The hip, urban heart of Florida’s Gulf Coast beats in Tampa, our destination for a long weekend…not so much to see Tampa, but to bask in the extraordinary voice of Andrea Bocelli!! Just recovering from a week’s bout with laryngitis (for the first time in his career,) we were fortunate that he didn’t postpone our concert as he had the three before ours. Although he was cautious and didn’t sing as much as we’d hoped, it was, nonetheless, a thrill to hear him live and be so close to him…3rd row center!! He truly is the world’s greatest tenor. The man’s middle name is ANGEL and his voice couldn’t be more angelic! What a beautiful way to celebrate Valentine’s Day! Thank you, Michael! xo
Both Michael and I had multiple cameras at the ready as we explored Tampa. With its blue skies; sunshine; extensive, culture-filled waterfront and RiverWalk;
…world-class chefs and a century of Cuban culture…(multiethnic YBOR CITY, specifically, known as CIGAR CITY in the late 1800’s and is still a major producer of hand-rolled cigars)
…and people as friendly and warm as Tampa’s weather… we had a great time walking, taking the free trolley, sampling the restaurants and just plain sightseeing!It was amazing to see all the cranes towering above downtown Tampa…a new wave of construction, raising office buildings, bars, restaurants, hotels, medical facilities as well as residential multi-storied structures.
Tampa is a booming city…Florida’s third largest…and growing. I imagine this won’t be our last visit to Tampa, Florida!
Once upon a time , in the mid-twentieth century North Carolina wetlands, there lived a forgotten girl named Kya…aka Catherine…aka “The Marsh Girl” Clark. Abandoned by her parents and siblings at a very young age and further rejected by the school system, the entire town surrounding her and what ultimately felt like life itself, Kya was left to fend for herself with only Mother Nature as her caretaker. Delia Owens weaves a colorful tale of life at a time when the people who lived by the North Carolina swamps were treated almost as harshly as “colored folks,” rejected without a chance at the same privileges everyone else enjoyed… public perception, misconception and prejudice played a significant role in this poignant novel. Kya struggled to raise herself…she was reclusive, resourceful, intelligent, curious, fearless, courageous and sensitive , finding friends in the sea gulls and comfort in the North Carolina Marsh. Survival is a natural instinct, but courage like Kya’s is learned with time and experience…both of which she gained through her lonely years.
WHERE THE CRAWDADS SING has a bit of everything I love in a book, plus more: a likeable protagonist who touches your heart; atmosphere; drama; romance; coming-of-age struggles; intrigue; murder; a bit of courtroom action and stunning, descriptive writing plus a surprise twist as a finale. It’s a rich, well written novel that, like a good southern meal, left me well satisfied and content. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED! After all, it’s been on the New York Times Best Seller list for 67 weeks!!
Ok, I admit it!I’m obsessed, morbidly fascinated with…and appalled by WWII books and the horrors of the time…before, during and after the war. I love the genre of Historical Fiction as it never fails to introduce me to little known areas of history that school and history books never explored.
Did you know that there were at least FIFTY-THREE Nazi war criminals living comfortably in the United States in 1973? Hard to imagine… Kate Quinn’s follow-up book to THE ALICE NETWORK is THE HUNTRESS , addressing this issue. Based on real people, we discover that in the aftermath of war, the hunter became the hunted. It mostly takes place in the early 1950’s with some flashbacks to WWII. The war is over, but everyone knows that there are still Nazis hiding all over the world.
Quinn weaves together the stories of a British Nazi hunter and his partner, a Soviet female war pilot and a 17 year old American girl, as they collaborate in the hunt for one of the most ruthless female war criminals of Nazi Germany. THE HUNTRESS is a very rich, character-driven story with many layers and secrets.
Ian, a war correspondent turned Nazi hunter; Tony, a former soldier and Ian’s friend and Nina, a Russian bomber pilot downed behind enemy lines, who survived an encounter with the Huntress, join forces to track and capture this heinous Nazi killer…”die Jagerin.” Nina was a member of an elite group, the Soviet Night Witches…the only female pilots in WWI. This all-female night bomber regiment wreaked havoc on Hitler’s eastern front! Add to this mix Jordan McBride, a teenaged girl growing up in post WWII Boston, determined to become a famous photographer. When her widowed father brings home a fiancé and Jordan snaps a photo of her that shows an evil side in a flash, she believes the woman is hiding something that will disrupt their peaceful lives.
