Shannon Fennell's Blog

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


A short trip to Amsterdam (Part One)

One of the reasons I was looking forward to moving to England was the proximity to Europe. When you live in Western Canada getting anywhere other than the US, Caribbean or Mexico can be extremely expensive and exhausting. Heck, even visiting other parts of Canada is expensive and exhausting! Being able to take short trips at a low cost to visit dozens of countries is amazing.

The pandemic delayed me, and as it still isn’t showing signs of being “over” I decided I couldn’t wait any longer. I need to get going while I still am healthy enough to do the walking, stairs, etc. The places I want to see tend to contain a lot of historic buildings, ruins, etc. and I need to be able to physically handle the demands. Amsterdam was a great first trip… it is completely flat!

I wore an N95 mask on the planes and in the airports, and my regular masks while I was roaming around and visiting museums, etc.

I flew over from Bristol on Sunday, caught the train from Schiphol Airport to Amsterdam Centraal station, then walked 3 kms to my hotel. The weather was glorious.

I got the routes for walking everywhere I needed to go off Google, and had a laminated street map as well that I marked up (I do not use a cell/mobile phone.) Honestly, the walk was way simpler than the written directions and maps made it look. There were around 29 separate directions for the walk from Amsterdam Centraal to the hotel… but it really should have just said: exit main entrance, walk straight ahead until you get to The Dam, cross the square veer right, cross four canals, turn left, then right immediately after you pass a small bridge on the left, cross four more canals, cross the street, sign for your hotel will be visible. I was constantly stopping to peer at street signs, trying to follow the printed directions which was more confusing than it should have been.

I was staying at Hotel De Hallen – which was built at one end of a converted trolley/street car station. It was interesting – there were still tracks in the floor of the restaurant and the patio. The rest of the large complex was a huge food court and commercial spaces.

My room was… well…”industrial” is the word I would use. bare concrete floor, no mats at all for your feet. They did supply hotel slippers but they weren’t comfy to walk on cement with. I was originally put in an inside room with no windows, but there wasn’t a fridge (there was supposed to be one – the desk manager was completely confused about that) so they moved me to this room which had natural light. Which means the entire “outside” wall was glass. I was ground level. My wall was not an exterior wall, there was an alley of sorts between it, and the exterior wall of glass where pedestrians and bike riders were constantly going by. Couldn’t leave my drapes open to get the natural light! And the chairs were… not clean looking and really dated. I put a towel on them if I needed to sit in them. But at least the TV remote worked and I could get BBC and lots of American channels (with Dutch subtitles.) And there was a Nespresso machine – they left two little pods a day but I went to the front desk and the guy gave me two handfuls of them!

And I have to say that the Dutch really know how to do bathrooms. All of the hotels I’ve stayed in in the Netherlands have had phenomenal bathrooms. This shower had a one of those huge rain shower heads on the ceiling and a handheld on the wall, and the doors swung in and out! Sink was large and deep – great for washing out things.

I needed the fridge to keep my groceries in. There were two supermarkets within a block of the hotel, so I picked up cream, meat, cheese, pickles, a roast chicken… that’s what I ate the whole time. I couldn’t find fresh cream so had to settle for the long life stuff… I survived, but it is definitely an acquired taste!

Getting to the Museum District was super simple from my hotel. Just out the entrance, go right, cross one canal, then right and straight on until you get to the museums. I figure I walked a minimum of 15 kms a day… probably a whole lot more if you consider the size of the museums!

Monday was the Rijksmuseum, which included the Vermeer Exhibit (this was the reason for the trip in the first place.) When I booked my trip the Vermeer tickets were already sold out from the first release, so I bought the regular admission ticket online for 9 a.m. entry. Eventually the museum scheduled more opening hours and released more tickets to meet the demand for them… I spent two days sitting at my computer, constantly hitting refresh, as their site was crashing due to volumes, mid-morning the second day the purchase page popped up! So I got my ticket for the Vermeer Exhibit for 4 p.m. on Monday! I was really excited to get it for the same day as my regular ticket.

Tuesday was the Van Gogh Museum – my entrance ticket was for 9 a.m. After I was done there, I decided to go to the Stedelijk Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, which was just across the path from the Van Gogh Museum. They weren’t busy and I bought my ticket at the counter – student discount! Then, when I was finished there I went to the MOCO Museum which is also contemporary art and was on the other side of the Van Gogh Museum – for a ticket I had to go to a kiosk down the park about half a block, bonus, it was cheaper than the museum website! And was also for the next entry time in 10 minutes. So Tuesday was a rather intense day of absorbing art.

