Is a game drive like a box of chocolates?

May 22, 2019 in the Johannesburg airport

Carolyn insists that a game drive is “like a box of chocolates”, but after six drives at Sabi Sabi (not counting  the ride to Skukaza airport which went through the Sabi Sands game preserve, which resembled another one), I’m not entirely persuaded.

Her point is that “You never know what you’re going to see.”  I think that’s one of the best things about game drives.  On that topic, I’m a “chocoholic.”  Any animal you see (that you don’t see at home in the wild) is chocolate.  And you always see something. 

Generally, the game drives are twice a day, roughly 6-9 am and 330-to 6:30 (by which time, it’s dark at 24 degrees SOUTH  of the equator.  That’s when the animals (most of them anyway) are smart enough to be active.  During the day, the predators we’ve seen were usually flopped on the ground, in the shade.  The old leopard we watched settle in around 8, was still there at 430, snoozing blissfully, exhausted from the impala he’d consumed or the leopardess he’d satisfied. The lions were similar in the heat of the day, which might have given rise to the Gilbert and Sullivan line, “Only mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the noonday sun.”  Every day we saw different animals (and I needed only ten to reach my nature requirements). Besides the big cats, we saw the other three of the Big Five—buffalo, elephant, rhinocerous. In addition, we probably saw the predator food—kudu, impala, duiker, ngala—and a springbok that was traveling, said our guide, as fast as he’d ever seen a springbok—there was a hungry leopard in the area.

Carolyn was right: you never know what you’re going to see, or where you’re going to see it.  Sabi Sands, a huge game reserve that’s adjacent to Kruger National Park is known for its abundant leopard population, even though it’s a pretty solitary animal.  We chanced upon one that was sauntering along the road, heedless of the safari vehicle.  We experienced another advantage of being in a private reserve when heading back in the dark, we spotted a leopard bent on something. And we followed through the bush until the leopard stopped for a drink in a pond just outside the warden’s fence.

In Sabi, a crew of two mans the Land cruisers.  One is the driver, driving on mostly unpaved roads (at best).  In a seat in front sits the “tracker” (another childhood dream), scanning for signs of wild life.  Our tracker, with a spotlight, saw a chameleon about 50 feet away (in the dark and brought him back to show us).  The tracker also helped the driver as we set to follow the leopard in the dark over hill  and dale. 

I did take a nature walk, accompanied by two of the driver/rangers, armed with an elephant gun and five bullets (that’s what it takes to kill a rogue elephant), where they showed us plants (the amarula[FH1]  tree produces a liqueur that is a match for Bailey’s, and elephants like the pulp of the fruit, too, and will atrample the area under the female tree—it’s the only one that produces the fruit—in their enormous appetite for almost everything green (we examined elephant and rhino poop and compared what they’d eaten).

The “chocolate” included hyenas, jackals, the African civet cat, the genet—I think you get the picture.

But the reason I think its not like a box of chocolate is because you can’t “eat” the box, but you can certainly devour the outdoors.  The bush, dry in winter, extends across the horizon as far as you can see. So even if you don’t spot the big five, you’re left with an awesome sight.

Then, too, the packaging at Sabi Sands includes the lodges.  Well known for their luxury, we were at one that was top of the line-the Earth Lodge.  Featured in National Geographic’s list of unique lodges, the individual rooms were billed as being “the Future.”  Dug into the earth, and covered over with dirt, creating a cave=like effect, the earth tones inside were fitting in well with the environment.  We had the Presidential Suite, which was so big that I think the whole presidential party, including the foreign service, could have fit in it. Two bathrooms, a full kitchen, a study, a living room, with really nice touches inside.  The most impressive, to us, was a pool in front of the bedroom window where elephants came to drink at all hours.  As we watched, several playfully (I hope) sprayed our windows before they went on their way.

So, yes, Carolyn, it’s like a box of chocolate, but better.  And now we have to figure out how to leave Earth Lodge and come back to Earth and Bloomington Illinois.


 [FH1]

Categories: Southern Africa 2019 | Leave a comment

“Africa is a great place to do business . . . if you can navigate the drama”

May 16, 2019 Sandton City

“School” started again (loved that four day weekend), and we had a full day of business speakers.  The overall theme reminded me of a comment a speaker in India contributed to my repertoire, “Whatever you say about India, the opposite is also true.”  The same may be said about the African continent, as our four speakers assessed business options from the optimistic to the (at least my conclusion) pessimistic, “Who’d want to do business here.”

The optimists tend to point to the future.  There’s the simple demographic of a young population, growing exponentially, now reaching about the size of China/India.   There is no doubt that there is wealth, some of it potential. 

Johannesburg is a case in point for both extremes.  Located on the site of the discovery of a gold mine in the 1880s, the city remains the commercial capital of South Africa, and perhaps the single most important business center on the continent (Kenyans and Nigerians might take exception).  The area where we are located, Sandton City, has the most expensive real estate on the continent.   On the other hand, though the mines once supplied over 2/3 of the world’s gold, AshantiAmerican (we’ve visiting tomorrow), whose pedigree traces back to Cecil John Rhodes, announced it is selling its last mine in South Africa.  That mine is 4 kilometers underground, requiring half of an eight hour shift just to get to the vein.  Plus, doing business in South Africa can be costly.  Once  using coerced labor under apartheid, the mines are now unionized, and the unions are one of the three legs of the ruling African National Congress (the others are the Communist Party and the revolutionary descendants). Strikes are allowable in the constitution, and it’s difficult to fire workers. It costs the company more to mine the gold than the current price on the world market.

