Shannon Fennell's Blog

My life, art, travel, make-up, cooking and the occasional rant!


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And just like that, January is over.

Tomorrow it is February.

Time sure flies when you’re having fun… or, let’s face it, just getting old. Wish I could go back to the time when waiting for something to happen took forever – like a kid waiting for Christmas.

It’s been a fairly hectic month for me. New semester started, back to the part-time job, rehearsals for Pride & Prejudice which I am doing the hair and make-up for, took an art/business workshop last Saturday, lots of medical appointments, participated in a monthly art challenge and have issues with my residence.

The show opened last night at the Oshawa Little Theatre. Really well done! Pride & Prejudice runs until February 15th. They had some fantastic photos from the other night from the photographer.

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Well into art projects now – first painting assignment is going well. I meant to take some work in progress photos yesterday but completely forgot. And just finished my first Fabrication project for the semester – a wooden box. I chose to go small (no surprise there).

Here is my tiny box. It’s only 1.5 inches square. It is made from a solid block of pine. I hand carved it… used a drill to hollow out most of the bottom, but was finished by hand. Then I used pyrography/wood burning. That was my first time using a wood burning tool and I loved it! I used a diluted cherry stain, then lined it with gold leaf. It is sealed with a matte finish. And, thankfully the sealer is encasing the campfire smell.

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I wanted to decorate it with some mystical symbols – I decided astrology symbols would work so I used four of my family signs – Pisces, Virgo, Cancer and Leo. They looked suitably arcane. Then did some decorative patterning on the lid and the sides.

I’m putting a tiny petrified dragon heart (it is really a small polished stone that looks like an anatomically correct heart) and a talon (from a large bird I think) in it… Because a small dragon was trapped in this box and all the burning is from them trying to escape, but an evil wizard put a spell on the box so the dragon died in there and all that is left is their hardened heart and one talon. Everything needs a back story… right?

The next project for Fabrication is an Assemblage. I’m going to be doing something with fabrics, needlework, fibre, etc. Talked it over with the instructor and he’s quite enthusiastic about it.

I sold one of my art challenge works – the little Sharpie cross-stitch Corgi got customized with a shark fin and got sent off to his new home.

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In the art challenge (I posted some things in the previous blog post already) I was having fun painting with Sharpies and alcohol. I’m on a sunset kick right now. Here are a series of mini paintings from the challenge – all are on 2 x 2 inch canvas boards.

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I completed all 31 days of the challenge too! I think this is only the second or third one that I managed to get through to the finish. Yay me!

Also decorated this little trinket box with Sharpies and Copic markers – just for fun.

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I took a workshop on Saturday with Tim Packer on “Key Concepts to Being a Successful Artist.” Really enjoyed it and got lots out of it. Basically… practise every day until you are producing great work, find your voice, love the process, love what you are producing and other people love the work and buy it. He gave us plenty of information and ways to do all of that. Now I need to apply it and work my ass off.

I’ll be talking with him tomorrow – getting a critique on my work and his feedback on what I need to work on to get where I want to go. I have not settled on a medium or technique – so it is a challenge to focus on the constant improvement of one particular style. I love watercolour (one of my favourites below) but also enjoy so many other things. I am looking forward to the critique.

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I was supposed to be having surgery on my left hand back on January 13th. I was in the operating room, on the table, with my hand stretched out on another table. When the surgeon came in I told him it had not been acting up since I had seen him months ago.  He examined it and said I didn’t need the surgery! I might still at some point, but it was great to not have it done!

I will be moving to another unit in the complex. I get the key on Sunday. Probably will take me a week to get it all done. It is in the building across the courtyard – I look out my window at it. Same floor plan, same room as I am in now. There is a problem with the space (not the roommates) and there is not an easy fix so they offered me another unit. So I took it. Just had to wait for them to do the cleaning and prep for a move-in. The room is identical and furnished, so the plan is to carry over things systematically and put them in the same place, so not having to pack. I’ve made my usual lists. Address change is just the unit number.

Check me out on Instagram as I post my art and other creations there much more regularly! Here’s the link shannonfennellartist

 


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New year, new semester, new challenges

Happy New Year. Ten days in now, but hey, still a valid wish to everyone. Regardless of the crap that is going on in the world, let us all think happy thoughts and do what we all can to make this world a better place for everyone and every creature on the planet.

I usually do a year in review post annually, but this past year was a bit of a blur. A lot went on, and when I look back it is hard to believe that ALL that happened in just the last 12 months.

