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Man flyfishing in Stanford Lake

Magoebaskloof: 13 Pictures of a Beautiful, Misty Morning

Magoebaskloof, a mountainous region in South Africa’s Limpopo Province between Polokwane and Tzaneen, is referred to on its tourism website as “the Land of the Silver Mist”. It didn’t take me long to figure out why.

Man flyfishing in Stanford LakeFly-fishing at sunrise on Magoebaskloof’s misty Stanford Lake.

I arrived in Magoebaskloof on Friday afternoon with a bunch of Instagrammers, on a mission to visit as many interesting places as possible in less than 48 hours. On our first morning we rose at the crack of dawn (actually before the crack) and walked down to Stanford Lake, where a magical, misty dreamworld unfolded before us.

Stanford Lake and lily pads in the mistReflections and lily pads on the glassy lake, just before sunrise.

I’ve got hundreds of Magoebaskloof photos, and I’m actually still here (I decided 48 hours wasn’t enough) and accumulating more and more. But for now I’m just posting my favorite pictures from that first morning.

Morning Mist in Magoebaskloof

Fly-fishing is the most beautiful thing in the world to photograph on a misty morning. Who knew?

Young kid flyfishing on deckA teenage boy fly-fishing. 

Young boy flyfishingI don’t think he caught any fish. But really, who cares?

Lake and mist and treesMist, reflections, and a hint of sun.

Older kid flyfishingMore fly-fishing. I’m glad I wasn’t the one in that freezing water. But it sure was fun to photograph from the shore.

Flyfisherman and perfect reflection on Stanford LakePeaceful perfection.

Forest in the morningAs the fly-fishing wound down, I walked up into the pine forest.

Asma in pine forestAsma (@_asma_b), one of the Instagrammers I was hanging out with over the weekend.

Samantha and Hunter hiking in MagoebaskloofSamantha (right) and her daughter Hunter (left), local Magoebaskloof residents enjoying a walk through the foggy forest. The light got better and better as the sun grew stronger.

Waterfall Ebenezer DamFinally I walked over to Ebenezer Dam, which is connected to Stanford Lake via a waterfall. 

Ebenezer Dam waterfallAnother view of the waterfall, still surrounded by mist even though it was well after sunrise.

Zain and Soraya at Ebenezer DamZain (@zaindee) and Soraya (@sueno_adventures) compare photos of the dam.

I think these are my favorite nature shots I’ve ever taken. But my trip to Magoesbaskloof isn’t over yet and I’ve got a few more adventures planned before I return to Joburg. Prepare for a lot more beauty.

My accommodation in Magoebaskloof is courtesy of Magoebaskloof Tourism. Opinions expressed are mine. For more photos from our weekend (and the rest of my time in Magoebaskloof), check out #visitmagoebaskloof on Instagram.

View of the Joburg skyline from the roof of Bjala Square in Jeppestown.

A Rainy Instameet in Jeppestown

On Saturday I helped organize an Instameet at a building called Bjala Square in Jeppestown, one of the most historic sections of downtown Johannesburg. It was cold and pouring rain — a rare occurrence in early winter — and I wondered if we should even go through with the Instameet. I’m glad we did.

I’d been wanting to do a photo walk through Jeppestown for a while because I think it’s one of the most interesting parts of town. The neighborhood is 120 years old (ancient by Joburg standards) and has lots of historic buildings, but in recent decades Jeppestown has suffered severe neglect and decay. Most of the people who live in Jeppestown today are surviving on very little, often living in abandoned or illegally occupied buildings.

Jeppestown 1896A photo I took on Marshall Street in Jeppestown in 2012. This building is painted to look like a historic photograph shot on the same street in 1896. I had hoped to walk down this street on Saturday but the weather didn’t cooperate.

The urban decay in Jeppestown has made the area a popular painting spot for graffiti artists. Thanks in large part to the annual City of Gold Urban Art Festival, which has been concentrated in and around Jeppestown for the last two years, the graffiti murals in the area have grown progressively more spectacular.

I was also keen to schedule an Instameet at Bjala Square. Bjala is an innovative “social urban enterprize”, doing amazing community work in Jeppestown. And Bjala’s rooftop has one of the best views in town, even on a rainy day.

View of the Joburg skyline from the roof of Bjala Square in Jeppestown.The view from Bjala on Saturday afternoon, when there was a brief but merciful break in the rain. The graffiti murals are by artists called Above (left) and Falko1 (right).

I had hoped to take a walk through the neighbourhood — meet a few locals and admire the old-school clothing shops and the street art. But we decided to skip that due to the unpredictable weather. Luckily I have a couple of Jeppestown shots from a scouting walk I took a few weeks earlier.

A passerby walks past a graffiti mural in Jeppestown.I didn’t take this on Saturday, but during a previous scouting walk with fellow Instagrammers @afonography and @keenangrams. The graffiti is by Rasty and Myza.

December, a security guard for the building next door to Bjala Square in Jeppestown.December, a security guard who works near Bjala, with an Instax portrait I shot for him. The graffiti is by Falko1.

Anyway, back to Saturday’s meet. Since the rain stopped just as the Instameet was about to start, we decided to make a quick visit to the Jeppe Park Primary School on the bottom floor of Bjala Square, and then to head straight to the roof before the rain came back.

View from Bjala Square toward Hillbrow.I shot this right before the Instameet started. There was a break in the clouds along the horizon but it never fully materialized. The rain came storming back just as we finished the Instameet.

