South Africa
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Cape Town , South Africa

March 29, 2006

We stayed at Silvermist Lodge for a week in the suburbs of Cape Town:

Silvermist_Cottage (59K)

Awesome place with great views:

Silvermist_View (98K)

Nice kitchen, kids sleep upstairs, ADSL connection at the reception area (only open from 7am – 5pm). No air conditioning here but it’s not needed as this place is a more reasonable temperature than the liquid-hot magma induced weather in Thailand.

We have a rental car while we’re in South Africa. It’s an almost new Toyota Corolla. For those of you in the States, you can picture a small-to-mid-sized sedan. In South Africa, a Toyota Corolla is a SUV/sedan mix with a fold-down third row seat. Very nice. Plus it’s manual shift which I haven’t seen for 6 yrs, plus it’s right-hand steering wheel and I’m driving on the left side of the road. Lot’s to think about, but the shifting came back quickly and it’s great fun. Plus, like Thailand, the road signs, road etiquette are more of a suggestion than a law. It’s more anarchy than law down here when it comes to driving. It’s not nearly as bad as Bangkok, where cars do not obey the laws of physics or gravity; rather the drivers here at least acknowledge your presence before cutting you off.

March 30, 2006

Prescription for a child meltdown: Wake up at 4am, go out for a full day of adventures and hope they sleep in the car but know they won’t. We pretty much lived up to that today. Wow, unbelievable day though. We did so many adventurous and dangerous things today: swam with penguins, rode camels, toured the oldest winery on the planet, shopped at a quickie mart and brushed our teeth with the tap water. We really lived on the edge today. And, again, the kids were great.

We drove about an hour to Simons Town, down the eastern side of the Cape. Simons Town hosts a colony of African penguins. The cool thing about these penguins is that you can walk around with them, swim with them, basically hang out with them and buy them drinks and watch TV with them. We arrived early, around 10 am and there were very few people on the beach. We were able to enjoy the penguins as we meandered around the beach and boulders—they were 1-3 feet from us at any given time. They swam by our feet when we went into the water. Very Robinson Crusoe-like.

Penguins (34K)

Some interesting facts about African penguins:

  • Only found in Africa
  • They sound like a donkey braying, hence their nickname, “Jack Ass Penguin.”
  • They have a 3-4 week molting period where they shed their waterproof feathers. During this period they are unable to swim, so they feed off their stored-up fat.
  • They can hold their breath for 2 minutes and dive up to 130 meters deep.
Penguin_Egg (52K)

After the penguin experience we headed across the cape to Imhous Farm, where we booked a camel ride. Camels are quite the funny animals, although they didn’t laugh at any of my jokes. They walk with both the front/back legs moving at the same time, which is different than every other 4-legged creature (usually 4 leggers walk with diagonally opposite legs moving). The height and the side-to-side motion the camels’ gait is very strange in comparison to a horse. Camels run the same way, which gives the rider a very strange gait in which to adjust him/herself to.

Camels_1 (66K)

Mounting a camel is an exercise in gymnastics. You climb into the saddle when they are lying down kneeling on their front and back legs. Once you are in the saddle, the owners give you a cross, some holy water, a 4-leafed clover, a rabbit’s foot, and a shaman’s blessing in order to help you stay on the saddle during the camel’s movement from lying down to standing. Please let me explain this very complicated movement:

You are sitting in a saddle atop of the camel’s hump (filled with fat with which the camel can go up to 8-12 days without water, drawing on the stored fat for his water needs). You are minding your own business, waiting for the camel’s owner to talk about the safety things about camel riding, maybe taking a couple pictures of your family. Then all of a sudden the camel’s back legs straighten. Remember, the camel’s back legs are about 6 feet long, so you are pitched forward at an impossible angle. It’s such a steep angle that the owner’s have conveniently placed a satellite TV on the ground for your entertainment.

After what seems to be about 4 days perched in this precarious position, the camel suddenly and without any warning, decides to straighten his front feet. This is a rocking motion that is not unlike the rocking of a sinking ship in a category 4 hurricane storm. I thought it was a joke that one of the handlers tossed me a life preserver during this ordeal…

Camels_2 (45K)

But the strangest thing about camels is that they pee on themselves to cool off. I tried this excuse last time I had an accident and it didn’t work. I’m not sure there’s any way to acceptably do this from a human perspective. If there is, then I’m sure there’s a way to bend it to cover flatulation, which would be a good thing for all of the male species

Camel Video

Note: if you can not see the video, download QuickTime and view the movie with it.

quicktime logo (4K)

From here, we toured Groot Constantia, the oldest winery in the free world. Founded in 1686, they still make their wines in much the same old-world way. Although they stopped using women to stomp around in a vat of grapes to extract the juice a while back. It was a very cool tour and I keep forgetting the amount of steps in the fermentation process. The cost for many of the South African wines here is about 60R – 120R, which is about $10 - $40.

