Friday, December 31, 2010

Kooks on the way to Silvermine Dam

riverine vegetation along Silvermine Dam stream

loved how this old tree was growing out over the water--enchanting

On Wednesday this week, 12/29, I hiked over a ridge and into a different river valley. I’m always amazed that I can leave my sunny little area of Silvermine River Valley, begin climbing a mountain range, and find myself shrouded in mist, high winds, and COLD. And this is what happened when I hiked yesterday. Often, when I come back down from the mountain ridge and into a valley, the sun and all its glory is beaming upon me—but not then. I hiked to the Silvermine Dam because I read that it was a lovely area of the park holding a nice, beautiful, calm body of water. (They call “lakes” here in South Africa “dams,” but probably because most lakes here are caused by man-made dams.) And I’m sure it is a lovely sight to see, but I didn’t see it, because it was shrouded in mist. But it was an interesting walk anyway, even if it did feel like Mount Everest on the ridge top.

I guess there are kooks all over the world, but nonetheless, I’m always startled when I meet one. On my way out of my area of the park, I met one. He was gathering, so it seemed, samples of the roadside vegetation (but definitely PARK vegetation) and I thought to myself: Boy, if I were on ranger patrol, you would get it! As we passed, we made eye contact and he became all the more excited asking if I were an American. (I must have a florescent-pink neon-sign bolted to my forehead that flashes “American! American!” because no matter where I am in South Africa, everyone seems to know I’m American.) When I nodded in affirmative that yes, I was indeed American, he practically twirled in delight and fell into a monologue about how he was just thinking about that wonderful Dick Cheney and how Dick Cheney bravely watched as the planes crashed into our towers. By this time, we had passed, I had turned around and was walking backwards, as to hold eye contact and not be rude so that we could continue “our” conversation. (He was the only one conversing, but I had a fake, clown-like smile pasted to my face and was nodding slightly in the affirmative.) However, I’m wary and on alert now, as I am not now, nor was I ever, a fan of Dick Cheney. The kook continued to beam about how happy he was that the Americans were finally ousting that Muslim president, Obama. I thought to myself, “Ok, that’s it. He’s a nutcase--no politeness required.” I turned around to leave him and walked myself right into a steel fence post which caused bleeding on my hand and a butternut squash-sized bruise on the top of my thigh. Big sigh. So much for trying to be nice to nutcases.

I would soon meet another kooky character, but kooky character in a kind, giggly, other-worldly way, rather than in a nut bar, insane kind of way. When I reached my destination of Silvermine Dam (or in other words, the lake), I began the lovely walk about, that I could not see (because the water and its banks were shrouded in mist), and I passed a lovely young woman on the path smiling largely. After she passed, I heard a couple of faint “ahems” and I turned to her. She whispered gleefully, that just ahead was a wonderful spot for skinny dipping--if I were into that kind of thing. Now, I’m not saying I’m not into skinny dipping, but I was wearing my coat, my hat pulled tightly about my head, earmuffs, and GLOVES. I wonder what it was about me that she would think I might enjoy a skinny dip? I was freezing cold, wet, and grumpy!! Even her delight could not cheer me.

It was an interesting day overall and I was grateful to have overcome my Capetonian version of Mt. Everest (twice!--in my coming and in my going) and to have managed my kooky encounters!


a pinker variety of watsonia

water lilies

Monday, December 27, 2010

Ah, at last! Relaxing into the park!

I’m a bit beyond my half-way mark for my stay in the park, but I must admit, it’s been much more of a whirlwind than I prefer. Although I very much appreciate everyone’s willingness to take me here and there, and I’m grateful to have seen so much of the park (or at least, the Silvermine Nature Reserve part of the park), I’ve felt like I’m running here and there, rushed, every single day—my days are going by in a blur! I go, go, go all day, every day, come home and fall into bed, only to rise again the next day to go, go, go again. I’m grateful to say that things have calmed down a bit for me, and I’m settling in and enjoying the park—at my own pace.