The most notable things for me in 2019 were:

  • My trip to Africa in May for almost a month – I visited South Africa, eSwatini (the country formerly known as Swaziland), and Mozambique (I blogged about that here – that’s the first of eight posts about my experiences.)
  • The Year End Juried Art Show at the Station Gallery in Whitby, Ontario – I won a prize for one of my mixed media works! That was exciting ( I blogged about that here!) I helped with the show set-up for a week before I left for my trip too, which was a fantastic learning experience.
  • I spent 79 days over the summer working as a residential camp baker/cook at a camp at the south end of Algonquin Park, Ontario. I had to leave for the job one day after I got back from my African trip. I did not blog about that. It was exhausting with regular 16-hour days with only three actual days off the entire summer (that was NOT how it was supposed to be!) I baked, I cooked, I prepped, I cleaned, I slept. That was the extent of my daily activities. I lost 30 lbs in the process. On the up side, I invented some awesome vegetarian meals, and vegan, gluten free baked goods. And my bread and soups were legendary. But I had to have others taste everything I made as I couldn’t myself due to my dietary restrictions.
  • I had a 5.0 GPA for the Winter (Jan-Apr) 2019 semester, and 4.91 for the Fall (Sep-Dec) 2019 semester. Did some cool stuff (posted here, here, here, and here about some of them.)
  • And, tragically, lost Brian in August. I was at camp and wasn’t there when he passed over the rainbow bridge. It wasn’t completely unexpected as he was old for his breed (Samoyed) and had been declining – the last time I saw him in July he didn’t seem to recognize me. Not being there to say goodbye was, and is, upsetting and I still cry.FennellWideIMG_5377 8x10crop
  • I had to move, unexpectedly, at the beginning of October and now live in purpose built student housing across from the College. It isn’t a residence, but a private development. I share a three-floor unit with four other females. It is actually very comfortable – all rooms have ensuites and maglocks on the doors. That was my big issue with student housing/residences – security and privacy. All appliances including washer/dryer are in the unit, and the rent is all-inclusive. And being directly across the street from school and work is awesome. It did require downsizing even more than I had when I moved to Ontario – I now live in 126 square feet with EVERYTHING I own (except for the car – it is outside!) It is actually quite liberating to get rid of stuff.DSC00834

2020’s plans and activities include:

  • I am working on setting up to sell my art online. I just have to figure out the best way for me to deal with it. I need to start working on a business model for myself for the art. I was very successful running my make-up business for twenty years, but this is a bit different and I need to get my mind around marketing tangible goods rather than services.
  • I’m working on a production of Pride and Prejudice with the Oshawa Little Theatre which opens at the end of this month – hair and make-up, of course.
  • Classes started this week for my fifth semester in my Fine Art program. I have five courses this semester: Special Topics in Sociology, Ethics in Your Daily Life, Fabrication Studio II, Painting II, and Art Survey – 1900 to current.
  • I am having hand surgery on Monday … it is day surgery and I was told there is no down time. We’ll see. It is my left hand and I am right handed so hopefully I’ll manage okay.
  • No travel plans this year – I hope to go to school in Ireland (fingers crossed) in 2021 so my budget is tight. Depending on what summer job I get I might take a road trip to visit friends that are a day’s drive away – will have to see.
  • I started an art challenge January 1st. Art everyday – which I am posting on Facebook, Instagram, etc. I’m keeping things small so I can complete them in one sitting! I tend to lose the plot on the monthly challenges and really want to carry through on this one. Below are some of the items I’ve made so far… All are for sale! Except the Corgi, he’s already sold.

 

 


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It ain’t pretty, but darn it… I darned it!

They don’t make things like they used to – really, I mean it, “they” don’t. And most people don’t take the time to fix or repair their belongings anymore either. If something breaks or tears it is tossed.

I admit to sometimes replacing things that broke – like multiple VHS VCRs over the years… when it costs less to buy a new one than to get the old one fixed, that is simple economics. The beta machine I bought survived for over 20 years, to be donated on while still functional – that was a well-made machine.

With things like clothing, how many people take the time to repair items? Themselves?

I remember I once fixed a hem on a skirt that had completely come undone during a work day – I used masking tape to put it back in place. It was a heavy polyester so the tape stuck to it well.  Then I forgot about it.   The amazing thing was that tape held for years! Through the washer and dryer multiple times too. I did eventually notice and redid the hem properly – before donating the skirt in one of our regular closet culls.