View from Bjala Square toward the CBD.Another shot of rainy Joburg from the Bjala Square roof.

We spent the rest of the Instameet wandering around the roof, gazing at 360-degree views of the misty city and checking out the rooftop gardening program.

Bjala-7303Misty city layers.

Bjala-7268I never got the name of this Instagrammer. 

Bjala-7290An experimental hydroponic garden, funded by Simanye Skyfarms, where vegetables are fertilized with goldfish poop and grow without soil. The garden is cared for by a great guy named Malibongwe, who I unfortunately forgot to photograph.

A Jeppestown street.An insta-filtered, black-and-white shot that makes this Jeppestown street resemble what it looked like 100 years ago (minus the cars and the satellite dishes). 

If you’re as enamoured with this view as I am, then you should know that the Bjala rooftop has recently been converted into an events venue called the Emkhathini. This is an epic location for a wedding — or any event, for that matter — and 30 percent of the venue’s earnings go to Bjala’s non-profit programs.

I’ve been having lukewarm feelings about Instagram lately. This iPhone app, which has brought me so much joy over the last four years, had been feeling more and more like business rather than fun. Posting photos had begun to seem like a chore. But this Instameet shifted my mindset a bit. A couple of dozen people showed up in Jeppestown amidst the worst weather conditions of the year, to take photos and hang out together and raise awareness about a good cause. I met new people, caught up with old friends, and had fun taking pictures, just like the good old days.

Fahama shoots from the Bjala roof.Instagrammer @faydza, aka Fahema, captures the disappearing city. Fahema and her entire family traveled all the way from Vereeniging for this Instameet, and brought a carload of donations for Jeppe Park Primary School. When I met Fahema on Saturday, I remembered that I had instagrammed her once before, in 2013 at a huge Instameet at FNB Stadium in Soweto.

Made with Repix (http://repix.it)

I had fun. (Photo courtesy of @mikeinjozi)

Here’s to more fun Instameets, preferably in the sun.

Six Underrated Joburg Instagrammers to Follow in 2016

When I joined Instagram, the first thing I did (after posting a really bad picture of my cat) was type “#Joburg” into the search bar and see what came up. I love the fact that Instagram has connected me to so many great Johannesburg-based photographers and although I follow people from all over the world, the Joburg accounts are my favorites.

I was going through my “Following” list recently and realized that the Joburg accounts I like best aren’t necessarily those that you see in the usual “Top 10 Instagrammer…” articles that make the rounds on the Interwebs. I particularly love Instagram’s Joburg storytellers — photographers who really focus on Joburg and tell the city’s story from a specific angle or with a certain style. Accounts like this tend to be underrated, in my opinion, so I thought I’d share a few of my favorites here, in no particular order:

@ihsaan_haffo

Ihsaan Haffejee is a Joburg-based photojournalist. He covers all kinds of interesting news but his feed has a particular focus on Joburg’s Muslim communities. Ihsaan posts a nice mix of both iPhone and DSLR shots.

Ihsaan1

Ihsaan2

@dayphotolife

@dayphotolife, whose real name is Dudu Maphumula, lives in Hillbrow and shoots most of his pictures there. He takes beautiful portraits and has a great eye for fashion and street photography.

DayPhotoLife1

DayPhotoLife2

@cornelvheerden

Cornél van Heerden is another Joburg photojournalist (I’m always drawn to photojournalism) covering a combination of hard news and documentary stories. He recently posted an extended Instagram series about New Years Eve in Hillbrow, which I really enjoyed.

Cornel1

Cornel2

@mikeinjozi

I don’t know exactly how to characterize Michael Abrahams’ account. But to me it is quintessentially Joburg — a combination of family photos, street photography, and news.

MikeinJozi1

MikeinJozi2

@thejoburgmodernist

@thejoburgmodernist, a.k.a. Jonathan Bosworth, focuses on mid-20th-century architecture in Joburg and surrounding areas. I love the consistent style of this account, celebrating Joburg’s unique architectural heritage. Some of the photos portray small architectural details while others incorporate people and the general atmosphere around a building.

JoburgModernist1

JoburgModernist2

@illuminationjozi

Run by Viktor Bobchev, a fellow Jozi transplant, @illuminationjozi is another account that I find difficult to characterize. The photos all fall under one of seven unique themes, each of which has its own hashtag. Examples include #cityshifters, #jwalkers, #socialspaces, and #awayfromhome (which is reserved for photos taken away from Joburg).

Illumination-Jozi1

IlluminationJozi2

This is not an inclusive list by any means, and I’d love to hear who your favorite Jozi Instagrammers are. Feel free to suggest accounts in the comments section below or send me suggestions on Twitter or Facebook. And of course, you can hit me up on Instagram at @2summers.

A Year of Making Space

My friend Dee, who blogs at The Good Holiday, contacted me a couple of weeks ago and asked if I wanted to work with her on a #365Days project in 2016.

I traveled with Dee during my recent trip to Reunion Island. She is a warm, passionate, hilarious person and she loves teaming up with other bloggers on projects like this.

08-Dee-on-MountainDee on a mountain in Reunion Island.

So of course I couldn’t say no to her. But I’m not gonna lie: I was nervous.

