Ten Amazing Travel Days

Ten Amazing Travel Days

“It’s a perfect day, drank Sangria in the park, later on when it gets dark, we go home”  Lou Reed

A perfect travel day is when everything falls seamlessly into place. There are days when you experience amazing things because the world is an incredible place. I picked ten of my favorite days

Cappadocia , Turkey

Cappadocia could be among my favorite places in the world.  The dramatic landscape is the result of volcanic eruptions that happened millions of years ago. Wind and water eroded the land leaving these odd surreal land formations, fairy chimneys, caves and underground cities.

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Floating across the sky at sunrise, above the lunar-like, rugged moonscape of Cappadocia in a hot air balloon was one of the most incredible mornings of my life and should be on everyone’s bucket list.

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Dubrovnik and Peljesac Penninsula, Croatia

I had a great time in Croatia with my kids. A particularly beautiful day was spent exploring the Peljesac Peninsula with our tour guide Petar Vlasik http://www.dubrovnikrivieratours.com.  We stopped at a few different wineries for wine tasting. Ston is a fortified city from the middle ages with stone ramparts said to resemble a small great wall of China. Ston is known for their lush oyster beds and salt pans and is a great place to eat the freshest oysters and buy salt.

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That night we attended a really good jazz concert at the Old Rectory Church in Dubrovnik. It was a great family memory.

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Onsets and Ryokans, Japan

Ryokan are Japanese style inns found throughout the country in hot springs resorts. Ryokan are a traditional Japanese experience, incorporating elements such as tatami floors, futon beds, Japanese style baths and local kaiseki ryori (eight course typical Japanese meals with local and seasonal specialties).

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The main activity besides eating is bathing. The geothermal springs located throughout the country( onsens) provide hot mineral-rich water for indoor and outdoor baths. The chemistry, temperature, pressure, buoyancy, sulfa and magnesium of thermal baths have curative properties . The meals show all that is beautiful about Japanese culture. Kaiseki is a multi course meal rooted in the Buddhist idea of simplicity. I have been fortunate to visit a few ryokans in Nikko, Yufuin and Iso Nagaoka. Each one has been special.

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Marajo, Brazil

Marajo is an island in Brazil in the state of Para at the mouth of the Amazon. It is the size of Switzerland and home to many beautiful birds and water buffalo.

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The story goes that a ship laden with goods and water buffalo from India hit a reef and sank off the coast of Marajo. Some of the buffalo escaped the wreck and swam to shore. The buffalo are descendants of this shipwreck though now more have been brought in. There are large herds of domesticated water buffalo on the island. At Fazenda Sanjo you can experience life on a farm in the Amazon. There is piranha fishing, riding and milking buffalo, canoeing and horseback riding through the river with the buffalo. We did the riding with the buffalo. It was definitely the most different thing I have ever seen up close and pretty amazing.

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Edinburgh, Scotland

The Edinburgh Fringe Festival is a summer theatre festival that includes cutting edge theatre, interesting comedians, and everything else. It is a festival where anyone can perform and my daughter’s high school took advantage of that and had a three-week summer program in Edinburgh. My son and I went to see her perform. It was my first time at the Edinburgh Fringe. Being a theatre person, I loved every minute of it and have been back a few times.

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My son worked there the following summer. The Royal Mile is the definitive part of the fringe. This road is packed full of street entertainment, groups doing excerpts from their shows (mainly musicals) and lots, lots and lots of acts trying to flyer you to get you to see their shows. There’s not really any equivalent to this anywhere else. Theatre goes on all day and all night. We had a blast.

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Cartagena, Colombia

The heat in Cartagena gives it a sleepy feeling which kind of makes it okay to sit on the wall, browse through shops and street vendors, buy fresh fruit from a woman carrying it on her head and not go to a museum.

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La Boquilla is a poor fishing village twenty minutes outside of Cartegena. It is a peninsula at the end of a beach with the Caribbean Sea on one side and a lake with mangroves on the other. The guide takes you on an old canoe through mangrove tunnels with flocks of birds and fishermen fishing for crabs ,shrimp and small fish.