Hand-me-downs were normal for clothes, toys, furniture… pretty much anything including cars, when I was growing up. Family, friends, neighbours, anyone you knew would pass along things they no longer needed to you if had a need. Like baby clothes if you were expecting, or furniture if you had moved, toys for the kids to be passed along, dishwashers when they got a new one, a microwave, etc. Before anyone got rid of anything or donated to charity, they would check with the people they knew to see if anyone needed or wanted it.

My mom made most of our clothing, right through high school. And she would fix hems, repair tears, and convert old clothing into something new. There were four of us to keep clothed and not a lot of money, so things made there way through the family.

I remember repairing a greatly loved flannel shirt myself. It was teal and yellow plaid and it was so comfortable. But it was wearing out. Mom actually wanted to toss it – she had repaired it multiple times, and refused to anymore. So I started to mend over her mending. It had up to four layers of patches and mending in spots. I actually don’t remember if it completely disintegrated or mom removed it, but it did eventually vanish.

I routinely fix hems and seams. A lot of clothing that is available now is poorly made and you wear it once and discover holes in seams, or unravelling hems, or other flaws that need fixing. Securing buttons is a big one on new clothes – so many seem to be hanging by a single thread.

Case in point – last week I pulled a pair of heavy winter socks out of my drawer. I had not worn this particular pair yet, even though I’d had them for a couple years.

When I took them off I realized that the heel “patch” had completely separated from the body of the sock along the bottom – grey sock with green toes and heel. The weave had completely separated, if indeed, it had actually been attached at all.

I didn’t want to toss them as they are new and warm, and I’m on a budget. So decided I would darn them.

I’ve done it before but my hands are not what they used to be, neither is my eyesight.

Darning isn’t rocket surgery but being able to see helps. Even though I probably had dark green yarn, I used up some scrap yarn and floss I had sitting around from a project I finished a couple of weeks ago.  As it was different colours I was able to see what I was doing… sort of.

I didn’t take photo before I started repairing them as I hadn’t thought about posting the process, but you can see my fingers through the hole in the heel after I’d started.

How darning works is that you go through the loops of the weave that is still solid all one way across the hole, then, you go across anchoring the same way and weaving your thread through those first strands, to fill in the gap in the fabric or to pull it back together.  At least that’s how I do it. It isn’t hard BUT is fussy.

In the old days they had hard balls of bone, ceramic or glass that they would put in the heels of socks to shape them and make it easier to pass the needles through without poking yourself. I really could have used one. An old incandescent light bulb would have worked too, but none to be found around here. I tried stuffing a jar and a couple other things in there, but nothing fit or was the right shape, so I just stretched it out with my hand.

I don’t claim to be an expert and I’m sure there are probably neater ways to do this, but it worked.

Looking at these photos I feel like I sewed Ed the Sock’s mouth shut!

I turned it inside out to check and it looks not too bad. Hole is gone and mostly closed up. Ideally I should probably have pulled the two sides completely flush together, but there appeared to be a gap in the heel area – which is part of the reason I suspect the hole was there all along.

I now have a functional pair of socks again – Darn it!


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Birds, and feathers

I’ve been painting  birds. There are seemingly infinite varieties of birds, with an infinite array of colour and appearance. I find their beauty fascinating and I really wanted to try to capture that.

As I lean towards realism I am trying very diligently to be as accurate as possible in how I portray the species that I am painting or drawing.

I am very lucky to know several photographers who take amazing wildlife photos, including birds, that have given permission to use their photos as my inspiration and reference images.

Some of my earlier work that featured birds include these drawings. First was done in many years ago (possibly in high school).

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Then a couple of small Micron pen drawings from a few years back of a chickadee and an Adélie Penguin.

The vultures were for a school assignment. The Turkey Vulture was a study in graphite as I was trying to find the right vulture for the assignment.

I settled on the African White Backed Vulture – who I drew wearing a gas mask because it was for an illustration. This was in Micron pen, with the watercolours added later.

Then most recently I was playing around with my new, high quality Derwent pencil crayons so found a bright coloured Finch to draw.

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I like to work small (I get bored easily!) With the exception of the foot, all of these are less than 8 x 10″.

I had to create a diptych (two related paintings) for an assignment, so I asked permission from my photographer friend, Marilyn Grubb at  Chipabirdee Images by Marilyn Grubb Photography & Digital Art to use some of her photos.

These are my two paintings based on her photos – a Mountain Bluebird and a Yellow Rumped Warbler. Both paintings are 8 x 10″ on stretched canvas.