Everyone “in charge” seems to be out now for holiday and even Raquel has left, so I’m finding myself happily alone. While I can still go out on ranger patrol if I’d like, the park is also very happy for me to wander around the park to discover and learn what I can.

In my hike today, the Monday after Christmas, I went about poking and plodding around at a very leisurely place. I felt less frantic about taking pictures (I took over 300 yesterday--the Sunday after Christmas and only took 80 today) and felt better about just sitting in spots and taking in the quiet nature of the park. The park is basically divided into three parts: the Table Mountain part which is the furthest north on the peninsula; the Silvermine Nature Preserve, which is in the middle of the peninsula (and where I stay); and the Cape Point Nature Reserve, which is the farthest south. Both the Table Mountain sections and the Cape Point sections are the busier sections of the park, but I’m glad to be at the quieter section.

Today I walked to the Higher Steenberg Peak of the Silvermine valley. I wasn’t up for a mountain climb, as it was dark and misty at the top, but I enjoyed going up far enough to enjoy a view of Table Mountain: the mountain was covered with its “table cloth” of cloud cover and looked majestic and beautiful. Since I live in the Silvermine river valley, I usually can’t see Table Mountain, so it was a treat—and a surprise—to find the mountain from this area of the park today.

I found a couple of nice lunch spots, or spots lovely enough for sitting and dreaming. In the photo of me, I’m actually on a cliff overlooking a valley (and a very sharp and deep drop of the cliff’s edge!) and that is Noordhoek Beach in the very far distance. From my perch I had lunch and spied about from my binoculars. I scanned the beach and wondered what the big brown glob was sitting in the sand and then I remembered the shipwreck of the Kakapo: we passed it while on a previous ranger patrol of Noordhoek Beach. (I took a picture of Raquel and Byron standing beside the boilers of the shipwreck: see blog on “Ranger Patrol”.) Sure enough, I could make out the boilers of the shipwreck in my binoculars. I’ve read that the ship drove itself to shore in 1900, in a somewhat embarrassing way. Perhaps it was foggy! I often wonder why shipwrecks aren’t “cleaned up,” but I guess they serve as historical markers. Anyway, it was somewhat amazing to me that I could see the shipwreck on the beach from my mountain perch so far away.

Later, I found a lovely, lovely secluded pond. It seemed like perfect: it had water lilies, in bloom and in pads, and all types of other pond plants. Wherever there is water there is life, so the pond was teeming with frogs and birds and butterflies.

I also came upon a type of rock formation that I’m supposed to be taking pictures of! That is Table Mountain, covered with its “table cloth,” in the background.

Of all fynbos plants, the many proteas and restios, I think my favorite is the Watsonia. I believe they are in the same plant family as gladiolas, and I delight in seeing these amazing blooms just popping up all over the mountains and along the river valleys. Once, I made a pitiful attempt to plant some gladiolas back home in Louisville, but remember the first spring breeze knocking them over. These watsonias, however, are unbothered by the strong gusts of the south-easterly winds of Cape Town summers. The wind here is amazingly strong. I’m not good at estimating wind speed, but it’s strong enough to knock my chakalaka, which has the consistency of chili, out of my spoon and into my lap if I try to eat outside. The beautiful blooms of the watsonia are graceful and supple in the demanding winds and remain tall and proud in refusal of bending. I just love them and they will always represent the fynbos for me!

I did find some animal friends today: two of the turtle tribe and a beautiful orange-breasted sunbird. I was excited to see a sunbird because I can often hear them, but rarely see them. S/he hovered about probing his long, curved beak into the many-blossomed watsonias. It was lovely.  (Alas, I've tried to upload an image of an orange-breasted sunbird to no avail.  If you'd like to see one, google it.)

If you’d like to see still more flowers of the fynbos that I came upon my walk today, see my public Facebook page. You need not be a member of Facebook to view these photos: 


Sunday, December 26, 2010

Day after Christmas: Hiking Echo Valley

I dodged ranger patrol duty because I was told the Sunday after Christmas the beaches were expected to be packed and that there would be a lot of law enforcement going on. Yuck! I opted to do some more hiking in the Silvermine area, alone, so that I could plod along at my leisure and take pictures and better study fynbos vegetation.