The Van Gogh Museum comprised two buildings, you entered the round one, then down a level to a gallery, and then across to the other building where you exited when done.

The Stedelijk Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art also was two buildings, but they were totally connected at ground level. The one facing the park was modern and the one on the street was huge, old and ornate. The entrance and exit were through the modern side. They had the street side closed and the foyer was a gallery space.

The MOCO was a big old house, NO LIFT, original staircases all the way up and down. Was a bit of a struggle for me as my left knee decided to quit, but with the lovely staff member who, without being asked, got in front of me going both up and down, kept people from cutting me off, it wasn’t too awful. He disappeared too fast for me to thank him properly.

Wednesday I had my ticket for the Rembrandt House Museum for 10 a.m. opening time. That is in the historic old town, further away and a different direction than the Museum District. So I had my map out to figure out a route – Google wasn’t much help with that. As I’d already figured out the maps were a bit deceptive, I decided on a route that traced my walk to the hotel from The Dam, then from there I just stayed on the same street as it curved into the old town. I did overshoot the museum and ended up really confused on a university campus, I’d walked right by it without noticing. After studying the map I retraced my steps (as I had been on the right street) and this time really looked at the buildings… as it was a house, not a purpose built museum, it didn’t stand out. Well, except for the house-sized banner on the building beside it which was the entrance! You entered that building, then down to the basement level, where you then entered the actual Rembrandt House.

As I was walking back after the Rembrandt House, I stopped at one of the Ticket stores to check out canal cruises (it was still before noon.) There was a one-hour cruise available in about a half hour, and was about a kilometre walk away. So I bought a ticket and headed to the terminal – which was right in front of the Centraal train station.

Thursday I headed home. My flight was later in the day BUT, the weather had turned to a thick drizzle so I stayed in my room until check-out time then strolled to the train station, shopping a bit on the way (bought socks – Girl with a Pearl Earring and Starry Night!) Got to the airport way too early – my flight wasn’t even on the board yet. Was a long rather uncomfortable afternoon. It could have seemed less long if I’d been willing to remove my mask and kill time in a restaurant, but I do not remove the mask. Eventually I got through security and to my gate area. All the other flights were updating on the board – not mine. Boarding time came and went, no update, no plane. An HOUE AFTER IT WAS SUPPOSED TO DEPART, the board updated to say DELAYED. No shit? Turns out that it was coming from Nice… the French air traffic controllers were on strike that day… so getting over French airspace was, apparently backed up big time. They could have told us way sooner. Eventually the plane arrived and was a quick turnaround. But didn’t actually get home to Plymouth until 12:30 a.m. on Friday.

NOT my plane. It was dark by the time mine arrived.

I’m going to cover this trip in three posts… don’t want to make them TOO long. Part Two will be site-seeing and Part Three will be the art I got to see. I had real problems with focus on my camera in the museums – combination of my deteriorating vision, really dim lighting, bad angles due to crowds, etc. So I need to do some editing… on 556 photos… not all of those are going to be worth showing.

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The dog days of summer ended, and I missed it

Apparently, the Dog Days of Summer ended on August 11th. I looked it up. The term refers to the hottest days of Summer, which lasted until a little over a week ago around here. The change was quite dramatic in our garden. We went from close to 30C to 20C daytime highs. We were getting sun from around 10 a.m. as it appeared over the buildings to hit the back fence, then as it moved, the rest of the garden would get time in direct sun until close to 8 p.m. in the evening. This last week it is now starting to hit the back fence around 1:30 p.m. and a strip of around four feet of ground along the fence until 4:30 p.m. Everything stuck in all-day shade in the rest of the garden has reverted to Autumn shutdown stage.

I did a bit of clean-up by removing summer squash plants that haven’t been productive and are stuck in 100% shade now. Even though they were blooming, all the flowers were male so no fruit. The last of the zucchini has several small fruits on it but they’ve been the same size for around three weeks! Not sure what’s up with that. Also pulled out done flowers and other vegetables, pruned the plum tree (apparently they need to be done late summer, not while dormant,) and have started cleaning up planters.

The cucumbers are in a perfect spot up high on the wall and are still getting all the sun – and being productive. And I move my peppers around to follow the sun as they are in pots.

I’ve finally been able to make pickles!! Refrigerator pickles as I’ve no inclination to do actual canning – an issue of space for storage really. They’ll get eaten fast enough.

I was not able to find PROPER sour dill pickles here in the UK. So I made my own and they are fabulous! Salty and sour with garlic like I was used to getting in Canada. Everything here in the UK is sweet… EVERYTHING. It is crazy.