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Below are detail close-ups of the two little birds.

As they were so small I didn’t get the feathers right on the Warbler – he has a LOT more wing feathers than I painted. Also… I think the Mountain Bluebird may have modelled for Angry Birds.

I decided to go bigger in my next bird painting. Again using one of Marilyn’s great photos as my reference. This is a Barred Owl, 20 x 24″ on stretched canvas. It took me 30 hours – most of that was spent on the feathers.

I took progress shots as I worked at the end of each painting session. First was after many layers of gesso to get a smooth surface and doing a rough sketch in a wash of acrylic paint. Second, I did an underpainting in burnt umber of the colour placement on the owl, and roughed in the background in bright colours, then I started adding the detail from the bottom up – I stopped after getting the tail feathers done as I was getting tired.

The next session I got most of the long wing feathers and the fence post done. Fourth session I managed to get the wings finished. The fifth session I finished the head, did tweeks on the whole owl, and painted in the background.

And, after my sixth session which involved adding some detail/depth, some colour washes on the background and cleaning up the edges, the finished piece.

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Below is Marilyn’s original photo that I used as my reference. I also checked on the internet for other images of a Barred Owl as I wasn’t sure if my colouring was going to be right but there is a lot of variation in the browns and how much/little there is in proportion to the white.

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I see things I wish I’d done differently (common problem with artists!) but overall I am pretty happy with this owl.

P.S. The birds paintings are for sale!


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Gallery Show and a prize

While I was off on my African Adventure five of my artworks were in the Annual All-Student Juried Show at the Station Gallery in Whitby, Ontario.

Before I left I had helped get the show put up at the Gallery. That was a great learning experience; seeing how much work goes into the process. Very physical and tiring. I went in every day for a week to do whatever I was asked to do. That involved unpacking and unwrapping the art, laying out the works in the various rooms, arranging them in theme groups, then moving things around, putting up the labels, etc.

Originally we were limited to entering three pieces, but for whatever reason, they opened it up and asked for more works. That’s why I ended up with five in the show.

The show took up the whole building which meant our art was in three main gallery rooms, hallways, lobby, etc. Was pretty impressive.

It was extremely exciting to see my art up in an art gallery. It never really gets old. I’ve had art in shows before but wasn’t involved, other than dropping it off, so this was a new experience for me.

Here are my works:

First are my two mixed media pieces, “My Chickadee” and “Evolutionary Ladder”, which had been hung together in the middle gallery.

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Then my acrylic nature study painting called “Autumn Reflection” was in the back gallery in a grouping with others of the same project/class.

Then my painting “Blood Moon” was in a hallway by the entrance with other fantasy works.

And finally, my ink blot painting called “Windswept Forest” was in the main gallery.

Hanging art is hard. Measuring repeatedly, deciding what goes together both by size and theme, mounting, hammering, repositioning… it isn’t like home, where if you are slightly off centre you say “good enough”… nope, take it down and start over.

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When I got home from my trip on June 6th, there was mail from the Visual Arts Centre of Clarington – it was a cheque that said “Durham Art Show Prize”! I was very excited but there was no notation to tell me what it was actually for.

I emailed my professors and classmates who had been there to find out what it was  awarded for. My piece “Evolutionary Ladder” was chosen as best mixed media work.

This was created by making a collage (I love Mod Podge) using recycled original work of mine in watercolour, pencil crayon and micron pen, as well as tearing up a few magazines and cutting up cardboard. Then creating a paper tole (a three-dimensional effect by layering multiple layers of the same image that has been cut out) of the ladder/double helix drawing. Then adding gold watercolour paint, then both dimensional fabric paints and acrylic paint applied using a squeeze bottle. Finally used Sharpies to add some details. The piece is 18 x 24″ and very light as I built it on foam core.

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When I got back to college this September I discovered that all my work from the show was now on display throughout the college.

Four of the works are in the B-wing in the second year display case (only four of us have our work there!)

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The other painting “Blood Moon” is on display in the Entrepreneurial Centre in another building.

I am “chuffed” as the English say! I can’t think of another word to use at the moment. Although proud and thrilled do work.

 


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Southern Africa Adventure – Part 8

This is the eighth, and final, post about my trip to South Africa to volunteer with Volunteer Eco Students Abroad (VESA) in May/June 2019. The first three covered the volunteer projects I worked on, the rest are about the activities, tours, safaris and places visited. I spent time in three countries – South Africa, Swaziland (now called eSwatini) and Mozambique.

