Grapes from Thorns

Location: Cincinnati, Ohio

Monday, March 31, 2008

Friends of Heather

One of the great things about visiting friends in a distant part of the world is that you get to meet their friends. At top is Heather's friend Muhammade Unus, who administers an export business in Mozambique and was kind enough to pick us up in Nels Spruit, South Africa, where he was on business, and drive us back to Maputo. He was also very helpful in shepherding us through customs at the border. During a couple of late night gatherings at areas night clubs, he introduced me to a number of other Mozambiquans. The next photo is with another of Heather's friends whose English-born parents actually helped fight against the Portugueuse during the war of independence. At bottom, Heather, Bazzy, and I indulge in some pizza and beer.

Beaches of Mozambique

The coast alongside and just outside of Maputo was quite beautiful. At top, Bazzy and I stand alongside the Indian Ocean while a couple of local kids play in the surf. Next, there are local fishing boats in the afternoon. In the morning, they were often out to see getting their daily catch and I have some photos of that which I will try to post later. The next two photos are of long stretches of beach north of the downtown. The first is outside a nice hotel and the next is further out of town and again some locals are taking advantage of the beach.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Museum of Natural History

Another very fine public building in Maputo is the Museum of Natural History. There are very good exhibits of animals that have historically existed in Mozambique and a lot of interesting history about actions and policies by black Africans and Europeans. At top is the beautiful facade of the building. Inside the front door, are tusks of elephants who were killed in a huge hunt of the animals that cleared thousands of them. At bottom are two photos of life-size dioramas of dramatic action using the real stuffed animals as examples. A great museum.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Government past and present

I think this is an interesting mix of photos. At top, you have the colonial and current central government office building. The bureaucracy seems to have exploded and now fills many buildings across the city. Next, is a memorial to Portuguese soldiers from Mozambique who died in WWI and WWII, an interesting sign of respect of the colonial heritage. At bottom is the ruined house of the man who was in charge of suppressing resistance during the war of independence.

All aboard for Maputo!

This is the colonial era train station in Maputo. It was built by the Portuguese to present Maputo's visitors with a feeling of being not so far from Europe. It is still grand but much quieter these days. It is one of group of public buildings that are very nicely maintained and stand out among the general hustle and clutter of the modern city. The movie "Blood Diamonds" was filed in Maputo and nearby locations in Moazabique while the story is really set in Sierra Leone on the west African coast. This train station figured prominently in the movie.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Standing in the footsteps of presidents

While visiting a gift shop and artist workshop in Swaziland, I stopped to use the local facilities. Imagine my surprise at finding another famous American had stood here, too!!

Sunday, March 16, 2008


One weekend when I was in Mozambique, we took a drive across the border into Swaziland. It is a beautiful country and they use English there so it was easier for me. At the top is Bazzy playing near a restaurant where we ate. That is a cornfield just beyond him. The statue and sign was at a craftshop where a well-known local artist designs and sells some of his work. I bought some items in one of the gift shops. Then there is Heather and Bazzy riding a concrete rhino. At bottom is an example of some of traditional houses of the Swazi people.

Dinner at the embassy

On one of my first nights in Maputo, Heather and Nuno invited over some of their friends at the embassy for dinner. It was a very nice time with some great people. The squid stew was awesome!

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Maputo, Mozambique

Much of South Africa seemed familiar and looked something like the US or Europe, espcially Cape Town. But in Maputo, I think, you are closer to the real Africa.

My first difficulty was that suddenly all the conversation and signs were in Portuguese. The streets are very crowded and traffic rules seem pretty arbitrary. We joked that stop lights were just "a suggestion" and that is not far from true.

Another kind of alien factor is the widespread use of armed guards. Some were police but most were private security. With the automatic rifles at the ready, these guys were pretty serious looking.

I met a lot of interesting and nice people in Maputo thanks to Heather and Nuno. These ranged from other people at the Port. embassy to street people who Heather and Nuno had gotten to know. Heather has a nice habit of bringing peanut butter sandwiches to the people selling things on the streets. They always seemed happy to see her. I'll write more about the people on the streets of Maputo later.

From Heather and Nuno's apartment in the embassy, there was a beautiful view of the Indian Ocean that I never tired of seeing. The top two photos are of that view. Next is a view out of my bedroom windown looking across the city. Finally, this photo of Heather and our guide in Kruger was too good not to share.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

My hosts

A friend of Heather's who had business to take care of in Nels Spruit picked us up at the hotel. Going through the border entering Mozambique was a challenge. In fact, it always took longer at these border crossings than it seems to have been necessary. By comparison, the US has a smoothly running bureaucracy.

My lodging for the next week or so was to be in the Portuguese embassy in Maputo, a high-rise building in the center of this busy city. Sebastian, Heather and Nuno's little boy, was a high-light of the visit. He goes by Bazzy for short, or Baz for shorter, and is a bundle of energy. Very talkative and a real character, he can rattle along in either English or Portuguese.

Above, is Bazzy wearing on his head a stuffed lion his mother brought from Kruger. When she gave it to him, he started telling her what real good presents are like! Next is Nuno and Bazzy and finally Heather and Bazzy.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Kruger National Park III

These might seem like minor photos but they help tell the story of Kruger.
At top, is one of the giraffes I saw. Huge and impressive. "Tall horses," as I saw on a bottle of great South African wine. Next, if you click on the photo, you can see four lions. All together we believed we saw about a dozen lions. Next, we ran across a group of monkeys. This one, clinging to the side of the rock, has a baby clinging to it, which you can see if you click on it. Finally, a tree sporting some buzzards, a very natural component to the park.

