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culture

Mishack Rapalalani in his studio

Madi a Thavha Mountain Lodge: An Art-Lover’s Paradise

I love Limpopo and I also love African craft art. So when I went to Madi a Thavha Mountain Lodge — a lodge outside Louis Trichardt in far northern Limpopo that promotes the work of Venda and Tsonga artists — I was in heaven. Madi a Thavha started 15 years ago when Dutch immigrants Marcelle Bosch and Aart van Soest decided they wanted to open a lodge in northern Limpopo. There was very little tourism development in this area and Marcelle and Aart had a particular interest in this region’s artists and artisans — sculptors, potters, beaders, textile-makers, etc. — as the Venda and Tsonga cultures have very strong and unique artistic traditions. (Read more about the art from this region in my 2016 post about the Ribola Art Route.) Marcelle and Aart bought an old farm, about 10 kilometers west of the town of Louis Trichardt, and set about turning it into a lodge. They named the lodge Madi a Thavha, which means “water from the mountain” in Venda, because the farm’s water comes from natural springs that flow down the mountain. Today, this lodge is basically paradise. I don’t think my photos properly convey the sense of tranquillity […]

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Meruschka in Turkey

12 Portraits of Inspiring South African Women

Today is National Women’s Day in South Africa. South African Women’s Day, which is a public holiday and falls on 9 August, is different from International Women’s Day on 8 March. The holiday commemorates the Women’s March of 1956, during which 20,000 South African women of all races marched in Pretoria to protest the apartheid pass laws. On that day in 1956, the protestors sang a struggle song that included the famous line: “Now you have touched the women, you have struck a rock.” Every time I hear or even think about that sentence, the hairs on my arms stand up. I didn’t think much about celebrating womanhood before I moved to South Africa. Women’s Day isn’t really a thing in America. We have Mother’s Day but that’s really not the same. The truth is, before moving to South Africa it never really occurred to me to be proud of being a woman. But now I am. I’m grateful to this country for that. Also Women’s Day in South Africa is fun. Everyone has the day off, winter is coming to an end, all the restaurants and bars and coffee shops have specials for women. It’s a day for celebrating […]

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20 Pictures From Walk the Talk 2019

I’d never really considered signing up for MTN Walk the Talk with 702. Even though I knew this is one of the most iconic events in Johannesburg with 55,000 participants, and even though lots of people told me it’s great, and even though the walk starts and ends around the corner from where I live, and even though I’m awakened at 6:00 a.m. on a Sunday (every single year) by the noise from Walk the Talk anyway, it somehow never occurred to me to participate myself. I didn’t get it, to be honest. I mean, Walk the Talk doesn’t involve running or cycling (not that I do much of those things either) or any real sport. It’s walking. Who wants to get out of bed at 6:00 a.m. in the middle of winter on a Sunday to just…walk around? But this year Walk the Talk invited me to be part of a public awareness campaign (see my previous post on the topic) and to participate in the walk. It was a special year for Walk the Talk: Since South Africa is celebrating 25 years of democracy in 2019, there was a 25-kilometer route in addition to the usual 15-, 8-, […]

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Ode to Limpopo

I spent seven days driving 1500 kilometres (about 1000 miles), mostly alone in my very tiny car, through Limpopo. I drove Limpopo — South Africa’s northernmost province — from top to bottom and around again. I visited towns with lyrical names: Mookgophong, Mokopane, Polokwane, Tzaneen, Giyani, Makhado. I stayed in luxury lodges and self-catering chalets. I gaped up at a full moon from beneath a towering white tree that’s been dead for more than 30 years. I got lost in an orange grove. I drank gin and tonics. I ate a hamburger on a bun so stale I could have used it as a hockey puck. I ate macadamia-crusted trout and rare beef fillet and vegan burgers and beetroot quinoa. I sat alone and cried in a birdwatching hide. I faced down a warthog. I watched monkeys copulate. I hung out with honking geese at sunrise. I photographed women embroidering elaborate masterpieces. I drove up a mountain on a dry, pockmarked dirt road and gazed down at a sacred lake. I communed with an ancient baobab. I saw the dusty grave of a Canadian First Nations soldier who died in a savage South African war. I visited a macadamia nut […]