Once we finished our week of volunteer projects we had the opportunity to participate in included and optional activities. I took advantage of everything offered, I don’t expect to get back to that part of the world, so I made sure I saw and did as much as I could while there.

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I left off with getting ready to leave Swaziland (eSwatini) in my last post. Sorry it has taken this long to get back to the story – had a very hectic month or so. School starting, found a new job then was informed I had to move. I’ve now settled into my new place which is walking distance to school. So time to get back to my routine.

I keep a daily journal when I travel. I find it is a great way to remind me of the little things that happen that get overshadowed by the big things (like Elephants!). It really helps when I want to blog later – and in this case, much later – about my adventures.

At 11 p.m. on May 29th those of going on the trip to Mozambique loaded up on the minibus and left for the border. There was a lot more leg room on this bus and several of the group decided to sleep on the floor – in the aisle and between the seats. It was going to be at least a 12-hour drive through the night to our destination. I think I did manage to sleep… I think. It was always black outside so difficult to tell if time was actually passing.

We stopped at the border after a couple hours and had to unload, go through the Swazi customs building, then walked through an unmarked gate to a dimly lit building. Wow… I felt like we were sneaking across the frontier to escape from behind the Iron Curtain. After getting our passports stamped by a very cranky woman, we got back on the bus to continue on into the blackest night I’ve ever seen.

We were stopped many, many, MANY times – by “police”. It is expected and apparently it is a lucrative side business form them… or maybe it is how they actually get paid? I don’t know. But our local guides handled all that. We had a “bribe fund” apparently. Some just stopped the bus and chatted with the driver and guides in a friendly way, others would open the doors and shine flashlights in our eyes, and a couple of times we all had to get off the bus and the bus was “inspected.”

We stopped a few times. Am I ever glad I’d bought the multi-pack of tissues back in Saint Lucia! I had them and hand sanitizer in my bag – oh man, did I need those. I had to “wash” off things with the sanitizer before I could do anything. A couple of times the facilities were so horrifying I decided to wait for the next stop.

Around 6 a.m. we stopped to have our packed breakfast. This gas station at least had pretty decent washrooms.

Then we continued on to Tofo. We arrived at our hostel mid-afternoon – the Pariango Beach Motel – right on the beach! While it was not luxurious it certainly was miles better than I was expecting. I couldn’t get over the location – built right on the sand, you step onto the beach!

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My accommodations were called a “casita” – a little grass shack basically. It was really nice and I felt like I was a real beach bum. It had electricity and an oscillating fan, so was very comfortable. And as a bonus, there was a safe imbedded in the floor! There were mosquito nets, so I pulled the one down over my bed, sprayed everything with my bug spray, and left to go exploring.

These photos show the path to my casita… it was a really neat place to stay!

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The showers and toilets were in the main hostel building where the rest of the group was housed. So in the night I had to trek over to use the facilities, but the path was well lit and there was night security guarding the place.

When I did my nightly treks I was stargazing – the stars there were immense! It looked like a theatrical backdrop with fairy lights stuck through black velvet. I could only identify the Southern Cross.

This is looking at the back of the main building – you go through there to get to the beach, or hang a right to get to the toilets.

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Our guides put up a tent for our dining hall. They would be cooking for us all. There was an outdoor kitchen in the hostel courtyard and some of the local ladies worked there.

 

I opted out of a couple of the included activities and chose to chill on the beach, did some sketches from the covered porch/bar, lounged in the lobby, rubbed the dogs… just chilled. Was really pleasant.

This is looking back at the hostel from the edge of the water… so close!

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Tofo is beautiful. The beach is gorgeous and it not a developed tourist spot – I didn’t see any hotels. There are a few nice houses up on the ridge and some rental places, but the rest is all very low key. There are numerous adventure/scuba type companies operating there, and a lot are owned by people not native to Mozambique, but it all felt very authentic. It made me think of Hemingway for some reason. Run away, live on a beach, just work enough to eat… Was a very different type of experience for me.

 

I went out at dawn to get a photo of the sunrise over the Indian Ocean, but the angle is not right on the beach – both the sunrise and sunset end up happening behind things.

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I took photos of the rest of the group going out for the “ocean safari” – I decided that I wasn’t meant to careen through the waves in a zodiac. Turns out they saw nothing out there. So I didn’t regret that decision.