Kruger National Park II

Heather had sought out a very experienced guide who she had had before to take us through the park. He was a very interesting person and very knowledgeable about the park. We loaded up in the Land Rover a little bleary-eyed and entered the park just as the sun was coming up. We stopped on the bridge crossing the Crocodile River to watch some crocs frolicing in the dark waters.

Our instructions were not to make noise or yell at any animals we saw and to stay in the vehicle. For a while, we didn't see much besides the impalas and some rare birds. But then, we encountered the giraffes, calmly munching on the leaves of trees. And then one sauntered across the road ahead of us. Clearly, the giraffe had the right-of-way.

Then we began to see animals more regularly. In all, I saw four of the "Big Five" African game animals. I did not see a leopard (which are mostly nocturnal animals) but I did see water buffalo, an elephant, a pride of lions, and a white rhino. I failed to get good photos of the elephant and water buffalo. The elephant was moving pretty fast through some trees and by the time I got my camera on him he had disappeared. There must of been five water buffalo in heavy brush. I could see them clearly. And they were butting heads, making a large crack as their skulls collided. Just playing, the guide said.

It was actually pretty cold and we huddled under blankets in the Land Rover and watched Africa roll by. At one point, we stopped and the guide recounted how an old hunter had been stalked and killed by lions nearby in the nineteenth century.
At top, the guide describing the park and its wildlife. Next, A white rhino carefully ignored us. Next, a pride of lions. There are about 10 lions all together laying about, no doubt thinking of impalas. Next, a giraffe crosses the road while another muches on some trees.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Kruger National Park I

We spent one more night at a guest house and then after another day of driving we reached Kruger National Park. The area just before we got into the area was beautiful and rugged.

We traded in the car at Nels Spruit, a city near the park and the border with Mozambique. A woman picked us up in a van and took us to a resort next to the park called Pestana Lodge. It was near the Malelane gate of Kruger.

Kruger is a huge park, covering 19,485 kilometers. The northern border is Zimbabwe and the park connects with Mozambique's Limpopo National Park and also with a preserve in Zimbabwe, creating one huge preserve.

It was a beautiful place on grounds that were tree-covered and the rooms were small duplexes spread around the property. All were just a short walk from the lodge, which was a great wooden building that had a huge deck. You could look off the deck and across the aptly-named Crocodile River into Kruger. While Heather was having a massage, I sat on the deck with a cold Windhoek and watched the river flow by. Across the river in the park, a group of wildebeasts sauntered about. What I thought at first was a log was pointed out to me by someone more experienced as a crocodile - confirmation came when it moved. We had an excellent buffet dinner that night but made an early evening of it. We were to be ready at 5:15 (ouch) the next morning to set off on a safari.
At top is the Crocodile River. Next are a series of photos of the most numerous animal we saw on the safari - the impala. If you look carefully, you can see that the black markings on their rear ends look like an "M" - the joke is that that means M for McDonald's because they are the McDonald's for the lions. The impala are nevertheless beautiful creatures.

Monday, March 03, 2008


After spending some time in Clarens, we drove into Lesotho. At the border, we had to stand in lines to get our passports checked. Eventually, we got through. I found the slowness and bit of confusion to be common at the African borders I passed through.We drove into Butha Buthe (or booty-booty as we dubbed it). It was very busy, the main street being lined with a market and many people shopping. Just based on appearances, it seems that Lesotho is not particularly wealthy but it is blessed with a wealth of natural beauty. Nevertheless, the relative poverty that seemed clear soon found an expression in our being stopped by the police - twice.Heather, perhaps I should call her "Heather the Bold," had been through this drill before elsewhere in Africa but it was a first for me. In the first incident, a roadblock had been set up. As we moved up to the police officer, he leaned into the window and said, pretty aggressively, that we had broken the law and there was a fine for that. He said we needed to stop at the stop sign behind us and only come forward to him when he motioned us to do so. That was our offense. I was about to reach for my wallet when Heather started in on him. Basically, she told him that was completely unfair, we had done nothing wrong, and that she had only been in the country 15 minutes and she was just going to turn around and leave. I was already wondering what the jail looked like in Booty-booty. But the officer's attitude improved somewhat and he waved us on. It was clear, he wanted us to pay him but Heather was having nothing of it.
Later, looking for some dinosaur footprints, we were whizzing along (Did I say Heather had a lead foot?), we rounded a bend and there were police again but this time apparently set up with a speed camera. They waved us over. A kinder and gentler officer, informed us we had been speeding. He hollered over at the people apparently running the camera and asked how fast we were going - 79 kilometers in a 50 kilometer zone. Heather just kept him talking as he waved some other people over. Eventually, he let us go, saying we were just tourists. Heather's evaluation: "I was doing a lot more than 79. They had no idea how fast I was going."
We climbed a rugged mountain pass and saw some traditional villages of the Basutho people. We stopped in a gift shop and bought some souvenirs. About mid-afternoon, after we made another futile detour looking for cave paintings, we set off for what was to be one of the longest legs of our roadtrip in Africa. From this point forward, we were heading toward Mozambique.
At top, are some of the traditional homes that we saw. Next, pardon the guard rail, is a scene of how the countryside looked. Notice the terraced hillsides so that they can grow food there. Next is a person walking past a little village. Then a little homestead with a clothes line. Finally, another bit of beautiful scenery.