If you’re a regular on Instagram then you probably know what a #365Days project is. If not, let me explain. A #365Days project is basically a commitment to post an Instagram every single day, for an entire year, using one specific hashtag. I’ve seen people do 365 days of portraits, 365 days of jumpstagrams, 365 days of long-exposure shots, etc.

I’ve never tried to do a #365Days project before but I did participate in a “100 Happy Days” project once, in which I posted a photo of something that made me happy every day for 100 consecutive days. It was freaking hard. I don’t like to post bad pictures on Instagram and sometimes it’s hard to come up with one good photo of anything per day, let alone a good photo of something specific.

I said yes to Dee anyway, because I like her and I’m not one to back down from a challenge. (Read Dee’s #365Days project post.)

A few days later Dee sent me this suggestion: #365DaysofMakingSpace. Then she sent me a voice note:

“I once read this thing … well, not once … someone said to me that you won’t attract things into your life if you don’t make space for it. So … if you make space for empathy, if you make space for an alternative lifestyle, if you make space for understanding someone that is different from you, if you make space for goodness in your own life … you can’t bring new positive things into your life if there is no space for it. You have to create that space. So this is like making space for … whatever … so … ja ….”

The more I thought about it, the more sense it made.

I have an amazing life. Why do I spend so much time worrying? Why — in between all the exciting, fun things that I get to do — do I fret and beat myself up about all of the other things I’m not doing? Why do I compare myself and feel inferior to others? Why do I waste precious time stressing out about things that I have no control over?

I’ll tell you why: Because I’m not making space.

Rather than fill every synapse of my brain with worries and criticisms and links and statuses and memes, I need to sit still and make some space. Space to think and be alone. Space to spend time with family and friends. Space to focus on projects that really mean something to me. Space to write. Space to be content, space just to be.

So that’s what this project will be for me. Every day in 2016 I’m going to give some thought to making space. And every day I will post a picture with that hashtag. Simple. Not easy, but simple.

Oh, and this year is a leap year. So the hashtag will be #366DaysofMakingSpace.

Here’s my first picture:

Ray-at-bird-parkRay and I have been talking about going to the Montecasino Bird Gardens together for at least a year. Yesterday, on the last day of 2015, we finally made space, and I had the privilege of photographing Ray exchanging bemused expressions with a group of raucous rainbow lorikeets. (I’ll write more about the Bird Gardens in a future post.) I have so much love for this man and I plan to make more space for him — and fun dates like this one — in 2016.

Follow Dee and me on Instagram for the daily progress of #366DaysOfMakingSpace. And feel free to join in if you want.

Ode to Instagram

Dear Instagram,

Yesterday I reached 50,000 followers on your app.

image1

I don’t want to focus too much on that number because what do social media numbers really mean, anyway? My large Instagram following has something to do with my photography, sure. But it also has a lot to do with luck and being in the right place at the right time. There are lots of great photographers with far fewer followers and lots of crappy photographers with more.

(Nonetheless, reaching 50,000 Instagram followers is pretty flipping cool. If I told you I wasn’t over-the-moon excited about it, I would be lying.)

But even before this 50k thing happened, I’ve been thinking lately about how much I love you. I’ve loved you ever since I uploaded that first fuzzy picture of my cat, shot with my iPad, more than three years and 1900 posts ago.

I Facebook as much as the next person, and I tweet because I have to. But you, Instagram, you I truly love. I wake up every morning excited to see you.

You introduced me to many of my closest friends. You improve my photography. You encourage me to explore. You’re always evolving, working to suit my needs better. You provide perpetual entertainment while I’m standing in long South African queues. You have advanced my career and helped me to make a better blog.

Sometimes I get tired of you, and complain about you, and feel frustrated by you. Sometimes I make fun of you and the people who take you too seriously (even though I often do that myself). Sometimes you make me feel jealous and insecure.

Beneath all that, Instagram, I love you.

Here are a few photos that I shot in Joburg yesterday, in honor of you.

Guy-on-bike

Man on a bike in Gandhi Square.

Jozi-citiyscape

Jozi streets.

Families

Family living in a building off Gandhi Square.

Faith-47-v1

Amazing graffiti off Gandhi Square by Cape Town artist Faith47.

Incidentally, in a few days I’m attending the first-ever South Africa National Instameet. Events like this are another example of what makes you cool, Instagram. Here’s a video about the Instameet.

That’s all for now, Instagram. Thanks again.

Love,
Heather (@2summers)

Instawalking Through Alex (With a DSLR)

On Sunday I helped organize an Instawalk through Alexandra Township, sponsored by the South African Cities Network and Mobile Media Mob.

I’ve been to Alex many times and I’ve gone on Instawalks many times, but this was my first time going on an Instawalk in Alex. In fact I’m pretty sure this was the first organized Alex Instawalk, ever.

About 20 or 25 people showed up for the walk. Despite being Joburg’s oldest township and one of the most historic parts of the city, the vast majority of Joburgers have never been to Alex, mainly due to fear. But I’ve always found Alex to be one of the most interesting neighborhoods in Joburg and one of the best places to take photos. I’m really happy that we had such a great turnout, especially because it was the first visit to Alex for most of the participants.

The theoretical purpose of an Instawalk is to walk around an area, take photos with your phone, and then post them to Instagram. But I actually didn’t take many photos on this walk. First, I was semi-responsible for the group and it was challenging to keep track of everyone in the Alex traffic. Second, I haven’t been feeling very inspired taking photos with my phone lately. The only photos from the walk that I’m even remotely happy with are the few that I shot with my Canon DSLR.

