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photography

Mama Anna with her beaded Ndebele kudu head

The Ndebele Artists of Mpumalanga: Coming Soon to Joburg

We drove down a dusty KwaMahlanga street, bordered by beige and brown houses. I saw dogs, chickens, and goats, all in various earth tones. Orange and lemon trees, laden with late-winter fruit, provided periodic bursts of yellow and orange. We pulled in front of an earth-colored house, guarded by an earth-colored dog. A color explosion awaited inside. Mama Anna Skhosana stood in the middle of the living room, draped in a jewel-toned blue, yellow, and red Ndebele blanket. Her shaved head was adorned with overlapping bands and a thick beaded collar hung around her neck. Mama Anna’s artwork — a large wooden kudu head covered in intricate beadwork — sat nearly finished on the coffee table. After a few minutes of enthusiastic greetings between Mama Anna, her daughter Minky, and my hosts Nomvula and Mahlapane, Mama Anna sat down to continue beading. Mama Anna works on a beaded kudu head. Every inch of the kudu is beaded. Mama Anna doesn’t use any glue to attach the beads (at least not that I saw) — only thread. We returned to Mama Anna’s house the next day and three kudu heads sat lined up on the sofa, ready for delivery to the […]

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Ray's family at Kruger Elephant Museum

Kruger, Top to Bottom: Secret Places and Random Tips

Before my recent trip, I hadn’t fully grasped how large the Kruger National Park is. The park is 19,500 square kilometers (7,523 square miles), spread over a pipe-shaped area 360 kilometers (220 miles) long and about 65 kilometers (40 miles) wide. Our route through the Kruger, with all the rest camps and picnic spots where we stopped along the way. The camps where we slept are marked in red. I also hadn’t grasped how much there is to do in the Kruger, beside the obvious game-viewing. Kruger is so vast that traveling between rest camps is an experience in itself. We stayed in four camps over seven nights, starting in the northernmost Punda Maria camp for one night, then on to the Shingwedzi and Satara camps for two nights each, finishing at the massive Skukuza camp for two nights. (Note that booking accommodation in the Kruger is a special skill requiring a blog post of its own. Ray’s mother is an expert — maybe I’ll ask her to do a guest post.) The Kruger rest camps are historical, iconic places worth exploring in their own right. A thatched Kruger chalet. This one is at Satara, one of my favorite rest camps. […]

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bee-eater in the Kruger

15 Birds of the Kruger National Park

I like birds as much as the next person, but I am not a Birder with a capital B. In fact, I’ve been known to make fun of Birders occasionally. (Sorry, Birder friends. You make me laugh sometimes.) I did, however, catch a hint of birding fever on my recent Kruger trip, and came away with more bird pictures than I know what to do with. The lilac-breasted roller, one of the most common birds in the Kruger and also one of the most beautiful. So I’ve decided to throw them all into a blog post. If you’re a serious South African Birder, you won’t find any dramatic surprises here. Most of the birds pictured are common in the Kruger. But I think you’ll find the photos pleasing all the same. 15 Birds of the Kruger I’ll start with the birds we saw most often and work my way up to the rarer sightings. 1) Glossy starling A glossy starling waits patiently for crumbs at the table outside our chalet. Glossy starlings, or cape starlings, are all over the Kruger, especially in the rest camps where they are prolific scavengers of human food. They’re very naughty and also ridiculously beautiful. 2) […]

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Mom and baby hyena - mom looking away

Three Incredible Moments in the Kruger

I’ve just come back from a week with Ray and his family in the Kruger National Park. I’m not sure where to begin writing about it. This was an extraordinary trip. Sunrise in the Kruger. I’ve visited lots of games reserves in South Africa over the years — mostly private reserves with luxurious accommodation and a “guests must not lift a finger except to press the camera shutter” kind of approach. (There are tons of private reserves around the borders of the Kruger, while the park itself is public.) I know the drill at places like this: Wake up early, guided game drive or walk, return to luxurious accommodation, eat gourmet food cooked by others, sleep, eat more food, another game drive, drink sundowners, eat more food, go to bed, repeat. Such trips usually last three days at most, because: 1) Few people can afford to stay longer; and 2) Eating and drinking 10,000 calories a day is surprisingly exhausting. Luxury safaris are wonderful. I’m ridiculously fortunate to have stumbled into a profession allowing me to take trips like that from time to time. (Read about a few of them here and here and here.) But my do-it-yourself week in the […]

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Cosmopolitan garden

A Pedicure and More at the Cosmopolitan Hotel

I was recently invited to have a pedicure at Tenfold, a new nail salon at the Cosmopolitan Hotel in Maboneng. I am not a beauty blogger and writing about mani-pedis isn’t my normal thing, but I liked the idea of getting my nails done in a super-old historic building in the middle of downtown Joburg. (Also it was my birthday weekend and this seemed like a nice present for myself.) So I went, and wound up staying at the Cosmopolitan for the entire afternoon. The garden at the Cosmopolitan, which looks spectacular at the moment — amazing considering it’s winter in South Africa. Tenfold, owned by a lovely woman named Georgia Shekeshe, occupies a pretty corner spot in the Cosmopolitan garden. It was a great place to relax with a cup of tea and a foot massage on a cold winter day. It will be even nicer in summer when the doors are open. Tenfold’s green exterior. The salon’s zen interior. I can’t believe I photographed my own feet in such a vulnerable state. Tumi did a great job and the warm towels were welcome on a cold day. Group portrait at Tenfold. Georgia is in the middle with the […]