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After the canoe they pull out a fresh coconut and make a hole for a straw with a machete. I walk for a long time on the beach with my feet in the Caribbean Sea. I have lunch on the beach of fresh fish, plantains and coconut rice.

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Gabriel Garcia Marquez became a writer in Cartegena. His novel Love in The Time Of Cholera Is set here. It is one of my favorites. I see Fermina riding in the horse and carriages and Florentino wandering everywhere in despair. You can see how much of Cartegena is in his books.

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Hoi An, Viet Nam

Hoi An is one of the most charming cities in Viet Nam .Hoi An’s Old Quarter is lined with two-story old Chinese buildings that now house shops with elaborately carved wooden facades and moss-covered tile roofs.

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The food market reminds visitors of another era when it was filled with goods from all over the Asia. (mangos, rambuchan, snake wine) Hoi An is a place where you can get clothes and shoes made at a reasonable price as long as you have a picture. It is also one of the best eating cities in Viet Nam and known for cooking classes and especially delicious food.

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After spending the day in the hustle and bustle of the busy streets of Hoi An, i head back to the Nam Hai all-villa resort on quiet Hoi An Beach. The contemporary architecture is welcoming and eye-catching as feng shui mingles with strong modern lines.

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The Spa at the Nam Hai is truly something wonderful. Composed of 8 villas, floating around a lotus pond, it is the ideal location for a relaxing massage, steam shower and herbal tea! The people who work there are most helpful and always want to practice their English.

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Venice, Italy

Every corner you turn in Venice ,you walk deeper into some real-life watercolor painting that a camera can never do justice. It’s like no place else I’ve ever been.

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It’s  a maze of canals and small streets, whimsical bridges, and colorful buildings. And as with all mazes, you should prepare to find yourself lost a time or two. I was there with my kids and a friend,  It was during the Art Biennale in the summer.

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We got to see incredible modern art from all over the world in the morning and explore the city in the afternoon.

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An important Venetian holiday is held on the third week in July. It is the Feast of the Redentore commemorating the end of the plague that killed fifty thousand people including Titian. The fireworks display is so extensive and significant that the re-election of the mayor is contingent on their quality (sort of like us picking a governor based on his movies) I have to add that they were the most incredible fireworks of our lives –I hope that mayor got re-elected.

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Buenos Aires, Argentina

It started in Tigre, a port a half hour from Buenos Aires. We sailed through the different rivers of the Delta Del Parana.

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At lunchtime, we went to Tres Esquinas in Barranca, a working class barrio in Buenos Aires for steak and empanadas. I love outdoor markets but the Sunday antiques market in Plaza Dorrego  in San Telmo is a phenomenon. The antiques are around the plaza but the shopping continues with arts and crafts vendors for many blocks. It is curbside capitalism at its finest.

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La Confiteria Ideal did not start as a tango hall but as  a pastry café in 1912. In the nineties it became a tango hall. Its faded glamour was a perfect background for the faded glamour of the tango dancers I saw that day. Dance has been a big part of my life. Andres Miguel my tour guide is a tango dancer.  tango@culturacercana.com.ar  Everything we did that day was related to tango  –  a boat on a river, good food and shopping, a milonga and always tango stories. He was the perfect tour guide for me and gave me a gift of the perfect day.

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Krueger National Park, South Africa

My daughter and my new son-in-law  were married on a safari In South Africa with sixty-five of their closest friends and family. A game park in Africa is an unlikely wedding destination. (We Love Pictures)

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You know that word that we Americans overuse for everything – awesome? i didn’t expect to have the feeling of humbleness and awe I had when seeing the African animals in the wild up close. There are moments of joy in your life. Watching your daughter get married to the right guy   in the peace and beauty of the African Bush is a distinctive moment of happiness. Watching your son officiate the wedding with intelligence, humor, kindness, sensitivity and even a bit of spirituality  (albeit in the form of animals)  makes it perfect.