 

We all went on a tour of Tofo, timed to get to a point where we could watch the sunset over the estuary. We were all loaded into a couple of very old, very creaky, tiny pick-up trucks. The one I was in was an Isuzu. As the “elderly” member of the group the guides treated me like I was incapable of climbing into the back with the kids… for which I was VERY thankful! I was given the passenger seat in the cab. I had to take a couple photos to show the interior. Oh my!

 

We drove through the area. There are coconut palms everywhere, and they are so evenly spaced it looks like deliberate planting. We stopped for a demonstration of climbing and picking coconuts, then we all got a chance to drink/eat a fresh coconut. I have to say that was delicious! So completely different from the dried out stuff we get. I honestly could not have identified that what I was eating was coconut if I didn’t know. The liquid tasted like honeydew melon to me.

 

We all loaded back into the trucks and then raced to a lodge up on a high ridge in time to watch the sunset. The “road” was a track through the sandy soil and a couple of times I thought we were going to get bogged down.

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The sunset was beautiful.

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The next day we all went to Pig Island. We left the hostel around 8:30 to walk to the bus, then were driven out to the estuary. Then we had to walk… and walk… to get to the water where two dhows were waiting for us! We had to wade out and get ourselves into them. This was actually pretty cool.

These are not tourist boats, these are working boats. When they aren’t ferrying tourists they are fishing. There wasn’t much wind so our guide and the boatman pushed us with long poles. The estuary is not terribly deep. A one point the wind picked up enough that we had a bit of a race.

 

First they took us to an area for snorkeling. I stayed on board. After that, we stopped at a large sandbar and we all jumped off and waded onto it to do some beachcombing. At this point I realized that the $10 poolshoes I’d brought along were the most important item I owned. I found some nice shells and a sand dollar. Unfortunately the sand dollar didn’t make it through the day.  The dhows met us on the other side of the sandbar and we waded out and climbed back in.

Then we headed to Pig Island. By the time we got there it was close to noon. As the tide was out we all had to jump out and wade about a kilometer to the island (did I mention my poolshoes?)

The island has about 800 residents and no source of freshwater, other than rain. The chief is named Erik – he was 70, but didn’t look a day over 50! He asked us all our names and quizzed me – asked my age, how many kids I had. Then said he wanted to marry me – I declined. He already has two wives!

We were taken on a tour of the island before lunch. They have a school, hospital and church… really makes you appreciate what we have. As it is all sand they can’t grow anything (other than coconuts) so they fish and trade/sell on the mainland to get what they need. It was very hard walking in the loose sand. There were some pigs too.

 

By the time we were ready to leave the tide had come in so we didn’t need to walk out to the dhows, but it was harder to get back in, in deeper water. Luckily I’d put my camera in a ziploc bag – as my pack hit the water as I was trying to climb in.

The ride back took three hours – Julio and the boatman had to push the whole way. We saw a flock of flamingos on a sandbar – wow! As the other dhow sailed by them, they all took flight at once. Spectacular. As the tide was in they were able to take us right to the shore in the dhows.

I had decided my one big souvenir purchase would be a custom made jacket! One of our guides had some clothing made by a tailor in Tofo, so I made sure to have enough funds to pay for it. He came by and measured me, and then brought the finished jacket over on our last day in Tofo. For approximately $140 Canadian, I have a reversible padded, hooded, bomber jacket with three pockets on both sides, in an African print on one-side and handmade patchwork on the other. Very colourful!  I think very suitable for an artist.

 

Sunday, June 2nd we left Tofu to head to Bilene for the last stop of our trip. It was a 6-hour drive (not counting the stops for police checks/inspections…)

We arrived around 8 p.m. at Villa Espanhola. WOW. This was not a hostel, but a resort! So nice for the last stop before heading home.  Wonderful setting – on a private beach. Took quite a few photos. We spent two full days here and left at 3 a.m. in the morning on the third night.

 

I had a private “chalet” with a massive bathroom, huge walk-in shower that had… hot water!

 

It was a fair climb to get to the beach.

 

I opted out of the activities, except for the trip to the market. I managed to find fridge magnets and got one carved with “Mozambique” on it. Also bought a beautiful large scarf/shawl. Saw lots of purses, bags and jackets that were similar in style to mine but not reversible and not the same quality.

I spent my couple of days lounging around, went down to the private beach, watched Portuguese soap operas in the outdoor recreation area, took many long hot showers. Was a beautiful place.

