've ever written is called "The Ocean" and my first play was called "Nina and the Devouring Ocean." One day I'll have to figure out how to put audio on this blog so you can hear me perform the poem.  So I had quite a magical afternoon ... I had the huge beach entirely to myself.  It was a beachcomber's dream ... and so hypnotic, the steel grey waves coming at me ... just amazing.

Tomorrow will be my first day on the site, so wish me luck!



22 June 2011


So this is a tale of feeling a little (lot) lost in a new place.

First, I must say, we Americans are at such a disadvantage when we travel.  I feel like such a provincial idiot!

Hey, what's it going to be like today?

17 degrees.

Seriously?!  17 degr... oh, oh, you mean Celsius ... so what's that, like, 30, 40?  Oh, it's 62?  Oh, well ... I'll just take this hat and scarf off then ...

I don't understand why we in America refuse to join the rest of the world and use the -- I think anyone will admit, much more logical -- metric system.

You should have seen me during my first supermarket trip!

How many ounces in a gram?

Pounds in a Kilo?

Calories in a Kilojoule?

Milliliters in a cup?

In a quart?

And OK, so there's 6.5 Rand or 7 Rand to a Dollar, so that means I'm paying how much per ounce -- I mean -- gram -- I mean Kilo -- I mean -- what?

My two best friends here:

And then to cook:

350F is 176 Celsius,

1 Tablespoon is 15 grams ...

I could go on and on ... It's just all part of adjusting to a new place I guess, but it is quite overwhelming at first:

Gallons into liters,

Miles into Kilometers,

Inches into Centimeters,

Commas instead of Periods ...

Oh and driving on the left, not the right!  Oy vey!  And it's not just the streets -- it's the escalators and foot traffic on the sidewalks -- they tend to mirror traffic ... the number of humiliating near-collisions I've had!

And then there are there's all the South African dialect and slang!  They've got the best slang here ... but I only know a few so far:

"Oke" instead of "Guy"

"Robot" instead of "Traffic Light"

"Lekker" instead of "good/cool/nice"

"Just now" which might mean "Right now" or "Never gonna happen, but if I say that you're gonna start yelling because you are an uptight American so I'll just say 'just now'."

And my absolute favorite (or I guess I should I write "favourite," since they use British spelling here): "Pleasure" instead of "You're Welcome" -- this is how people respond at shops ("shops" instead of "stores") when you say "thank you."  They say it in this really lovely South African accent and it sounds like "Pleh-zha" and sounds very charming to my American ears.

Anyhoo, I think it's a good sign that I'm starting to think in grams, Rands and milliliters ... but the Fahrenheit-Celsius thing ... that's the tough one.  When I hear "18 degrees today" I immediately reach for my coat ... I guess it must be a Minnesota thing!

21 June 2011

Two Oceans Aquarium

Here's a post I've been meaning to put up forever -- I keep taking too many pictures and it takes forever to sort through them!

Anyhoo, Nikki (Norman's daughter) and I went to the Two Oceans Aquarium in Cape Town a few weeks back -- and oh my, it is amazing!

Wonderful display areas, huge tanks, live feedings, a wide variety of specimens (including sharks) and all these really cool quotes and poems on the tanks that remind you of the beauty and importance of water and all marine wildlife.

Here's what one of the display reads -- which better explains the importance of preserving and protecting South Africa's oceans than I ever could:

"The warm (Indian) and cold (Atlantic) oceans off southern Africa are home to more than 2,500 known species of fishes (almost 16% of all the known marine fish species in the world).  This rich diversity is due to the variety of habitats in this region, ranging from estuaries, mud flats and sandy beaches; rocky shores, coral reefs and kelp beds to ocean depths of more than 5000 metres.  About 16% or our coastal fishes are endemic to this region -- this means that they are only found off southern Africa and nowhere else in the world!  We are proud of them!"

Like in my Kirstenbosch post (oh, and yes, I am still meaning to do a few more posts about it ... at some point!) I don't have the names for everything, but I thought you might enjoy the pictures anyway!

Here I am, amid hundreds of clown fish, more commonly known as "Little Nemos."  By the way, this was clearly a display meant for the kiddies, but did I care?  Nope.  Shoved the little brats aside with my elbows is what I did.  I jest, I jest. Kinda.