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Fly safe,
JAZ

The Long Walk To Freedom In Johannesburg, South Africa

The Long Walk to Freedom in Johannesburg, South Africa

“Our daily deeds as ordinary South Africans must produce an actual South African reality that will reinforce humanity’s belief in justice, strengthen its confidence in the nobility of the human soul, and sustain all our hopes for a glorious life for all. ~”Nelson Mandela

I’m staying at the Saxon Hotel in Johannesburg. It is in the upmarket neighborhood of Sandhurst. The hotel is a unique blend of contemporary design,African art, and South African cultural heritage.In 1990 it became Nelson Mandela’s first residence after his 27-year-incarceration. The luxurious Joburg home was provided by a businessman named Doug Steyn.

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It was here that Mandela started writing his book “Long Walk to Freedom”. It is fascinating to see the many drawings (copied from original photos) on the hotel’s walls in the lobby, library and corridors. They give some insight into rather recent South African history..

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The Apartheid Museum is a difficult place that you must absolutely visit to understand the country of South Africa. Your ticket specifies which door you will enter and what first experience you will have.

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This museum helps one comprehend what happened to Mandela and the ANS.

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It is a state-of-the-art tribute to the rise and fall of apartheid. Twenty-two exhibition areas take the visitor on an emotional journey through a state-sanctioned system based on racial discrimination.

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It was put together on a seven-hectare site by a team of curators, film-makers, historians, designers and architects. Film footage, photographs, text panels and artifacts depict the story.

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When you leave the museum, visitors are invited to take a stone from the left and place it on the growing pile of stones on the right as a commitment to fighting against racism and discrimination.

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Mandela’s humble house in Orlando West, Soweto is where he lived as a free man. It is located at 8115 Vilakazi Street and has been turned into the Mandela Family Museum.

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It houses an assortment of memorabilia, paintings, photographs and collection of honorary doctorates bestowed on Mandela from universities around the world. You are always taken around by a guide.

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When Winnie Madikizela married Mandela in 1958, she then moved into this Soweto home. Winnie Mandela spent many years here being harassed by the Apartheid Police.

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Mandela seldom stayed here as he was living life on the run. But it was the house he returned to after his release from prison in February 1990.

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.”It was only then that I knew in my heart I had left prison,” he said in “Long Walk to Freedom.” “For me, no. 8115 was the centre of my world, the place marked with an X in my mental geography.”

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Archbishop Desmond Tutu has a house on the same street. Desmond Tutu and his family moved into this house in 1975. Vilakazi Street is said to be the only street in the world where two Nobel Prize winners have lived.

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During the time that Tutu lived here he became a Nobel Laureate for his struggles against Apartheid and he led the Truth and Reconciliation Commission for President Mandela. He did not have to live in Soweto which then had very few houses with electricity and running water but did not want to be seen as an “honorary white” living in Houghton at that time. His house is not open to the public.

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The Truth and Reconciliation Commission was set up to deal with what happened under apartheid. It was to record and bear witness to the human rights violations that occurred during that time by both the perpetrators and the victims. It was about amnesty, reparation and rehabilitation. It was considered successful though it had criticism. At least people finally knew what happened to their friends and families and where the bodies were buried.

The Hector Peterson Museum is also located in Orlando West Soweto.Hector Peterson was 12-years-old on June 16, 1976 when he joined his fellow students to protest against the use of Afrikaans in the schools. They were walking and singing the now National Anthem Nkosi Silele Africa, and police open fire. Sam Nima captured this famous image and smuggled the film out in his socks. The photographs were published in the World which was the Soweto newspaper which let to widespread riots and protests throughout South Africa. Hector Peterson, like Rosa Parks became a martyr and the face of the protest. If you have been lucky enough to have never cried in a museum before, you probably will here.

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Visiting Constitution Hill is eye-opening. It is the only constitutional court in the world built on land that housed three prisons. They chose to build the tools for democratic society on the pain of the past.

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The prisons housed many famous prisoners including Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela. The court and the great steps are built from the bricks of the old prison.

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I was stunned to learn that same-sex marriage has been legal in South Africa since 2005.  Additionally, the death penalty was abolished in the early nineties.  The country has always been forward-thinking when it comes to social change.  This is huge when you consider that in Uganda, just a few countries away, homosexuality carries the death penalty.