When I first became active in the Instagram community, almost all of the Instagrammers I met were “iPhone-only” — meaning they posted only iPhone (or other smartphone) photos on their Instagram feeds. With the exception of one or two film shots, all 1671 photos on my Instagram feed have also been shot with an iPhone (or an iPad, which I used early on before I had an iPhone).

Over the last year or two, more and more Instagrammers have begun to post DSLR shots on their feeds. I’ve refrained from doing so, mainly because I feel that iPhone photography and DSLR photography are two totally different art forms and I wanted to keep the mediums separate. @2Summers on Instagram was my iPhone domain and 2Summers.net was (primarily) my DSLR domain.

I’ve been using Instagram for almost three years now, and I’m becoming bored with my iPhone photos. Shooting with a phone has many advantages and it’s really helped me to become a better photographer. But I’m ready for something new. Plus my new Canon 6D has wifi capability, so I figure why waste it?

So as of today, my Instagram account is no longer iPhone-only. This change will make absolutely no difference to about 99 percent of you but I feel the need to announce it anyway. For those who are curious, I’ll always specify in my Instagram captions whether the photo was shot with a DSLR or a phone.

In celebration of this announcement, here are my four favorite DSLR shots from the Alex Instawalk. All of these will eventually appear on my Instagram feed.

Edmore

Edmore, a tailor working on the street in Alex. Alex has tons of street-side tailors.

Mom and baby

A mother and her very cute (but very suspicious) baby. I was in a hurry and didn’t get the chance to write down their names.

Rooster

An unhappy rooster. The contraption he is sitting in is used to remove feathers from chickens after they have been slaughtered. I felt very sad for him although I don’t actually know if he was destined for this machine.

Diana

Diana, a dressmaker selling clothes on the street outside of a Zionist church service. I love the dress she’s wearing.

Thanks to Kabelo and Wandele at the Sartists for organizing such a fun walk in Alex. And if you’re not following me on Instagram yet, please check out my feed at Instagram.com/2summers.

Around Zimbabwe in 14 Days: Snaps From the Road

I’m in Zimbabwe, halfway through a two-week photography and writing assignment for the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation (EGPAF). I’m traveling all over the country — from the capital city of Harare to some of the country’s most remote rural villages and back again — documenting success stories in pediatric HIV and AIDS prevention. The photos and stories that I’m compiling will eventually be published in a book.

girl

I can’t show you the actual pictures that I’m taking for EGPAF. But I’m sneaking this one in because it’s one of my favorites. I’ve forgotten this three-year-old girl’s name — I’ve met too many people this week. Her mother is Brenda, a community health worker I interviewed in Dete Village in Mashonaland West province.

There is nothing I enjoy more than traveling to remote, beautiful places in interesting parts of the world, talking to interesting people and taking their photos. And there is no better place to do this than Zimbabwe. I hate to sound cliché but this week I have been struck again and again by how kind, open, intelligent, and welcoming people are in this country. I can’t believe how lucky I am to be here doing this work.

I’m exhausted though, and I still have another week to go. Fortunately I’ve had the whole weekend to hole up in a hotel in Harare and rest. I feel like I should be out exploring the city but I am just too tired.

Crowne Plaza

The Crowne Plaza-Monomotapa Hotel, my base of operations in Harare. This hotel has seen better days (it’s no secret that economic times are tough in Harare and the rest of Zimbabwe), but it’s still pretty great and the service is exceptionally friendly. 

Sunrise Harare

Early-morning view of downtown Harare from my 14th-floor room at the Crowne Plaza. There is a big park next door and I can hear tons of birdsong at sunrise. The park is filled with church music on Sundays.

Here is a random collection of cool things I’ve seen and done this week, accompanied by a random collection of iPhone photos.

1) Arriving in a tiny village called Chikato in Midlands province, near the town of Gweru, and being welcomed by the amazing Makonto family and members of their community. There was much singing and dancing and photo-shooting. (The Makontos and their friends took nearly as many photos of me as I took of them.) I had my first home-cooked Zimbabwean meal with the Makontos: roasted ground nuts, fried road-runner (local chicken), sadza (maize-meal porridge), and yummy wild green vegetables cooked in creamy sauce.

Heather at Makontos

Group photo at the Makonto homestead. On the far right is Sitshengisiwe, my awesome EGPAF guide, fixer, and friend for these two weeks. Photo by Stuart Gochi, our equally awesome EGPAF driver.

2) Catching a couple of stunning sunsets on the road in and out of Gweru.

Kadoma sunset

Shot in Kadoma, between Gweru and Harare, while waiting 30 minutes at one of many unbearably long road-work stops. If you’re planning to drive between Harare and Gweru anytime soon, note that it always takes twice as long as anticipated due to road construction.

3) Passing a lady walking along the highway with a television balanced on her head. Unfortunately I didn’t get a photo of that.

4) Meeting Mabel, a volunteer “peer facilitator” (kind of like a community health worker) in Dete Village, and taking photos of her and her gorgeous family. I’m so impressed by the work that Mabel and her colleagues are doing in their communities, motivating women to attend antenatal clinics during their pregnancies, test for HIV, immunize their children, etc.

MabelMabel in her home in Dete Village. Dete was the most remote place we visited last week. It’s about 50 kilometers — on rough mountain roads — from the small town of Karoi, which is about 80 kilometers from where we were staying in the slightly larger town of Chinhoyi.