There you have both the alpha and the omega of doing business here.  Potential, some reality, and many problems. As another example of the wealth, we’re located across from the Nelson Mandela Mall, which makes Oakbrook look like K-Mart.  If there’s an upscale store anywhere, it’s here.  And the mall is multistoried and several blocks long.

As for Johannesburg itself, it’s unusual to have a major commercial city that’s not on the coast or a waterway.  Its population is about 4.5 million.  The central business district, when apartheid ended, suffered from violent riots.  We’re driving around it tomorrow, but I remember the area had very high vacancy rate, with the tall buildings having perhaps shops on the ground level, and broken windows above. The major businesses then moved to suburbs like Sandton City.  It’s rather like Chicago with all the corporate headquarters moving to River Forest, to take a Chicago comparison.

One of the businesses that presented today I remembered well from three years ago.  It’s Discover Vitality, in South Africa, an insurance and financial services firm with a distinctive spin.  When you become a member, you get an Apple Watch that you can get for free—if you practice healthier living.  For example, you get points for working out, for eating healthy, for stopping smoking.  Your rates go down, and you qualify for prizes, such as plane trips.  Discover rolls out new products every year to keep the buzz, and has added auto insurance (your watch monitors your driving) and a bank (get extra rewards for saving more for retirement). Discover has also bought companies overseas (UK), and partnered with or franchised its software to the US (John Hancock) and China (Ping An Insurance company).  It reinforced what one of our speakers (he runs a company that consults with various state governments, and American and foreign businesses on how to do business in Africa) suggested was a potential for the future:  African solutions to global problems. The global problem is the BIG FAT problem, which Discover has addressed by changing behavior.  It’s not surprising that one of the company’s consultants was Dan Ariely, one of the leading behavioral economists. His book, Predictably Irrational, is a primer in the field.

While Johannesburg still has some mining—platinum, for example—South Africa’s biggest challenge is the need for social initiatives (to decrease poverty and reduce really high unemployment) and economic initiatives (encourage foreign investment to aid, for example, in the renovation of obsolete power facilities).  The system of Black Enterprise Empowerment puts some restrictions on foreign businesses in the South African market.  There are requirements for black ownership (26%), black management, use of black owned suppliers, skill training, etc., that the GE speaker described as requiring him to plead with corporate headquarters for additional funding and support. We were also told that American businesses, though providing only  2% foreign direct investment, have been responsible for 20% of the “transformation” of the economy (“I meet a lot with our compliance people,” the GE executive said), demonstrating the challenge of balancing social and economic initiatives.

And as he pointed out, “Africa is a great place to do business… if you can navigate the drama.”  Right now, the drama is probably higher in South Africa than in many other places on the continent. South Africa, once touted as one of the BRIICS (Brazil, Russia, India, Indonesia, China and South Africa) for the future of business, has had slow economic growth and a slew of problems.   The business community is no doubt looking to see what happens as a result of last week’s election. That’s part of the drama here.

Categories: Southern Africa 2019 | Leave a comment

Dr.Livingstone, I presume?

May 11, 2019

Perhaps the most famous words in African journalism in the 19th century were Stanley’s quest to find Dr. Livingston [sic] , a medical missionary/explorer who was the first European to see Victoria Falls.  Partly in honor of finding what is the number one tourist spot in Zambia, the grateful British renamed Constitution Hill in his honor.  That’s the city we’re at today, 1200 miles and 16 degrees north of Cape Town (I almost said “Los Angeles,” a city it resembles), and we’re here to “discover” Victoria Falls for ourselves.

We packed a lot into the last day in Cape Town before we left at  5 am this morning.  We had three visits that helped put a little more heft into our understanding of the Western Cape’s role in the South African economy.  Cape Town generates 11% of the country’s GDP, mostly by providing financial and business services, as well as being the hub for agriculture and agricultural exports.  The economist for Wesgro, a kind of chamber of commerce for the region, gave us the kind of reasons she gives potential investors: if you’re seeking a footprint on the African continent, Cape has an educated work force (4 major universities), a 17% lower cost of living than Johannesburg and 60% less than New York, and a business friendly government.

A visit to the Port facility confirmed many of her statistics.  Part of a government run business that manages freight trains, pipelines, as well as 8 ports (the largest being Durban, in the Indian Ocean, the harbor at Cape moves 86% of the country’s fish exports, 60% of its beverages (read l million bottles of  wine), and 50% of its agriculture in general.  The biggest exports to the United States are usually metals and minerals, especially platinum.

The dockage includes some exotic features, such as a freezer terminal (to keep the fish at -10 C), and two rather interesting special features.  We had to take a breathalyzer test to get into the facility; the manager emphasized the importance of safety.  The port requires one of its pilots to get the ships into the harbor, and sobriety is essential.  What was probably the neatest feature of the visit was that the control tower is 11 stories high, and from its walkway, we had stunning view of the waterfront area and the harbor.