I had six pint jars which worked out well for the amount of room I had available in the fridge. I’ve already consumed most of the cucumber dills from my first jar. I made four jars of pickles so far, with a fifth jar that is just brine, ready to add the next batch of cucumbers to. And if my hot peppers ripen I’ll pickle them too!

One jar is just cucumbers from the garden; one is “recycling” a jar of gherkins that weren’t sour enough for me with added red pepper and some mushrooms; one is recycling supposedly “New York Deli Style” pickles that in no way resembled deli style dill pickles (I couldn’t bear to throw out perfectly good food product!) with green and red peppers; and one is asparagus. I’m quite happy now. No one else in the house likes pickles so they are all mine!

I’ve been on a baking kick this week making cookies. I’ve been trying new “keto/low carb” recipes I’ve found online. They all need tweaking to suit me better, but are tasty nonetheless! I made a Tahini Chocolate Nib cookie and a Almond/Peanut Butter Brownie cookie. I substituted things based on what I had – using chocolate nibs instead of chips, using some peanut butter as I only had half the required almond butter, etc.

The Tahini cookies need more tahini (recipe was half butter, half tahini,) needed to be flattened, less time and lower temp. The Brownie cookies need more moisture (I will probably add cream cheese next time) and need to be a bit flatter. But they did turn out and are not crumbling in my hand.

I am painting my bedroom. Last Sunday I did the front wall… almost died. I was up most of the night with vicious cramps in my upper thighs which I think were from balancing on the step ladder. Not fun – took almost four days for the tightness to ease. BUT, am happy with this wall. Anne is going to paint the opposite wall for me – says she’ll be MUCH faster and can cut in better than me. I won’t argue!

I managed to match the paint colour with my curtains without taking the fabric along to match – I’ve a very good eye/memory for colours. I had an ink & watercolour I did a couple years ago that is a perfect piece to go on the green wall so I got a frame for it.

This wall painting project is making me frame up a lot of the art I kept and get it on display. The new paint is making the other walls look bad, but I’m not up to painting THAT much. I’ll just cover them with lots of art.

Oh yeah… today is my one year anniversary of arriving in England! I can’t believe that much time has passed already. And we still are dealing with the bloody pandemic. At some point I hope I’ll be able to start travelling around Europe on short trips like I had been planning for the last seven years! I am not comfortable with the travel situation (virus, delays, unrest, etc.) so will keep occupied locally.

August 27, 2021 – Arrived at Heathrow (the mask stayed on until the car park!)

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What was done in ’21

Here is to wishing everyone a better 2022!

So far… it is okay. Betty White died yesterday on December 31, 2021 – so at least we aren’t going to blame 2022 for that.

Another year that seemed to be longer than it really was is now over. I really am hoping this pattern will end soon. Time is supposed to go by faster than this.

I have to look back at my posts on social media and in my day-timer to remember what actually happened. Parts of the year seem to be many years ago rather than just months.

2021 was both a drag and exciting. In no particular order (I tried to be chronological but it got messed up!) these are the highlights.

