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.

26 April 2012

Road Trip!: Kruger: Last Thoughts and the Need for 50 Feet of Rope

First, before I start on Kruger, I have to put this out there:  Cable TV is the devil's handiwork.  No seriously, why is this post 2 weeks late?  Well, because Aaron and I were house sitting for 6 weeks and right about halfway through I became utterly entranced with History Channel, Food Network and Style Network classics such as:  "Iron Chef America", "Pawn Stars" (hilariously pronounced as "Porn Stars" by the SA announcer) and "American Pickers." I even watched a few episodes of "Ice Loves Coco."  I hang my head in shame.  Anyhoo, it confirmed the fact that Aaron and I can never get cable TV (we don't have it at home, either here in Cape Town or in Minnesota.)  We'd never get anything done!  We'd sit there and watch the magic box and be all like, oooohhh, ahhhhh.  I think it was the novelty of it all, but yeah, not good for productivity!

Anyway, this post is supposed to be about Kruger, not the bloody television, so ... onward!

To refresh myself, I looked through our Kruger pictures again and find it impossible to imagine that we were ever there.  Doing this:

Taking pictures whilst a lion walked but a foot away from you.  I tell you, it is an amazing place.  It is utterly unlike the Kgalagadi and to compare the two is to do them both an injustice.  But I'm about to -- well, just a bit. 

Kruger is definitely the "flagship" of SA National Parks and you can tell.  Most of the roads are paved.  The camps and accommodations are all bigger and much more luxe and polished.  I mean, at certain rest stops you can order yourself a cappuccino for heaven's sake.  In the Kgalagadi you're lucky if there's toilet paper in the stall before you pull your pants down!

Of course all that comes at a price.  There are more people, and you definitely lose the wild feeling that is what I love best about the Kgalagadi.  Nothing wild about cappuccinos. 

But then again, there is a good reason that Kruger is the flagship:

Where else can you just hang out of your window and watch dozens of elephants stroll by?  Watch huge herds of water buffalo graze?  Dozens of giraffe stroll by?  Where else can you sit by a pond and watch hippos fighting, crocodiles sunning, see some kudu or waterbuck off in the distance?  And then a little while later you happen across a lion napping on the side of the road:

No, it really is an amazing place.  The biodiversity is absolutely stunning.  And if you look for them, there are indeed plenty of dirt roads that are much less traveled and much more natural and wild. 

And if I'm being honest, the luxe accommodations were, uh ... awesome.  Not that I don't like camping and sleeping in a tent like we did in the Kgalagadi, but it was a very nice change of pace.  Besides, my parents-in-law, who have camped a lot in their days were like, "Yeah, we want proper beds to sleep on.  We were done sleeping on the floor a long time ago!"  I think our favorite accommodations were at Talamati; a gorgeous little villa in a tiny camp, right next to a dry river bed where baboons and bushbuck liked to hang out:

Not that everything was perfect of course.  Because this happened:

So we go to wash our clothes and are super excited to see dryers (not common at all in South Africa.)  Also, we were relieved, because we didn't see clotheslines.  So, ok, we do 5 people's laundry for the last week.  And what happens?  The dryer doesn't work.  We ask someone for help.  He pushes some buttons, shrugs his shoulders and says there's another dryer we can use at the other side of the camp.  We go.  And guess what?  It's not working either.  At which point we're all despairing, throwing clothes over railings (and some of use are fearing going commando in the near future) when out of nowhere we hear my father-in-law: "I've got 50 feet of rope." 

Now, when, where and why Papa Armstrong decided that he should throw 50 feet of rope into his luggage is unknown.  However, at that moment all I could think was, "Thank goodness for Armstrong preparedness."  Like a good Boy Scout, an Armstrong is always ready for any unforeseen situation.   I know Sarah had a roll of duct tape ready in her bag and Aaron goes to the grocery store with a flashlight and knife.  You feel safe with these Armstrongs, I tell ya.

Anyhoo, thank goodness for that 50 feet of rope:

In no time we had some improved clotheslines in one of our cabins.