THE HUNTRESSis a suspenseful, exciting, compelling, vividly written story that explores justice and revenge with a hint of romance to warm your heart…and characters you won’t soon forget. Nina is armed with a straight razor, Ian with his words and Jordan with her camera as they attempt to find the Huntress and make certain she’s punished for her crimes.
I love how Kate Quinn puts women back into the history of which they’ve long been written out. She reminds us that women were pilots and spies and fighters and…yes, even murderers. Plus, knowing that much of the book is based on actual events and real people made it all come alive that much more.
I would HIGHLY recommend his book to anyone who’s a fan of Historical Fiction.
Their parents are longtime friends. Andrew was my first charter pilot on the earliest trips to Africa. He and his wife, Ingrid, have become dear friends… special people in my life. Naturally, I’ve known their daughters, Emma and Holly, since they were born…I visit with them in their South African town, East London, every couple of years! Fast forwarding, Emma was graduating from high school, so Michael and I offered to bring her to the USA to celebrate the milestone. It turned into a trip for both Emma and her younger sister Holly (age 12,)leaving their country for the first time, to join us in the United States for two weeks…and so, the adventure began.
Our whirlwind two weeks started the first week in Decemberwhen we collected the girls at JFK airport and checked into our Manhattan hotel… right in the middle of the theater district and a stone’s throw from Times Square.
ACTION and AMAZEMENT were the keywords for our 5 days in the Big Apple. The skyscrapers, the crowds, the Christmas decorations, all the Starbucks shops (there are none in East London,) and the giant pretzels were just some of the most anticipated attractions. With YouTube, the girls came with some expectations, but everything seemed bigger and better in person!
We added a Broadway show…WICKED…to the mix!
We left Manhattan and drove for 5 hours to our home in a suburb of Syracuse, New York. We hoped to see some snow, as the girls were really anxious to have their first experience with the white, fluffy stuff!We did see a bit, but they looked forward to actually seeing it falling!
We decided to use our few days at home as chill time…we all needed it!The girls watched “American Netflix” (different from South African Netflix,)worked on their journals, explored the area a bit….and did see the snow falling. The Dollar Store was a tremendous hit… they don’t have anything like that at home. Our local art museum was hosting a Christmas Tree Contest…fun to see and the ropes course high up in Destiny Mall’s ceiling areawas a scary challenge (for us as watchers…)
The weekend found us in Niagara Falls where we caught up with our daughter and her kids…the kids have all been social media friends for a while, but this was the first time they actually met. A visit to TARGET was another “must see” for the girls…they knew TARGET from YouTube!Our last couple of days at homewe had snow, built a snowman (in spite of the fact that there wasn’t much snow,) and we celebrated Emma’s turning 18…again…(we celebrated in NYC, too. After all, you’re only EIGHTEEN once!!)
With a send-off from longtime friend, Martina, and her very sweet therapy dog, Poppy, we were off for the final leg of our collective journey …to Orlando, Florida for the Universal and Disney experience. I think Harry Potter World and all the scariest looking rides were the highlights…as was our hotel at Universal, the Portofino Bay Hotel…almost like being in Italy!
Emma and Holly were pure delight for Michael and me… responsible, smart, independent, sensible, and so much fun. We enjoyed talking with them, seeing things through their eyes. We’ll miss them as they return to their home and loved ones and look forward to seeing them again when we travel back to South Africa. We send them off with our always love and best wishes for the coming year.
Think about Mongolia for just a moment. What visions come to mind? (It’s the land that gave us Genghis Khan…remember him from our history classes? He was Mongolia’s founding father…their George Washington.) Yes, he was a brutal warrior, amassing the largest contiguous empire in history… but he also established Mongolia’s first writing system, encouraged religious tolerance, and expanded the cultural horizons and trading routes for his country and those surrounding Mongolia.
Do you imagine a country with bustling big cities or with wide open spaces…a modern, cosmopolitan nation or a traditional one…or a bit of it all? It’s an enormous country…the 18th largest and most sparsely populated sovereign state in the world…with only 3 million people!
I must admit that when we finally landed in Ulaanbaatar (called UB by the locals) after two days of air travel, I didn’t expect to see such a large, buzzing, happening city.
This is Mongolia’s capital city…the coldest in the world. It’s home to nearly half of the country’s 3 million people and more housing is under construction. There’s a mix of modern and old architecture…some of the buildings are clearly from the Soviet satellite era (1921-1990.) Interesting that many of the city’s residents still live in gers (or yurts, as the Russians call them.) You can even find them in very close proximity to the city center…suburbs and outskirts are full of them. Old habits die hard…and they’re much more affordable than the newer, modern housing! Looking at UB, it’s hard to imagine that this is the capital of a country that’s primarily nomadic. It has nice shops, restaurants, malls, high rise buildings…skyscrapers…and ridiculous traffic, like any big city anywhere in the world!