 

Bilene is a resort town. Many of the buildings look very European – reminded me of the Mediterranean coast. Nice wide main road, shops, restaurants, accommodations – meant for tourists.

On the last day we all had to have our luggage out before we went to bed, and had to be on the bus by 2:30 a.m. as we needed to hit the road by 3 a.m. It was over 12 hours to Johannesburg where we all had flights to catch.

Again, many stops by police. Got to watch a glorious sunrise from the bus – I was the only person awake, well, except for the driver! In one town we were stopped and the “official” took one of our passports and walked away. One of our guides stuck to him like glue and got it back, after suitable payment I assume.

It was nice to be driving through the country in the daylight this time. Was very interesting to see the contrast between old Portuguese colonial architecture in the towns with the rural buildings of the population.

Something that was very interesting was the roadside shops – communication companies and others have their colours and logos on almost every single roadside business. Also, there are little one person kiosks – an enclosed area with an umbrella – where you can buy cellular service for mere cents. Cellphone service is cheap in Africa!

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We crossed back through Swaziland, stopped for lunch, then crossed into South Africa.

At the airport in Johannesburg I took a lot of photos of beaded creatures – this type of craftwork was everywhere we went. The showpieces at the airport were amazing! Bigger than life Nelson Mandelas and fantasy animals. Little versions were in all the craft markets we saw on the trip.

 

Long flight from Johannesburg to Munich, long layover, then onto to Toronto and home. Relatively uneventful and I paid to upgrade my seat on the Munich-Toronto leg and managed to actually sleep.

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The whole trip was amazing. Seeing the wildlife, learning about the cultures in each area, the scenery and the experiences volunteering truly made this a once in a lifetime trip.

If I had to pick the part I enjoyed the most I would have to say the stay in Tofo – it was so outside my expectations and something I would never have considered doing as I am not a beach person, generally. But white sand beaches on the Indian Ocean are a lot different than grey sand beaches in British Columbia, obviously.

 

 

 

 

 


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Southern Africa Adventure – Part 7

This is the seventh post about my trip to South Africa to volunteer with Volunteer Eco Students Abroad (VESA) in May/June 2019. The first three covered the volunteer projects I worked on, the rest are about the activities, tours, safaris and places visited. I spent time in three countries – South Africa, Swaziland (now called eSwatini) and Mozambique.

Once we finished our week of volunteer projects we had the opportunity to participate in included and optional activities. I took advantage of everything offered, I don’t expect to get back to that part of the world, so I made sure I saw and did as much as I could while there.

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The night before we left Saint Lucia for Swaziland (which is now officially eSwatini as the King changed the country’s name) I had to start taking my anti-malaria pills. As Mozambique is in the malaria zone it seemed the safe thing to do. You have to start the drug I was taking two days prior to arriving and continue a week after you leave. Luckily I didn’t suffer any side-effects – I also do not appear to have malaria so that was a win-win.

We left Saint Lucia and BiBs Backpackers close to 9 a.m. in the morning. It was a three hour drive to the border, then another three hours to our destination. While we were assembling at the buses, and the luggage was being loaded up, one of the VESA leaders was yelling every few minutes to keep your passports on your person as we would be needing them along the way. She kept it up and then came around to each bus to make sure everyone heard her and had their passports (this is called foreshadowing…)

We stopped once for snacks and toilets, then around noon reached the border.

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We all had to get off the buses, WITH OUR PASSPORTS, and walk through the customs buildings for both countries. Through the South African Border Control, then through the gate, and walk over to the Swazi customs office and line-up to be processed. All the passport stamps still say Swaziland I noticed; guess bureaucracy takes time to change.

The buses went through separately and were on the other side when we got there. This is where the reason for the foreshadowing becomes clear…

One of the leaders shows up agitated and needs to talk to the others. One of the volunteers packed his passport in his luggage which was loaded in a trailer… the one trailer that wasn’t an enclosed one, it was the one that had the tarp wrapped and tied down over it.  Sigh…

So they had to wait for his friend who knew what his stuff looked like to be processed, so he could find the bag. It took a bit of time but we were all relaxing and eating the packed lunch (everyone else was, I had to eat my snacks.)

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Then we all got back on the buses and continued on our way. Swaziland is very nice and tidy and more prosperous looking than the part of South Africa we had been in. There were miles and miles and miles of sugar cane, and dozens of trucks full of it heading to the plant. There was also a haze of smoke from the harvesting.

