Shakshuka is better than winning the Darwin Award

    I had a meeting at 11 am at a local coffee shop. It’s been raining hard nonstop since Monday morning. This is not unusual back east, but it is unusual here, and because the drainage infrastructure isn’t built for it, it’s a cause for concern. We’ve had a lot of flooding. Not in my neighborhood—we’re fine—but elsewhere in San Diego, during another round of storms last week, cars were swept away and people had to be rescued.

    I put on my rain jacket and hat and drove to the coffee shop. I got there about 20 minutes early. Every seat was full but that’s fine—I’m comfortable standing—so I stood there and drank my coffee.

    A man wearing an Apple Vision Pro walked by me to approach the counter. When he walked by me the other way, I stopped him and I said, with no preamble or introduction, “Do you like it?” He knew what I was talking about, of course. He said he did like it. He said he edits video and he had two screens open and also his email. I said, “Now? While we’re talking? While you were at the counter?” He said yes. He was wearing the Vision Pro the whole time.

    My meeting arrived a little early. A little more than half-hour in, every phone in the still-crowded coffee shop went off. We all looked at our phones. Tornado alert. Take shelter in a basement or somewhere away from windows. I happened to have gotten a table very far from the window, so I figured we were good.

    I messaged Julie to check on her. She said she was going to get the dog and sit on the floor in the back hall, and try to get the cats too.

    After a few minutes of no tornado, I thought about driving home. Could I beat the tornado? That seemed like maybe a bad idea, but on the other hand, I’m on a deadline today.

    By now, it was after noon, and I decided to check and see what the place served for lunch. They had shakshuka. I love shakshuka. I thought about the options: Drive home during a tornado warning and not have shakshuka and maybe get killed and win a Darwin Award? Or stay in the coffee shop, have shakshuka, not get killed and not win a Darwin award? I went for the shaksuka option.

    There was no tornado. It stopped raining. The shakshuka was delicious. The meeting was excellent. I left for home and arrived at about 1:15 pm. The sun was out, even though the forecast called for a solid wall of rain Monday through Thursday.

    And that’s pretty much my day so far.

    I went around and around the house looking for my phone, searching the usual places again and again, and finally got down on my hands and knees with a flashlight next to the bed and discovered the black phone had fallen off the nightstand and into a black shoe.

    We saw this festive holiday display of leg prostheses. Please enjoy it.

    A bit of family history, from my father’s service in Word War II

    My father received these humorous fake orders when he was discharged from the army in 1945, the end of the war.

    I found this document while doing some decluttering in my home office yesterday. The paper is brown with age and fragile to the touch. It’s apparently typed and mimeographed.

    The document is written in the style of a military memo, instructing the men how to behave when they get back home to civilian life.

    In America there are a remarkable number of beautiful girls. These young ladies have not been liberated and many are gainfully employed as stenographers, sales girls, beauty specialists, and welders. Contrary to current practices, they should not be approached with, “How much?” A proper greeting is, “Isn’t it a lovely day!” or “Have you ever been to Chicago?” Then ask, “How much?”

    My father served in Burma, which is now Myanmar. I think he also did some time in Taiwan. When he was discharged, he was 21 years old. I think he served several years. A kid from Brooklyn. My father’s native habitat was the New York suburbs; I cannot imagine him in tropical Asia.

    I found this document when I was a teenager in the 1970s, investigating the garage of our house on Long Island. I found it again while going through my Dad‘s papers after he passed in 2004. After that, the document disappeared into the clutter of my home office for nearly 20 years until I was decluttering this week, and the papers turned up again.

    African safari journal: Homeward bound

    June 2019 Our final Africa safari stop was Little Kulala Desert Lodge, in Sossusvlei, the Namib-Naukluft Park, Namibia. We took another small charter flight, from Hoanib Valley Camp – or, rather the nearest airstrip from that camp, which was about two hours’s drive away from the camp itself. Sossusvlei Geluk Airstrip is the usual empty airstrip, just a cleared length of land with one or two sheds. As at our other camps, one of the staff picked us up in a Toyota truck converted for passengers, enclosed but not air conditioned. The weather was another scorcher of a day with bright sunlight, even though it is the African winter. We were accompanied by the pilot of the plane, Graham, who was staying at the lodge overnight. About 15 minutes in, Graham conversed with the driver of the truck, Alfred, in Afrikaans, and then Alfred turned the truck around. Graham confessed that he was supposed to start a beacon on the plane to let his company know he’d arrived safely, and he’d forgotten to do that. When we returned to the airfield, Graham did that thing and then we turned the truck around back toward the camp.

    I have to confess, we were road-weary at that point and ready to come home, but we still had four more nights in Africa ahead of us plus 28 hours on planes and in airports. And now as I write this a week after our return, I miss being in Africa.

    There were only two things you could do in Sossusvlei that appealed to us: Seeing and climbing the majestic dunes, and visiting the Seasrim Canyon. That’s meant a two-night stay would have been ideal; we stayed for three and so we had some time on our hands. And because of the heat, Kulala Desert Lodge was not the ideal place to sit around and rest. There are other things to do in the area, but they did not appeal to us: Ride e-bikes and fat bikes, or go on a wine tasting. You can also take a balloon ride, but that would have cost $1,000, which seemed like a lot for a short experience. I’ve ridden on hot air balloons twice, once with Julie, it’s wonderful but we weren’t interested this time around.

    Aside: I wrote all my other journal entries in Africa, with unreliable or no Internet access. Now I’m home with our lovely, home WiFi. And I can just look things up if I don’t know what they are. The name of the lodge we stayed at? The name of the canyon? Pow! Type in a few characters in a browser and there’s your answer. [Update from 2020: I wrote this journal entry in July 2019, a few weeks after returning home, based on notes on the trip.]

    The lodge is laid out similarly to the other places we stayed, with a main building in the center, done up like a giant hut, containing the dining room, bar, outdoor seating, and offices and reception desk. The entrance is in front of that building. Spread out on either side were 23 cabins for guests, which are actually big, furnished canvas tents on platforms, as with Xakanaxa and other places we stayed. The lodge calls the cabins “kulalas,” from an African word for sleep. Because of the number of cabins, service was more hotel-like and impersonal; we enjoyed the family feeling at the smaller lodges we stayed at, such as Xakanaxa and Hoanib Valley, and liked Kulala Lodge less.

    The dining room has big plate glass windows overlooking the flat desert plain, which seems to stretch off for miles to the distant mountains. We’d been to several African deserts by then, as well as the Anza-Borrego Desert at home, and each one seemed more austere and barren than the last. The shrubs at Sossusvlei are sparse and many tens of yards apart. There are few other animals there, just some birds and lonely impala and kudu.

    The big draw at Sossusvlei, though, are the dunes. They are just piles of loose sand, hundreds of feet high and miles long, marching across the desert. One of the highlights of the visit is climbing one of the biggest dunes, called “Big Daddy.” 130 meters high. It’s strenuous, like walking on the beach but also climbing. The sand fights you on every step. And you’re standing on a relatively narrow path, with a steep slope on either side. The path is wide enough that I was only worried a little bit about falling. I was worried a little more about just getting down. I’d been assured by both tourists and guides that getting down is easy and fun, but I was skeptical; I have a lousy sense of balance and anything involving anything like climbing is tricky for me.

    Climbing up the dune you have a long string of hikers both in front of and behind you. It isn’t crowded, but if you’re like me and you move slowly, you’ll be passed a couple of times. Like I said, it’s not crowded, but I got to thinking about the famous photos of climbers lined up to ascend to the summit of Mount Everest, like people waiting to get on a bus.

    Despite the crowds, tourism isn’t a problem for the dunes, because every night the wind blows and cleans up the footsteps and repairs the damage. The dunes are like new every morning. That’s the theory at least.

    I got about two thirds of the way up the dune and decided I had gone far enough. I wasn’t tired, but I’d spent enough time on the climb and didn’t have anything to prove. Also, I didn’t want to keep the other people on our bus waiting. So I turned to my right and went down the steep slope.

    And it really was fun going down. I fell twice, but backwards, on my butt, and the sand is so soft it didn’t hurt a bit and I just popped back up. Both my feet were sunk in sand halfway up to my knees, so walking was more like wading and slow going. After I got about two thirds of the way down, I found a rhythm and the rest of the way down was like gliding slowly. Delightful!

    We don’t intend to return to Sossusvlei – we feel like we’ve seen and done everything we want to there – but if we somehow do find our way back I want to do that climb again, and this time go all the way up to the summit and do the walk down properly.

    In addition to Big Daddy, the attraction next to the dune is Deadvlei, a white clay pan that’s so dry that nothing lives there. Some trees are still standing, 800 years after they died. We were instructed not to touch the trees, lest they shattered.

    After lunch, we decided to skip the afternoon activities, and just sat around the cabin in the heat.

    The next morning, we were up early, and off to the Seasrim Canyon, which is about 100 feet deep and the third biggest canyon in the world.

    We had the guide to ourselves that morning – and the entire canyon, too. Our guide said most people do the dunes in the morning and the canyon in the afternoon, when it can be excuse-me-pardon-me crowded. But we did not see another soul on the climb down and nearly the whole climb up, with just a lot of magnificent geology to ourselves. By that time we were overwhelmed by magnificent nature and a little burned out on it, but we still had enough awe left in our souls to be stirred, at least a little bit.

    In the afternoon I began to get cabin fever, and decided to go for a walk along the dry riverbed that the lodge is built alongside of. It was perfectly safe, and a lodge-approved activity. I walk for exercise in a park at home, and this was similar, only dryer, and hotter, and instead of being accompanied by our dog, I had a fly following me much of the way and trying to land on my face. Festus, our guide previously, said flies there don’t bite; they’re trying to drink water from our faces. That must have been one thirsty fly. Along the route, I realize I did not have any solo selfies from the trip, which is like a violation of international law, so I took a couple. The fly photobombed one of them, landing on my face. A flyless African selfie from that afternoon is now my default online profile pic.

    The next morning, we began the long journey home, which took two or three days. The nine-hour time difference and 28+ hour flight time from Johannesburg to San Diego make it confusing as to how much time has actually elapsed. The first step was back to the airfield, where we waited a half-hour in the truck for the “ground pilot” – the airfield’s one employee - to show up and open the gate. We didn’t mind; by then we were used to how things are done in Africa. Prior to our trip, I’d talked to a colleague who’d lived six months in South Africa; she said be prepared for things that should be easy to be difficult, and things you’d expect to be difficult to be easy. That stuck with me in incidents such as the wait for the ground pilot to show up. The plane wasn’t going anywhere; we were the only passengers.