On the way back to our hotel, I got dropped off at one of the museums I had marked as a “must do”—e the Old Slave Lodge, which had been an old slave lodge where the Dutch East India Company kept its company-owned slaves.  Ironically, the building subsequently saw service as the location of the Supreme Court before it was reconstructed.  What I learned was that 1) the first ship carrying slaves arrived from Portuguese Angola in 1658; 2) the majority of slaves came from Mozambique or from the Indies.  The latter helps explain the persistence of a Muslim community in Cape, the so called Bo-Kaap area, with its colorful homes and mosques; 3) Britain outlawed the slave trade in 1807, and frequently enforced the law by capturing slavers and releasing the victims (though frequently as indentured servants); and 4) Britain banned slavery in 1834, which was one of the triggers that set the Boers (Dutch for farmers) trekking east and establishing republics, that were to last until the second Boer war.

I didn’t want to leave the subject of Cape without mentioning the election last Wednesday.  Our third visit yesterday was to a newspaper agency which had a post that captured “much about muchness.”  The ruling African National Congress got a majority, as expected, but was down about 5 per cent from the last election five years ago.  The Democratic Alliance won the Western Cape and will have the premier, but it also lost percentages from five years ago.  The winners were the left and right extremist parties; though they have small numbers, they still will be represented in parliament because of the proportional seating.  Everyone claimed victory.  Perhaps we’ll know more when we return to Johannesburg next week.

One other important (for me) Cape factoid: in 1641, before the founding of Cape Town (and maybe one of the impetus for it), a Dutch ship’s captain was lost.  What was “found” was the Legend of the Flying Dutchman, one of my favorite Wagnerian operas.

We’ve got a variety of activities available tomorrow, but tonight I’m looking up at Orion, who left our hemisphere a few months ago to move into the southern hemisphere.  As I mentioned, we’re 17 degrees south of the equator.

Categories: Southern Africa 2019 | Leave a comment

There’s Gold in them hills

May 19, 2019 Sabi Sabi

We spent yesterday exploring Johannesburg, and, in the process, learning about the history, which, as in many other countries, helps explain the present (and the challenges of doing business there).

Johannesburg is a late 19th century city, founded on gold.  As I’ve mentioned, that gold  helped shape South Africa in more ways than one.  The Boers, who had left the Cape Colony partly because the British had abolished slavery, settled two new Boer states—the Orange Free State and the Transvaal.  The discovery of gold brought in an influx of non Dutch miners.  President Paul Kruger engineered legislation taxing the foreigners, but denying them the vote.  It was one of the pretexts the British seized upon to pressure the Boers, who declared war and essentially fought the British empire to a standstill; the truce which ended the conflict was the beginning of the Union of South Africa.  Thus, what is now South Africa (as opposed to the Cape Colony), started in Johannesburg.

It’s now over seven million people, and while only 8 of the 30 or so mines that once gave the world over 2/3 of its gold are still functioning, many barely, the slag piles that resemble yellow mountains around the city can now be mined profitably with new technology—and sometimes yield uranium, platinum, and manganese. Thus, there is gold in them hills, still.

The mines, as I mentioned, also fostered the race relationship that eventually hardened into apartheid, the rigid separation of the races. The Union of South Africa in 1910 began the process; middle class blacks had been able to vote in the Cape Colony, for example. The Union took that vote away from all black people. As apartheid reached its peak after World War II, the system became law.

We learned about the evolution of apartheid at the Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg.  Ironically, the museum has a connection with gold, too.  It’s located next to a theme park, Gold City, and a casino, that are on the site of the original gold mine.  The concessioners got the right to build the casino in exchange for constructing the museum documenting apartheid.  When you enter, you randomly get a ticket identifying you as white (Blankie in Afrikan) or colored (non-white) and you enter the appropriate gate for the first exhibit, which gives you an idea of what apartheid was like. 

Actually, as our guide pointed out, there were five “classes” of races. Northern Europeans were in class 1; in class 2 were southern Europeans (Italians, Greeks, and Spaniards were not quite class 1); class 3 consisted of mostly Asians; and class 5 were blacks.  Class 4 were blacks who changed their name to a Dutch variant.

One such was Hector Peiterson, who was born Pitro, in the black township of Soweto (Southwest Township), once home for mine workers, now a neighborhood of  2.5 million blacks, with six whites—four priests and two NGO workers.

Soweto played prominently in Apartheid Museum.  Nelson Mandela and Bishop Tutu, who won Nobel prizes for their work in ending apartheid, lived on the same street in Soweto. Mandela’s house is a tourist spot, complete with bullet holes from several police raids (he spent many years in the Robben Island prison, while his wife and daughters lived in the government-built house in Soweto; they added a brick wall between the kitchen and the living room so they could defend themselves from the random police violence).

The Apartheid museum documented the struggle to end apartheid, which got tangled up in the cold war. South Africa, being against communism, was helped by the United States in its war to keep Namibia and Angola from being taken over by political parties supported by Cuba, China, North Korea, and Russia.  In fact, it was the CIA who told the South African government where Mandela was hiding, which led to his arrest and incarceration until 1990.

The Pieterson museum in Soweto focuses on one of the key events in the movement to end apartheid: a student uprising in Soweto.  The target was to get a repeal of a white South African demand that all classes be taught in Afrikans, the quasi-Dutch language of the Boers (and even today the second most spoken language in the country, but mostly by whites).  The protest turned ugly, and between 67 (official) and 700 (unofficial) protesters were shot, the first being  the twelve year old Pieterson.  It led to a number of boycotts of South Africa by most other countries, and the isolation of the country internationally.  In the effort to become self-sufficient, South Africa created businesses that were not competitive when the bans were lifted when apartheid ended, a gap still plaguing the economy. Blacks had essentially been denied all opportunity for upward mobility.