5) Buying the tiniest, tastiest bananas on earth from friendly vendors in Dete.

Vendors in Dete

Bananas are R5 ($.50) for a bunch of 15. Each tiny banana can be eaten in two or three bites.

6) Having an enlightening conversation with Johnson, a 12-year-old boy in Chundu Village. Johnson was eager to practice his English with me. He asked where I’m from and I said America. His face lit up. “I am a black American,” he told me.

Boys in ChunduJohnson is the boy on the right.

7) Encountering more gobbling, cheaping, tail-wagging, mooing, braying domesticated animals than I’ve ever seen in a single week.

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Gobbling guinea fowl.

Chundu puppy

This puppy belongs to Maggie, a mother of six in Chundu Village. He follows her everywhere.

8) Chatting with Magdalene, the cheerful Zimbabwean art vendor, next to Avondale Shopping Centre in Harare.

MagdaleneFrom left: Munyaradzi, Magdalene, and Sadler. 

I wandered into this outdoor shop, more of a stall really, on my lone outing out of the hotel yesterday. As I’ve mentioned in a couple of previous posts (see here and here), Zimbabweans are known for their beautiful crafts. They are also the friendliest salespeople. I bought a few things from Magdalene and her friends even though at first they didn’t seem to have what I was looking for. But the best thing I got from them was lovely conversation. I talked about my blog and Magdalene said she is also an aspiring blogger and writer. We discussed our ideas for a while, and eventually I said goodbye.

“It was a pleasure meeting you,” I said to Magdalene.

“It wasn’t a pleasure!” Magdelene shouted. “It was a blessing!”

Hopefully I’ll have time for another Zimbabwe update later this week.

And by the way: I miss you, Jozi. I really don’t like to be away from you for this long and I can’t wait to see you again next Saturday.

Having Fun in Knysna: My Top Five Picks

Knysna (pronounced NIZE-nuh) is a small resort town in South Africa’s Western Cape, on the picturesque section of coastline between Cape Town and Port Elizabeth called the Garden Route. I visited Knysna for the first time last week to attend the annual Knysna Oyster Festival.

GarritMy favorite Instagram from the trip: A man named Garrit who I met on the Knysna Lagoon.

I stayed in Knysna for five days and thanks to my hosts I squeezed many exciting activities into that short period. I’ll eventually write longer posts about a couple of the experiences that excited me the most. For now, here’s a quick rundown of my top five recommendations for fun things to do in Knysna.

1) Eat Oysters

I was in Knysna for the Oyster Festival so eating oysters was an obvious thing to do. But there is a huge oyster culture here and I recommend trying some no matter when you come. Not only are the oysters delicious, but eating them gives you a great excuse to drink champagne.

Shooting oystersMy first oysters of the week from Quay Four on Thesen Island. I really enjoyed the relaxed vibe at this restaurant.

In my opinion the best way to enjoy an oyster is with several drops of Tabasco, lemon juice, and some crushed black pepper. Pour it all on, loosen the oyster from its shell with a fork, and send it down the hatch.

Conrad Pezula oysters

My favorite oysters of the week were these from the Pezula Hotel, a spectacular resort/restaurant on a hillside overlooking Knysna. Half the oysters were plain and the other half were topped with a pineapple-lime granita.

2) Walk in the forest.

Knysna is surrounded by a beautiful indigenous forest, known for its 800-year-old yellowwood trees. Living in a dry place like Joburg, which is naturally a grassland, I find myself craving damp moss and the sound of wind whispering through thick foliage. So visiting the forest in Knysna was a priority for me.

Knysna forest

Ahhh. Forest.

I took a 10-kilometre hike through the forest in Harkerville (near Knysna) with my new friend Mark (@scrumpyjackson), who I previously knew only through Instagram. Mark and I made good hiking buddies. We were both up for a long walk but neither of us minded when the other stopped to take 20 shots of a mud puddle or a piece of fungus on a log. Instagrammers are cool like that.

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Mark Instagrams a puddle.

Pool in forest

Instagram taken from a weird little half-bridge over a small pond in the forest.

3) Hang out at the Turbine Hotel.

I didn’t stay at the Turbine Hotel, but I had a morning spa treatment there (a great way to start my birthday) and then dinner at the Turbine Hotel restaurant later that evening. I loved it and would highly recommend the Turbine Hotel to anyone who wants to splash out on something luxurious. It’s an old power station that was converted into a hotel and spa.

Turbine outsideOutside the Turbine Hotel.

Turbine Spa

I didn’t have time to take photos inside the spa — after my fantastic massage I had to rush off to go bungee-jumping. (Several people have pointed out that perhaps I should have done those activities in reverse order.) Anyway, here’s a shot of the hotel’s posh lobby.

Turbine food

First course at my Turbine Hotel dinner: beef samoosa with bacon, micro greens, and other yummy stuff.

Turbine Hotel: We have a date on my next visit to Knysna.

4) Go whale-watching.

This activity pretty much speaks for itself.

Whales

Humpback whales right next to our (relatively small) boat. Peak season for viewing humpback whales is July to December so I was lucky to catch the beginning — the whales are on the way to their breeding grounds near Mozambique.

Whale tail1

OMG. Whale. WHALE!

Whale tail2

Beautiful whale tale. Look closely: It’s coated with barnacles.