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Sculptures and Tiny Sweaters for Nelson Mandela Day

Today is Nelson Mandela Day. July 18th was Nelson Mandela’s birthday (he died in 2013 and would have been 101 today), and while it’s not an official holiday, it’s a day when South Africans are called to do something small but significant to help others in their country. I spent the day driving through rural Limpopo province and happened to meet a legendary South African artist who has made many beautiful sculptures portraying Mandela. I’ll have more to say about Johannes Maswanganyi in a future post. But the actual purpose of today’s post is to tell you about Andrea’s Little Lung Warmers. 67 Little Lung Warmers for Nelson Mandela Day A couple of months ago a woman named Andrea asked if I could photograph a project she was working on. Andrea is a knitter and she was making 67 tiny sweaters — Andrea calls them Little Lung Warmers — to donate to charity in honor of Mandela Day. The number 67 is significant for Mandela Day because Mandela served South Africa for 67 years. (Read more here.) Once the sweaters were finished, Andrea wanted to photograph each one and then donate them to Friends of Tambo Babies. Andrea and I […]

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Slouw coffee trailer in Potchefstroom

Five Things to Do in Potchefstroom

The town of Potchefstroom, 120 kilometers southwest of Joburg in North West province, has several claims to fame: Potchefstroom is a very old town by South African standards, founded in 1838 by Voortrekker Andries Potgieter. Potchefstroom is a university town. The Potchefstroom University for Christian Higher Education — now the North-West University Potchefstroom Campus — was founded here in 1869. Potchefstroom has the longest avenue of oak trees in South Africa — possibly in the entire Southern Hemisphere. Potchefstroom is a long and difficult (at least for me) word to say. Thank goodness most people call it Potch. (Read more about the origin of the name Potchefstroom.) I lived 90 minutes from Potch for nearly nine years before going there. I didn’t expect to particularly like it. With the exception of the oak tree story I’d never heard much about Potch, and it isn’t a town that one unexpectedly stumbles upon. It’s not really on the way to anywhere. But I did finally go to Potch a couple of weeks ago, for about 24 hours. And guess what? I had a great time and didn’t want to leave. I liked Potch because: University towns are fun, interesting places. I’d forgotten […]

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Heather in the Swartland at Allesverloren Wine Estate

8 Magical Moments in the Swartland

I visited the Swartland — a wine region about an hour northwest of Cape Town — almost two months ago. My visit was mostly about wine, which I wrote about already, but I have all these other cool pictures and memories from the trip that I wasn’t able to share in that post. Here are some of the best: Swartland Moment #1: Lambs at Vleidam Guest Farm Swartland Moment #2: Allesverloren Swartland Moment #3: Olives in Riebeek Kasteel Swartland Moment #4: Lazy Afternoon at Kloovenburg Swartland Moment #5: Serenity at AA Badenhorst Swartland Moment #6: Overlooking Riebeek Kasteel Swartland Moment #7: A Colonial Church Swartland Moment #8: Hike to Pulpit Rock I think that’s a good place to finish. I visited the Swartland with support from the Swartland Wine and Olive Route. Opinions expressed are mine. Pin it:

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Owner Christophe at Ophelia in Emmarentia

My Favorite Jozi Coffee Shops: Ophelia in Emmarentia

This post, featuring Ophelia Café, is the ninth in an occasional series about my favorite coffee shops in Joburg.  Making a great coffee shop is about more than just serving great coffee. In the global indie coffee culture of 2019, coffee shops must also have style. They must be bright and Instagrammable, in a cool but unlikely location, with pretty tableware and light fixtures. The food must be good. The servers must be attentive and friendly, preferably with tattoos and cool but effortless-looking hairstyles. The furniture must be attractive and comfortable but not too comfortable, as customers need to stay awake as they type away at their MacBooks. Ophelia Café in Emmarentia checks all these boxes. Ophelia opened a couple of months ago in this funny, retro little shopping center/apartment cluster at the corner of 5th Avenue and Thomas Bowler Street (just behind the Johannesburg Botanical Gardens) in Emmarentia. I go past this center all the time — it’s a four-minute drive from Melville — and have been waiting for years for something cool to open there. (The fantastic Craft Beer Library, which used to be up the road in Linden, is now at the back of this same center.) I had […]