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The works of dozens of leading South African artists including Marlene Dumas, Gerard Sekoto, William Kentridge, Dumile Feni, Judith Mason, Willie Bester, Cecil Skotnes, Hamilton Budaza, Kim Berman, Sue Williamson, Anton van Wouw, John Baloyi, and Andrew Verster are on display in the Court. (tablets record each day  of Mandela’s incarceration)

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The collection also includes works by international artists including Marc Chagall.  Each of the pieces have been donated to the Court as tributes to the Constitution and what it means.

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The painting that stayed with me was of a blue dress by Judith Mason. She was inspired by the story of activist Phila Ndwandwe  who was shot by the Security Police after being kept naked for weeks in trying to make her an informant. She preserved her dignity by making panties of a blue plastic bag. This garment was found wrapped around her pelvis when they found her skeleton. ‘She simply would not talk’, one of the policeman involved in her death testified at the Truth and Reconciliation commission. ‘God…she was brave.’ That is the only reason we know her story. For me this dress represents all the stories we do not know of all the brave people who fought against apartheid.

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The core values of the South African constitution (which also are represented in the seven pillars outside the museum) are spelled out on the walls of this space: equality, responsibility, democracy, diversity, respect, reconciliation, and freedom.

Any time that you get to spend with Darryl is extremely well spent. (hospitalityafrika.com) The man himself is living history who shares his own stories of growing up under apartheid and how he felt when Mandela became President.

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He is very knowledgeable about all things Johannesburg – art,history, culture, food and the essence of what it means to live here now. He has so much pride in his city. I spent an amazing few days with him and our great driver Dave and came away with an appreciation of how wonderful Johannesburg is.

Fly safe,

JAZ

 

Things That I Have Learned In Johannesburg, South Africa

Things That I Have Learned In Johannesburg, South Africa

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For you in the West to hear the phrase ‘All men are created equal’ is to draw a yawn. For us, it’s a miracle. We’re starting out at rock bottom, man. But South Africa does have soul. ~ Athol Fugard

There is only one other city on the continent that is bigger than Joburg, and that is the bustling metropolis of Cairo in Egypt. Johannesburg is the second biggest city on Africa.

The Chris Hani-Baragwanath Hospital is the largest acute hospital in the world. The hospital has 2,964 beds and is the only public hospital serving the 3.5 million people in Soweto, Johannesburg.

Managing your safety is an every day thing in Joburg. With Johannesburg’s extremes of poverty and wealth and the presence of illegal firearms, it’s hardly surprising that the city can be a dangerous place. Do your sightseeing in daylight downtown and be aware of no go zones. As in any high crime metropolitan area, be aware of your surroundings.

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I was with a tour guide who knew where and when to go places. I loved Joburg and did not feel any more unsafe than New York or Sao Paulo.  (FMB Stadium where the 2010 World Cup Soccer matches were held)

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Don’t expect too much from the police, who normally have priorities other than keeping an eye out for tourists. Do the research before you go.  (Il Giardino, Stanley 44)

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Johannesburg is the world’s biggest man-made forest, with over 10 million trees. This number is set to grow, as City Parks launched the Greening Soweto project in 2006, with the goal of planting an extra 200 000 trees in the famous township. Not only do Joburg’s trees combat the greenhouse effect, they help reduce noise.

South Africa’s turbulent past offers a lot of material for its contemporary artists and galleries. The art work focuses on everything from history, race, identity, the modern world and everything in between.

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it is definitely an exciting time to be viewing contemporary art in Johannesburg.

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At the Goodman Gallery, I spent a lot of time looking at the work and art films of William Kentridge. He is a South African artist and one of the most famous contemporary artists working in the world today. The work  that I saw was very much based on real events, anti apartheid and anti evil all pulled together by artistic magic.

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The rich archaeological site known as the Cradle of Humankind is on the outskirts of the city. Forty per cent of the world’s human ancestor fossils have been discovered around Johannesburg.