With immensemountains and rolling plateaus in the north, west and southwest and the expansive Gobi Desert in the southeast, Mongolia is bordered on the north by Russia and the south, by China. A landlocked country, but it has numerous natural lakes, both salt and fresh water, with many large rivers as well. The landscape changed with each hour, as we drove on dirt roads…paths really…that crisscrossed through fields, sometimes leading to isolated settlements and small towns…like veins flowing to the heart.
The distances from place to place are huge and the transport infrastructure for tourists venturing outside Ulaanbaatar is non-existent. There are scarcely any paved roads…traveling is very rough!
With a literacy rate of 96%, we were surprised that very few people spoke any language, other than their own, outside of the capital. We were thankful for our knowledgeable guide, driver and our van. Although Mongolia is known as a ‘horse culture,” somehow I couldn’t see us touring this vast country on horseback!!
Awed and seduced by the simplicity and beauty of the variety of landscapes, we marveled at being in the middle of nowhere…stepping out of the van for a leg stretch…without a soul in sight.
There were only scattered gatherings of livestock, with many miles between herds…horses, sheep, cashmere goats, yak, cows and camels (once in a while) and in the higher elevations, the argali sheep, ibex and the little marmots. We even saw the only wild horses left in the world… It is said that Mongolia has more horses than people, but we saw more and more motorcycles…seemingly the new horse!
There are also great distances between gers (yurts) …between neighbors. So family is THE most important commodity to nomadic people. They live a spartan life in the silence of the mountains, the star-studded darkness of night and the sighs of the wind.
They have always lived in sympathy with the land, moving with their animals for the changing seasons. The traditional felt tent, the ger, is integral to their sense of national identity. It’s an easily transportable dwelling…a structure of circular walls, poles and peaked roof covered with felt and canvas and tightened with ropes made from animal hair or wool…the most natural dwelling in the world . Because it’s one round space with no corners, it’s quite roomy. We stayed primarily in gers wherever we were. A couple had electricity, the majority didn’t…and most had outside bathroom facilities. The little stove in the center of each ger kept us fairly comfortable, even when the temperature was below zero.
Because Mongolia is a country of extremes, the food consumed reflects what’s readily available, provided by livestock and hunting expeditions that yield fox, perhaps wolves, hares, marmots and deer with the help of trained golden eagles…a tradition among the Kazakh people for thousands of years. To survive the frigid winters, fatty meat is the most important part of the local diet. (If you’re a vegetarian, you probably won’t survive in Mongolia!) Fat helps the body “bulk up” for winter, along with a variety of dairy products, noodles, meat-filled dumplings, rice, some potatoes, horse milk (from the mares) and tea (with salt and butter.)
A few words about the Gobi Desert…
it’s the most expansive, arid region in Asia
it spans two countries…China and Mongolia
the desert floor is mostly bare rock
rock formations date back 70 million years
it’s the home of the two-humped camel
it’s the largest dinosaur reservoir in the world, yielding the richest collection of dinosaur remains’the first know fossil dinosaur eggs were found here in the 1920’s
Gobi is the world’s 5th larget desert and Asia’s largest
it’s made up of level, treeless areas; grasslands; alpine forests; sand; bare rock; mountains; salt plains; canyons and lakes
it’s rich in natural resources like copper, gold and coal
For me, the best part of the Gobi was its human inhabitants, though few and far between…less than 3 persons per square mile. These nomads work at raising livestock…their life-blood…and are the most hospitable people on the planet!
THE HIGHLIGHT of our Mongolian adventure came as we traveled west to the city of Olgii…then continued to the Altai Mountains and the freezing cold. The roads were rocky and dusty…again, just paths traversing endless fields. Eternal blue skies and mountains surrounded us in this desolately stunning landscape…breathtaking…home to the Kazakh ethnic minority…the EAGLE HUNTERS.
Although Mongolia is primarily Buddhist, this is the only province where Islam is the main religion. Here, the tradition of hunting with golden eagles was born out of need for food more than 4,000 years ago. (It is said that Genghis Khan was an eagle hunter.)
Stark, where little actually grows, people had to depend on their livestock for all their needs. But they needed more to help them survive the uncommonly harsh winters. Thus, the practice of training eagles to hunt for the people began.