Our whale-watching outing was with Ocean Odyssey and as you can see from the photos, it was incredible. The tour lasted for two hours and we saw five or six whales. Note that whale-watching tours aren’t advisable for people prone to sea-sickness. The water was rough, especially as we navigated out through the Knysna Heads. In fact the waves were so big that I was momentarily terrified and thought we’d have to turn back. It was totally worth it though and our captain did a great job getting us out there.

5) Visit Knysna Township.

I don’t want to write too much about this experience because I’m going to do a longer post later. But I’ll just say that a tour of Knysna Township with Emzini Tours is my #1 recommended activity in Knysna. I loved it so much and it was totally different from any other township tour I’ve been on. (And I’ve been on a lot of township tours.)

Brother Zeb animated

Brother Zebulon, tour guide at the Judah Square Rastafari community in Knysna Township. To say that Brother Zeb is an interesting guy would be the understatement of the year.

Smiley baby

My friend Lucy’s nine-month-old baby, Kai, having a ball at the home of tour guide Ella Mahlulo in Knysna Township.

I haven’t included the Bloukrans bungee jump in my top five Knysna picks because Bloukrans is really not in Knysna. But there is still another post coming on that too. Prepare to be amazed.

In the meantime, stay tuned for some photo posts from Zimbabwe because that’s where I am right now.

An Empty Stadium, Filled With Instagram

Last weekend Instagram hosted a “Worldwide Instameet” — a global event in which groups around the world get together in their own cities, take photos, then share them on Instagram.

The Joburg edition of the Worldwide Instameet took place last Sunday at FNB Stadium, otherwise known as Soccer City.

WWIM announcement

Announcement for the Joburg Worldwide Instameet.

I must confess that I wasn’t as excited as I should have been about this Instameet. I was utterly exhausted on Sunday, having just returned from two weeks of travel around South Africa and Lesotho. Plus I wasn’t sure about the venue. FNB Stadium is the most beautiful athletic stadium in South Africa — possibly one of the most beautiful in the world. It’s an inspiring piece of architecture. But an empty stadium seemed like a lifeless place for an Instameet to me.

But I dragged myself there, because I had promised my friend Gareth (founder of @igerssouthafrica) that I would. Gareth is one of Joburg’s most talented filmmakers; he was shooting a video about the Instameet and asked me to be part of it. I feel a special big-sisterly affection for Gareth and couldn’t let him down. (Plus I am vain and wanted to be in the video.)

I was right about being exhausted: By the end of the day I was ready to collapse. But I was wrong about the venue: It was perfect for Jozi’s edition of the Worldwide Instameet. I’m so glad I went.

Those of us shooting Gareth’s video — maybe 20 people or so — arrived a couple of hours early and gathered outside.

This is the only shot I took outside of FNB Stadium, also known as “the Calabash” because it was designed to resemble a traditional South African pot. I brought along my new Johannesburg snow globe, which I received as a gift on the #MeetSouthAfrica trip. (The hand holding my globe belongs to the great @LeboLukewarm.)

When we got inside, the stadium was indeed empty. But I must admit that it was pretty cool hanging out on the field, getting my makeup done for the video and pretending to be a rock star.

Heather and Hairy Knees

Rock star selfie with Matthew Figueira, aka Fig, aka @hairyknees. Thanks to our makeup artist, the lovely @paularoo.

Empty seats.

Refentse Mwase, aka Ree, son of the great @unclescrooch and @mrs_scrooch, chills with his sippy cup on the artificial turf.

As we finished shooting the video, I felt tired and cranky. The thrill of the empty stadium had worn off. I was starving. I briefly considered sneaking away before anyone noticed.

Then a buzz started to build. “There’s an army outside,” I heard someone say. We went outside and indeed there was an army there. Dozens, actually hundreds, of people. I wish I’d thought to take a photo of the group when I first got outside but I was too overwhelmed. We poured back inside and onto the field.

An army of Jozi Instagrammers gathers for a group photo. At the last Worldwide Instameet that I attended, a bit more than a year ago, there were 20 or 25 people. This time there were 200.

The empty stadium, which has more than 90,000 seats, was suddenly full of people. People of every race, color, and creed. Couples, big groups of friends, singles, and families with children. iPhones, Samsungs, Nokias, point-and-shoots, film cameras, and DSLRs. (Maybe even a few Blackberries.)

We gathered for a massive group shot. We collapsed onto the field all at once and pretended to be dead. We introduced ourselves, over and over, by name and by handle. We toured the stadium with a lively guide. We held up giant picture frames and shot selfies. We went off alone, in ones or twos, and shot quietly on our own. Laughter reverberated, echoing off every wall.

We wandered upstairs as the sun went down. At the top of the Calabash, we found magic.

Sunset through the windows of the Calabash.

Like mother like daughter.

Pure. Magic.

For Gareth’s video, each Instagrammer came up with a statement that summarizes his or her feelings about Instagram.

My statement was: “Thanks to Instagram for introducing me to an amazing group of visual storytellers, who have now become my closest friends.”

That pretty much sums it up. Here’s the video.

Single Moments from Gareth Pon on Vimeo.

Gareth, I have a confession. Sometimes I am jealous of you for being so brilliant and receiving so much adulation. But the truth is that you deserve it. Well done for making this video, and for creating a community that has made a huge difference in my life and the lives of many others.

Some people dismiss Instagram as a social media fad that self-absorbed hipsters use to make themselves look cool. But it can be so much more than that, especially in a city like Johannesburg. Instagram has the capacity to foster creativity and build relationships.