  • My final semester started in full lock-down in January – we were 100% online until mid-term.
  • In February I was notified that I was the recipient of the 2020 Sabat Family Scholarship for Academic Excellence in Fine Art ($1,000) by Durham College.
  • My midterm marks were 91%, 97%, 98%, 100% and 100%.
  • I received offers from three schools to complete a degree in Fine Art
    • from IT Sligo in Ireland (which is now becoming Atlantic Technological University) for a BA (Hons) at the Yeats Academy of Arts, Design & Architecture. This is a one-year (Sept to May) add-on to get the degree – they gave me credit for three years advanced placement.
    • from the Arts University of Bournemouth in the UK for a MA Fine Art. This is a 12-month program full-time. They also awarded me a £5,000 bursary for tuition. (They suggested the MA, bypassing the BA, due to my three year advanced diploma and over 20 year career in the arts!)
    • from Plymouth College of Art in the UK. Their offer was for a BA (Hons) but they would only gave me credit for one year so I would have to complete a minimum of two more years with them to get their degree – I declined this offer outright.
  • I applied for the Government of Ireland – International Education Scholarship and was notified I was a finalist for consideration.
  • I deferred the offers to 2022 as I didn’t want to continue in the pandemic caused “hybrid learning models” that post secondary institutions were/are operating on. It is a lot of money to attend school as an international student and I don’t enjoy online learning models.
  • Was able to get back into the campus studio mid-February to continue working on my Fine Art thesis project – I spent on average four days a week there!
  • I had three works in the Annual All-Student Juried Show at the Station Gallery in Whitby, ON which ran for the month of April. It was limited attendance due to the pandemic restrictions.
  • I was nominated (one of three students from our program) to represent Durham College’s Fine Art program in the national BMO 1st ART! 2021 art competition. The nominated work was my thesis project so I had to install it in the college studio to get photographs for the competition submission by the May 15th deadline.
  • April 16th was the last day of classes – my last official day of my Fine Arts – Advanced Diploma. I, however, continued to work on my thesis in the studio until June!
  • April 16th was also the day I received my first dose of the Pfizer vaccine!
  • My final grades for my last semester at Durham College were 93%, 97%, 99%, 100% and 100%. Out of seven semesters I had four with GPAs of 5.0. My overage GPA was 4.98.
  • End of April we were back in full lockdown.
  • Received my credentials from Durham College in the mail. My diploma was sent in a cardboard mailer with a form letter. Pretty anticlimactic really. Ontario Colleges Diploma in Fine Art – Advanced, with Honours, from Durham College. On the President’s Honour Roll and College Honour Roll.
  • Finalized my thesis project and installed it in the studio on campus. As we were not going to have an actual gallery show due to the pandemic, I created a dedicated blog for my thesis – “Anthropocene of the Crime.” I put a lot of work into the project and not being able to have people interact with it in person was a huge disappointment – the blog at least lets me share that research and the 58 individual paintings that are part of the project, representing 60 threatened species. You can check out that blog here Anthropocene of the Crime.
  • June 14th we had our virtual show and artists’ talks with the Robert McLaughlin Gallery in Oshawa in lieu of our Annual Grad Show. It was a live event -they now seem to have removed the links from their website which is a bummer, but it is still up on YouTube at my segment starts at 57:07.
  • I applied for a UK Ancestry Visa (I’ve been planning to move to the UK since 2015 but got delayed due to various life events) and received it within a week of the in-person appointment at the Visa office in early July.
  • Received my second dose of Pfizer on June 28th!
  • Spent all spring and summer downsizing my life – selling and donating belongings, selling as much art as possible, scanning and tossing paperwork – in anticipation of having my entire life fit in three large suitcases (plus carry-on luggage.)
  • Sold most of my thesis paintings – kept three for myself which are in my room. My favourite ones, that I had been planning to keep, sold right away – which is because they were the BEST ones!
  • Booked and attended appointments in anticipation of leaving the country at the end of August. My flight was booked for August 26th. There were lots of medical and other things to deal with before leaving!
  • I left Canada from Pearson International in Toronto on August 26th and arrived at Heathrow, London around 10:30 a.m. on August 27th. I then quarantined for 10 days and two negative PCR tests. I’m living with friends in Plymouth, England.
  • We went on a week holiday to Yorkshire in September staying in a gorgeous cottage – we took daytrips to York, Bridlington, Harrowgate, Harewood House, the Wensleydale Cheese Factory, Bolton Castle, etc. Traffic was manic on the motorways – should only have taken 5 hours to drive there, but it took 11!
  • Got on with a surgery in Plymouth (that’s a doctor’s office if you aren’t English!) and got referred to Ophthalmology for my eyes. I am VERY impressed with the NHS. I’ve had two treatments in each eye to-date, with another already scheduled have been waitlisted for surgery prior to them switching treatments…
  • I’m working with Anne in her glass studio and having a load of fun creating all the fused glass Christmas ornaments for the shop and how starting on spring themed items. Current project is a clock with a rose trellis on it.
  • Got my booster shot on December 14th – this one was Moderna.
  • And I’ve just received my unconditional offer letter from IT Sligo for the one-year add-on for a BA (Hons) in Fine Art for September 2022 start. I’m not sure about what my final decision is going to be about going for the degree… the pandemic has messed up my timeline and caused a major rethink of my goals in that regard. I’ve got until March to let them know.
“Birds on a Wire” one of the works in the April 2021 show at the Stations Art Gallery.
Final finished thesis project “Anthropocene of the Crime” May/June 2021
Harewood House in Yorkshire – they filmed part of the Downton Abbey movie here. It is stunning! September 2021.
Fused glass Christmas ornaments December 2021 (this was early on, more and different items were made as the season progressed.)
Current fused glass project – 10″ diameter clock face which is a rose trellis. December 2021.
The Great Barn at Buckland Abbey. Anne has her glass studio in The Ox Yard there (which is just behind me as I took this photo!) This is a National Trust property in Dartmoor National Park – used to be Sir Francis Drake’s place. October 2021.