A ranger has fussed at me for only taking photos of blooming plants. What about rock formations? What about caves? What about ocean views? What about ANYTHING else? Well, buddy, I’m in the Cape Floral Kingdom for perhaps the only time of my life, this is the smallest yet most diverse plant kingdom on the planet, I’m only here a few weeks, and am only seeing a small portion of this diversity, and, well, hey, I’m interested in regional plants. I’m not interested in rock formations and I’m not interested in caves. Birds are elusive, (large) animals are rare, and hey, if you’ve seen one ocean view, really, haven’t you seen them all?

And then I thought about you guys; because after all, if you’ve seen one flower, you’ve seen them all, right? So I apologize for boring you with all of my exciting Cape Floral Kingdom. It could be worse: I could be interested in lichen!

So I loved my day after Christmas, hiking all alone in the mountain fynbos, hiking and taking my time. I found my way to the second of the two patches of indigenous forest in the Silvermine Valley region, along Echo Valley to the Kroon se Bos forest, otherwise known as Amazon Forest. (However, I don’t know why it is also known as the Amazon Forest).

I’m passing along some information about the forests from Mountains in the Sea: Table Mountain to Cape Point: An Interpretive Guide to the Table Mountain National Park, 2004:

Afromontane Forest, as its name implies, describes the forest associated with the mountains of Africa, and is found in patches throughout the continent. Generally, Afromontane forest is found below an altitude of 1,000 m and, in the south, it can grow close to sea level (as on the peninsula). Usually found in canyons or on the cool, south and south-east facing slopes, this forest requires at least 800 mm of rain annually, supplemented by mist. It is of medium to tall height (15m to 30m), evergreen, and grows on reasonably nutrient-rich soils that have good water retention. It is dominated by a relatively small number of trees like the Rooiels (Cunonia capensis), Assegaai Tree (Curtisia dentata), Bastard Saffronwood (Cassine piragua), Ironwood (Olea capensis), Hard Pear (Olinia ventosa), Cape Beech (Rapanea melanophloeos), Cape Holly (Ilex mitis), Sinkwood (Ocotea bullata) and the Real Yellowwood (Podocarpus latifolius). Some 10 to 20 species are common to all Afromontane forest which does not boast high species diversity. This forest does not support large numbers of vertebrate animals, and the fruits of its trees are dispersed mainly by birds. Because its foliage has a low flammability, most fires are only able to singe the forest margins, leaving the heart intact. This is why there is usually a relatively abrupt transition between the forest and adjoining fire-prone fynbos.

There is no record of the size of the indigenous forests on the Cape Peninsula before the arrival of the European colonists. Presumably they were more extensive—particularly in a place like Hout Bay, which was named for its trees—but the forest habitat would always have been restricted by the nature of the Peninsula’s geography, and the mountainside would not have been covered in a continuous forest belt, as is often presumed. The indigenous Khoekhoen and San probably had only a minimal impact on the forests, through their use of fire—affecting mainly the forest margins—and the harvesting of saplings for poles and assegaais (spears). But the arrival of the settlers changed all that. The new colonial society was totally wood-dependent; and it has been estimated that within just 50 to 70 years of the arrival of the first Europeans, local indigenous forest had been decimated. . . . In the Park, 33 species of forest tree have been recorded. Because of the dense shade under the forest canopy, only a few other plants are able to grow. The most common species are ferns. In this dark shade, rocks and boulders are soon covered with the lesser plants: mosses and liverworts. The cool, moist, nutrient-rich forest floor abounds with life, although not many of the large and spectacular variety. Mites, insect larvae, springtails, centipedes, millipedes, dung beetles, earthworms, mountain cockroaches, stick insects, woodlice, slugs, harvestmen, sowbugs and amphipods are among the invertebrates which occur here—many of them endemic—and which all play a very important role in forest ecology (58-59).

I was a happy girl sitting inside an old-growth forest that hasn’t been bothered by humans. Walking into the forests out of the bright mountain sun felt like entering a cool, moist cave: the air felt cold, the air smelled of earth, and the forest was quiet and still. The forest FELT old! It reminded me of our gorgeous forests back home—and made this girl happy!