Heather selfie

Image courtesy of Gareth Pon.

If you haven’t joined yet, give it a try. You don’t have to be a photographer and you don’t need an iPhone. Visit Instagram.com for help.

To check out all of the photos posted from Sunday’s Worldwide Instameet, search the hashtag #wwim9_jhb on Instagram.

If you’d like to tour FNB Stadium yourself, visit www.stadiummanagement.co.za or call 011-247-5300.

Around South Africa in 10 Instagrams

I really got around South Africa last week.

I participated in #MeetSouthAfrica, a campaign sponsored by South African Tourism in which 14 travel bloggers split into three groups — the Luxury group, the Adventure group, and the Heritage group — and followed different routes around the country. I was in the Adventure group with Meruschka from Mzansi Girl, Melvin from Traveldudes, Matt from the Expert Vagabond, Caspar from StoryTravelers, and Kash from the Budget Traveller. We covered a massive swath of the country in a very short time and had an insane amount of fun.

A rudimentary map showing the #MeetSouthAfrica Adventure group’s journey. I wish I had time to figure out how to make this look better (how do I get rid of that annoying box?!) but at least you can see the route. We traveled in a counter-clockwise rectangle — from Joburg, to the Northern Cape, to Cape Town, to Durban — by land and air.

MeetSouthAfrica adventure_edited-1

Here’s one of the high points (literally) of the trip, on a cliff overlooking the Orange River at sunset. Left to right: Matt (who fortunately did not sail over the cliff after this jump), Meruschka, me, Caspar, Kash, and Melvin. (Photo: Bontle Madiba)

I have many stories to tell about #MeetSouthAfrica but I’m short on time. I returned to Joburg last night and I leave again tomorrow morning for five days in Lesotho. The real stories will have to wait.

In the meantime, I thought I’d do a quick recap of our #MeetSouthAfrica adventures by showing you my ten favorite Instagrams (i.e. iPhone photos) from the ten-day journey. To see all of my #MeetSouthAfrica Instagrams, click here.

1) Jozi by night.

Instagram01 - ParktonianOur trip started on a Friday in Joburg (just ten minutes from home for me) at the Protea Hotel Parktonian in Braamfontein. I had been to the Parktonian many times to take photos but had never stayed there before. It’s an older hotel but I love that fact that all the rooms have balconies and the cylindrical shape of the building ensures that pretty much every room has a view. Here’s an intentionally blurry shot of Hillbrow from the roof — I had a similar view from my room on the 16th floor.

2) Portrait in Soweto.

Instagram02 - Simon Soweto

On Saturday morning we met up with the local Instagram community and took an Instawalk around Vilakazi Street in Soweto. I enjoyed introducing my new international blogger friends to my local Instagram friends. This portrait of a man named Simon is my favorite shot from Soweto.

3) Ballooning over Magaliesburg.

Instagram03 - Balloon

From Soweto we headed to Magaliesburg, where we spent the night and then got up at a ridiculously early hour to go hot-air ballooning. The balloon ride was a major highlight and I took hundreds of photos — expect a longer post soon.

4) Beer and taxidermy.

Instagram04 - Zebra Inn

Still on a hot-air high, we bussed it back to Jozi and spent the afternoon in the Maboneng Precinct. I’m in Maboneng practically every weekend so this was nothing new for me. But Meruschka and I loved introducing the area to the international bloggers and showing them some hidden places. Here we are at the Zebra Inn, my favorite Joburg bar. (Read more about the Zebra Inn in my “Quirky Joburg” post.)

5) A girl and her puppy in the Northern Cape.

Instagram05 - Kakamas

The three groups separated at this point. On Monday morning the Adventure group rose at another ridiculously early hour to fly to Upington, where we met another bus and traveled across the desert to the South Africa/Namibia border and camped on the Orange River. I shot this in the dusty town of Kakamas, where we stopped for lunch.

6) Sunset over the Orange River.

Instagram06 - Orange River sunset

Tuesday was the best day of the trip. Our main activity was rafting down the Orange River, which I loved. I don’t have many photos because I was too busy paddling — I need to collect some shots from the other bloggers for my rafting post. Meanwhile, here’s another shot from sunset on the cliff. Not a bad view, hey?

7) Election Day in a tiny town.

Instagram07 - Bitterfontein voting

On Wednesday morning we left camp ridiculously early (see the trend?) and trekked ten hours by bus to Cape Town. Wednesday was Election Day in South Africa, so we stopped in the tiny Western Cape town of Bitterfontein for the South Africans among us to cast their ballots. We had a great time interacting with the locals.

8) Bo-Kaap beneath Table Mountain.

Instagram08 Cape Town

We spent 24 glorious hours in Cape Town and went on a tour of Bo-Kaap, to my great joy. Bo-Kaap is my favorite neighborhood in Cape Town. Full-length post to come.

9) Baba the rooster.

Instagram09 Baba the Rooster

Durban was our final stop, where we reunited with the other two groups. In Durban, among other things, we did another Instawalk through the huge maze of traditional markets at Warwick Junction. In the chicken market we encountered Baba, king of the Zulu cocks.

10) A Durban Sunday on the beach.

Instagram10 Durban beachfront

I spent my last morning of #MeetSouthAfrica on Durban’s North Beach, a lovely place to hang out on Sundays. Then I said goodbye to the other bloggers and flew home. Sniff.