All the best to everyone for 2022. Fingers crossed we can get out of this cycle of pandemic variants and get back to free travel and movement!

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Pretty sure THIS is my last post from Canada!

I know I said three posts ago that that one was probably my last post from Canada… but it wasn’t. I’m organized, lists made, appointments booked, etc. so to “relax” I write posts.

But I only have three more sleeps until I leave now! So I am pretty sure that this will, for real, be my last post until I am in the UK.

My room is VERY bare – I’ve sold all my personal furnishings and taken at least a dozen loads to donate to the thrift store (by bus) over the last two months. My room is furnished so I am not sitting on the floor!

Tomorrow I go for my PCR test (required 72 hours prior to arrival in the UK). That is making me nervous. I’ve been taking strict precautions, but if I happen to test positive what the hell am I going to do? My lease is up this Friday, they have already rented it for September. Where would I go to wait out a quarantine and further tests? The cost of staying in a hotel for two weeks… NOT in my budget, but that would be the only alternative. Changing the flight is not an issue thankfully and my entry visa is good for 90 days, but…. that is stressing me.

Other than that, I pretty confident everything is under control. I’ve got my spreadsheet of things to do – I’m holding off until I get my test results to do the official address changes. As most, if not all, can be done online, that isn’t a big problem. Most things I get online so getting snail mail isn’t really an issue, and I’ve made arrangements with a roommate in case something does show up in the short term.

I changed my cellphone plan… I’m rather annoyed as it is LESS than my current plan! But, if the phone activates there is a daily roaming fee (only IF the phone pings a tower) that is in effect for 24 hours. So I’ll just plan to do anything I need to use that phone for all on the same day, or connect to the wifi.

I’m packed. But went through my luggage, again, today and probably will again on Wednesday. I am worried about weight – need to make sure I am not over. I don’t know how accurate the scale is, so need to allow a little wiggle room. I weighed everything again, and it all looks good – as long as the scale is right! Also, my carry-on is 25lbs and I haven’t got everything in it! My back pack is over 12lbs. So… all my worldly goods weigh under 200lbs. Does that seem sad to you?

The Big Three… two under 50lbs (barely!) and one over.
The blue things will be in the black things when I’ve finished putting things in them.

For me culling and sorting is a process. I start off with a list of things I really want to keep, then as I start actually sorting to pack, I remove things. I am now at the stage where everything DOES fit in my luggage HOWEVER, the weight… that is a real concern. So now I am taking out things that I do not need, I would like to keep, BUT they are not necessary and don’t actually serve a purpose, so they will go to the thrift store.

How I look at it now is that if my goal is to travel for most of the rest of my life, what is the point of physical objects that are purely decorative or sentimental? Particularly if they don’t mean anything to anyone but me? Why carry them around? Little things that can fit in a pocket are one thing, small furnishings or heavy art objects are really not required. I will take photos or scan things that can be, and that is good for the memory trips if I want to reminisce.

My last run to the thrift store will be Wednesday morning. At that point this room will be like a jail cell, with luggage. Then cleaning and sorting out things for the dumpster. Up very early Thursday to strip the bed, get rid of the mattress pad, eat breakfast, toss left over food, take out all my trash, sort the cleaning supplies, etc. My ride is picking me up at 9:30 am.

It feels like this is happening so fast… but I’ve been planning it since 2015 really, with hiccups along the way, but… FINALLY!!!

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This could be my final post… from Canada

My visa was approved for the UK and my flight is booked for August 22nd, so if I keep to my first of the month posting schedule my September post will be made from Plymouth, England!

If you squint you can see my new home in this photo of Devonport, and the Naval Base which is right behind it.

I might post again sooner… I’ve got a lot of time on my hands for the next three weeks. I’ll be reviewing my moving checklists and doing up new ones: mainly address changes, but also figuring out the phone thing (need to find out what the costs will be to keep the Canadian number active), and cancelling things here. Then a list for when I get there – top three are pick-up my identity/work card, open a bank account and get a local phone.

I donated most (95+%) of my art and craft supplies which cleared out my room substantially. I’ve taken four trolley loads to the thrift store to donate, sold some items to a pawn shop (gold jewelry – I didn’t know you could get that much for random bits of gold,) and sold some things privately. I don’t want to keep packing things around that I never wear so I cleared out things I never use, or won’t use again from drawers and bins. And am trying to sell some items online (which is the most frustrating and aggravating thing I have EVER done!)