The food here is different. Since we have a small kitchen at Silvermist Lodge, we’re trying to save some money by eating in as much as possible. South African food, like Thai food, is based on cane sugar. In the US, our food is based on corn sugar. So there is a different taste in everything we eat and drink. And the off-the-shelf stuff like peanut butter and jelly have a different taste, mostly because they use much less preservatives and chemicals. The food here, from an ingredient standpoint, is much more natural. A lot of the food in the US has a bunch of chemicals and preservatives in it. For instance, here is a comparison of the ingredients in peanut butter and corn from South Africa and US:

South African Peanut Butter
US Peanut Butter
Peanut butter like sludge
Salt that’s been swept up off the floor
Cane sugar
Corn sugar
Hydrogenated sulfite graphite granite
Spent Uranium 235

South African Can of Corn
US Can of Corn
1 billion ml sodium
Corn sugar
Hydrogenated sulfite graphite granite
Spent Uranium 235

Now I don’t mean to disparage US produced food. I eat it and I like it. The pizza is much better there than in South Africa. But we do seem to like to put preservatives and chemicals in there, right? I mean, I like spent Uranium 235 as much as the next guy, but I just wonder what it might be doing to my liver, or spleen, etc.


In the US, things are big. Things are very big. Cars, roads, houses, food portions, stomachs, 2nd chins. Things are very large. We, as a people, enjoy the largess of things. I am no different than anyone else—if something is good, more of it MUST be better, even spent Uranium 235. This is a very American way of thinking and we really can’t be faulted for it. There is an abundance of natural and unnatural resources in the US, and we are very happy to enjoy all of it. Our bellies and our blood pressure show it. We like big, we think big, we play big and we eat big. We, as Americans, enjoy bigness, mostly because we can.

March 31, 2006

Today we will swim with seals. Yesterday, we swam with penguins, today we will swim with seals. Or so we thought.

We went to Haut Bay Harbor to catch a boat to take us to Druiker Island, the home of the Cape Fur Seals, one of 35 species of seals in the world. The majority of seals on Druiker Island are males waiting out their time until they reach the right breeding age, which is between 8 to 12 yrs. This is analogous to the American college student—males waiting for the opportunity to mate with the female of the species, although no offspring are desired by either the male or female.

Druiker Island is most densely populated during January through March because of the seals molting. During this molting period they do not go off in search of food, but rely on the fats they have stored in their blubber. Again, I dated a girl in college that had the same mindset as these male seals…

Seals (32K)

Unfortunately the morning that we went to see the seals was very misty, and our pictures did not come out very well. This was the best of the very bad bunch. They were very playful and swam up to our boat. They were so playful that I think, had I broke out our game of travel Parcheesi, they would have played with us.


We brought several games with us to:

1) entertain the kids

2) let the kids make friends with other kids

3) give us parents some sanity.

Qatar Airways gave the kids a backpack filled with coloring books, crayons, jewelry, and a magnetic travel game set that included checkers, chess, Chinese checkers, backgammon, Ludo/Parcheesi, Chutes & Ladders and about 5 more kids games. The game that we’re playing most frequently, however, is Pick up Sticks.

We purchased about 30 packages of pick up sticks from an internet gaming vendor with the thought that we’d pack these and give to kids we met. They’re small, self-contained games in a wooden box—kinda like cigars. This has worked brilliantly so far. We gave away several boxes already, and kids really seem to love the game. It’s universal—no common language is necessary.

April 1, 2006

Today we enjoy the skies!! We enjoy the fauna and flora of Table Mountain (please remain on the demarcated pathways) and Cape Town.

Table Rock/Table Mountain is a natural treasure of Cape Town, South Africa. It’s a huge rocky mountain that overseas Cape Town, and acts as a local geographic beacon to the surrounding areas. You can walk to the top of Table Mountain, or take a cable car to the top. We, being the adventurous and athletic people we claim to be, took the cable car. Hey, we’ve got kids and beers to carry, right?

The Table Mountain cableway has been in operation since 1929 and can carry 65 passengers. The problem with this line of thinking is that the cableway operators believe they HAVE to carry 65 passengers, or at least that was our experience going up. There’s no need to cram that many people on the cable car if they don’t have to, but apparently nobody told them.

The cool thing about the cable car is that it rotates as it’s going up. Very neat engineering feat and it cleverly disguises the fact that VISA is splattered all over the outside as a sponsor of the lift. How can we get up there...?

From the Table Mountain brochure:

"The round form of the cabin fulfills two functions: firstly, thanks to the turning floor, the passengers can enjoy the 360 degree panoramic view (it’s a great view). Secondly, it offers excellent aerodynamics in high winds. In the instances, the filled water tank in the floor of the cabin offers additional ballast and higher stability."

Pretty cool, eh? Transportation, a view, and drinks all for about $40.