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The Market Theatre was founded in 1976 in the old Indian fruit market building. It is world-renowned for the many anti apartheid plays and received a special Tony Award for giving a voice to their struggle around the world. The theater company is known for premiering Athol Fugard’s plays. He was an anti-iapartheid playwriter. I was aware of the Market Theatre in 1980’s when I saw Sarafina on Broadway about the student riots in Soweto.

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There are few places with as much history as Soweto. it was the center of resistance to apartheid and symbol of the poverty the system created.There is still plenty of poverty but there is also a middle class and a wealthy neighborhood.

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Chez Alina is great place to have lunch in Soweto. It is a house that has been renovated into a restaurant adorned with the work of local artists. It can be a bit touristy so go during off hours. ( www.chezalina.co.za )

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Alina and her daughter created a restaurant that serves delicious homemade local food and employs people from the neighborhood – dancers, singers, artists selling crafts, and restaurant employees. I particular enjoyed the singers who sang the South African music of the fifties.

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It was such a pleasure to meet and talk to Alina who takes great pride in what she does. It is definitely something to include in your Johannesburg days.

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Satyagraha House was the home of Mohandas Gandhi when he lived in South Africa, It was designed by his good friend architect Hermann Kallenbach.

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The museum is filled with the intertwining history of these two men. It is unique in that it links a guest house and museum. ( www.satyagrahahouse.com )

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The museum serves as a record of Gandhi’s fascinating life in South Africa.

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It was supposedly here that Mahatma Gandhi created and developed his philosophy of passive resistance: which was called Satyagraha in Sanskrit.

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It takes one-minute longer to boil an egg in Johannesburg than it does in the coastal cities of Cape Town and Durban. This is because Joburg is unexpectedly high and 2000m above sea level.

Fly safe,

JAZ

A Dazzle Of Zebras

“No, no! The adventures first, explanations take such a dreadful time.” Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

All animals gather into groups at some point in their lives. Herd immunity is one reason, since packs of prey are harder to attack, but many animals also use collective wisdom to make better decisions. Some even blur the line between individual and group, while others limit social time to mating season.
Regardless of what draws them together, something odd tends to happen when creatures form crowds. They’re suddenly known by a bevy of bizarre names. In fact a bevy is what multiple otters are called. These group nouns are rarely used, even by scientists, but they nonetheless represent our own species’ collective creativity for linguistics. We used them a lot in Africa.

An Implausibility Of Wildebeests

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A Pride Of Lions

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An Obstinancy of Buffalo

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A Memory Of Elephants

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A Float OF Crocodiles

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A Tower OF Giraffes

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A Bloat of Hippopotamuses

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A Leap Of Leopards

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A Barrel Of Monkeys

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A Crash Of Rhinocerouses

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A Swarm Of Termites

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A Herd Of Springbok

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A Dazzle Of Zebras

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A Perfection Of Rabins (We Love Pictures)

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Fly safe,

JAZ

Things I Have Learned In Capetown, South Africa

Things That I Have Learned In Capetown, South Africa

“Visit Cape Town and history is never far from your grasp. It lingers in the air, a scent on the breezy, an explanation of circumstance that shaped the Rainbow People. Stroll around the old downtown and it’s impossible not to be affected by the trials and tribulations of the struggle. But, in many ways, it is the sense of triumph in the face of such adversity that makes the experience all the more poignant.” Tahir Shah

Capetown was founded in 1652 when Jan Van Riebeeck (an employee of the Dutch East India company) arrived to established a way-station for ships traveling to the Dutch East Indies.

The Port of Cape Town is deemed to be one of the busiest shipping corridors in the world.

Though Capetown  has incredible weather, Table Mountain can be cloudy. We ascended via cable car ( you can hike) to clear skies.

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It was the ultimate view of the city.

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Table Mountain alone has over 1,500 species of plants, more than the entire United Kingdom.

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The top of Table Mountain is relatively flat and easy to explore.  The views are wildly different in each area and It’s fun to walk around.

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It did feel a bit like being on another planet and seeing your closest friends there.

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We were lucky to see the sunset on a clear day.