I’m posting photos of the forest here on the blog, but if you’d like to see even more photos of the mountain fynbos, of the plants I passed while hiking to the Kroon se Bos forest, then see my public Facebook page. You need not be a member of Facebook to see these photos:


Ranger patrol with Table Mountain National Park

Raquel and Jaclyn--ranger extraordinare!

I spent most of last week going out with the Ranger Patrol of Table Mountain National Park. I like to go out with the rangers because I get to do a bit of everything: hiking in the mountains, riding around in the ranger’s truck and seeing much more of the park, and patrolling the beach! Did I mention that I go along when they patrol the BEACH?

When I’ve worked for parks before, I’ve mostly worked with the visitors to provide information about park, staff the Visitor’s Center, or lead hikes. I’ve never actually seen the “law enforcement” side of park ranging.

But I’m seeing it now!

The rangers often patrol the beach to check permits for people fishing. Rock lobster is a favorite, and I was confused when the rangers referred to the lobsters as “crayfish” here. (Crayfish means something very different in KY!) Capetownians can purchase a rock lobster permit and take four lobsters per day. The rangers go about the various beaches and monitor fishermen’s permits and checking the size of their catch. I feel nervous being with the while they check permits, because the atmosphere is always tense. It feels like “good guys” versus “bad guys” to me, and, well, I dislike confrontations of any kind, so I’m feeling grateful that I don’t have a job in law enforcement. These guys have perks though: it sure is nice to be hiking in the mountains or walking along the beach.

It’s nice to walk along the beach until the rangers have to run as fast as they can across the beach to catch the “bad guys” poaching! This is exactly what we (Raquel and I) observed one day. We were along for the patrol when our ranger crew spotted to men carrying very large green plastic garbage bags thrown over their shoulder and full of something big and bulky. One ranger noted as she watched them through her binoculars: There are two men acting suspiciously on the beach. Sure enough, as the rangers headed toward them, the poachers took off running to disappear into the dunes. Since Table Mountain is a national park, there are strict rules about what can and what cannot leave the park. Poachers come in to harvest anything they can, but abalone is a valuable commodity and poachers can make good money harvesting it and selling it. This time, the thieves had come for sour figs---and had two large garbage bags full! (Sour fig is the fruit of the ice plant and their used for making jam and the thieves can sell them in the market.) Unfortunately, the thieves got away but not after a valiant chase that made me feel I had a front seat to “The Mod Squad.”

Our patrol that covers Noordhoek Beach, one of the more popular beaches on the Atlantic side (the cold side) of the peninsula. Other than the crook chase, we watched riders of horses splashing in the surf, gazed upon the remains of a shipwreck, appreciated lovely dunes, and admired lovely, cloud-capped mountains. Unfortunately, we also spotted several dead young seals that had been shot and their dead bodies had washed to shore. We’re told that the young seals make their ways into a fisherman’s net and the angry fishermen shoot the seals, seals they believe are stealing their catch. It was sad to see them.

We also get to walk the foothills in the mountains with the rangers. While I like walking with the rangers, I would like it more if I could take my time and study and take pictures of the plants. Alas, they are working and I’m only a tourist so I have to practically jog to keep up with them and feel very sad watching the lovely plants glide by as I pass quickly by. Oh well; these guys are working after all and I DO get to come along for the ride!

It is fun to go on ranger patrol and I get to see things in the park that I wouldn’t otherwise see. Here’s hoping I don’t witness a shark attack—before, during, or after!


beautiful dunes on Noordhoek Beach

Raquel and Byron at remains of shipwreck

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Christmas Day on the beach--Fish Hoek on False Bay

I spent Christmas Day on the small beach in Fish Hoek on False Bay. Raquel, the other park volunteer from Spain, is heading out to do a bit of traveling and needed to catch a train in the late afternoon, so I accompanied her to Fish Hoek and we spent the day on the beach.