    We flew a bit more than an hour to the Windhoek Airport, and were met at the gate by our old pal Antone, who had driven us from Windhoek to Okonjima a week or so earlier. He waited with us to check in, poor bastard – there was a very long line and he had somewhere else to be.

    The flight to Johannesburg was a commercial flight, and getting on the plane was the end of our safari adventures, because one-hour commercial flight in Africa is not too different from one in the US or Europe.

    We arrived in Johannesburg, breezed through customs, and checked into the City Lodge. We were scheduled to get up the next morning for an 8 am private, guided city tour, but neither of us were excited for that. When we’d had Internet access, I’d checked Yelp and TripAdvisor and Google for things to do in Johannesburg and didn’t come up with much of anything. The Apartheid Museum got rave reviews, but it sounded depressing to me. I wanted to see Soweto, which had been the only place Blacks were allowed to live during apartheid, but Julie wasn’t enthusiastic about that. So we put off the tour until 10:30 am so we could pack at leisure.

    The driver picked us up in a town car with leather seats, a far cry from the open, battered trucks we’d been bouncing around in for weeks. He had an encyclopedic knowledge of South Africa, Johannesburg, and its history. The one other place we wanted to see, other than Soweto, was Maboneng, which travel guides billed as a bohemian shopping district.

    The driver, whose name was Seabo, offered to take us to Soweto in the morning and then to a native African place for lunch. I said hell yeah, because I was always on the lookout for native foods – nearly all the foods we’d eaten on this trip were European, although nearly all of it was delicious – but Julie said no. I thought for a moment and realized that it was not a great idea to sample street food in an unknown cuisine a few hours prior to getting on a plane for a 28-hour flight. So I passed too. Instead, we went to Maboneng, and Seabo dropped us off for lunch and a bit of walking round.

    Maboneng was disappointing. It was crowded and a little threatening, like much of the rest of Johannesburg we’d seen, with a few cheap-looking shops and stands set up selling crafts that looked no different than the kind of thing you’d find at the airport. There were also a few Ethiopian and other African restaurants and a coffee cafe, which would have been tempting to me on another day, but like I said I didn’t want to try any strange cuisines just before a long flight. So we ate at an Italian restaurant/sports bar that was actually very good, and friendly. When we got out the neighborhood looked friendlier too; I even spotted one man who looked local, dangling a big camera from his hand. People don’t dangle big cameras in a dangerous neighborhood. Not for long at least.

    Seabo returned shortly after lunch and took us to Soweto.

    Soweto, he explained, is home to 1.2 million people, which makes it a respectable city within the city. It has neighborhoods of great poverty – shantytowns and slums made of scrap metal – which, Seabo noted, are all that you see in photos and video of Soweto. There are also middle class homes, and even affluent residences. Even the affluent residences seemed cheek-by-jowl close to each other, and small to me, though Julie said she thought some of them were larger. They had high fences around them, suggesting a high crime rate. And you’d see poverty and affluence very close – a shed or just open air tables selling a hodgepodge of merchandise, just a few steps from a scavenged home. Hand-painted advertisements adorned walls, touting businesses; I noted a lot of building contractors. Businesses mingled with housing. If there were any zoning laws in Soweto, I didn’t see evidence of it.

    I saw livestock grazing in empty lots, cattle and goats. In the middle of the city!

    Seabo lived in Soweto; he seemed to like it.

    Seabo offered to stop to let us out at Nelson Mandela’s and Desmond Tutu’s homes, he seemed disappointed when we didn’t get out. But that street was dense with panhandlers, buskers, and other street people, who seemed aggressive; not violent, but not inclined to take no for an answer. Julie and I were not in the mood to run that kind of gauntlet.

    We arrived back at the hotel at 3:30 pm, said goodbye to Seabo – who really was a good guide; we were just bad tourists – and made our way to airline check-in.

    All in all I was not impressed with Johannesburg. It seemed to me the kind of place you’d only ever go to if you for financial reasons. Maybe, like Seabo, you were a poor villager looking to make a living. Maybe you’re a millionaire looking to be a billionaire. Or maybe you’re just somebody in the middle.

    And then we were on our way home. I barely slept on the 28+-hour flights, watched something like five movies, two seasons of The Good Place, then slept most of the next 24 hours when we arrived home. Several days later I drove a car for the first time in a month; I did not hit anyone or go off the road.

    We talk a lot about going back. We went to Africa really on a whim; it felt like a fun adventure. And it was, and we’ve fallen in love with it. Maybe in three years, if we can afford it financially. I’d like to see gorillas and chimpanzees, visit the Olduvai Gorge where the first people on Earth lived millions of years ago, see Cape Town, spend a day each in Windhoek and Swakopmund, spend more time in Botswana, get Festus to guide us around. Africa is a big, beautiful continent with so much to do! 🌍📓

    What is a “digital garden?”

    I encountered the idea of a “digital garden” Friday and was instantly enthusiastic and spent some time this weekend nerding out about it. Here is the result – the beginning of my digital garden:

    A digital garden is a personal website curated by its author, with essays and information about the subject or subjects they’re excited about. Some are wide-ranging and complex and cover a variety of subjects, while others cover a single subject, such as neurology or books,

    Here’s a directory of digital gardens. It’s a digital garden of digital gardens!

    Digital gardens provide an alternative to chronological streams such as blogs and social media. Streams are great for finding out what’s happening and whats new now. But they’re lousy for organizing information. Also, streams are terrible for longevity. Once stuff gets pushed down off the top of the stream, it disappears. Digital gardens are places where you can organize information and keeping information available over the long term.

    Digital gardens can be very simple, just an index page or a Google Doc. Or you can use sophisticated software to create complex, Wikipedia-like documents.

    After a while thinking about this idea, I realized that we’re talking here about the old, 90s “personal website.” People back then would create websites devoted to their favorite bands, or hobbies, or just their own lives and interests. Eventually these got swallowed up by Wikipedia, Google and the various social media silos.

    Digital gardens are an extension of, and renaming of, personal websites. That doesn’t make the idea less powerful though.

    Digital gardens are exciting to me, personally, because they solve a couple of problems that I’ve been noodling about for years. One problem is that I post a lot of stuff to my streams. Some days I post a dozen or two dozen items. Most are ephemeral – links to breaking news articles, some with comments, some without. Wisecracks. Memes. Old ads and photos from the mid-20th Century.

    But some of what I post seems like it should be more long-lasting, whether it’s a book review or the journal of our 25th anniversary safari to Africa last year.

    A digital garden solves that problem. I can just put up an index page of links to long-lived and notable content, and let that — rather than the blog or my biography — be my home page. I’ll continue with the blog and keep the bio. But the index page will be the main entrance to my site.

    Again, this is not a new idea. Gina Trapani has been doing that a few years, and I don’t think she would say her idea is particularly original to her. But it’s still a great idea — and it’s new to me.

    The second problem that digital gardens solve for me is that I’ve been noodling about ideas for projects for, well, several years now. Interviews with people I find interesting, software reviews and how-tos. Occasionally I have even acted on these ideas. But I don’t do it often because I don’t have a permanent home for them.


    My digital garden:

    Here’s the article that got me excited, and introduced the idea of “digital gardening” to me: Digital gardens let you cultivate your own little bit of the internet

    How the blog broke the web – Amy Hoy provides a brief history of blogs and social media, and discusses why they’re not great ways to organize information.

    Hoy says there were only 23 blogs in 1999? Amazing. By late 2001 there seemed like a million of them.

    Maggie Appleton: A Brief History & Ethos of the Digital Garden – Apparently the term and idea has been around in various forms for more than 20 years. Not surprising. The internet is a tangled web. Streams and search engines are two great ways to find stuff, but stuff can still be hard to find. That’s not a new problem.

    Maggie Appleton’s directory of digital gardeners and digital gardening tools

    Maggie’s Digital Garden

    Maggie again: A brief overview of digital gardens as a Twitter thread.

    A list of artificial brain networked notebook apps – These include a couple of familiar names to me, such as Roam Research and Obsidian. They seem to be a mix of private note-taking apps, Internet publishing tools, and private apps that can also publish to the public web.

    This is a take on “digital gardens” that borrows from the philosophy of “zettelkasten.” Put simply, a zettelkasten is a system of note-taking where you write down each idea separately — in its original vision decades ago, you wrote each idea on a slip of paper or index card, though now of course there are digital versions — and then link madly between related notes. Ideas can come from books, articles, thinking, observations, whatever. Zettelkasten advocates say they can come up with fresh insights simply by returning to their zettel and following the links. German sociologist Niklas Luhmann, who invented the idea, credited his zettelkasten as a collaborator on many papers and books.

    You don’t have to use dedicated software for a digital garden. Mine is just an index page for my existing blog.

    Second Brain – “A curated list of awesome “Public Zettelkastens 🗄️ / Second Brains 🧠 / Digital Gardens 🌱”

    Digital Gardens – Another explainer with a couple of examples. The author says:

    In basic terms, [a digital garden] is a different format for written content on the web. It’s about moving away from blog posts ordered by dates and categories, into more of an interlinked web of notes.

    One of the main ingredients is bi-directional links between those notes, creating a network of notes, similar to Wikipedia.

    I would not say that the notes have to be interlinked, Wikipedia-style. Though they can be. – A very nice example of a digital garden covering a broad range of subjects.

    Article: My blog is a digital garden, not a blog by Joel Hooks.

    Our Africa journal – Saying goodbye to a new friend

    June 23, 2019 — Yesterday, we left the camp for our next stop. Festus drove us two hours over those rough desert roads to the same airstrip we’d flown in to. We arrived 40 minutes early so we had time to spend with our new friend. We sat in the same shelter where we’d had our first lunch together three days earlier, and talked.

    Festus told us how he found his way when guiding people through through the bush. I thought maybe he’d memorized the features, the trees and rocks and hills and such, like Mark Twain memorized the Mississippi River. He said no, those things change, but the desert is surrounded by mountains and he looked for the relative position of the peaks to figure out where he is. I was reminded of how I found my way around by car when we lived in Boston; the Prudential and Hancock skyscrapers towered over the skyline and were visible miles around. I looked for those two towers and their positions relative to each other and that gave me a first approximation of my position and whether I was moving in the right direction.