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Table Mountain’s peak, Lion’s Head has not seen a lion for over 200 years. After once thriving in the area, and no doubt giving their name to the smallest peak at the western tip of the mountain, the last lion was shot in 1802. Leopards followed in the 1820s, but the area is still home to some  nocturnal cats. These include the small Lynx-type Caracal, and the far rarer African Wild Cat. It’s a good morning or sunset hike for those in good physical condition. 

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Bo-Kaap  is the city’s Muslim quarter, known for its brightly painted houses in shades of lime, fuchsia, and turquoise.

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it is also the best place to try Cape Malay cuisine.

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Uthando is a nonprofit company that oversees many different community projects in the townships in South Africa. Uthando raises money and awareness for the many projects they fund through these tours. You are driven through very poor areas in the townships directly to these programs. I highly recommend it in Capetown.  For more info read my my blog. https://travelwellflysafe.com/2016/05/10/visiting-community-projects-in-the-townships-in-capetown-south-africa-with-uthando/

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Cape Town has an estimated population of 3.5 million people and its the 2nd biggest city in South Africa (behind Johannesburg.

La Colombe is Oprah’s favorite restaurant in Capetown. Make reservations in advance.  it was also my favorite restaurant in Capetown but I didn’t try Test Kitchen. (fois gras)

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An hour’s drive from Capetown are the wine lands.

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Franschoek and Stellenbosch are two  favorite regions.

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Camp’s Bay, nestled just below the Twelve Apostles mountain range, is the perfect chic and trendy beach town to visit.

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Camps Bay Retreat  in a nature reserve across the street from the beach is a great place to stay.

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Dogs are allowed off lead at Camps Bay Beach before 9am. It is so much fun to see what a great time they have there. I walked on this beautiful beach every morning before nine.

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If you are in Capetown on a Saturday morning a visit to the Neighbor Goods Market at the Old  Biscuit Mill should not be missed. It features a range of food stalls, fresh produce, and crafts and clothing for sale.

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I tried fresh dried biltong for the first time here. Its amazing  – it definitely has a higher fat content then American dried meat. It’s too good.

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Afterward take a street art tour of the nearby Woodstock  neighborhood with Juma Mkwela a local street artist and guide. (juma.mkwela@gmail.com) . Socially conscious artists from South Africa and beyond have joined forces to help spruce up, and add color to the poorer parts of this neighborhood.

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V&A Waterfront has to great hotels, restaurants, an aquarium, a Ferris wheel, and a gargantuan shopping mall with African crafts.

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It is the most visited tourist destination on the continent.

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Boulder Beach is home to a colony of African penguins.

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I’m not going lie it was the first thing we did when we got to Capetown.

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Who doesn’t love penguins on a beach? I could have gone twice.

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We stopped for lunch and shopping at Kalky’s.

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We continued on to the Cape of Good Hope.

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As we learned in Elementary School, Cape Point is the end of the world – the most southern point in Africa.

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And it has baboons who will take any food or water you have on you.

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On the way back navigation decided that we should take the beautiful Chapman’s Peak Drive on the west coast.I love a good road trip with friends and family.  It had huge cliffs dropping down to the turquoise sea and crazy bends and turns with more lookouts and views than you could ever hope for.

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Capetown  is one of the most beautiful cities.

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Fly safe,

JAZ

 

Following Nelson Mandela In South Africa, Robben Island, Capetown

Following Nelson Mandela In South Africa   Robben Island, Capetown 

“During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”  Nelson Mandela 20 April 1964

I had a lump in my throat when I heard that Mandela had died.  Now that life has taught me how hard it is to truly forgive and make amends with our own private struggles, I had no words to describe how I felt that day.

When Mandela became president he set out to repair a brutalized nation. Within five years, South Africa was reinvented from a country with UN sanctions against it, to the Rainbow Nation. No other leader has achieved such a remarkable change of direction in so short a time.He led his nation on the long walk to freedom and reconciliation and we watched and joined in the joy that such a change was possible.

South Africa was back on the map. It had become a major tourist destination and I wanted to know as much about this great man as I could learn during my visit.