I’ve stopped getting rid of or posting anything else for now as I still need to be comfortable in my room for the next three weeks. So my bookcase, shelf, table and chair, lamps, etc. will stay put until the last week when I start to pack for real. I have to hold onto my printer to the last possible minute – I have to print off my 72 hour PCR test results to carry with me, and my test is Friday morning, my flight is Sunday night… they guarantee them within 48 hours. So not sure what I’ll be doing about the printer.

Now I’m just puttering, sorting out things for packing purposes – wrapping fragile things up, sorting the art supplies I am keeping which I reduced to two scrapbook cases (not including paper), going through documents I still need to keep accessible for dealing with in the move.

I had thought I would have to mail/ship some stuff over due to lack of room in my luggage, but I think I am going to have more than enough room. I’ll know more definitely once I start practise packing. This is going to be a lot different than packing for a trip! I always would pack, then spend two weeks removing things because I knew I wouldn’t need them or get around to wearing everything I packed to start with. This time, I have to pack everything!

I will probably end up trying to sell, or donate, one of my carry-on suitcases as I have two that size. If I need to check a third bag, one of them will be used for that. But if I don’t need to have a third checked bag, then I won’t need it at all. I have two “free” checked bags (my two brand new huge suitcases – which were on sale for $109, original price was $450 each which I would never have paid, my god,) the third checked bag I would have to pay $225, so ideally, I hope I won’t need it. I will be working towards NOT needing it.

My new suitcases – biggest I’ve ever had.

Had my last eye treatment with my doctor here a week ago. Little bit of excitement this time with the injection – I could NOT see out of that eye immediately after the shot. Total grey-out like solid frosted glass. She immediately “fixed it” – by ANOTHER needle in the eye to remove some fluid. Instant vision return. Wow. I’ve completely lost count of the number of injections I’ve had over the last five years and this has never happened before, but it was immediately resolved. I see her again in a couple weeks for a consult before I leave, to get a letter and forms from her to give my new specialist in the UK. She checked to see if there was time for me to have another treatment before I left but there isn’t, so I hope I can get on with a new ophthalmologist ASAP once I get over there.

I’m concerned with the increasing number of cases in England, and the fact that they opened up even with numbers climbing. But… I really can’t change or delay my plans at this point. My lease is up here August 27, I’m off my school health insurance as of August 31, the move has been planned/delayed since 2015 (first delay was because I was diagnosed T2 diabetic and my eyes needed treatment – couldn’t leave my 100% medical coverage at that point), then I was attending school here. I need to get back on my timeline for getting on with my life. I plan a lot of travelling but that’s going to have to wait until the virus retreats or is being controlled. And getting a degree done has been deferred as I want the full in-person learning experience, no more of this online stuff.

I’ve no intention of giving up masks or hand-sanitizer for quite some time! I’ve ordered more of the antimicrobial TrioMed surgical masks. They started selling boxes of 50 to the public so I ordered a couple. Shipping to the UK would be ridiculous, if they even would ship, so I stocked up. They don’t weigh anything to pack with me, and have a five year shelf life – the pandemic will have retreated by then… right?

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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.


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!


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.


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!


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.


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.


The sunset was beautiful.


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!


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.


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.


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.


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.)


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.



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.


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


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!


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.


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.


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South African Adventure – Part 6

This is the sixth 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.

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.


Back in Saint Lucia we had a chance to go on a Nature Walk in the Estuary one afternoon.


Love the warning sign – sharks, crocodiles and hippopotamus. That’s pretty impressive.

Our guide was a local expert who told us about the flora, fauna and how the estuary ended up being cut off from the sea – not naturally!

There had been an oil spill offshore and in order to protect the estuary the government brought in heavy equipment and filled in the openings. It was supposed to be temporary, but they didn’t have the funding to pay for removing the sand, so… it’s been left closed off from the ocean. There were major changes to the fish and wildlife once they were shut off, but nature adapts.

There was a boardwalk that went all the way out to the beach on the Indian Ocean. It was quite high in places and no handrails! I was walking really carefully as I have been known to trip over air and I did not want to end up in the murky mangrove swamp. It was a fair hike.

Along the way we had a good view of the area.


That ridge in the distance is where the lookout was that I went to on the Sunset Safari I posted about in an earlier post.

Once we got to the sand of the beach we started to see signs of wildlife. The guide told us these were Hyena tracks!


It is a quite spectacular beach – so big and deserted. Although, it does suffer from the typical mess of human plastics and waste. Why do people leave the liquor bottles on beaches?