Throughout the deserted fields leading to the festival, nothing was stirring. Suddenly, a cloud of dust appeared in the distance, signaling the arrival of some hunters on horseback… solo and in groups… their eagles held high on their right arms. Exciting to see them from the back, surrounded by the mountains, but we drove fast to get in front of them and meet them as they approached. They couldn’t have been more accommodating, stopping for some photos. IT WAS A RUSH TO SEE!!! We had read about these intrepid eagle hunters, but to actually SEE them was extraordinary! Traditionally male dominated, it’s now open to women with the ability and passion to take on the challenge of becoming an eagle hunter.
There’s a festival each year where the eagle hunters from all over the province compete, testing not only the training of the eagles and the hunters’ skill, but also the bond between the raptor and the hunter. They’re rated for speed, agility, accuracy as well as best traditional Kazakh dress (made of animal skins from their eagles’ captures. ) Here are some photos I made at the festival…it was quite a sight to see!
In these competitions, the hunter must call his eagle down from the surrounding mountains to land on his or her arm or have her “capture” a piece of fur that represents prey…a hare, a marmot, a fox, etc….in a certain period of time. This tests loyalty, accuracy, relationship and the quality of the training…amazing to watch!! Sometimes, the eagles just flew away…never responded to the hunter’s call at all… and the hunter had to leave the arena to find her…the eagles trained are all females.
MONGOLIA IN A CAPSULE…
extraordinary and most unique scenery
no paved roads (other than in the capital city)…awful, rocky paths instead
HANDS DOWN, THE GOLDEN EAGLE FESTIVAL was the most exciting event I’ve ever experienced
You say…”Why Mongolia?”
I say…”Why not?”(What a great way to celebrate Michael’s birthday...happy birthday, honey!)
A southern neighbor of the Kara tribe…(the tribe of my two Ethiopian families)…the MOST southerly tribe living in the country’s Omo Valleyare the DASSANECH people.
Despite their close proximity to Lake Turkana, they live in an incredibly dry region with desert to their west and southwest.
Part of our visit to Ethiopia this time was to visit the Delta home of this tribe and to witnesswhat is probably their most important ceremonial event…the DIMI. It’s certainly the biggest ceremony in the lives of Dassanech fathers with daughters. Its purpose is to celebrate and bless the daughters for fertility and future marriage. When the fathers have gone through DIMI, they become elders in the community…an important distinction. The daughters… also the focus of this ceremony…between the ages of 8 and 11, endure circumcision to become what the Dassenech men consider “marriageable women.” (This is one of the few tribes left in Ethiopia that still practice female circumcision, although it’s now against the law… BUT…IT’S TRADITION!)The two purposes are inexorably linked in the DIMI.
The appearance of the celebrants is very specific and unique…
EACH MAN paints himself with yellow mud
Wears a black ostrich feather hat
A leopard skin cape
A giraffe tail armband
Bells on both legs…
Carries a small wooden shield painted red and white
And a very long stick, reminiscent of a spear.
EACH WOMAN, similarly painted,
Wears a cape of colobus monkey fur
Over a leather skirt
And carries a wooden spoon or baton.
A special, temporary village is set up just for ceremony participants and families. The men march from house to house, stopping at each to chant and dance. The women join the ceremony as the men arrive at their hut, then merge into the procession as it progresses around the village. This repeats, morning and night, for several weeks. About 10 cattle and 30 smaller animals are slaughtered (and other stock traded for coffee,) to feed the community as they feast and dance…and the leaders of the village bless the new “marriageable women.”
Definitely a spectacle… and a privilege to witness such a personal, traditional ceremony. Yet another unique experience organized by Steve Turner at originsafaris.com .Forever grateful…
I just wanted to let you know that my old blog posts…years of them…are still available for viewing. I was using BLOGSPOT, but switched to WORDPRESS because it affords more flexibility in posting from ANYWHERE! The previous postings are also about travels, art, book reviews, as well as many photos.
BONOBOS are the “hippy chimps,” found only in the Democratic Republic of the Congo…in the second largest solid stretch of rainforest in the world. You may not have heard of them before as these GREAT APES (there are only 4 GREAT APES in our world, as seen below…) live in an extremely remote, sparsely populated, war-torn…and least developed part of the world. Compared to thousands of chimpanzees (pink faces) IN CAPTIVITY, there are only about 100 bonobos (dark faces).
Most of the people in the Democratic Republic of the Congo face extreme poverty. It might be the richest country in natural resources, but the second poorest country on earth…I saw and felt the desperation firsthand… overwhelming and very real. These photos were made from a car as it was too dangerous to get out and photograph surroundings. The police were a huge street presence and photographing them is against the law…it was tricky photographing…even with my phone…from the car.