    The airstrip was just a cleared stretch of flat ground with a few sheds at one end of it, where we sat. The only other people were a young Himba man, wearing Western clothes, who worked as a sort of attendant, along with two of his buddies, keeping him company. I was reminded of a rural gas station in upstate New York that I visited for two minutes to get driving directions one night years ago when I got lost on the way to visit a friend. I thought at the time that I blew through that town in less the five minutes but those three friends had probably been at that gas station for years.

    In addition to the three Himba men, the only other denizens of the airstrip were two emaciated, medium-sized dogs who walked slowly through. They didn’t belong to anyone; they were just passing. They came to the door of the restroom and watched with sad eyes while I did my business in there. I am usually leery of off-leash dogs but pair looked so sad I just wanted to give them a bath, take them home, feed them a nice supper of boiled chicken and rice, and then curl up on the couch and watch TV together. One of the Himba men attempted to chase the dogs off by throwing pebbles and shouting at them. The dogs looked like they had been ready to move on anyway. Three more dogs, equally skinny, forlorn and slow moving, came through a few minutes later.

    We had a surprisingly moving goodbye with Festus, considering we’d only been together three days. Festus gave me a warm triple handclasp with both hands and looked me in the eye, a traditional greeting he’d taught us. I’m afraid I rushed it; Julie pointed out to me later that I’m just not an emotionally demonstrative person, other than with her. I’m working on that. I hope Festus will remember our conversations and my sincere respect and affection for him, and that he will forget my hurried goodbye.

    And we got on the small plane to our next stop, which was actually two flights, one more than an hour to Swakopmund, a small city founded by Germans for mining and other industry, and then we switched planes while the first refueled, to go more than another hour to our current destination, Sossusvlei. Our planes on both legs were Cessna C210s, with two passenger seats for me and Julie, the only passengers, and a couple more seats temporarily removed for our luggage.

    I’m getting to quite like small planes. The ride is more interesting, even if it is more likely to be scary sometimes. You chat with the pilot. They give the safety and orientation talk personally and always include the same joke: They show us the airsickness bag and tell us if we use it we should not return it; instead, keep it “as a souvenir” of the airline. For our our first leg, to Soussesvlei, I did the joke before the pilot did. He was chagrined; I’d stepped on his laugh line!

    During our brief layover in Swakopmund, the airline parked us inside a small waiting room in a hangar. It was a bit of a transition after our time in the bush, a proper modern waiting room with a sign with the WiFi password. This was my first access to good WiFi in a week and I slurped up email and reviewed it on the plane. I had left an out-of-office message that said I would be out all June and NOT reading email, even when I get back, so anyone who needs anything should email my colleagues or message me again in early July. I am adhering to the spirit of that message; I only plan to read a few messages when I return. The only reason I’m even checking email is to see if anything cataclysmic or wonderful happens. So far there’s been neither, just work and my friends and family rolling on without me. Similarly, I glance at news headlines every few days and am surprised by how inconsequential it all is.

    On the leg from Swakopmond to Soussevlei, we had a scenic flight, and the pilot pointed out landmarks from the air, including salt processing fields, two shipwrecks, one of which is now deep inland as the desert advances over the century since that disaster, and the dunes of Soussuslei.

    Sossusvlei is a big, dry hot desert. Every time I say someplace in Africa is pretty dry and hot and desolate, we go someplace even more dry and hot and desolate. Geology is Sossusvlei’s big draw, including miles and miles of sand dunes, stretching up to hundreds of feed tall. Like our two previous destinations, Soussusvlei is blistering hot by day, even now, in African winter, though it gets cold at night. It can get up to 50 degrees C in summer.


    The first movie I saw in a theater

    A friend asked her Facebook friends what was the first movie that they remembered seeing in a theater.

    I dug through the IMDB to find some of the earliest movies I remember seeing in theaters and enjoying. They include Doctor Doolittle, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, the Love Bug and the Jungle Book. They came out in 1967-68.

    Also at about that time I remember a movie with Sammy Davis Jr. — I probably had no idea who he was when I first saw the movie, but I recognized him later, in memory. For most of my life I remembered one or two scenes of that movie and how much I enjoyed it but I couldn’t remember the name of the movie or what it as about.

    I remembered Sammy was in a castle and that the movie was a comedy. I remembered one scene where he was shouting out a window. Not a lot to go on, but enough for Google:

    Salt and Pepper.” It’s from 1968 and also stars Peter Lawford.

    The “Salt and Pepper” movie poster. It’s groovy.

    After discovering the body of a murdered female agent in their trendy Soho, London nightclub, groovy owners Charles Salt and Christopher Pepper partake in a fumbling investigation and uncover an evil plot to overthrow the government. Can our cool, yet inept duo stop the bad guys in time?

    Here’s the trailer on YouTube:

    Sammy Davis Jr. plays Salt and Peter Lawford plays Pepper. Get it?

    It’s not a children’s movie, but I expect my Mom wanted to see it and so she dragged my Dad and me and my brothers. I remember my parents hated it and my brothers were too young to get it, but I loved it. I thought Sammy and Peter Lawford were cool. Which they absolutely were, but the movie looks like a turkey.


    African safari journal – one year ago – we visit a tribal village

    June 21, 2019 - Yesterday was busy even by the standards of this trip. Up at 6 and out at 6:30 to the main tent for breakfast and coffee. The coffee is not bad here; it’s not great, but drinkable black.

    I chatted with Jordanna, an Asian woman with a posh English accent. I asked where she is from; she said London. If she had said Singapore, I would not have been surprised – Crazy Rich Asians. [Note from 2020: I had just seen the movie a few weeks earlier on the plane over. Only a year later and that pop culture reference seems hopelessly dated.]


    Later at breakfast yesterday we had a conversation with Ross and Agnes, a couple from Atlanta. We talked about the difficulties of bad WiFi – how bad WiFi is worse than no WiFi, because with no WiFi at least you know you have no WiFi, but with bad WiFi you’re endlessly pulling to refresh. [Note from 2020: The Oatmeal did a comic on just this very subject: <…>]

    I was so used to meeting non-Americans – Namibians and Botswanans in particular – that when they asked where we are from, I reflexively nearly said, “The United States. California. San Diego,” which is now my stock answer I told them that and they laughed and said that when telling non-Americans where they are from, they say, “Atlanta. It’s a big city in Georgia. Which is next to Florida.” People around the world have heard of Florida.

    Festus, our outstanding guide, took us out for a game drive in the morning, and the highlight of that was finding lions feeding on a zebra. I found it fascinating, but neither thrilling nor disgusting. It was nature.

    But the highlight of the day was a visit to a Himba tribal village, a family of about ten people living as their ancestors have probably done for tens of thousands of years. We drove about two hours through the hot desert, flat and khaki colored and featureless like much of it is here in Africa, with the occasional hardy plant. We went through canyons and saw zebras galloping at full speed, despite the heat. That’s how zebras move by default – always at a gallop, Festus told us. The male zebra brings up the rear of his harem. We saw ostriches too.

    The village comprises two large rectangular kraals, totaling an acre I guess, made of the same rough vertical wood branches that are standard for those sorts of structures. One is for goats – we saw a few wandering around – and the other is for cattle. That’s mainly what the Himba live on, their diet consists of a great deal of protein, Festus told us later.

    There were ten people in the tribe, a man, his wives, a few toddlers and very young children, and a younger man who looked to be about 15 or 16. They were nearly naked, the women with their breasts uncovered. The primary man, who we interacted with mainly, wore leather sandals like flip-flops, a short skirt or kilt made of a blue fabric in front that appeared to be manufactured, appendages that looked like fur animal tails in the rear, a handmade necklace that seemed to be made of leather and maybe bone or wood, and nothing else that I can recall. He and all the people were lean but appeared well-fed and healthy. The younger man wore a T-shirt advertising a brand of beer, in English, that I did not recognize.

    Festus said ahead of time that he would introduce us to each person, and encouraged us to use the tribal word for hello – “morro” - accompanied by a firm handshake. We did that, greeting the men and women. I added, “I am very pleased to meet you,” knowing my words would not be understood but hoping my voice would.

    The people lived in a few small huts, about as tall as me and maybe wide enough to lie down. [Note from 2020, for those who don’t know me personally – I’m about 5'9"-5'10" – average height for an American man.] The huts are conical, made of dung mixed with mud. There were a couple of smaller hut-like structures on raised platforms about knee or waist height, used for storage. There were two small campfires, one of them with religious significance where the man told us he went to pray each morning.

    We talked a bit, translated by Festus, because none of these people spoke English. I addressed my questions and statements to the man directly, occasionally looking to Festus, as I have seen people do when dealing with translators in TV and movies. I don’t have much experience with that myself.

    I asked the man what message he would like the rest of the world to know about his people. He was stumped by that, and called to the women for help. Later, Festus told us they have a matriarchal culture – despite being polygamous – and women are very well respected. He asked me in return what I wanted. I said long healthy life and not to get in trouble with my wife. We all laughed at that.

    Then he invited us to take a look around and said we were welcome to take pictures.

    By that point I was ready to go because it seemed to me that these people’s lives were awful. Living in the hot desert with barely any shelter or clothing, squatting on the ground, eating goats and cattle, in a community of less than a dozen people. But we did not want to be rude, so we looked around a bit and I took a few photos.

    They had a large table set up with crafts, many of which they’d made locally, some of which they’d bought, inexpensive giraffe and hippo figurines and jewelry. Some of it was made from PVC pipe. I had previously planned to buy a bracelet and be able to tell people casually I bought it in a Himba village, a primitive tribe in Namibia, but that seemed disrespectful now and none of the items appealed to me or were even in my size.


    But we bought a few things because that was the arrangement. Festus has told us we were expected to bargain, and so we did although it seemed petty to bargain the equivalent of a US dollar or two from people who had so little.

    In the first part of the ride back to the camp I was troubled by what I had seen. I’ve grown up seeing images of people who live like the Himba, but to see it in real life was moving. The Himba have less than the homeless in any US city or the people who live in the shantytowns we passed at Windhoek.

    I was torn, I told a Festus. On the one hand, I said, I think people have a right to life how they want to live. On the other hand: Not like that.

    Festus was silent then and I asked him to tell me if he thought I was wrong. He said no, he agreed with me.