After the spectacular views from Table Mountain, we decided to visit the World of Birds. We really didn’t expect much from this place, and we were pleasantly surprised. Almost all the birds were in enclosed environments, but the self-guided walkthrough led us right into all the enclosed areas. So we were in the same cages as all the owls, eagles, storks, flamingos, turkeys, vultures, etc. We were within a hair’s breadth of the most deadly bird on the planet—the double throated Cassowary. A distant cousin of the single-throated variety, this bird has disemboweled many a human.

Did I mention that they also had a monkey section, as well as turtles and wallabies? We had a great time with the spider monkeys. Apparently they are natures little thieves. We found this out when they opened our zippers in our backpack and stole some candy. Apparently they are more interested in sweets than electronic equipment.

Darren & the Monkeys Video

The turtle section at The World of Birds was very interesting. We saw a very small turtle mating with a very large turtle. Originally Nicky thought they were just playing, but I explained the angles involved as well as the 8 empty beer cans close by. Nicky finally agreed with me that these guys were mating and, although we thought the small turtle was out of his league, the larger turtle seemed to be OK with this mating. I know this because they both held small cigarettes in their little fingers after the deed was done.

April 2, 2006

Annette celebrated her 4th birthday today! We bought her a baby doll, Gran and Grandpa bought her an African bead necklace and some princess shoes (clippie-cloppy shoes), and Memčre and Pepčre bought her a game cartridge for her Leapster game system. Had a great morning celebrating her birthday and then we traveled a bit to the most southern point of Africa.

Annette's Birthday Video

Cape Point, the southern most point in all of Africa. It has a protected wildlife area that hosts springbok, baboons and other small mammals. We’d heard that the area has a great train ride and the baboons will jump on your cars. Of course, the car being a rental, I was a little concerned about the damage liability waiver. I’d heard that it’s quite difficult to collect damage remuneration from the baboon tribe down there, but we decided to go there anyway. Mostly because the “train” that they boost is called a “funicular,” which I took to mean something like a “fun-vehicular,” something that would be some kind of fun vehicle. I thought this would be the kind of bastardized word that’s made up of two real words, like Jack-a-lope (jack rabbit and antelope) or Budweiser (Buddy and wise-to-her). Little did I know that a funicular is a real, live, and viable machine.

A funicular uses the technology of an elevator (a cable pulling a car up) and the technology of a railroad (a car on a track). Devised in the 15th century as a way of getting people and things up steep hillsides, the funicular now is more likely to carry skiers to the top of a mountain. In the United States, they are often referred to as incline railways.

A conventional train could never travel up such a steep incline because the steel train wheels don't have enough traction against steel rails. Trains that do climb mountains go up tracks that spiral around the mountain or go through many switchbacks. You might be wondering then, why not build a train with rubber tires instead? They might have enough traction to make it up the hills. The reason trains have steel wheels and tracks is to minimize rolling resistance. This is a force that tends to slow wheeled vehicles down. It comes from the weight of the vehicle squishing the tires. Even with rubber tires, however, it would be tough to get enough traction on a steep slope.

Funicular (40K)



The funicular conquers these problems in a very elegant way. First, the car is pulled up the mountain by a cable, which means that traction is no longer an issue. The wheels just guide the car up the mountain. They don't provide any of the pulling power. But the true genius of the funicular is that it uses two cars at the same time, one on each side of the top pulley. At any one time one car is balancing the weight of the other. The descending car's weight helps pull the ascending car up the mountain, and the ascending train keeps the speed of the descending train from going out of control. There is still a motor powering the pulley but it only has to provide enough force to overcome the difference in weight between the two cars (the weight of the passengers) and to overcome the friction in the system.

An electric motor at the top keeps the cable moving. There is a passive pulley at the bottom of the mountain that provides tension to the loop of cable. The Point Cape funicular has a single set of tracks going up the whole mountain except for a small section in the middle where it splits into a double track. This is where the two cars pass each other.

Clothes Washing

We also washed clothes by hand today. After many years of operating a washing machine, this was a new experience. But fortunately I had Annette to help me. We had purchased clothes detergent the prior day and it was formulated to work with hand washing. That’s curious—what’s the difference between soap that’s geared to hand washing and machine washing?

So I filled the (large) bathroom sink with water and put about ˝ cup of the detergent in there and let it dissolve for a bit. Then I put a bunch of clothes in there and let it soak for about 20 min or so. Annette helped me to put the clothes in the sink and after I scrubbed them together (I missed my washboard—yes, we do own a washboard for the old time mountain music sound), I tossed them in the bathtub where Annette was naked and stirred the clothes in running water to rinse them. We had a great assembly line going as long as she didn’t pee in the water.

April 3, 2006

This day was cloudy and rainy. Not much going on here except a really small museum at Simons Town. We mistakenly took this to be the naval museum. I guess lack of big boats around should have been our first clue.

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