It was a lovely, lovely day and many people were enjoying the sun and beach. The sea water was a deep blue but it turned turquoise closer to the shore. The wind was heavy and the waves were crashing. It was a great day for people watching! Only one woman was in the Christmas spirit however: she had on a Christmas-red blouse, a white skirt, and a Santa Claus hat! She made me smile each time she passed.

Other than the girl in the Christmas attire, it didn’t feel very Christmas-like. I hadn’t realized how much of a “Walton’s Christmas” girl I am!

My second Christmas in Africa—on the beach! But my heart, as ever, was in the Ohio River Valley! Love you!


Hiking Christmas Eve in the Kalk Bay area

indiginous old growth forest in the Cape

forest floor

mountain fynbos at its best!

Raquel and I spent our Christmas Eve hiking another section of Silvermine Valley: we hiked up Kalk Bay Mountain in search of an ancient, indigenous Cape forest along Spes Bona Valley. What a Christmas gift!

Raquel is a doll. She and I aren’t the best suited partners for hiking together: she likes to go up (the mountain) and go up quickly; I, on the other hand, don’t like to go up and certainly I don’t like to go up quickly! As I’ve gotten older, I’ve left behind the “power hiking” and tend to rather plod along and take pictures of anything interesting I see. And, well, since I’m in the Floral Cape Kingdom, I tend to see quite a lot of what is interesting to me and find myself wanting to stop very often. However, I tried to squelch my impulse to photograph something at every pace and Raquel was very patient with me. We had a wonderful time and I enjoyed protea bushes/trees instead of Christmas trees! And the protea come with their very own ornaments! Although I missed my family dreadfully, it was a nice trade—tree wise, at least.

The forest was amazing and we climbed high to see it. At one point, we had a lovely view of Kalk Bay. Actually, we were high enough, and in the middle of the peninsula enough, that we could see both seas of the False Bay and the Atlantic Ocean. Lovely! But the forest was magnificent and full of old, gnarled, ancient trees: Real Yellowwood, Assegai, and Cape Beech, and all growing around (or through!) giant boulders. It was damp, lush and green like many of our old-growth forests back home. Walking underneath the canopy made me long for home.

I’m posting more photos of flowers of the mountain fynbos. These should be better since I’ve finally figured out how to use my macro lens! Eish!

The public link to my Facebook page (you need not be a Facebook member to see these photos) is:

Merry Christmas from Silvermine Valley!


more forest

wild geranium growing through, on top of, or around a boulder

Friday, December 24, 2010

More on my two-day hike up Table Mountain

I want to speak more about my two-day hike up to the Back Table (back side of Table Mountain). One thing I love about volunteering for national parks is I’m often treated to “the road less traveled” within the park and Table Mountain hasn’t let me down. Within days of my arrival, I was to hike with a group in a restricted area of the park and was my first introduction to fynbos vegetation.

I find myself lucky in so many ways. Table Mountain National Park is home to the Cape Floral Kingdom, one of the six floral kingdoms in the whole world. It is the smallest floral kingdom, covering 0.4% of the earth’s surface area, but is a global “hotspot” for plant diversity. Table Mountain NP is home to 2,285 plant species and over 70% of these plant species are found nowhere else on Earth. 1,400 fynbos species are rare or endangered—and I’m here to walk about and see these wonderful, amazing plants growing in the wild, to see them, feel them, touch them and smell them—it’s amazing! The fynbos plants (FANE boss) are the parents of all the amaryllis, hyacinth, geraniums, iris, and orchids we have in the US. (I’m told that the Dutch, who were the first Europeans to settle the Cape, hybridized many of the Cape flowers and that many of our favorite bulbs and flowering plants come from the Cape Peninsula.) Fynbos is an Afrikaans word that means “fine bush” and is named so because the fynbos is home to few timber trees (in fact, most of the timber in the fynbos is alien vegetation introduced by European settlers brought to SA for timber and fuel) and because of the prevalence of fine, small-leaved plants. The wind from the ocean blows remarkably fierce on the Cape Peninsula and the timer trees that are here are bent and gnarled by the wind.