    At one point on the drive back to camp we passed a single broken beer bottle on the desert floor. It was the only trash we had seen. Festus stopped the Toyota and hopped out. He crouched down next to the debris and examined it momentarily without touching it, then carefully plucked the pieces one at a time with one hand and deposited them gently in his other hand. I thought it would be good to get out and help but I was enervated by the heat and the scene I’d seen at the Himba village, so I watched.

    We drove on mostly quiet on the way back to camp, over a sea of sand, as it got dark out.

    Later in conversations with Festus and other Africans, I learned that the quandary I faced in thinking about the Himba is reflected in African policy. The African nations have ceded large tracts of land to the Himba and the Himba get revenue from rent on that land. The camp we are staying at is on land leased from the Himba.

    In conversations with Africans later I learned a couple of things about the Himba that made me think differently about their lives. They have a rich matriarchal society and tradition. Social ties are as important to human beings as physical needs. And close social ties are something we Americans lack, leading to epidemic in suicides and to drug addiction, which is a kind of slow suicide. Would it be ridiculous to suggest that Americans are as impoverished as the Himba? [Note from 2020: An exaggeration but not ridiculous.]

    Also, the Himba enjoy complete freedom of movement. They can at any moment pack up all their belongings on their back and go elsewhere.

    I think it was the same evening that Festus gave a brief astronomy presentation, showing us major features of the night sky using a laser pointer that shot out a solid beam, similar to the one we’d gotten from another guide at another lodge. He talked about red giants becoming supernovae, and showed us a red giant, Antares. He pointed out dust clouds that obscured part of the Milky Way, including the biggest dust cloud, the Coal Sack. We already knew Festus was expert on the local animals, birds, insects and plants, geology, anthropology and centuries of history. Now astronomy too?!

    Throughout our stay in Africa I’ve encountered evidence of the wrongness of Western prejudices about indigenous peoples being less sophisticated than Westerners. Festus is a prime example, he’s from the Herrrera tribe and grew up in a simple village, but he is as intelligent, well educated and thoughtful as anyone I’ve met. He seems like a kind and good soul as well. All the guides we’ve had are encyclopedias of knowledge of natural history, with a love of nature and their home country and eager to share that love with tourists. But Festus stands out among even that group for his dedication. I asked him what he does for fun, when he’s not working. He spends time with family, visits a park favored by Africans, watches nature documentaries – he’s particularly fond of Attenborough – and reads natural history. So he’s working even when he’s not. At work, when he’s not shepherding tourists, he trains other guides. The rest of the staff of the camp seem to hold him in high esteem, and after spending only three days with him, Julie and I do too.

    One of the waitresses, named Thensia, speaks a click language. She shared a few words with me, it was beautiful and unintelligible. Julie and I asked the staff to take our photo, and several of the younger staffed in jumped in and wanted to take photos with Julie and each other, so we did that a few minutes and everyone had fun. One of the young men planted a kiss on the cheek of one of the waitresses just as I clicked the shutter and everyone laughed. Young Black Africans seem to enjoy photos, we encountered the same thing in the school we visited. Both the children and the staff at the camp crowded around the phone to see the photos when they were done.

    Thensia asked me if I had WhatsApp and I said I do, but I hardly ever use it. She watched over my shoulder as I poked around in the app looking for a way to send a message to a new phone number but could not find a way. She told me I had to add the number to my contacts first, and with my permission she snatched the phone from my hand and quickly added herself to my address book. And I sent her the photos.

    My point is that she was quite adept with the iPhone; her fingertips flew over the keyboard and icons. Hardly an innocent savage!

    And now I have the phone number of a pretty 20-year-old waitress in my contacts list. What could go wrong with that?

    [Note from 2020: I just checked my phone. I still have her number!]

    (click the images for a bigger view)

    Me, Julie and Festus have lunch.

    A lion feasting on a zebra.

    Lion walking away after feeding on a zebra. Note the bloody jaws and chest.

    Part of me thought the last two photos were too graphic to post, but mainly I think they’re just nature.


    African safari journal – one year ago – never get tired of the elephants

    June 19, 2019 — We got our cold weather yesterday, up at 5 am for the morning game drive. Camp Kipwe wasn’t cold. I’d assumed it might be at night, knowing the wide temperature fluctuations you get in the desert and judging by the heavy blankets the resort laid on the bed. But it remained warm all night and it felt like the mid-60s at breakfast and when we set out on the drive. But it quickly got colder as we went across the desert – into a different micro-climate? – and the wind whipped through the open safari truck. We drove for more than an hour down relatively smooth dirt roads, rough dirt roads, and rutted desert landscape – more African massage – until we found a dozen elephants.

    Even though we’ve seen literally more than a hundred elephants so far, this was worth it. These were desert adapted elephants, of which only about 600 remain here, with longer legs and broader feet. We got pretty close, a dozen or so yards, and saw a mother with her baby, including breastfeeding, and two immature males play fighting, locking tusks and tossing their heads around.

    On the way back we stopped for coffee in the middle of a flat sandy desert plain, nearly devoid of visible life other than ourselves, with irregular notched mountains in the distance. The temperature got up to the 80s or 90s by then.

    We were really surprised by this heat. We were expecting more of the same, even colder, temps in the 30s or 40s first thing in the morning, and 70ish in the hottest part of the day. Instead, it’s hot and the sun is bright, the kind of weather that makes you want to stay inside in the a/c bxack home. Fortunately we’re prepared, with clothes for any temperature from 40 degrees to 100 degrees. (After that, clothing won’t help you.)

    I wonder what the temperature is at home. No internet means no way to find out.

    At lunch, we decided to skip the afternoon activity and just take the rest of the day as a down day. This was a comfortable spot for it. We’d once again been upgraded to a suite, with comfortable chairs. We had a good nap – those 5 and 6 am wake up calls add up, combined with long, leisurely dinners that start at 7 pm. After nap, I had a shower, which was lovely, as our African schedule has allowed me only three or four of those per week.


    We woke up this morning for breakfast at Okonjima Lunxury Bush Camp and were driven to Okonjima Airstrip by Gabriel, the manager of the resort, a South African with a nicer four-wheel drive vehicle than the others we’ve ridden in. He told us that he ran the place with his wife Sarah, a Canadian, who we’d met previously. The staff is, as Julie surmised, all men. He said that started by coincidence, but they kept hiring men and turning away women because that meant they did not need separate housing. Also, no maternity leave, ha ha. Other than institutional sexism, Gabriel was a pleasant fellow, and told us about difficulties running a resort in Namibia. Hard to find supplies, businesses close at lunch, no Internet access, to name three.

    We took another small plane, big enough for eight passengers but with the seats taken out and only me and Julie riding. We encountered moderate turbulence over the mountains. I’m doing much better with that; I still don’t like it but my brain continues to function. I keep my eyes open and concentrate on looking at the horizon; I think I read that somewhere. Also, while there are no handgrips in the plane, I gripped the bottom of the seat with one hand, which was helpful. No big deal. We landed at Twyfelfontein Airstrip after 50 minutes, a smooth landing. Our pilot, Nick, bid us farewell.

    As was the case at most of our other stops, our guide greeted us at the airstrip. As with most of our other stops, he will be our guide for the duration of our stay. His name was Festus, and over the course of our first few hours together, he revealed an encyclopedic knowledge of natural history, including botany, zoology, geology and anthropology – I was interested to learn from Festus that there had been a recent discovery of a new human ancestor, Homo Namibius, placed between Homo Habilis and Homo Erectus, at about 3.5 million years before present, if Festus recalled correctly. He knows African and Namibian history, and he served us a tasty lunch of beef schnitzel, green salad with feta cheese, and fresh fruit, along with fresh water, with soft drinks available but not requested. The schnitzel, along with apple strudel at dinner, is a byproduct of Namibian’s colonial history, it was a colony of Germany.

    Twyfelfontein proved to be another hotbox, and Festus drove us through the desert for two hours in heat I estimate at 90 or even 100 degrees, and me wearing hiking boots and medium-weight cargo pants. The desert is even more austere and beautiful than Okonjima, all khaki and a few hardy plants and animals, with flat plains stretching off to abrupt mountains.

    And now we are at Hoanib Valley Camp in Kaokoveld, which is in the middle of the desert, surrounded on several sides by khaki mountains and abutting a broad plain of desert life. The camp is about a half-dozen guest tents, with a big common area for meals and relaxing, with coffee, tea, wine and treats on tap. The food and service are impeccable, as at nearly every place we’ve visited on our trip. We have the Honeymoon Tent, with a big broad king-size bed, linen sheets, a small writing table on which I’m writing this journal entry, and a living area with couch, table and chairs, and front deck beyond, with chairs, looking over the desert. Like Camp Xakanaxa, it’s basically a lovely hotel room inside a tent.

    The manager, TJ, showed us around the tent, including the shower, which has a steel bucket in one corner. He said he expected we encountered that arrangement before, but we had not. He explained that the bucket is a water conservation measure. When the shower starts and runs cold, you run it into the bucket. When you add hot water and have the temperature the way you like it, you push the bucket aside and shower normally. The maids come in and use the water from the bucket to clean the floors.

    Hoanib Valley Camp has WiFi, and the electricity runs 24x7. The WiIf is slow but functions. I’ve got my iPad plugged in and am uploading photos to the cloud.

    (Click the photos for a bigger view)

    View from our tent at Hoanib Valley Lodge.

    Our shower at Hoanib Valley Lodge. The bucket is for water conservation.

    Nice bathroom at Hoanib Valley Lodge.

    Our tent at Hoanib Valley Lodge.

    These little birds hopped up on the table and begged for treats at Camp Kipwe. The waiter scolded Julie for feeding them. The staff’s attitude at Camp Kipwe contributed to this being not our favorite place in Africa, despite the camp itself being lovely.

    Panoramic photo of the desert. That’s Julie next to the truck.


    More photos from our African safaris – one year ago

    These were taken June 18, 2019, in Namibia.

    Our cabin at Kipwe Lodge in Namibia.

    View from the cabin.

    View from the cabin toilet.

    The cabin bathroom.

    The cabin sitting room.

    Another view of the cabin sitting room.

    The cabin bedroom.

    Driving across the Namibian desert.

    Typical of the planes we used when flying between lodges in Botswana and Namibia.

    Plaque inside the passenger hut at a Namibian airfield.

    A passenger hut at a Namibian airfield. More posh than most we encountered in Botswana and Namibi.