I collected some shells, after asking our guide if it was permitted. I’ve been to lots of parks where you aren’t allowed to pick or remove things. He assured me it was okay.


On the way back we passed a lot of monkeys. They were all over actually, but I hadn’t bothered with a photo until then. We were warned the night we arrived to hang onto our things and not leave anything outside as they would steal them!


The hostel we were staying was called BiBS Backpackers. It has self-contained units, cabins, hostel style rooms full of bunks and a campground.  It backed right onto the estuary and had a really high fence to keep the hippos out!


The night we arrived we were all assigned to accommodation. Initially I was put in with three girls in one of the hostel rooms… just a room with two sets of bunk beds and bins under the bottom ones that you could padlock to hold your stuff. The “facilities” were down the hall, around a corner and out into a courtyard… Through the door to the right was a couple of toilet stalls and a couple showers. No hooks, no shelves to put your things on. And the ground of the courtyard was sand.


In the morning I was chatting with who I thought was the Cook as she’d met with us with special dietary needs the night before so I just assumed – turns out she was the owner -and the accommodations was one of the topics. I mentioned that I go to bed very early and also wake up super early so it was awkward trying to get up without waking the others. She told me to go see here when we got back from our project later.

When we got back she gave me a key and led me around to the other side of the compound to a private unit, with a bathroom and a shower! I have to say that age has its privileges.

Mine is behind the fence to the left side. There was a porch and yard, bbq, outside kitchen set-up, inside there was a counter, fridge, bed, and the bathroom. Pretty comfy, and quiet. I slept really well there. Oh, and it had fans!!

I was very well treated and extremely grateful for it. She took great care to provide food that all the special diets could eat – Vegetarian, Vegan, Pescatarian, me who is LCHF, etc. And the food was good! One night she made me (and just me!) mutton curry! Was delicious. And my packed lunches were always great – fresh vegetables and protein.

The dining hall and kitchen were a building in the rough centre of the compound, down a sort of corridor of other building walls.


The dining hall was open air so there were often flying things!

This is Millie… she was a couple months old and had the run of the place. Appeared to be part Corgi and absolutely adorable. Everyone was her friend.


A couple of times I went down the street (with others!) and got a very excellent latte at a coffee shop. The whole group ate out at one of the restaurants one night… I actually am trying to remember what I had without consulting my journal… but, obviously it wasn’t memorable. I do remember it was missing items that were listed in the menu. They also had a party at a bar another night – I skipped that. I also skipped the beach day/bbq trip. I much preferred puttering and resting to either watching other people drink (I don’t drink) or spending a day on a beach.

There were a few interesting buildings along the strip where we were – being a tourist area.


This one also had a hippo on the porch, but he’s not really visible – right at the end of the railing on the left.

We spent ten days in Saint Lucia in total, then packed up and headed to Swaziland/eSwatini for the next adventure!



Next few posts will cover Swaziland/eSwatini and Mozambique. Totally amazing and unique experiences for me.



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South African Adventure – Part 5

This is the fifth 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.

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.


Our big safari was to Hluhluwe Imfolozi Park. This park is known to have the Big Five as residents, but no guarantees of seeing any of them. The Big Five are Elephants, Rhinoceros, Water Buffalo, Lions and Leopards.

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We left very early… Everyone up at 4 a.m. and we hit the road by 5 a.m. It was pitch black. The sun was just barely rising when we arrived at the park. We ate when we got there from packed breakfasts that had been brought along.

We divided up amongst the Land Cruisers and headed out. The best time to catch the animals is when they are moving to graze in the mornings.

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The one I got in actually left first but we were soon overtaken. The drivers kept in touch with each other so if one spotted animals they let the others know.

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It was really chilly, and there were blankets in the truck for us to use. Heavy ones. The sun wasn’t up over the ridge yet so the light was muted.

The first thing our driver stopped to show us was a very large Rhino down in the valley below wading out of a water hole. I zoomed in as much as my camera allowed, and then zoomed again when I edited the photo! If this was the only horned Rhino I saw this photo was going to have to do!

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It was very far away.

Then we continued on. The driver stopped again and said there were elephants down by the river… I took his word for it and took a photo. I actually couldn’t see the elephant until I looked at the photo on the computer. I really love the photo. But… I was getting worried that we wouldn’t see anything up close. Can you see the elephant?

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We were driving around for hours. It was a large park, mostly scrub brush with a few open grassy areas.

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The driver stopped again to point off in the distance and told us there were Giraffes. I could not see them. At all. But, again I took a photo at maximum zoom aimed where he said they were.