Geologically it appeared to be surrounded by basaltic rock ridges… I asked one of our leaders if it was sitting on a volcanic plateau, they had no idea. I actually was a little disappointed in the complete lack of commentary or information from our VESA guides after we left Saint Lucia.

There was a lot of infrastructure projects going on – highway improvements, etc.

I was very impressed with the country. It appeared relatively prosperous and clean. All the cars and vehicles were spotlessly clean and in excellent condition no matter how old they were. I saw the twin to my first ever car – 1998 model, and it was in absolute mint condition! The cities and towns we passed through were pretty comparable to home to me.

On our itinerary we had a stop at a “traditional craft market.” I was a bit underwhelmed. Not sure what I was expecting but maybe more local colour for the tourists?

As usual with these places, most of them had exactly the same items as the others. You just had to walk around to find the cheapest price and then haggle. I did find a couple hand-carved wooden fridge magnets (I’d also bought a few magnets in Saint Lucia.) That is the only real souvenir that I bother with nowadays, with a few exceptions.

Then once everyone was finished shopping we loaded up to head to our destination.

It was getting dark by then and we actually arrived at the gates to the game reserve in the dark. So we really didn’t get a look at anything until the morning.

We were staying at the Sondzela hostel which was inside the Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary. It is a predator free game park and runs some programs to breed endangered antelope.

We got assigned to our accommodation and then had to find it… in the dark… That was interesting. We were warned to watch where we stepped as animals roam freely. Okay then, glad it was predator free!

I got up pretty early – was just starting to lighten up, and went outside to look around. As I went out the door a warthog bolted between me and the door! Scared the bejeezus out of me!

This was my “hut”… wow! Pretty cool – except for the no toilet part. There was a sink… I made it work.

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I then walked around taking some photos. It was very quiet and peaceful.

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There were animals about too!

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Warthogs were all over the place! Lots of us sat on the deck by the pool watching them. There was a little one who wouldn’t stop teasing the biggest one! Was really fun to watch them playing.

The main lodge contained a lounge and kitchen as well as more rooms. A lot of the group was housed in there, as well as another house (25 slept there). I got lucky to get the hut for myself. There was some nice art in the main lodge – particularly some batik work. This one really caught my eye.

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This shot is looking down the hill from the Lodge gate.  That’s the direction I went on my safari later.

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There were several optional activities to choose from and all but one were extremely physical – rock climbing, white water rafting, mountain biking, etc. I chose to go on the safari – in a Land Cruiser. I was there to SEE things!

We were picked up at the Lodge gate and headed out. Our guide/driver, Cava, was really knowledgeable and I finally got the answers to my geologic questions! Yes, it is volcanic! We stopped first at the main compound to pay for the safari, then we headed out. There was a display of snares that had been collected hanging by the side of the road.

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Cava was great – running commentary about Swaziland, the animals, the park, history, conservation, government, etc. The animals here are not nervous and pretty much ignore the vehicles and people so you can get quite close to them.

These are Burchell’s Zebras – they have that brownish stripe between the black stripes. This is the only species of zebra I saw the whole trip.

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Typical equines – put their ears back the second you hit the button!

Here’s a selection of antelope… I honestly tried to get the names of each species but there are so many listed I was having a hard time trying to identify them all, so enjoy the images! What I am sure of is that the centre two photos are of a Wildebeest aka Gnu, and the very bottom right corner are Springboks.

Then we went up to their current breeding program for the Roan Antelope. They were hunted to the edge of extinction as they are one of the largest and meatiest of the species. The program here started with breeding stock they were able to get from a Czechoslovakian zoo and now the species has been reintroduced to its native habitats as well to game parks around the world.

There were lots of termites mounds about. The bright red soil indicates a very high iron content.

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We saw a fair number of birds too – song birds, Egyptian geese, grey herons, some water fowl, but I wasn’t able to get photos.

Cava called this tree a “sausage tree” which makes sense as those do look like the meat hanging in an Italian deli!

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I saw some very nice vistas as we drove around the park for several hours. This is my favourite. In that body of water however… there are 25-30 Nile Crocodiles. So it is not a swimming hole.

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That evening those of us going on the Mozambique trip had to have our luggage out at 9 p.m. to load, and be ready to leave at 11 p.m. So we only got one night in Swaziland. The rest of the group was spending the night and leaving in the morning for Johannesburg to fly home.

There were 15 of us continuing on, plus the VESA group leader, two guides from Mozambique and our driver.  It was going to be a 12-hour drive through the night.

My next posts will cover the whole Mozambique experience and trip home.