This two-day hike up the mountain felt like it came the moment I stepped off the bus and had barely set my bags down, even though I’d been at Table Mountain NP for a couple of days. As with any hike like this, I worry about my level of fitness. I was a bit more worried about my level of fitness this time, or better said, lack of a level of fitness, because I’ve felt pretty sedentary in my village for a year in a half. I try to walk to the post office each day in my village, because it is about an hour of physical exertion each day, but it is nothing like climbing a mountain. And, Table Mountain is certainly not Mt. Everest, but it IS a mountain and for an overnight trip, of course we had backpacks. I made it, and am still alive to tell of it, and miraculously, not very sore!

The People’s Trail is an educational hike tailored for school groups and especially for children who come from disadvantaged communities. I got along very well with our group and was grateful to be included. Whenever I’m out and about with these kinds of adventures, I’m sure to meet a local character or legend, and I’ve already met mine here in Mark Hawthorne, our hike guide. He’s been working in the park for over 30 years and knows just about everything about, well, just about everything in Table Mountain National Park. And he loves to talk about anything and everything related to the park. I was pretty eager to ask questions but the kids in the group quickly grew bored with my endless questions and Mark’s willingness and ability to address each question at length. When I began to get the “dagger stares,” I quit asking. But I’d love to have some one-on-one time with Mark.

As with any new group I’m introduced to, many are “star struck” with the American, and it was the same with this group. I’m afraid the biggest impression I made was my willingness and ability to eat a raw green pepper, whole—in the same way you’d eat an apple. Crunch, munch, munch. Granted, this skill raises eyebrows even in America—and I don’t understand the fuss: we all eat raw green pepper in salads, as raw pepper rings, and in slices. What’s the big deal about eating a raw pepper whole? It’s lightweight, has little waste, needs no refrigeration, and remains fresh for a long time. In my opinion, a raw green pepper is the perfect hiking food! In any case, it was a huge curiosity that the American was eating a raw green pepper in this fashion, and all were asking if all Americans ate food in this way—sorry guys!

The other curiosity was that I went to bed early. If my work schedule allows it, I tend to follow the patterns of the sun, in that I sleep when it goes down and I rise when it comes up. In South Africa, it means I retire about 8:00 pm and rise about 5:00. (In truth, I probably read until 10:00 or so.) In this case, however, we hiked UP the mountain all day and the fire for the braii wasn’t started until 8:00 pm (in other words, the fire for dinner wasn’t started until MY BED TIME) so I knew these people wouldn’t be eating until 10:00 pm or so. And did I say we had been climbing a mountain all day?? I was TIRED. So I went to bed at sundown, which everyone thought was strange.

The other thing I learned and was quite surprised by, was the fact that I had seen more of South Africa than many of the people I met in Cape Town. Not only that, but I was surprised that the people didn’t know of the major town near where I live and no one has recognized the language I’ve learned (Setswana). It feels strange that this part of my African life is unfamiliar to citizens of South Africa. (Although I can say something similar about living in the US: I know little about Californians since I live so far away.)

The kids were great and I enjoyed being with them. I was more than a bit nervous at some portions of the hike that felt somewhat dangerous to me: we all, and the kids, were especially high and especially close to the drop of the cliff of the mountain when we were looking out over Lion’s Head and Robben Island.

Once on top of the mountain, we visited and learned about the original water reservoirs built for the city of Cape Town. The reservoirs still serve Cape Town, but only provide 1% of the city’s water. (Much larger reservoirs were built in the surrounding mountains that provide Cape Town with fresh water today.) It was a wonderful, wonderful introduction to the park for me and I was so grateful for Mark and the group for inviting me along.

The fynbos vegetation is truly amazing and I’m a lucky girl to see it!


This is what I wanted to do the whole two days.

tunnel for original pipeline to carry water to Cape Town

one of the five original resevoirs up in the mountains; False Bay in the background 

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Where I live in Cape Town

The Sunbird Resource Center with a huge cypress tree that I love.

View of the Silvermine River Valley from my home; that is the sea of the False Bay in the center background.