    Africa journal – one year ago – spectacular leopard encounter

    June 17, 2019 [Note from 2020: Overlap here with yesterday’s entry. I’m repeating myself.] We arrived at Windhoek in Namibia two days ago, after a commercial flight of less than two hours, and were greeted outside customs by Antone, who put us in an enclosed VW van with air conditioning and car seats. He drove us through Windhoek, a relatively new city 29 years old [Note from 2020: That’s what Antone said. Wikipedia says it’s about a century older], the capital of Namibia and apparently a commercial center as well. Antone told us that Windhoek grew up as a crossroads between other major Namibian cities and for its proximity to mines. Because Namibia is surrounded by mountains, the airport is 38 km out of town. We drove out of town, stopping at a Shell service center that seemed a little sketchy, though it was clean and well stocked and I suspect that if I were to ever find myself living and working in Windhoek, that service center would be a place I’d stop for gas and coffee and a snack and never think twice about it. [Note from 2020: It looked like an ordinary American or British highway rest stop. These moments of sheer normality were dissonant on our trip. Almost everything was so alien.]

    It was a 3.5 hour drive to our camp, which was frankly too much.

    The Okonjima Bush Camp turns out to be inside the Okonjima Game Reserve, which is owned by the Africat big cat rehab center. We stayed in a spacious private round lodge, with a simulated hut motif and what appeared to be stone walls. The lodge was separated in half by a partial wall, with the bathroom facility on the opposite side of the beds. The shower was open.

    Opposite the beds, a picture window with two comfortable chairs overlooked a desert plain, beautifully silver lit by moonlight at night.

    A separate round building with a thatch roof was a sitting room, with chaise lounges and an open wall overlooking the plain. The wall had a two-foot ledge separating the room from the outside plain. The sitting room is equipped with a jar of birdseed and a small flock of guinea hens comes hopping over for treats when we come into the room, like the dog and cats at home gathering for feeding.

    (Click the photos for a bigger view)

    We were feted by the staff for Julie’s 70th birthday and our 25th anniversary. The staff came out and sang in African harmonies and brought champagne and fruit and chocolate. We already had sparkling wine in the car from the travel company, so that’s a lot of bubbly. And we have had similar birthday celebrations from other places we’ve stayed. We met a few nice couples at the lodge, and had dinner with one, Becky and Anthony from Leceistershire, England, who have been on many safaris previously, including to Namibia. We had dinner with them and split the wine.

    We had spectacular success on our game drives. On our first morning, yesterday, we went to the big cat rehabilitation center, and learned about the work they do there. We saw a few cheetahs in a fenced in reserve.

    In the evening we went out in search of leopards. Danny, our guide, had a handheld radio antenna like a capital “I” with broad top and bottom, attached to a device that looked like a walkie talkie. That was used to detect the cats’ radio collars. We located a big, 12-year-old male sleeping on the side of a large riverbed. We watched a while to see if he would get up but he did not. Still, the experience was interesting and we saw a few other animals and birds and stuff so we were satisfied.

    On the way to our sundowner drinks Danny caught another signal and so we abandoned sundowners and went in search of more leopards. And we scored big.


    First we found a half-grown leopard cub gnawing on part of a baboon carcass on the side of the river. Then its mother came from across the river, with another cub about the same age. A brown hyena stalked the smell of the carrion, and came slowly down the riverbed, but thought better of the project when it saw three leopards, and retreated with its fur all bristly to look more threatening. Somewhere along the way, the first leopard cub retreated to the top of a dead tree, taking the baboon carcass with it, and it gnawed on the carcass from up there,sometimes letting it dangle, playing with its food.

    This whole process played out over the course of an hour or so, and was very exciting.

    This morning we went out and used the same radio mechanism to locate several white rhinos. We tracked them quietly on foot for the last part of the expedition.

    Then at 1:15 or so our guide drove us to the local airstrip – why didn’t we fly in there in the first place, rather than drive? Compared with some of the airstrips we saw in Botswana, this was elaborate, with a hangar and a small waiting area, a two-room rectangular structure with glass sliding doors, the interior of which looked like it had been transported from an office building in a big city. It was decorated with flying memorabilia.

    Our plane was an eight-passenger prop driven Kodiak, and we got to our next destination in 35 minutes.

    Getting out of the plane was quite a contrast. Okonjima was a scrub desert, with lots of thorn bushes and other dark green foliage, much like home in San Diego. Temperatures were about 40 degrees F in the morning – I needed my puffy jacket and hat and midweight pants and wished I had gloves too – to barely 70 in the hottest part of the day.

    Our current location, Twyfelfontein, is hardcore desert, a flat plain of khaki colored sand punctuated by hardy shrubs each a few dozen yards from the other, and big piles of rocks dozens of feet high, with mountains off of the distance in every direction like a backdrop. The sun was bright and the temperature topped 90, maybe even topped 100. And me still in my heavy fleece, which I ditched quickly.

    We took one of the ubiquitous khaki colored trucks, with comfortable seats mounted in the bed, to Camp Kipwe, our home for the next two nights. The camp comprises the usual cabins with a hut motif, built into stacks of boulders on the side of a hill. I have sworn off of my usual media pop culture references for the duration of this trip, but if I had not done that I would say this place reminds me of the Flintstones, whereas Okonjima reminded me of Gilligan’s Island. It’s beautiful and luxurious here, and we have the suite, at the highest point in camp, with a bedroom and living room, and open walls overlooking the spectular desert vistas. Even the bathroom has specatulcuar views of the desert; from the toilet I can see a beautiful plain.

    As ever, the food is delicous, though all we’ve had to eat so far is a couple of grilled ham and cheese sandwiches done up for our late arrival, along with small green side salads.

    On a housekeeping note: Apparently we may not have laundry this stop. And us sweating in the heat. I don’t think anyone will be offended. Also, I decided for the first time to convert my convertible pants, which I have resisted doing until now because it seemed like getting the legs back on might be a hassle. Why have convertible pants if you don’t convert them?

    Also, no Internet here whatsoever for two days. We’ve had good internet in Okonjma; I got to upload photos to the cloud and update Flickr. OK internet in Johannesburg, as you’d expect at an airport and airport hotel. Bad and unusable internet in Botswana. but now two days without Internet whatsoever.

    Sundowner in a few minutes, then dinner. Tomorrow we’re up at 5 am for a game drive and visit to some interesting archeological formations and ancient bushman wall decorations. As with the other places we’ve stayed, other than Chobe, we have a nice long break in the early afternoon to regroup. Then we’re off to our next location the day after tomorrow.

    I can feel we are on the downhill side of our African holiday.


    African safari journal – one year ago – a travel day

    June 15, 2019 – Yesterday was a travel day. We had an 11:25 am charter flight from the LLT airstrip [Note from 2020: That’s the Leroo La Tau safari camp, where we stayed for a few days], and could have jammed in a short game drive, packing and breakfast before then, but it would have been too stressful. Instead we decided to sleep in, which turned out to be 6:30 am for Julie and 6:55 am for me. We were done sleeping. Noteworthy because at home we can sleep hours later if we don’t have to get up. We packed, had breakfast and killed about two hours reading and such before we left for the airstrip at 10:40 am.

    The resort staff, who adore Julie, packed us bag lunches, which was lovely but more to carry, so we had mixed feelings about that.

    A guide named Bones, who provided star lessons two evenings earlier, was our driver and with many heartfelt farewells to the staff, we set off for the airstrip. After three days together it felt as if we were leaving friends, as we had before at Camp Xakanaxa.

    We drove along unpaved roads. The Toyota moved slowly and fishtailed on fine white sand like beach sand that buried the road. A few times Bones stopped to shift gears to get us out of a particularly deep sand drift. A couple of times he hopped out of the car to inspect the wheels and undercarriage. We slowed down once to avoid goats in the road, and another time to avoid cows. We arrived at the LLT airstrip, with its only building a structure that looked like a Little League dugout, along with fire protection equipment. The airstrip was just a long narrow rectangle of flat packed dirt a thousand or so feet long. We had been told earlier that sometimes flights were delayed because animals wandered out on the runway, and sometimes elephants dragged brush on the runway, which had to be cleared for takeoff and landing. But none of those things were problems yesterday; our plane was waiting for us, a four-seat prop job with the pilot standing beside it. The pilot was named Myello; he had joined us for breakfast earlier. We climbed in the plane and he warned us that the plane was light and the skies were windy, so we might be blown around a bit. That concerned me; I don’t do well with vertigo; my brain shuts down in panic mode. Myello taxied us to the far end of the runway. He consulted a computer printout folded in his hand. We were sitting immediately behind him in the snug little plane, closer than the backseat passengers to the driver of a car. He held his hand behind him to show me a line of text demarcated with his thumb; I saw Julie’s surname, Brown, with letters and numbers in a row. I looked at it blankly. He gave me a querying look. We couldn’t speak because the engine noise was too loud, and he was wearing a headset. The line of text was clearly an important question, but I had no idea what it was. I smiled and nodded and gave him the thumbs up. He appeared satisfied. He reached the end of the runway, turned the plane around, paused and gunned the engine. The plane lunged forward and we lunged into the air. [Note from 2020: I wonder if bush pilots do that pause-and-then-floor-the-accelerator for dramatic effect?]

    The warning about rough skies proved overstated. Our half hour flight was relatively smooth and comfortable. I looked out the window and photographed the desert. The desert gave way to our destination, the city of Moun, which is more of a town of a few tens of thousands of people. I could see houses below us like ordinary suburban subdivisions, but with apparently unpaved roads.

    (Click the photos for a bigger view)

    Moun has a proper, but very small, airport, with a tower and many commercial planes lined up and a terminal where we were met by a porter and representative of our travel company, who together helped us get our bags checked and get us through customs. The porter disappeared before I could tip him. I didn’t tip the travel company representative, although now I think maybe I should have. [Note from 2020: Tipping was a mystery in Africa. I just gave money to people at random.] The terminal has a bare-bones but comfortable cafe, where we had $5 water bottles, attempted to get on the WiFi, and waited for our flight at a gate that looked more like a bus terminal than an airport, crowded with what seemed to be backpackers, safari travelers like us in khaki and olive green, businesspeople – a couple of them tapping on laptops – and just regular people taking a flight.