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Once I got a look at the photo on a computer – couldn’t make them out on the camera display – I saw them. Then zoomed and cropped. Yep, Giraffe. But… I wanted close up animals!

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We kept driving… and… FINALLY!


The black across the top is the roof of the truck. He or she stopped to look at us for quite a few  minutes before continuing to meander along into the brush.

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That’s more like it!

Then we started to see more animals.

Warthogs. So ugly they’re cute.

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Many types of antelope – unfortunately mostly we saw their behinds as they disappeared into the brush. But I did manage to catch these shots.

Cape Buffalo, which are different than Water Buffalo. Smaller and more docile. This guy was just plodding along down the road and wouldn’t get out of the way.

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Saw several of them along the way.

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Zebra – these two blocked us for a bit and took their time wandering around the truck from front to back.


Then we stopped for lunch – BiBs (the hostel we were staying at) met us at a picnic ground with a BBQ lunch. Was a really nice spot with lots of warning signs!

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After lunch we continued the safari.


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An entire herd of Elephants of all sizes and ages crossed in front of us!! Soon the other vehicles arrived. There were around 30 animals. They crossed the road, and then the drivers whipped around to tear up the road to where they were expecting the herd to be at next.

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I shot a bunch of video clips with audio but can’t post them on this blog unfortunately.

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Eventually, after crossing in front of us about four times, they all ended up down in the valley below us with other animals.


Now for my really sad story.

As we were tearing around to meet up with the herd on their next crossing, we passed an old Bull Elephant who was in the brush by himself. On one of our repositioning drives he decided to step out in front of us. HUGE old bull. And he was pissed off. Our driver stopped and revved the engine to try to scare him off. He wasn’t having it and started trumpeting. I pushed the record button on my camera and was filming the entire encounter… I thought. He threatened and came at us, it was thrilling and terrifying. As I thought I was recording I did not get any still shots… Sigh. When he finally gave up and walked away I went to look at the recording and the damn button hadn’t locked and I had NOTHING recorded!!! Whaaaaaaa…. One of the other gals shared hers on our Facebook group so I have access to it.

We did not see any cats at all, but they are notoriously hard to spot.

All-in-all it ended up being a pretty exciting day!

More to come –  Walking Nature Tour in Saint Lucia, then onto Swaziland/eSwatini to stay at a no predator game reserve, then Mozambique for a week!


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South African Adventure – Part 4

This is the fourth 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.

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.


One of the included activities was a boat cruise in the Saint Lucia Estuary – it was called the Hippo Cruise! There are hippos all around. They come up into town at night to graze and are very dangerous.


The cruise started late afternoon and lasted until sunset. There were several boats out doing cruises – I think there were a few different docks/companies on the estuary. It was like going whale watching – one boat would spot a group and then they all “chased” them to the spot.


The boat has the blue canopy on it – I sat on the top level, basically the roof of the canopy. At first we didn’t see any wildlife.


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They hang out in family groups and you have to watch out for the boss hippos! They are very territorial and defensive.

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The boat zig-zagged back and forth and we saw lots of different groups.

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In the distance at one point we spotted a group starting to leave the water but another boat roared by and the hippos all rushed back into the water. By the time we got over there, they were all back in. And there were three very large crocodiles sunning themselves on the bank.

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One guy had his mouth open…

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The sun started setting as we were heading back to the dock.

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At the Crocodile Centre they had a Hippo skeleton on display.

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We also had a visit on another day to meet the iSangoma – a traditional Zulu healer.  She would do readings for us, for a fee, and there were really strict rules about how to sit (depending if you were married or not, etc.) how to address her, whether you could talk to her or not, etc. I didn’t bother with a reading but a lot in the group did, but most didn’t share what they were told.

When someone is drawn to study to become a healer they basically give up their life – closest comparison I can make is entering a nunnery in the old days. They become a conduit for the ancestors and that is their entire life from then on.

The woman in the red blanket with the drum is the iSangoma and the other lady is her apprentice.

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We had Zulu lessons while we were in Saint Lucia but I found it difficult to remember. The only phrase/word I remember is “Ya-bo” which is basically an acknowledgement phrase. Sort of like “okay” – you say it to indicate you heard what the other person said to you, but won’t be responding in any other way. It got used a lot!

This photo is just one of my “arty” angles looking up through the tree we were sitting under. I liked the light effect coming through the leaves and the patterns they made.

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I’m going continue to keep my posts to a manageable length. My next one will be about my first game reserve safari… and… Elephants, Giraffe, more Rhinos and lots of antelope, amongst other creatures!

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