Here’s one more bonus Instagram, shot just before the balloon ride. This was my most popular Instagram post of the trip, which I find interesting because it didn’t make it into my own top ten. I thought I’d share it anyway.

Instagram11 - Inside balloon

What an incredible trip. I actually cried a little this morning when it hit me that it’s really over. Fortunately I’ll relive it for weeks (maybe months) to come as I write all the blog posts, and you can relive it with me. In the meantime, check the #MeetSouthAfrica hashtag on Instagram and Twitter.

I’m Meeting South Africa

I’m on Day 6 of my 10-day #MeetSouthAfrica trip. I intended to post on a regular basis during the journey but lack of time and wifi have prevented that. We’ve done so much. In the last three days alone I have crossed South Africa by bus from one end to the other (twice), learned to paddle a raft, made some awesome new friends, cooked my own gourmet meal in Cape Town, gone deaf in one ear (don’t worry Mom and Dad, I’m sure it’s temporary), and swam — yes swam — across an international border (twice).

I want to wait until I have time to do proper justice to these experiences before writing about them in depth. But in the meantime I thought I’d post this one photo. It epitomizes my experience so far. It was shot in a tiny town called Pofadder in the Northern Cape, in the Kalahari Desert, between Upington and Springbok.

Heather Pofadder jump small

Photo: Meruschka Govender

#MeetSouthAfrica, baby. #MeetSouthAfrica.

Hi, South Africa. Nice to Meet You.

I’ve been writing a lot about hashtags lately, which is a little embarrassing. Hashtags are so trendy. But sorry, I can’t help it. Once you’ve read this post you’ll understand my newfound hashtag passion.

South African Tourism has a social media campaign called #MeetSouthAfrica that promotes South Africa as a travel destination, and they’ve invited 14 travel bloggers — nine international bloggers and five local bloggers — to explore the country for ten days. The journey starts in Joburg tomorrow and finishes in Durban next weekend at South Africa’s Tourism Indaba (a huge travel convention). Throughout the trip, the bloggers will share their experiences through social media using the #MeetSouthAfrica hashtag.

Omphi

#MeetSouthAfrica: Omphi on a bridge in Soweto. (I’ve populated this post with some of my favorite Instagrams from the past few weeks.)

A few weeks ago I learned that I was one of the local bloggers selected to participate in the #MeetSouthAfrica campaign. I was stunned. Actually I was overjoyed. I’ve been trying to play it cool but the truth is I am more excited about this than I’ve been about anything in a long time. (Read more about the #MeetSouthAfrica trip here.)

Let me back up and try to explain why.

A bit more than two years ago in January 2012, I sat crying in my therapist’s office. My South African boyfriend, whom I had moved to South Africa to be with 18 months earlier, had just died. I was distraught with grief. I didn’t have a job or an income. I didn’t have a car or a bank account. I didn’t have a South African visa.

All I had in South Africa, really, were a few good friends, a roof over my head, a cat, and a blog.

World of Samoosas

#MeetSouthAfrica: World of Samoosas in Joburg’s Oriental Plaza.

Back then I didn’t really know why I was still in South Africa or why I was writing this blog. I had nothing to tie me here and blogging was just a hobby. It might have been easier to go back to the U.S. and pick up the pieces of my “old” life as a nonprofit nine-to-fiver.

But somehow I knew that I had to stay, and I had to keep blogging.

Blogging and everything that comes with it — exploring, writing, taking photos, and telling stories about life in South Africa — was the only thing that kept me sane during those dark days. Blogging gave me a sense of purpose and made me feel truly alive for the first time ever. And I knew that my blog couldn’t (or shouldn’t) exist anywhere but South Africa.

Now it’s May 2014 and I’ve built a career telling stories about Joburg and South Africa. I’ve clawed my way out of a terrible abyss, into a life that is truly mine. I’ve seen so many amazing places around this country (and all around Southern Africa). I’ve co-authored a book about northern Joburg, to be published at the end of this month.

And now I’m about to embark on this remarkable journey around South Africa with the sole purpose of showing the world what a beautiful country this is. Literally, there is nothing else on earth that I would rather do.

Hiking Magaliesburg

#MeetSouthAfrica: Hiking in the foothills of the Magaliesburg.

How did this happen? I’m honestly not sure. I guess luck and shear force of will have something to do with it. More than that though, I think that South Africa, blogging, and I just clicked. I’m glad that the three of us found one another. And I’m beyond excited that we (along with 13 other bloggers) get to help the world to #MeetSouthAfrica.

Kliptown graffiti

#MeetSouthAfrica: Boy and graffiti in Soweto. (By the way, #MeetSouthAfrica is hosting an Instawalk in Soweto on Saturday morning and you’re all invited. Details here.)

I won’t tell you anything about my #MeetSouthAfrica itinerary right now. (Other than to say it’s going to be AWESOME.) But time and wifi permitting, I’ll post daily pics on my blog as I go along. I’ll fill you in more fully once I return.

In the meantime, follow #MeetSouthAfrica on Twitter and Instagram. I’ll also post updates on my Twitter, Instagram and Facebook feeds, and you can follow all the other bloggers too. (Read the bloggers’ bios and find their social media accounts here, here, and here.)

Looking forward to getting to know you better, South Africa.

Jeppestown

#MeetSouthAfrica: Sunset over Jeppestown near the Joburg city centre.