To round out the story, we went through Johannesburg’s Central business District, the old downtown. Once a prosperous white-dominated area, the city’s core suffered from violence and white flight, with many buildings having only shops of the first floor. We went to the SAB museum in the area, and our guide called the buss to take us the two blocks to AngloGold rather than let us walk it. In a lot of ways, the plight of South Africa is a function of its history. The government has built, we’ve been told, over 3.5 million homes, but needs to build 10 million more to end the shantytowns of containers converted with aluminum roofs.  No wonder foreign investors are squeamish and South African bonds are mostly junk rated.  That’s the cost of capital again!

There’s gold in them hills, but not all glitters.

Carolyn and I are experiencing the new “gold”…tourism, in one of the private game reserve parks. Our new best friends from the faculty development in business trip have mostly started their way back home. As you might have gathered from my blog, it was an enjoyable group and a great experience, capped last night by African dancers and an oxtail dinner. Now to deal with only animals….

Categories: Southern Africa 2019, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

How Beer Saved the World

May 17, 2019  Sandton City, South Africa

How Beer Saved the World was not a term paper turned in (year after year) by the Sigs, although I know several who might have penned the original.  Instead, it was our introduction to “The World of SAB Beer” museum, belonging to the newest member of the InBev global empire.  The museum spoke more generally about the origins of beer (the Save involved the Egyptians, who initially developed the drink) than it did about SAB.  While there was an African libation made with sorghum (we were given a sample in the mock up of an African village), the Castle brand—still made today—originated in the gold rush around Johannesburg in the late 19th century.  Interestingly enough, blacks could not buy the beer legally until the 1960s, but a thriving social community invented the shabeen, a saloon in a house (as part of apartheid, blacks were segregated into townships), where African jazz developed. 

SAB has a footprint in Africa, which is part of the reason InBev bought it. This is a great place to do business if you can navigate the drama, and SAB seems to have done so.  We saw exhibits involving the growing of hops and barley and malt—I think my fraternity lads would have treasured every moment, though they might have been impatient for the taste test.  The exhibits also included a gold mine (so you could see why miners were thirsty), a pub, and several huge copper pots.  The major change we saw was the availability in the gift shop of Budweiser, Stella Artois, and Corona mementos, in addition to the local brews. 

The other business visit was one of my favorites three years ago, to AngloGold Ashanti.  The company is the biggest in Africa, and one of the top three in the world.  Headquartered in Johannesburg, it’s in the process of putting its last mine (“you’re sitting on it,” he said) up for sale.  South Africa, he reminded us, has been responsible for 2/3 of the gold in the world.  Today, however, AngloGold has operations in Australia, Latin America, elsewhere in Africa, and is eying projects in Minnesota and Nevada. 27,000 employees work for the company, though the days of cheap labor are long gone. Our faculty guide pointed out that to get mine workers, the government ordered blacks to pay a new tax in hard currency, which broke the agricultural economy and weakened family structures in Africa as the men moved to the cities to work in the mines.  Unions came in the late 80s as an important part of the struggle to end apartheid, and he said personally he was glad to be able to negotiate with a union rather than 27,000 employees.

The speaker talked about sustainability—in a way that initially surprised me.  “Sustainability,” he suggested, “is not what you do with money, its how your make your money.”  Bear in mind he’s in a business that is dangerous and certainly under fire from activists.  As he noted, everyone wants the iPads and cars and other goods made from metals, but “not in my back yard.”  He showed us a list of projects that were either cancelled, delayed,, or put on permanent hold. Hence, the mining industry has had to factor sustainability into its thinking.  He talked especially about working with communities as the key to the mining industry. Another challenge was to make sure the revenue went to improve society, rather than lining the pockets of politicians (today’s local newspaper had a letter to the editor questioning whether there were any honest politicians in South Africa).

He did make one point, though, that I hadn’t considered, and I’ll have to work it into my strategy class…the prevalence of funds that invest in companies that are sound on Environment, Society, and Governance (ESG).  I think he mentioned something like 7 trillion dollars at stake. And if you don’t qualify, the cost of capital (interest on borrowing) moves upward.  His conclusion was that’s the only way companies will respond to ESG activists. Interesting perspective!  He was one of my favorites this year, too.

Categories: Southern Africa 2019 | Leave a comment

Zim Zam Nam Bot, 4 countries, three days

May 14, 2019

I think I dressed appropriately today.  My polo read “Grumpiest old man.”  That’s because we had to wake up this morning at 5 am.  My hat, however, is emblazoned, “Bring on the Adventure,” an old Canadian Scout motto I’ve made my own.

Fortunately, the latter dominated over the former, and it’s difficult to stay grumpy all day when you do the kinds of things I did.

We’ve spent the past few days in four different sub-Sahara countries.  Zimbabwe is probably at one extreme, though we spent only a few hours on the Zimbabwe side of Victoria Falls.  It’s probably Africa’s  equivalent of Venezuela.  The country just evicted a long-time dictator, who was so corrupt the Chinese cut off loans to the country.  Rampant inflation has made the money denomination in the billions.