Table Mountain National Park is HUGE. The park surrounds the city of Cape Town and runs the length of the Cape Hope Peninsula from Table Mountain all the way down to Cape Point. I’m staying in an area of the park somewhat in the middle of the peninsula, in an area called Silvermine. My “house” sits in the Silvermine River Valley and in the distance I can see the lovely town of Fish Hoek and the Atlantic ocean of False Bay. It’s a lovely, lovely area full of fynbos vegetation, wetlands areas, and birds.

It’s taken me no time at all to fall in love here.

I live in the student’s accommodation near the Sunbird Resource Center. I’ll be working for the Sunbird Resource Center, but the “resource center” here is more in line of what we’d think of in the States as a lodge: there is not much in the way of resources (inside), but the building rather accommodates a kitchen, rooms of bunk beds, shower stalls to bathe many, and a kitchen. Groups book the center and come and stay and hike and learn about the area. I had hopes of perhaps leading as a guide for these groups, but groups usually come with their own “leader” or are arranged through the park. And granted three weeks isn’t enough time to bring me up to speed to lead hikes! But perhaps this visit will be for me a general introduction to the park and I can come again.

In the student’s building, I have a private room and shared kitchen/bath space. Right now, there are only two of us, Raquel and I, but I’m told a student will be joining us shortly. Students studying conservation, parks, and natural areas work for the park as interns and reside in the student housing. I have hot and cold water in the kitchen and bathroom; I have a working flush toilet; I have a refrigerator; and I have a gas stove: all feel luxurious in comparison to my village home. The house is powered by solar energy and our electricity is dependent upon sunny days. (The stove and fridge are powered by gas.) Indeed, for the first time in South Africa, I’m finding it challenging to keep my phone and computer charged.

General first impressions of Cape Town:

• The people are very lovely here and are very comfortable conversing with English. The three main languages spoken here are English, Afrikaans, and Xhosa.

• Cape Town is one of the loveliest cities in the world, and indeed, many of the “rich and famous” from all over the world own homes in Cape Town. (So visiting here is a remarkable contrast to my village home.)

• If I were to relocate my home, I could do so in Cape Town; I could relocate particularly to the lovely little town of Fish Hoek. There is no razor wire there and walking the streets there I’ve felt the safest I’ve felt in South Africa. Other than the architecture and exotic vegetation, I could be walking along Cherokee Road in Louisville.

• My friend Joe M would love it here: the gardenias and hibiscus grow as large as dogwood trees, the jade plant and lantana are used as hedges, and the rosemary grows as large as yew.  Another thing I enjoy very much is hiking about the Silvermine River Valley and seeing carpets and carpets of thick patches of ice plant.  We sold it at Bunton’s but it grows like crazy in the wild here with very thick and succulent stems and huge delicious flowers.  I like too, finding geraniums very much like the ones we plant for summer at home, but these too, thrive out in the wild and my heart fills with joy at seeing them.



Sleepy town of Fish Hoek, which I've come to love.

carpets of ice plant grow in the wild

Bullrush and wild geraniums growing by Silvermine River

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Hiking up the backside of Table Mountain: The People's Trail

Me, overlooking Lion's Head and Robben Island (you can barely make out Robben Island in the background)


I’ve certainly hit the ground running upon my arrival at Table Mountain National Park. In four days, I’ve walked a two-day hike on the People’s Trail (up the backside of Table Mountain); attended a lecture by a noted American in parks management, Robert Manning from the University of Vermont, on park capacity and protection of natural areas; and a meeting of a Cape Town group hoping to raise awareness of the Leopard Toad’s breeding habits. And I’ve yet to officially start my workweek! I’ll be a busy—and lucky—girl indeed!

Um, internet, phone, and well, electricity are sketchy where I am. Please don’t worry; I’ll touch base when I can, how I can.


For more pictures of my two-day hike on the People's Trail, and and to see especially more flowers found in the fynbos (FANE boss), see my Facebook page (you need not be a Facebook member to see these photographs):

Me and Table Mountain volunteer extraordinaire: Raquel.  She's from Spain and is showing me the ropes.


River water on Table Mountain has the color of tea, but it's safe to drink and full of minerals.