    Our flight to Johannesburg was a regular commercial flight, same as any intercity hop in the US. Again, our travel agent arranged to have a porter meet us at the gate, who escorted us and helped us with our bags through customs and deposited us at the CityLodge hotel, located inside the airport, where we spent our first night in Africa 11 days ago. By now we felt like Africa veterans, light years beyond the greenhorns we’d been when we arrived. We’d faced down lions and hippos and elephants and the aggressive porters who hang around the airline check-in desks (completely different than the lovely porters who’d met us at the gate when we landed – we’d have another encounter with the check-in variety of predator the next day).

    I had been looking forward to returning to the airport hotel, to enjoy a restaurant meal, sleep in a climate controlled room, and use reliable WiFi. But the room was too warm, the food was mediocre at best and the service was slow, and once I’d spent 15 minutes on the Internet I was done with that, though I did leave my iPhone and iPad connected to back up photos to iCloud and Flickr.

    We discovered we were able to check luggage at CityLodge until we returned for our final night in Africa before going home in 10 days. For some reason the desk clerk on our first night 10 days ago told us we couldn’t do that. Huh? Julie insisted we buy a cheap duffle at the airport shops for that purpose, and we did. I filled it in part with unnecessary electronics, including a power brick, several electrical adapters that are lightweight but relatively bulky, and a noise canceling headset, also lightweight but bulky and unnecessary until my flight home. Julie checked clothes and a travel pillow and backrest for the flight home. I estimate we cut our travel weight by about 25% and I am delighted by that.

    And now we’re on a commercial flight to Windhoek in Namibia, eager to get back to the bush and resume our holiday.


    Anton, our driver, takes us through Windhoek. He says it’s a city of about a half-million people, only 29 years old, built because it’s a crossroads between other Namibia cities. It’s the nation’s capital, and also seems to be an industrial town. Seems relatively quiet for midday. [Note from 2020: Wikipedia says Windhoek was founded in 1840, abandoned, and then founded again in 1890. I remember it felt more like a large town than a city of a half-million.]


    We were taken on a long, 3.5-hour drive from Windhoek to the Afrikats lodge, which was our next destination. The highway is rural between towns, mostly devoid of human construction, flat and well paved and maintained, two lanes in each direction narrowing to one each way. In towns we see construction, a sign of affluence, alongside poverty, people living in shanty villages. We see warthogs and baboons on the side of the road. Once or twice we pass big clusters of shacks and some tents forming bazaars of traditional crafts.

    We drive through mountains. In other places the desert is flat enough to see to the horizon.

    It is a long drive, much of which we sit in silence.

    [Note from 2020: It was a looooooong drive, in an air-conditioned modern minivan, more comfortable than but not as interesting as the Toyota safari vehicles. Later, when we returned to the US, we asked our travel agent WTF she booked us for a drive rather than a short flight – Afrikats has an airstrip a few minutes away. She said the flight would have cost literally thousands of dollars US. So, yeah, the drive was a good idea.

    [Also: I was puzzled during the drive by the juxtaposition of prosperity and poverty – new city construction immediately adjacent to squatter camps. A few days later, one of our guides told us the squatter camps were populated with people who were coming to work on the construction.]


    We stopped at a Shell rest area to stretch our legs and wash up. All variety of people there, very busy. We saw several stout middle aged women wearing traditional clothing, flowing print dresses with two-part hats representing animal horns. A skinny man approached Julie to try to sell wooden beads bigger than golf balls. She has difficulty brushing him off.

    [Note from 2020: The dresses are traditional women’s clothes for the Herero, a Bantu ethnic tribe of about 250,000 people. The dress is based on colonial German women’s dresses. Photos and more information on Wikipedia: <…>]


    Interesting finds in my home office

    After my Mom passed away in 2000, and then my Dad in 2004, I inherited my Mom’s rolltop desk. It’s in my home office. If you’ve ever done a Zoom call with me, you can see it behind me. It’s not my primary desk; it’s just sitting there with piles of stuff on it.

    Yesterday I was looking through the drawers of the desk for a Post-It note. The drawers are mostly empty; I don’t use them. The wide drawer in the top center had some USB thumb drives in the front tray, which I’d put in there myself a few years ago and then forgot about them. In the big wide space behind the tray, there were some bills that have been sitting there since before Dad died. Behind those, two envelopes: One was from 1989, containing two tickets to my middle brother’s college graduation ceremony. They still looked new, red and shiny.

    The second envelope had a handwritten address on the front, written by a child in pencil. It looked like one of my brothers' handwriting. Interesting! The return address was Harley Avenue Elementary School. That’s the school my brothers and I attended. Even more interesting!

    I opened the envelope and found a letter that my brother had written to his future self, part of a class project. My youngest brother was then 9 years old, and he wrote it to himself at 19. I would have been about 15 then. It was 1976.

    I took a photo with my iPhone camera and sent it to my brothers for their enjoyment. In situations like this, I marvel at what my 1976, 15-year-old self would have thought about that technology. I was a die-hard science fiction fan then; I would have loved it

    The message was unremarkable. I don’t think my brother’s head was in the assignment. He is wondering what the prices will be 10 years in the future, and whether inflation will still be a big deal. Inflation was a big deal in 1976.

    My youngest brother and I both had the same teacher when he was in second grade and I was in third, Arlene Kaufman, who of course we called Miss Kaufman. I actually heard from her two years ago on Facebook. Yesterday, I looked her up again on Facebook to let her know about the new find, but she seems to have deleted her account. When I heard from her, she was living in Queens, NY, parts of which were hard hit by Covid. I hope she’s doing OK.

    Here’s how I heard from Miss Kaufman (I’m just going to stick with that name) two years ago: A year or so before that, in my random Internet cruising, I came across the cover of an early edition of the science fiction novel Red Planet, by Robert A. Heinlein. Miss Kaufman had a small library in the corner of her classroom, which contained that edition of that book. It was one of the first two chapter books I read. The other was a biography of Helen Keller. And I loved Red Planet. It awakened a love of reading, science fiction, and Heinlein that sticks with me to this day.

    A year after the first post, Miss Kaufman wrote to me on Messenger; she said a former student of hers had forwarded the post to her, and she said she remembered me too. I received the message from her while I was in a hotel room in Florida on a business trip.

    I wonder what that must have been like for her. You remember a 9-year-old-boy and you turn around and he’s a 50-something man writing from a hotel room in Florida. I mentioned this insight to a friend recently, who said Miss Kaufman is probably used to it. I guess that happens to teachers frequently, if they are good teachers with long careers who touch many students' lives.

    Now that I think of it, regarding the Helen Keller biography: I love history now too. So thanks again, Miss Kaufman!

    I never did find the Post-Its. It turned out I did not need them. I used a memo pad instead — from my first job in tech journalism, at Open Systems Today, 30 years ago. They gave me far too many of those memo pads and I rarely have a need for them, so they sit around my office. I photographed that with the iPhone, too, and sent it to my editor on that job, who I recently reconnected with about freelance work.

    My office is like an archeological site. I really need to declutter. 📓

    Africa journal - one year ago today - Tswana language lesson

    Julie has picked up a few words of Tswana, one of the two major languages of Botswana. The other major language is English:

    Kealeboga =thank you Dumela mma= good morning - different ending if you’re talking with a man vs. talking with a woman.
    Re mono fela= we are just here
    Re kgobile= we are relaxed 📓 🌍

    African safari journal – one year ago today – a visit to a local village

    In the morning at home, I look at the news. Here in Africa, in the morning I look at the gnus. A herd of wildebeest gathers on the plain outside our cabin as the sun rises.

    Last night, one of the guides gave us a brief five-minute tour of the African starscape. One thing I keep forgetting is that we are in the southern hemisphere now, so the stars are completely different. Until last night, I forgot to look up at the sky. I can see Alpha Centauri, Antares, the Milky Way and those other places I’ve read about in science fiction books for so many years.

    The man doing the star show used a laser pointer that shot out of visible beam of light, so he could easily point out the various stars in their location, as if we were in a planetarium. I did not realize laser pointers could do that. I thought you had to point them at something to display a dot at that location.

    It is now about 20 after eight on Thursday morning. In a few minutes we will be leaving for what is billed as a cultural visit to a local village. I have no idea what is in store for us there. But I am looking forward to it!

    Yesterday afternoon we saw a Toyota truck go by in the evening game drive, carrying a full load of black people. It was the first time I had seen black people in the back of the Toyota, as passengers, rather than driving. Our guide told us that they were teachers from the same school that we are going to visit today. They look very young, as though they were teenagers and students themselves.

    The cultural event proved to be an excursion to Khumaga (khoo mah cha), a nearby village of about 2,000 people. We drove in on an unpaved dirt road, past houses ranging from circular mud huts to plain square brick buildings to small neat houses with proper windows and fences and cars in front that would not have looked out of place in a middle class American neighborhood. We saw some people, but not a lot, men walking in pairs at the kind of deliberate pace you maintain when you’re going to be waking a long way. Children waved to us cheerfully; we grinned and waved back.

    We visited a school for kindergarten through seventh grade. A teacher told us briefly about the school. She seemed citified, in a brightly colored floral skirt and blue double breasted jacket that might have been a fleece. Fleeces are ubiquitous here, the resort staff wears khaki fleeces as part of their uniforms. The teacher asked for donations and seemed shocked when we told her, truthfully, that we had not brought wallets or cash. I’ve gotten in the habit of locking my wallet, cash and passport in my room safe when arriving at a resort. We just don’t need it. We’ll arrange a donation later today.

    We went into a seventh grade classroom and the children broke into three groups to crowd around the three of us who visited from the resort, me and Julie and a man in his 70s who had previously volunteered at the peace corps, so he was familiar with this kind of place and situation. His wife, who is disabled and uses a wheelchair, waited in the Toyota.

    My little group of children, mostly boys 11-13 years old, pushed up against me in a circle. They asked me how old I am and marveled at the number (it amazes me too, kids) and admired my hair and shirt and shoes. They asked me what kind of animal is my favorite (our dog and cats at home – but in Botswana I like elephants, giraffes, zebras, gnu and baboons). They told me what they want to be when they grew up, a doctor, scientist, dentist and soldier. They asked me what kind of work I do, and seemed satisfied with the answer. They loved elephants and told me with relish that they can kill you. They showed me a worksheet of what to do and not to do when you encounter elephants. There is an elephant overpopulation problem in Botswana; the beasts trample crops and destroy property. The government is considering reversing the ban on hunting, to reduce numbers. The boys asked me my religion; I said Jewish, non-practicing. I don’t know if that registered. Earlier, the teacher had said the children study world religions and she listed a few, of which Judaism was not one. That’s reasonable; we Jews are few in numbers, just a few million in the whole world, and maybe a child in an African village has no need to know about us.