It was one of those things that makes a trip memorable, not that our trip to Kruger needed any help with that.  It was an absolute privilege to be there.  To be in the presence of so many animals.  Animals that you only ever see on TV or in enclosures at the zoo.  To see them roaming through this enormous park (it is roughly the size of the entire state of New Jersey, or the country of Israel), to see elephant matriarchs ushering tiny baby ellies across the road, to see 6 rhinos cooling off in a pond -- I can't describe how your heart swells.   How small you feel, how humble and how connected to something other than yourself and your small, human life. 

In fact, I think that's what I took most out of the whole trip.  That sense of connectedness and duty.  I have always been someone concerned about nature, the earth, our environment.  But being in Kruger has brought it to life for me in new, real and very visceral ways. 


Because this is what humans do.  Just in 2012 alone, over 180 rhinos have been poached in South Africa (that we know of) and some top San Parks officials have been indited.  To think of it makes me sick.  And it's not just the poaching.  It's the indiscriminate use of our resources, of the trees and animals and oceans around us.  We humans can act like horrible, spoiled brats, using what we want with no sense of responsibility.  Well there is a cost to what we do.  And I hope that enough of us wake the hell up before there is nothing left but regrets.

In any case, for a post that started with references to "Iron Chef" and meandered onto wet laundry, it's definitely gotten heavy.  But that's the truth folks.  And no matter how much reality television we watch, ain't nothing gonna change if we don't help.  So here's a link to a great organization trying to stop poaching: Stop Rhino Poaching.  Give if you can, and if not, do something closer to home.  Adopt -- don't buy -- your next pet, donate to your local wildlife fund, make sure you recycle, go out and walk around your local lake and enjoy it.  Do something, something real and good.  Hell, at least turn off the television.  At least for a while! 

Peace out kids ...

24 April 2012

A Year in Cape Town

Exactly one year ago I arrived in South Africa ... what has followed has been the most amazing year of my life. Thank you to my family for enduring the distance, to my husband for giving us this opportunity, to South Africa for charming and educating me and mostly, to the people we have met here. It is true what they say that friends are the family you choose. I feel like we now have a bunch of SA cousins, big sisters, aunties and uncles.

We are so thankful to them for opening their homes & hearts to two slightly oddball Americans! With them we have eaten new foods, learned new words and created new, life-long bonds.  They  have made what could have been a very lonely experience a rich, beautiful and fun adventure!  

And speaking of adventure -- oh my word!  There's been excavating on an archeological dig, horseback riding, hiking, ziplining and 2 safaris (with 2 more to come!)  We've traveled to the Southernmost point in Africa, driven across the country, seen whales, lions, rhinos, cheetahs, elephants and so much more.

I feel like South Africa has added to the already very diverse influences that make me, me.  I now automatically say "lekka" when something is good; "shame" and "ag" and "kak" have also been added to my everyday vocabulary ... and I can't imagine life without a good source of rusks and biltong.   I feel so grateful to have lived in a place so complex, so beautiful and that has given me so much.

In short, I feel so incredibly, INCREDIBLY lucky.  I know now that no matter where I go, no matter where Aaron and I end up, South Africa will always be a second home to us.  I know that we'll always be coming back to SA -- for Aaron's work yes, but I really hope that when we have kids they can come back and know this incredible place and get to know all their SA aunties and uncles!

I ♥ South Africa!







04 April 2012

Road Trip!: Kruger 3

Hi Kids!

Et voilĂ , here she is, the final Kruger picture post!

Highlights here include all the owls from our night ride (including the very rare Head-all-the-way-around-Exorcist owl, captured only on blue moon nights when your camera's exposure is all off), the 2 groups of lions (one group hid in the tall grass while the 2 brothers ever so nonchalantly laid on the road in front of a dozen cars!), A huge herd of buffalo, the closest we got to a HIPPO out of the water, a momma giraffe and her baby, and the 2 cutest little baboons you ever did see playing on a tree.  See that?  It rhymed. 

Enjoy and I'll post the write up soon!  Smooches!