Namibia, where we spent two hours visiting a village without electricity (except as provided by generators and a big government compound set aside for the president and government workers with solar power), with 342 people, many of whom commute across the Chobe river to work in the lodges in Botswana (going through customs and immigration every day). We walked through a village of huts made from termite mud, reinforced with sticks, surrounded by fences made of reeds, and across a laid out soccer field with a goal post made, literally, with two y-shaped sticks with a cross branch marking the scoring parameters.  Under a baobab tree reputedly close to a thousand years old, the local women were selling crafts, some of which were local baskets.  Tellingly, they took dollars, euro, south African rand, but could not produce Namibian currency for one of our faculty members (named, Money) who collects money.  They told us when they take the currency across the river, they get charged 30% commission to exchange it—and almost everything they buy comes from the Botswana side.  This strip along the river got tacked on to Namibia when it was German Southwest Africa, I think as a gesture from the British to give the Germans “coast line” without realizing the Zambezi/Chobe waterway was not navigable.  Most interesting to me (besides the passport stamps) was  that one of the concrete houses in the village belonged to a veteran of the Namibian war for independence.  The country until around 1990 was a province of South Africa, and fought a bloody war (part of the Cold War, with China, Cuba, North Korea, Russia, and Angola supporting the rebel winners, and the United States and South Africa backing the eventual losers).  The island is hundreds of miles from Windhoek, the capital, and has two cars on the island, both belonging to the government.

Botswana seems to be one of the few working democracies in sub-Sahara, at least historically.  That’s partly because it has only 2 million people, a majority from the Swana tribe, and a government that has been relatively benevolent in spending money from diamond mines and some copper mines along the border area with the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

The country has also started to develop tourism, but rather than volume based, it has gone after the high end tourist.  That’s true of the resort where we’re at, whose gift shop and other prices, I’m told, are developed world standards.  And that’s partly why we’re here—When I got a Southern Africa Lonely Planet guide book, it suggested Chobe National Park is THE park, especially for elephants.  Though the population of elephants has been declining (as we learned tonight in a talk from the director of Elephants without Borders), I have had 3 different types of safaris in the last 24 hours.

The first was a cruise last evening on the Chobe River, into the park.  Late afternoons are a wonderful time to see wildlife along the river.  The vegetarians all come down to the river, and not surprisingly, peace reigns (except for the impalas, who, like teen agers, wage combat for the babes).  We saw crocodiles (they’re the major carnivores we saw, happily previously fed), hippos, giraffes, and elephants.  The morning ride (6 am-9) featured the elusive wild dogs (we learned later they had treed a leopard), which was really the highlight, along with just watching the sun come up.  In the evening, Carolyn went on a jeep game drive, while I went back on the river for a photo cruise.  I rented a camera with a 150-600 lens, with a guide who was a photographer, and a captain who knew how to position the boat for maximum effectiveness. About 400 photos later, sundown brought an end to the journey, and some relief; even though the camera was on a tripod, it was a challenge to point, decide on zoom length, etc. It got heavy.  We saw and took pictures of a lot of birds, a monitor lizard (wonderfully camouflaged), and watched about 20 elephants lumber down to the river for a drink (it’s five o’clock somewhere), then douse themselves in dust.  I can’t wait to see what the card pictures look like!

When people ask me, “what’s your favorite country,” I always respond, truthfully, “where I’m at.”  But I usually add, “There’s nothing quite like a safari.”  The faculty on this trip, many of whom have never been on a safari before, would, I think, now agree.

I hope you get a chance to go on a real nature walk—it’s just like summer camp, except you see a lot more interesting animals!

Categories: Southern Africa 2019 | Leave a comment

Mum’s the Word

May 12, 2019  Livingstone, Zambia

If you’re looking for a way to impress Mum on Mother’s Day, here’s what worked well for me today:

First, select a four-star resort in an exotic location.  Say, Zambia, a country of 16 million people, with 72 languages, 11 of which are considered major enough to be province specific and taught in the schools. Studies indicated students achieved more if taught in the local languages than in English (at least through high school). Check.

Second, it helps if the resort is in the midst of one of the seven wonders of the natural world,  (I think there must be hundreds of top seven) like Thunder in the Smoke Falls (the original name before Livingstone honored his queen and they became Victoria Falls. Check.

Third, make sure the resort offers an interesting variety of optional activities (other than the usual Olympic-sized swimming pool, superb dining room, and bedrooms with mosquito netting and other exotic indications that you are in the tropics).

These options could include:

  1. A private tour of Victoria Falls,  along a part of the trail that’s handicapped accessible and dry, in case she’s concerned about having wet hair.  Be sure it is early enough in the day to boast multiple rainbows.  That makes for neater pictures, along with the mist (smoke) and roar (thunder).
  2. A view of the falls from above is a must, whether it’s an ultralight (personally recommended), a helicopter, or, for the risk takers, a multilight flight.  You can’t take a camera with you for the ultras or the multis, but a go pro takes pictures every ten seconds, and you can buy that as a once-in-a-lifetime gift.  It’s an added benefit if the pilot drops down over the national park to show you the endangered white rhino or a herd of elephants.
  3. It’s a long walk to Zimbabwe, which shares the falls with Zambia, an extra visa, and an extra charge for admission to the Zimbabwe side, but you do have the opportunity of getting another stamp on your passport, a walk across a bridge that was originally part of the vision Cecil John Rhodes had for a Cape-to-Cairo railroad (and now in addition the site of a bungee jumping station).  The Zimbabwe side has the deeper channel, with most of the water all year round. In May, the beginning of winter, the falls are almost at their peak, so it’s not essential to go to the other side.  It does, however, offer access to the town of Victoria Falls, which has a wonderfully luxurious colonial hotel.
  4. Fourth, there should be a lot of nature walks—a safari, a boat safari, a lion walk (they’re fed and tame), an elephant ride, and a walk with cheetahs, which can be lovable cats, we learned, if they’re born in captivity and well fed before you arrive (about 10 pounds of meat a day).
  5. Fifth, a sunset cruise on the Zambezi River (almost 2000 miles, but we did not do that much of it), or a canoe/kayak trip, doing your best to avoid the most dangerous animal—the hippopotamus, while enjoying that floating submarine from a safe distance.  (and you doubt it when I write that tourism is the world’s biggest business).

Finally, top off the day with a dinner at the five-star sister resort, the Royal Livingstone, whose dishes include venison (it’s a kudu, we were told)—and you can sample some local dishes, including worms, which some of our faculty did.  (Incidentally, they were ok).

And if you stick around for a few days (we’re leaving for Botswana tomorrow), you’ll eventually learn why it took so long to find Livingstone; I’ve been asking for Dr. Livingston, and, as you clever readers have discovered, it’s spelled with an “e”.  He’s now commemorated as one of the few colonial heroes with a statue on both sides of the border, and spelled with an “e.”

Hope you’re mum’s day was as pleasant as ours.

Categories: Southern Africa 2019 | Leave a comment

Scenery

Cape Town, May 8, 2019

The Chinese word for scenery combines the characters for mountain and water.   In that sense, the Western Cape certainly has the two, which help explain both the allure and the history of the Cape Colony.

The Cape of Good Hope was first rounded by the Portuguese explorer, Bartholomew Diaz in 1488.  Being a sailor, he named it the “Cape of Storms.”  King Joao of Portugal (or his astute marketers) rechristened it the Cape of Good Hope, based on his good hope that it would help Portugal secure the spice trade recently closed off by the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople, effectively closing the Mediterranean route to the Spice Islands.

Joao was right; it did open up the way for Portugal’s global sea empire, but not necessarily the opening of Cape Town.  That took the Dutch supplanting the Portuguese (and nearly 200 years) until the Dutch East India Company established a fort, now the Castle of Cape Town.  We visited this wonderful outpost of the VOC (the company in Dutch) and learned a bit more about the colony under the Dutch.  Come and settle, help us re-provision ships bound for the Indies, and increasingly, fight off the locals (the Khoi-an and the Dutch fought some 17th century wars; the Khoi-an were outgunned, but recognized the matchlocks did not fire when wet, so attacked during rain storms, and thus stalled the inevitable).  In the meantime, the Dutch built a hedge around the colony to keep the Khoi-an at bay, and the company also invited French Protestants (who had fled to the Netherlands when Louis XIV revoked the Edict of Nantes, which had tolerated Protestants) to add muscle and viniculture to the colony; the French were allotted another encampment, still today called French town in the Afrikaner language.

That lasted until the Napoleonic Wars, when, to keep Cape Town out of the hands of the Napoleonic French, the British seized Cape Town twice (giving it back during a temporary truce in the Napoleonic Wars), then landing 7,000 troops, armed with a letter from the Prince of the Netherlands, then an émigré in England, to hand over the property; the command at the Castle, despite working under the Batavia Republic (Napoleon’s stopgap until he could name his brother King), and facing the overwhelming force, surrendered what was to become South Africa.  

The local Dutch, known better as the Boers, then began nearly a century of efforts to either accommodate or expel the British.  After Britain abolished slavery in the 1830s, the Boers trekked across the mountains to another area, and set up at least two Boer-led states (the Orange Free State and the Transvaal), lasting until the Union of South Africa was created in 1911.  The existence of three capitals attests to the lingering results of those wars.  Parliament meets in Cape Town, the Executive capital is in Praetoria (recently renamed; Praetoriawas the commander of a contingent that defeated the Zulus in the Battle of (aptly named) Bloody River, when 5000 Zulus were slain; and the Supreme Court is housed in Bloomfontein.

I said mountains is part of the scenery, both literal and historical, too.  One handle is provided by Cecil John Rhodes, who at the time of his death in 1902 was the richest man in the world.  Like the robber barons in the contemporary United States, Rhodes was both ruthless (and in this country a racist), and a philanthropist.  He came to South Africa from London to seek a cure for TB, and wound up taking advantage of the discovery of gold and diamonds (he forced his competitor to sell, creating the DeBeers company, a relative monopoly on diamonds). The philanthropic part included the National Botanic gardens (we were there; that’s where I saw part of the hedge the Dutch governor had planted in one of the early efforts to separate the races), Rhodes Scholars, and the grounds and buildings of the University of Cape Town, one of the three premier institutions of higher learning in this country of almost 70 million. I think when I was here four years ago, there were student protests to remove Rhodes’ statue from the most prominent part of the UCT campus, and my understanding is that it is now in the National Gallery in London.