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The Rand Club, Reinvented

I last blogged about the Rand Club — one of the oldest, most historic, most colonial buildings in Joburg, founded by Cecil John Rhodes — more than six years ago. I just reread that post — titled The Rand Club: It’s Old — and (as with many of my old blog posts) felt a little ashamed of it. Although it’s informative and historically accurate, I was subtly making fun of my visit to the Rand Club that night. I implied the club was stodgy and uptight and said I’d probably never consider becoming a member myself. Last week I went past the Rand Club to deliver a copy of my book to one of its members. What I initially intended to be a 10-minute stop turned into an entire afternoon; I literally could not bring myself to leave. I realized a lot has changed at this place over the past six years and it’s definitely time for a new blog post. The Rand Club is still old and it always will be. (I won’t repeat the whole checkered history here — see my previous post for that.) But it’s also changing with the times. And after a brief closure in […]

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Adi Badenhorst in his winery

Quirky Winemakers of the Swartland

The Swartland is a rural farming region in South Africa’s Western Cape province, about an hour northwest of Cape Town. “Swartland” means “black land” in Afrikaans, referring to the endemic renosterbos plant that looks black from a distance at certain times of the year. The Swartland is known for wheat farming and sheep farming and various other kinds of farming. I went there for the wine farms. I love visiting South Africa’s wine regions and the Swartland is one of the largest and best. My friend Dee is currently working in the Swartland, so I booked a flight to Cape Town and we spent a few days drinking wine together and doing other fun things. I visited a bunch of wine farms in the Swartland and had the privilege of spending time with several winemakers. I noticed something: Winemakers are often quirky and weird, in the best possible way. It makes sense. Making wine is a delicate, finicky business — part science, part business savvy, part art, part insanity. You’ve got to choose which grapes to grow, grow the grapes (praying year after year for the right weather), harvest the grapes and crush the grapes, ferment the grapes in specially […]

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Hermanus overlook

36 Hours in Hermanus

Everyone in South Africa knows Hermanus, a quaint little town about 90 minutes’ drive from Cape Town, as the whale-watching capital of the world. Hermanus is overtaken by tourists in whale season, which runs from June to December but is heaviest during the peak calving season in July and August. Up until recently I had been to Hermanus only once — an October day trip many years ago. My friends and I drove from Cape Town, wandered the promenade looking for whales, spotted a couple far out to sea, walked through a couple of shops, had lunch, then drove back to Cape Town. I now know this was a mistake. I recently revisited Hermanus again for 36 hours (still not long enough) and couldn’t believe how beautiful it is and how much there is to do there — even when it isn’t whale season. It’s a crime to drive to Hermanus and not stay for at least a few days. Here’s a quick run-down of everything I packed in during my two nights in Hermanus. 1) The drive from Cape Town If you take the right route, the drive from Cape Town to Hermanus is one of the most beautiful […]

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Inside Mandela House, a museum on Vilakazi Street in Soweto

A Visit to Mandela House on Vilakazi Street

Sometimes in my quest to discover all of Joburg’s hidden places, I miss out on the un-hidden ones. Such is the case with Mandela House, the Mandela family’s former home on Vilakazi Street in Soweto. It’s probably one of the top five tourist sites in Johannesburg and not only had I never blogged about the house before this, I’d never even visited. Nelson Mandela and his family lived on Vilakazi Street between the 1940s and the 1990s. The house is now a museum run by the Soweto Heritage Trust. It’s a small, one-story red brick house and there’s nothing particularly remarkable about it, other than the fancy fence around the property and the many photos and plaques covering the walls inside. Vilakazi Street is hugely popular with foreign tourists and student groups and it’s always choked with buses and souvenir salesmen. I’d also heard (although I can’t actually remember from who) that the house isn’t all that interesting. I guess that’s why I didn’t go for so long. But I finally wandered in earlier this month and realized I’d been completely wrong. The beauty of this house lies in its simplicity and I think it’s a stunning tourist destination. I […]

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