    The kids and I ran out of things to talk about but they cheerfully demanded to be photographed, so we did that. They mugged for the shot and then crowded around the iPhone to see how the photo came out.

    Afterward we visited the kindergarten, about 25 children in a one room building with a concrete floor and metal roof. They sat on the floor and colored and greeted us cheerfully. Then we visited a woman who wove baskets; she wore a pink bathrobe, belted carefully to make it look more like a dress.

    Tomorrow, which is Friday, will be a travel day. Saturday too. Multiple hops to get from here in Botswana to JoBurg, where we will again spend the night at an airport hotel. I must admit I’m looking forward to a dinner that is not a production number, and going shopping at the airport stores for additional camera accessories. The on a plane Saturday morning for two flights and a road transfer to our next stop, in Namibia. Namibia and Botswana are neighboring countries so hopefully there will be direct flights between them one day.


    Safari journal – one year ago today – we learn the local language and speak it badly

    Leroo La Tau, our current safari camp, is in the Makgadikgadi Pans National Park in Botswana, on the banks of the Boteti River. The resort is on a cliff overlooking a river and plain. We can go out on a deck and see wildebeest and zebras and elephants and stuff. Last night when I woke in the middle of the night, I heard a terrible screeching. It sounded a little electronic. Today I imitated the sound for our guide, Gee. He said it sounded like a jackal.

    Gee is knowledgeable, enthusiastic, efficient and friendly, as all our guides have been. He has a restful energy, unlike TS, who was great but who could be a bit jangly. The hotel staff loves Julie, and treat her like a queen, which she deserves! Julie has been trying to learn a few words of Tswana, one of the common languages of Botswana (the other is English). I have followed her lead. We regularly butcher “thank you” and are working on “hello” and “good morning.” There is also “slowly slowly,” which seems to translate roughly to “take it easy” or “mellow out” or “chill.” Also, “we are here,” which seems to have a deeper meaning I have not been able to ken.

    I am drinking far more liquor now than I do at home. At home I have 0-4 drinks per month. Here I have been having 3-4 drinks per day. At the end of the afternoon drive we have “sundowners” in the field; the guide mixes drinks and lays out snacks on the Toyota tailgate, or on a little panel that folds down from the front of the truck. I hae gin and tonic. Before dinner, we have more drinks. I have discovered Amarula, a liquor made from local fruit and milk. I’m told it tastes like Baileys, which I have not had in many years. Amarula is delicious. Then we have wine with dinner. I feel like Keith Richards.

    The reason I don’t drink Baileys at home is that milk gives me an upset stomach (though I can no trouble with cheese and yogurt, which I love and consume regularly). Here in Africa, though, the milk doesn’t bother me.

    And now it’s night and we’re in bed. We can hear water lapping not too far below the cabin. And we can also hear a variety of animal sounds, including a loud grunting that may be one or more hippos just a few yards away.


    African safari journal – one year ago today – Camp Xakanaxa to Leroo La Tau

    We’re on a 12-seater Cessna now, on our way from Camp Xakanaxa, where we spent three lovely days, to our next stop, the name of which I cannot remember.

    TS, our guide at Camp X [Note from 2020: I’m not going to spell it out] is tall, thin and handsome, with dark black skin and a broad smile. He tells people his name stands for True Story, because he only speaks truth. At other times, he says the name stands for other things. He has a dry sense of humor. He is passionate about being a guide, with a deep knowledge of nature and a strong drive to take us to see the most interesting animals and birds. He finds them by listening to their calls, driving slowly while hanging his head off the side of the truck to watch the ground for leopard or lion tracks, by consulting with other guides on radio, and apparently by extra sensory perception. When he hears over the radio that the other guides have found some fascinating animal, he throws the truck in gear and we careen across the road, bouncing high in the air. A few times I’m completely airborne above my seat. He usually doesn’t say what he’s after, but I know that when we’re moving at that speed it’s something good. Yesterday it was a leopard, which we could barely see when we arrived. That’s just how it goes; game drives are a lot of patience and luck.

    TS is opinionated about which animals are worth stopping for – lions, leopards, elephants and giraffes – although elephants are less interesting than leopards, so we do not stop to see elephants on the way to a leopard. I love baboons and monkeys but TS thinks they are a waste of time so we do not stop to see the monkeys. That’s ok; we’ve seen plenty of monkeys anyway.

    TS tells us he comes from a small farming village in Botswana, with 35 brothers and sisters from multiple mothers. Many people in the village were unschooled and illiterate; they believe book learning is a waste of time, compared with learning what they need to know for farming.

    TS sat next to a group of Italians during lunch, and asked them how to say hello in Italian. Later, after I asked him, he said everybody he knows growing up came from that one little village. Now he meets people from all over the world. The world is an amazing place.

    As I thumb-type this, we are in a small 12-seater Cessna, with those same Italians, on our way to the next stop for three days. We loved Camp X and felt a connection to the place and staff there but I’ll be glad to sleep indoors. And wake up indoors too. The tents at CX get cold at night and in the early morning when we get up for our dawn game drive. They give us hot water bottles after dinner, one each, which we carry to our tent in our arms and tuck under the blankets. And the blankets are lovely and warm and the sheets are clean and white. It’s quite cozy – despite how cold it is outside, 40 degrees, I still find myself throwing the blankets partway off during the night.

    But it is most definitely not warm when we wake up.

    And it’s dark at night too; camp power is provided by a generator and some of the tent lighting runs on batteries. The generator goes off around 10 and goes back on a little before wake up.

    The food at Camp X is fantastic. [Note from 2020: True for all our camps.] I’m going to need bigger pants. Meals are served in a big tent; we eat at big long wooden dining tables and real chairs, with china and linen tablecloths and napkins and separate glasses for wine and water, like a restaurant. We serve ourselves from buffet tables and talk with the other guests and guides, who eat with the guests, about what we saw and did that day, although we did get into a brisk political discussion with a few Germans one night. I would have preferred to talk about the game drives. Political discussion is one of the things I’m getting away from.

    The German who talked politics asked me, the next night, about my work. I had resolved that for the duration of this trip I would not volunteer what I do for a living, but would tell people when asked. So I did. I think next time I’ll make something up, like “Mafia accountant” or “large animal veterinarian.”

    I’m thumb typing this on a 12 seat plane from Camp X to our next stop. 50 minute flight. We just swerved abruptly and I was overcome by vertigo and I closed my eyes. Julie said she saw another plane that we had swerved to avoid

    Landing now. I’ll put away my phone.

    And now we are at the Leroo La Tau Lodge, still in Botswana, this time on the desert. It’s 1:26 pm, we checked in, got our orientation talk from the manager, and had another enormous and delicious lunch. I brought two sets of pants, one for cooler weather and one for warmer weather. I should have brought bigger pants too.

    LLT is designed along the same lines as CX, with huts with thatched roofs. But LLT is a complex of buildings, rather than tents on platforms. We’re told to expect cooler weather here.

    This is the Kalahari Desert. Coming in on our 12-seater plane – Clement was our pilot again – we saw small villages of huts and cattle and goats penned in with rough fences, called kraals. On the dirt road to the camp – more bouncy bouncy in one of the ubiquitous converted Toyota trucks – we saw a truck going in the opposite direction, with a middle aged white couple in the cab. The woman, in the passenger seat, had a small dog on her lap. It occurred to me that this was the first time we’d seen animal who was a pet,in a week.

    CX and Chobe Lodge were surrounded by electrical wire fences, high enough to stop elephants but let other animals through. We saw baboons on the lawn in front of our cabin in Chobe. A resident hippo wanders around CX, his name is Oscar. We saw him just outside the camp when TS drove us in to the camp on our first day; TS cautioned us that Oscar is not domesticated, he is a wild animal, and hippos are vicious too, and can move fast when provoked, we should stay 30-40 meters away. Not sure how you can do that in the camp, but it was a moot point; we did not see Oscar again.

    When we drove up to CX, two managers greeted us with a big smile and a goofy dance. A short time ago that would have made me uncomfortable; I would have assumed it was a residue of colonialism and racism. Now I think it’s just how they do things. One of the managers was a tall, handsome, erect young man named Mox, with deep black skin and a broad smile. Unlike his colleagues, Mox spoke in a British-inflected accent; he told us later that he was educated in a private track in a public school and – he confessed – has an English girlfriend. (“Shocking,” I said, and he was surprised that I said it, but Julie explained that I was kidding. I said it with a deadpan that any American would have recognized I meant the opposite of what I was saying, but that inflection doesn’t translate. We told him that we have absolutely no problem with mixed-race relationships.)

    But we did not know any of that when we were checking in. I saw him as another native member of the hotel staff, who likely spent his entire life in Botswana. So I was surprised when he said, as he picked up our bags to carry them off, “Alright alright alright!” Surprising to meet a Matthew McConaughey fan so far from home!

    I’ve been thinking here about the legacy of colonialism. At home I had a vague, unarticulated idea that colonialism was unalloyed evil and that it had left a false skin on African culture that would inevitably be sloughed off as colonialism receded in the past. While I’m still no fan of colonialism, I now think the Africans regard the colonial legacy as part of their heritage, just as much as their native roots, and are in no rush to slough off European influences, any more than the English are looking to rid themselves of Roman and Norman influences. In general I have encountered similar attitudes when dealing with people in the developing world. In past decades we worried about American cultural imperialism, but people who live in the developing world seem happy to take what pleases them or is useful from American and European culture, and retain their native traditions where those are pleasing or useful. This also applies to China, which can’t be described as a member of the developing world anymore; it’s a superpower rivaling America, maybe soon to surpass us. [Note from 2020: I’m not certain I agree with my 2019 assessment of geopolitics here and post-colonial culture. I’d only been Africa a week when I wrote it, and less than four weeks total.]

    Last night at CK I woke up in the middle of the night and heard animals calling nearby. I turned over in bed in the dark and saw, on the canvas wall of our tent, the shadow of a vast animal moving slowly by. I turned over and went back to sleep.

    This evening as we were washing for dinner we heard the sound of two male elephants nearby disagreeing loudly.