As for Cape Town, the setting really is scenic.  The harbor has been one of the major transshipment points for the country, though during the apartheid period (1960s through the 1990s) South Africa was an international pariah, and the port languished.  A company recreated the area as a major tourist shopping and eating mecca (we’re a block away), but we’re visiting the Port Authority so I should have a better handle on what happened to it.  Table Mountain, a 3500 foot high block of granite is one of the three most visited sites in the country, accessible on foot or by a $50 funicular trip; it was ranked as one of the seven wonders of the natural world, alongside Ha Long bay, which is high praise indeed.

And there is something spectacular about the end of the peninsula, about 45 miles away, where sits the Cape of Good Hope, the furthest Southwest point on the African continent.  I still marvel looking south and seeing nothing until Antarctica (I swear I saw it last time I was here), and we’re only at the 35th parallel, roughly even with Buenos Aires.  I wonder what Diaz would have said had he had to sail another 30 or so degrees further to round the Cape.  Storms might have been one of his gentler  epithets.

The election today dictated the day of our nonbusiness visit to the Cape, which included one of my favorite stops—the penguin colony near Simons’ Town.  From a couple (they’re monogamous) in 1982, along with some serious environmental efforts including reduced fishing in False Bay, the colony has around 2,200 cute-as-a buttons in tuxedo-like attire diving and swimming (7 km per hour) to the amusement of nearly half a million visitors a year.  There are only four species of penguins and they all live in the southern hemisphere.  The colony here has been renamed African Penguin; they used to be called Jackass Penguins (and if you hear them, you’ll know why), but that probably is no longer politically correct.

Speaking of which, I’ll have some reflections on what has been billed as “the most important election in the history of South Africa.”

Categories: Southern Africa 2019, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

School Started Today

May 6, 2019

School started today when we officially gathered the 30 faculty who are on this trip for what was our (so first day of schoolish) introduction to the teachers, each other, and the topic of the course.  Professor Rolfe, our host from the University of South Carolina spoke for about an hour and a half describing doing business in Africa (mostly sub Sahara Africa), covering as only he can, past and present, cultural and economic, and putting the economy and the election into perspective.

However, Carolyn and I  had already spent our last “weekend” before school enjoying just being in Cape Town.  I think the indulgence was deserved.

We arrived Saturday and that in itself was adventure (her bag arrived Sunday; someone mistakenly took her black suitcase for hers; we took someone else’s black suitcase thinking it was hers—don’t ask),.  So we had a day and a half to exorcise our substantial jetlag.  Even though my GPS says we’re “only” 8590 miles from Bloomington, it’s a loooong flight.  1 ½ hours to Atlanta; almost 9   hours to Amsterdam; and about 11 hours from Amsterdam to cover the almost 6500 miles to Cape town.

Carolyn spent much of the flight (you can run out of films you want to see pretty easily, and peasant class is a tough one to sleep through) questioning my routing.  “Why didn’t we go straight from Atlanta to Johannesburg?  We’re flying home that route.  Planes must go both ways.”  Turns out THAT route is 18 hours, too, depending on headwinds, so there’s nothing to be gained.  The Atlanta Johannesburg route, apparently, is the second longest in the world.

But we got here, eventually, and had arranged a tour with my guide from four years ago, targeting some places I had not seen last trip—Table Mountain and Stellenbosch—together with some sampling of the famous vineyards of South Africa.

Sunday, I had wanted to take the cable car up Table Mountain, but it was Sunday and mobbed; if we’d gotten into the lines, we’d probably still be waiting for the ride up.  Table Mountain, which looks like a table (it’s sandstone peak has eroded, and it is flat, marking Cape’s location as one of the most memorable physical locations for a city);alas, we contented ourselves with the view from the road, a trip to nearby Signal Hill (where Carolyn firmly said  No Way to my plea to test paragliding),  thence to the “Green belt” and the winelands around Cape Town.

Our guide has an interesting perspective on South Africa, being descended on her father’s side from th original 250 Huguenot (French Protestants) welcomed by the Dutch in the mid 17th century to help establish the colony as an agricultural way station on the route to the Indies.  Grow crops and raise beef, and reprovision ships on the route, and you can settle in French town; even then, the Dutch (better known as the Boers) had thoughts about who belonged where. The Huguenots brought viniculture, and thus was born one of South Africa’s prominent exports.  Though not being able to label bubbling wine “Champagne” –I learned that’s protected by the treaty of Versailles (since the US never signed it, Taylor can label its New York bubbly Champagne), the region produces world class wines. One, pinotage, is a local contribution, grown from pinot noir and another variety, perfected by a professor (we’re not all theoreticians) in 1925, but not commercialized until the 1960’s, as well as a mix of mostly dry and some sweet wines.  We hit three of the wineries, one for lunch, about two short of what is “recommended”. (Can you imagine the consequences of sampling 5 wines at four wineries?) We learned about the varieties—four of chardonnay for example, and why this area is so good for growing wines, and how different wines depend on process, weather, kind of wood, how long aged, shape of bottle—an education no doubt.

Our guide,who speaks Afrikaans, a simplified descendant of Dutch with no genders, which is one of the major languages in South Africa (there are 11 or so), told us about her family’s history during the Boer War.  We know it primarily because of Baden-Powell, the general commanding British forces during the siege of Mafeking; as a result, he thought British boys needed to become more “manly” and started Scouting for Boys (resigning from the Army in disgust after World war I to turn scouting into a force for peace.  Christelle’s “grannie” and her family were put in concentration camps (the Boers fought the British for nearly ten years in the second Boer War).  She said they survived because her aunt was a nurse who was able to get extra food rations.