Deep in the heart of the hot, wet, Democratic Republic of the Congo rainforest, there lives a tribe of peacemakers…looking like the familiar chimpanzee, but with darker faces, more graceful limbs, a part down themiddle of their hair and adorable pink lips.
Before entering the bonobos’ forest home, we visited with the local community’s BATEKE tribal “chef de terre” (land chief)for his consent to enter their forests. In the Malebo area (where we were,) a cultural taboo against bonobo hunting has been documented…to keep them out of the very active local bushmeat market. The locals believe that the critically endangered bonobos are their distant ancestors.
Bonobos are the only great apes that are matriarchal…their troops are ruled by female alliances…and, unlike the chimpanzees, they’re a peaceful society, cooperative and much less aggressive. It’s known that bonobos are the only great apes that reduce tensions in their troops (and between different troops of bonobos) through all kinds of sexual contact… they engage in a variety of sexual activities for comfort, for pleasure and for procreation just like their human counterparts. They prefer to “make love, not war!” Practicing “free love,” they are the original Hippy chimps!
HERE’S THE BONOBOS’ STORY…AND MINE:
Pre-dawn wake up… we trek a virgin path into the forest,
Our headlamps light our way.
A primatologist, veterinarian, two trackers and us- 3 friends…
(One tracker is already ahead watching and listening…)
An adventure, to be some of the very first“tourists”
To see bonobos in the wild.
Stop… Wait… Listen…
When a sliver of light appears
In the black, night sky,
We hike into the densest part
Of the tropical rainforest.
A tracker chops vines and branches from our faces
And undergrowth from our feet,
While noting our location
and proximity to the bonobos’ night nests.
We follow him blindly, into the unknown…
Suddenly, he stops…
Silently points upward…
The canopy of a single tree…
At least 100 feet away,
Starts to move…slowly…
Then, as if possessed by a gale-force wind…
Unexpectedly, a shape…
Black as night…
Appears on a single branch:
Lanky, with long, muscular arms,
Enormous hands and fingers,
Bowed legs and a piercing cry…
This, along with the chimpanzee,
Is our closest living relative…
The elusive and rarely seen
Momentarily, a few more bonobos
Emerge from their nests,
Shrieking and peeping,
Then melt into the nearby foliage.
This bonobo remains…
In the semi-darkness,
I make my first WILD BONOBO photograph
In the vine-draped Congolese rainforest of Tarzan…
MORE WILD BONOBO PHOTOS…somewhat dark and fuzzy…challenging light!!
Beforethe World Wildlife Federation (WWF) presented us with the privilege of spending time with the wild bonobos, we spent some up close and personal time at a facility called LOLA YA BONOBO, a rescue, rehabilitate and release facility for bonobos. It’s located just outside of Kinshasa, the Democratic Republic of theCongo’s capital city.Founded by Claudine Andre in 1994, it’s the world’s only lifetime care sanctuary for orphaned bonobos. We spent many hours observingthese rescued great apes… our own personal BONOBOVILLE…eating, playing, mating, relaxing…sometimes just inches away from us …in an environment mirroring the wild. They forage for food, compete for mating opportunities and learn to avoid dangers such as stepping on a venomous snake…just as they would in the wild.Below are some photos of these least familiar, most rare great apes for you to enjoy..but first, some final comments…
This trip was exhilarating, exhausting, challenging and educational. My awareness of the need for conservation has been sufficiently aroused. Walkingin a rainforest is hard work. But there’s nothing more satisfying than coming back from the forest covered in dirt and twigs…exhausted, but high from the close encounters with the bonobos…and having a shower, even if it’s with cold water from the river that still has some leaves and mud floating in it!Simply having the opportunity to stand in the company of some of nature’s rarest animals…to appreciate the extraordinary gift of experiencing the rainforest in a way that most people never will. It was amazing…
I must thank Steve and Jayne Turner for including me on another one of their mind-expanding adventures. If you dream it, Steve Turner at http://www.originsafaris.com can make it a reality.
Hummingbirds have a long history of folklore and symbolism in native cultures. The Aztecs saw them as messengers between them and their ancestors…or even, the gods. In Native American culture, the hummingbirds are seen as healers and carriers of love, good luck and joy.
I’ve been watching for these tiny birds each of the two summers we’ve been in our new home. The third brought the magic! We’ve seen them before, but never close enough to photograph. Sooo thrilled that these beautiful birds weren’t intimidated as I stood next to them, camera in hand. Here’s one of the results…
Thanks, little guys…I look forward to our next meeting! 🥰🎉