Nelson Mandela was born in the Eastern Cape and grew up in Qunu. There are tours, museums and memorials showing his childhood. In Mthathta there is the Nelson Mandela Museum which has different sectors in the villages where he lived.

My trip started at Robben Island where Mandela had been imprisoned for 18 years.  I had heard it was run down, the boats weren’t good and that parts of it were too long. i wanted to see this piece of history and form my own opinion.The tour sells out quickly so it is good to get tickets in advance.

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It was a beautiful Capetown day. I enjoyed the ferry ride talking to someone who worked on the boat. He said some of them were the original boats used to transport the prisoners.

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The views of Table Mountain and Capetown are spectacular.

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Upon arriving, I was immediately surprised by how big the island actually was. I was picturing it more like Alcatraz.  Ex-political prisoners act as tour guides and many live on the island with their families Their school was recently closed so the kids have to take the ferry back and forth every day. A lot off times the ferry doesn’t go out because of the wind.

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Our prison tour guide was very friendly and informative.   It was hard to hear and understand a lot of what he was saying. Luckily, I was there with my great Capetown guide  Lazarus ( http://www.wilderness-touring.comwho explained a lot to me and to everyone who asked him questions. 

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The prison itself was quite impactful on its own.

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  It was dark,sad, and disheartening to be there and to hear the stories of how these prisoners were treated

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He took us back into the prison and into the Maximum Security wing, where the senior ANC members were held. Mandela was amongst them. The cells are tiny. No more than 6 feet square, with just a thin mattress, a bookcase, a stool and a bucket.

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Suddenly it was my turn to stand right in front of Nelson Mandela’s cell where he spent 18 years of his life. I was standing  in front of the place where a terrible wrong had been committed.

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Our tour guide liked my hat. It was from my Viet Nam trip with the red star of the Viet Cong and was one of my favorite hats. He had given the tour with dignity and humility and spoke without resentment about his time in prison. Hat hair was a small price to pay for the surprised smile on his face when I handed it to him on the way out. I bought another hat there with Mandela’s prison number on it that i wore for the rest of my trip.

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After the prison, you take a bus ride around the island. It’s very pretty with great views. We saw some whales. We passed the limestone quarry where prisoners, including Nelson Mandela himself, were forced to break up the stone and work with it all day long. A lot of the work they were doing most of the time was pointless, they were instructed to carry the limestone from one end of the quarry to the other just to keep them busy and keep them working. The prisoners had no tools or protective gear when working with the rock, resulting in major vision problems for many of the prisoners due to the sun reflecting off of the lightly-colored limestone. This is why photographers were never allowed to use flash when photographing Nelson Mandela in his later years.

In the centre of the quarry is a small cairn – this was started when Mandela. On his first visit back to the island in 1995,he  placed a single rock in the centre in memory of all the prisoners and said he’d return each year to add one more stone until all the ex-prisoners had died. Others who were with him then added to the pile and it will continue until all have passed on.

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On the ferry back, i thought about the Robben Island Bible.  I had seen it in an exhibiton in London. The book’s owner, South African Sonny Venkatrathnam, was a political prisoner on Robben Island from 1972 to 1978.  The prisoners were briefly allowed to have one book in their cell. He asked his wife to send him a book of Shakespeare’s complete works, Venkatrathnam passed the book to a number of his fellow political prisoners,  Each of them marked their favorite passage in the book and signed it with the date. There are thirty-two signatures, including those of Walter Sisulu, Nelson Mandela, Govan Mbeki, Ahmed Kathrada and Mac Maharaj, all luminaries in the struggle for a democratic South Africa.

The selection of text provides fascinating insight into the minds of those political prisoners who fought for the transformation of South Africa. It also speaks to the power of Shakespeare’s resonance with the human spirit.

Mandela chose a passage from Julius Caesar — just before the Roman statesman leaves for the senate on the Ides of march: “Cowards die many times before their deaths/The valiant never taste of death but once.”

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I was glad I had gone to the place where Mandela and others epitomize the triumph of the human spirit over adversity. Did they ever think that one day it would look like this?

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Fly safe,

JAZ