For South Africa, the result of the war was the peace among the whites that led to the formation of the Union of South Africa in 1911.

The other discussion in the winelands had to do with the important issue in the “biggest election in South Africa’s history”—land reform, since the vineyards are large plots of land in a country where 73%  of the land is still owned by whites.  One of the 3 parties, a new populist spinoff from the ruling (since Independence in 1994) African National Congress has introduced a “land seizure without compensation” amendment to the current constitution.  The political situation is quite complex, since the parties list their candidates (all 400 apparently, in order of preference) and the election is based on the number of votes for the party.  If you poll 60% of the vote, you get 240 seats in Parliament. And the party votes for the chief officer.  The theory is that every one gets represented.  It will be an interesting time to be here.  We’re doing a tour on Wednesday, partly since most businesses will be closed in this national holiday.

Categories: Southern Africa 2019, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Two Europes in Catalunya

March 17, 2019

It seems fitting that as we entered Spain, we were greeted with a sign (in English) that touted “Self- determination is a right, not a crime.”  A century ago, at Versailles, Woodrow Wilson would have been pleased. Today that sentiment is recaptured in Spain by the efforts of Catalonia to reverse the decision, a result of the marriage of Isabella and Ferdinand in 1492, that created Spain as we know it,  A referendum called by the Parliament of Catalunya a few years ago, in violation of the Spanish constitution, led to Madrid’s jailing the Catalan officials who did not flee Spain, and they are currently on trial.

Catalunya had a separate history from much of the rest of Spain (which, incidentally has four official languages, including Castillian, Basque and Catalan), much of which I learned about yesterday.  Part of the day we spent looking at the present, or at least the last 150 years, where Barcelona has produced artists such as Picasso and Miro, and architects like Gaudi and welcomed Mies Van Der Rohe to build a pavilion that now stands as a museum of his accomplishments.  They’ve left impressive marks around the world (see the Art Institute and IIT), and impressive tributes here in Barcelona.

Indeed, the Sagrada Familia, a modern basilica, is one of those buildings so iconic that when you see it, you know you are in Barcelona.  Started by Antoni Gaudi nearly 150 years ago, it’s still unfinished, and new architects (12 I understand) are attempting to complete the building, which is Spain’s most visited monument.  That’s a good thing, because it’s funded solely by tour money and requires about $2 million a month in maintenance and development.

Gaudi never liked straight lines, and it’s interesting to see what he did to some apartment buildings around the city—the Catalan contribution to modernism.  One looks like caves (he admired Catholic hermits), with a crowning mountain on top.

The Picasso museum houses mostly works from his younger years, when his father (a painter) tried his best to convince his son if he wanted to make a living he would have to learn portraiture.  While some of the portraits border on “classic”, but Picasso soon moved into blue and cubism, the kind of work that’s mostly in museums elsewhere.  Guernica, the only piece Carolyn likes, is in Madrid.

I, on the other hand, enjoyed the museum itself—a well put together five renaissance palaces—the best room for me being the one left from the old palau, but I’ve been known to prefer baroque to Braque.

I also enjoyed my tour of the old city.  I had to visit the Cathedral, started around 1300 and finished 150 years later, with a neo-Gothic façade added in the late 19th century. The side chapels were all either 1400 or late 17th century, either Renaissance or Baroque, stunning tributes to the wealth of medieval Barcelona.

Once the home of the Kings of Aragon, Barcelona’s history dates from Octavius Augustus, to whom a temple still stands.  In fact, under the palace of the king, part of the building has been excavated as one of the most interesting Roman ruins I’ve seen.  What is uncovered is the industrial heart of the Roman city (1-4 centuries), including a fish sauce factory, a winery, and, my favorite, a laundry.  I learned that one of the “cleansing agents” was urine, which the laundry collected outside its doors in pots for the purpose.  The company paid a tax to be able to gather the precious ingredient, which turned to ammonia. Carolyn doubted my theory about how I could help her with laundry!

That building, part of the palace of the King, also traced the history of religious spots on the site, from Augustus who was treated as a god, through the introduction of Christianity (a la Constantine, who in 313 declared Christianity the official religion. It came too late to save Euliala, a martyr in 303 whose body lies under the present Cathedral); then came the subsequent occupation by the Christian Visigoths, the Muslims (for about 80 years), then the Counts of Barcelona and finally the splendid Cathedral .

The treat today was to have been the impressive National Museum of Catalan Art, which houses a collection of medieval art rescued from churches about to be demolished.  Alas, it being Sunday, the museum closed early, so we contented ourselves with a three-hour tour on the On-Off bus, which took us past another shrine in the city—FCB, the football stadium of Barcelona, home of Lionel Messi and lots of people who think football is played with your foot.

The real treat was the discovery that at 11 this morning the symphony was doing Beethoven’s 9th symphony.  What a novel idea—brunch with Beethoven.  The unusual feature was as simultaneous performance art of people and slides. The highlight, of course, is the final movement, the setting of Schiller’s Ode to Joy, which is the unofficial anthem of the European Union—the statement of the ‘Other” Europe, that all men are brothers, including Castillians and Catalans.

Categories: Europe 2019 | Leave a comment