    Our African journal – One year ago today – At the Okavango Delta in Botswana

    I literally squeed when I saw a mother baboon carrying her baby. “Oh my god it’s a baby baboon!” I exclaimed in a high pitched squeal like an 11 year old girl. The baby dropped off the mother, stood on his hind legs a wobbly moment, then looked puzzled and fell over. Who would not squee at that?


    Dawn river cruise. Instant coffee from metal camp cups at sunrise, mixed with hot water from a Stanley insulated bottle


    Kasane International Airport, outside Chobe National Park in Botswana, is tiny, but it is clean and modern and efficient. [Note from 2020: Kasane is small, but a proper airport. Many of the other places we caught planes were just airstrips — a grassy field with a long cleared strip, often graded but not paved, to accept small planes.] We’re here on our way to Camp Xakanaxa (pronounced ka-ka-na-ka), in the Okavango Delta in Botswana. The plane is a Cessna 208 or 208B Caravan. It seats 12 but we are the only two passengers, along with pilot Clement and another guy, who I think is the baggage master. Other than the road, I don’t see a sign of human habitation from the air.

    I watched the ground go by outside the window of our little plane. Dozed off. Woke up. Same. Ground was greener and wetter and swampy. We descend for landing. I see a few houses.


    The Okavango airport is a dirt airstrip with no buildings, just a structure like a Little League baseball dugout with a sign that says VIP Lounge. Good to see irony thrives in Africa. There is no Starbucks.


    TS, our driver, was moving fast and the truck was rocking and rolling over rutted roads. I was daydreaming when suddenly I was knocked off my seat and hit the unpadded metal floor on my ass, hard.

    I was uninjured, which was lucky, because that’s how people get permanent, disabling back injuries. On the other hand, had I gotten a permanent, disabling back injury, it would have been a better story than everybody else’s story. Everybody else gets back injuries reaching for paper towels from the top shelf of their kitchen cabinets.

    We parked next to two sleeping male lions, and waited a half hour for them to wake up. For the first part of that time there were about four other trucks parked in a semicircle, watching the lions. How would you like to be sleeping in bed and wake up to find 25 people in a semicircle around your bed staring at you while you slept?

    TS asked whether he should get out of the truck and wake the lions up. We said sure, and he laughed. Funny guy, that TS. We agreed that taking a selfie with the lions would be a great way to become world famous and score many views and likes on YouTube. Unfortunately you would not be around to enjoy the celebrity.

    Internet connectivity here at Xakanaxa is crap, electricity goes out at 10 pm so I’m just going to power down my phone at bedtime so it has maximum charge for tomorrow. Shocking!


    African travel journal – one year ago today – I complain like a Karen

    Yesterday was our first full day really in Africa, when we got out of the airport/hotel complex in Johannesburg to the Chobe Game Lodge in Botswana . This place is posh, with a vaguely colonial style and dozens of staff, smiling and jumping to attention. Indeed, service is both overly attentive and not quite what we wanted.Four or five people serve us at each meal, and yet service is slow and it can be difficult to find someone if you need something. I ordered a rump roast for dinner last night from a gemsbok, a type of antelope. It was delicious, but very tough, and I sawed at it for minutes with a standard table knife, looking around for a server to ask for a sharp steak knife. But there was no one to be found. There had been two separate people there a few minutes ago to take our drink orders, separately and with unnecessary redundancy.

    When choosing our meals, Julie pointed out one dish, which was labeled as spicy, and asked how spicy it was. The waitress smiled and said promptly that it is spicy. Julie said, yes, but HOW spicy. The waitress smiled and said it’s “spicy.” Yes, said Julie, but is it VERY spicy. On a scale of one to five, Julie said, where five is extremely spicy and 1 is not spicy at all, how spicy is it? The waitress said, “I’ll have to ask the chef,” and left the table, returning with the answer. “Two.”

    Another example: Breakfast yesterday was a buffet of cold food. There was a server at the buffet, a smiling young woman with a “TRAINEE” badge. I asked her if I could get any hot food, and she said no, this was all cold food. The buffets had veils in front of them, I expect to keep out flies, and in some areas when I wanted something it was this young woman’s job to lift the veil so I could serve myself, as I would at any buffet. Flavored yogurt and fresh and canned fruits.

    When I got to the table, the waitress brought over our menus. Of hot breakfasts. “B-b-b-b-b-ut,” I said to myself. “The waitress over there just said ‘no hot food.” And why is there a waitress serving at a buffet – doesn’t that defeat the whole “buffet” concept, making it more of a “cafeteria.” Then I realized that the waitress was thinking I was asking if there was hot food at her station, and she answered truthfully. I did not ask her if there was hot food elsewhere, so she did not answer that question.

    The whole place is like that. Communications difficulties. But the food has been delicious, and we had very nice sandwiches for lunch, sitting out on a deck while we could see giraffes and elephants not too far away. So, we are having a fantastic time.

    We got lucky with an upgrade to our room – a whole suite, two bedrooms and a sitting room. Everything is spacious and beautiful.

    I took more than 300 photos yesterday alone. Wednesday evening, the day we arrived, I chatted with a fellow Californian who was taking no photos at all. He and his wife and daughter had been traveling 10 days. He said he’d been on trips with people where everyone was taking photos and he took none, because he figured the photos part was covered and he was free to just enjoy the experience. I endorse this point of view, and you can expect the rate of photography to trickle off as the trip progresses. But for now I am having a great time taking photos.

    This is a philosophy I’ve been thinking of for some time actually, how social media makes us observers of our own lives, taking photos or (if you’re like me) thinking of things to say about what you’re doing. So yeah the long term goal for this trip is less photos and thinking of things to say online, and more being in the moment. But for now I’m doing the other thing.

    I get the idea this fellow I was talking with worked in tech, like me. But I’d made another rule for myself this trip - if anyone asks what I do I’ll gladly tell them, but I won’t volunteer my work when I’m introducing myself, which is a thing that I’m told is characteristically American in social situations.

    Yesterday was very scheduled, and I gather that will be typical of this trip. Up at 5 am for a dawn game drive, get driven around the bush on a flatbed open truck with padded seating for about two and a half hours. It’s cold in the morning, temperatures in the high 40s or low 50s this time of year. We wear light winter coats.

    Then it’s back to the lodge for breakfast at 8:30 am.

    River cruise at 11 am, then back to the hotel for lunch at 12:30 pm. There’s a choice between eating in the hotel restaurant, which is an enclosed deck, nearly like being indoors, or on an open air deck. We chose the open air deck and feel we chose wisely, with beautiful food and delicious views. I meant to say delicious food and beautiful views, but I like the other way.

    After lunch I tried to have a nap but only got in about 20 minutes. Yesterday was the day that jet lag hit me hard. I got about three hours of sleep Sunday, the night before we left California, then only a few minutes of sleep on the 24 hours or so we were in transit. Then I was wide awake at 1:30 am Thursday. I don’t think those days add up, by the way. Traveling for 48 hours through nine time zones gets confusing, like a complicated time travel Doctor Who episode.

    I laid in bed until about 3:30, and heard a lion roar not too far from us, which was thrilling. The lion did not sound anti-Semitic in his food preferences, like she would gladly have eaten me. I was glad to be indoors behind thick walls. I got out of bed and sat reviewing photos and writing in this journal - that was the most recent entry before this one – until it was time for the morning game drive.

    Even the afternoon attempt at a nap was refreshing, and we were up again for a 3 pm tea. The tea was served by about a half-dozen servers dishing up tea and savory and sweet pastries. Again, too much service – that’s 2-3x the number of people needed to do the job. Or, really, we didn’t need any servers at all; just put out the beverages and cakes and let people help themselves. But instead we had a half-dozen people serving up food.

    I let Julie order first, as a gentleman does, and everything she ordered sounded good so I just said “the same” to each. The servers thought that was hilarious; they laughed and laughed.

    A few days before we left for Africa, I talked with a friend and former colleague and the conversation turned to our upcoming trip. I had completely forgotten until that moment that this woman I was talking with had LIVED for a time in South Africa. I asked her for tips and she pointed out that we were traveling to third world countries, and we should leave our American expectations about service behind. Things that seem like they should be easy will be difficult (steak knives, hot breakfast). Things that seem like they should be difficult will be easy. We’ve only been in Africa a couple of days but I think I’m starting to understand.


    Chobe Game Lodge, Chobe National Park, Botswana – Lovely surprise at breakfast this morning. The waitstaff came over with a cake and sang “happy birthday” and “happy anniversary” and one or two songs with an African rhythm, all done with African multipart harmonies, one of the women ululating occasionally and little synchronized dance moves. It was all very beautiful and silly and fun.

    I had temporarily forgotten that this was a celebration of a milestone birthday for Julie. The birthday itself is October. And also a celebration of our 25th anniversary, which was in December.

    I suspect the guiding hand for this and one or two other pleasant surprises, is the travel agent who helped us arrange the trip , Vanessa Hensley at African Portfolio. So far, we have found working with her and the company to be a fantastic experience – I rate them 7 out of a possible 5 stars.

    Julie did about 85% of the work with Vanessa on planning the trip. I kicked in for the final few weeks but mostly my role has been showing up. I’m pretty good at showing up.

    River cruise in a few minutes.

    I wrote a longer journal entry this morning but I don’t know if I will ever post it. I was cranky at the time. Nothing helps you get over being cranky like cake for breakfast. With occasional ululation.


    Dinner tonight: Buffet style, served on linen covered tables in a clearing over a short boardwalk from the lodge. Marimba band playing one the path a bit of a distance away, far enough to be pleasant but not overwhelming. Thandi was our waitress again, for the fifth time or so. We’re starting to get fond of her. I had steak filet with a pepper sauce. There was a tasty local bread, a distant cousin to naan. I asked the server what kind of bread it is; he said “local bread.” Ah.

    One of the foods was ox tail. A woman did not understand what the serverwas saying, so he said “ox,” then stuck out his butt, pointed at it and said “tail.”

    I also had poached pair in red wine, for dessert.

    Now Julie is packing. I already have, as far as I can. I made a separate pile for things I brought and now regret including three pairs of heavy cargo pants, and two external power supplies for our gadgets. I also wish I’d brought a camera strap instead of the camera holster I did bring, and I wish I’d brought a light knapsack to use as a daybag, in addition to my computer bag, which is good for travel days but too much to bring on drives and boat cruises.


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