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Green and orange beading at piece

Beading with Beauty at piece

My love for beaded jewelry began many years ago, when my sister worked in a bead shop. Susanna and I would pick out beads together and then she would make bracelets and earrings and necklaces for both of us. I don’t think it ever occurred to me to try beading myself; I’m not crafty like my sister is. But my jewelry collection kept growing. The bead love intensified when I moved to South Africa, where beadwork is everywhere. I was recently invited to a beading class at piece, a beautiful African arts and crafts shop in downtown Johannesburg. (I wrote about piece in my #Gauteng52 post on Ellis House earlier this year.) The classes are led by Beauty Maswanganyi, a master beading artisan and long-time staff member at piece. Beauty helps get a bracelet started at the beginning of the class. Beauty has a pretty good track record as far as jewelry-making goes: Past clients of hers include Oprah and Michelle Obama (!) I did not excel at beading. (Learning to bead is hard for left-handers. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.) But it didn’t matter because this class was so freaking fun, and I went home with my own […]

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Bapsfontein Hotel neon sign

#Gauteng52, Week 28: Honky-Tonkin’ at the Bapsfontein Hotel

Welcome to Week 28 of my #Gauteng52 challenge, for which I will visit and blog about a new place in Gauteng Province every week for 52 straight weeks. This week I visit the Bapsfontein Hotel. This may surprise those who know only the current, city-girl version of me. But I am no stranger to honky-tonk. I’m American and I grew up more or less in the country, listening to my dad play Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, Kenny Rogers, and Johnny Cash on the car stereo as he drove me to softball practice in his pickup truck. So when I started spotting pictures on Facebook of the Bapsfontein Hotel — a country-western bar about an hour northeast of Joburg with the greatest neon sign I’ve ever seen — I knew I had to go. The Bapsfontein Hotel’s old-school neon sign. The Story of the Bapsfontein Hotel I can’t dig up much history about Bapsfontein or the Bapsfontein Hotel. Everything I know was gleaned from snatched conversations with the new owners (yelled over the noise of the music) on the day I was there. Bapsfontein is a tiny town — too far from Joburg to be a city suburb, too close to be properly […]

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Face sculptures at Anton Smit Sculpture Park

#Gauteng52, Week 27: Anton Smit Sculpture Park

Welcome to Week 27 of my #Gauteng52 challenge, for which I will visit and blog about a new place in Gauteng Province every week for 52 straight weeks. This week I visit the Anton Smit Sculpture Park in Bronkhorstspruit. I drove slowly up the R25, careful not to miss the turn that would take us to the Anton Smit Sculpture Park. I crested a rise and realized I needn’t have worried. The turn is hard to miss. The road toward the Anton Smit Sculpture Park in Bronkhorstspruit. Anton Smit is a well known South African sculptor. I’ve seen his work all over the country, most recently at the Delaire Graff Wine Estate in Stellenbosch. But Smit’s largest collection is at his home in Bronkhorstspruit, about 90 minutes northeast of Joburg, where he has a sculpture park and a quirky restaurant/café. Giant faces, turned toward the setting sun, welcome us to the sculpture park. I’m struggling to find words to describe the Anton Smit Sculpture Park. Whimsical comes to mind, but I think surreal is better. There’s something about this mystical yet well-branded grassy hilltop, located inside a luxury housing development that doesn’t belong in the middle of South African nowhere, dotted with […]

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Cheetah family feeding

Five Cheetahs and an Aardvark

We tiptoed along as the sun lowered behind us. The wind howled. Tendai pointed ahead and we could just make out the body of a large animal with three small, spotted heads bobbing around it. The body, we would later learn, was a kudu carcass. The spotted heads belonged to a hoard of little cheetahs. Warning: Dead carcass imagery combined with extreme cheetah cuteness below. Three cheetah cubs — wait, make that four — hover around the kudu that their mother (lounging in the background) killed.  We crept to within about ten meters of the cubs and I raised my camera to my eye, shooting madly. There were four cubs total. Their mom, wearing a radio collar, reclined under a thorn bush. Tendai kept moving closer. Ray and I exchanged glances. Surely it can’t be safe for humans to walk within a few feet of a family of wild cheetahs eating a fresh kill? But Tendai beckoned and he seemed to know what he was doing. Soon we were close enough to hear the cubs purring as they tore into the kudu’s flesh. The cubs occasionally glanced our way between bites. The mom ignored us. Get ready for lots more cheetah pictures. Mom, whose name […]

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Retro Rabbit antique shop in Pretoria

#Gauteng52, Week 26: Pretoria’s Quirky Antique Route 6

Welcome to Week 26 of my #Gauteng52 challenge, for which I will visit and blog about a new place in Gauteng Province every week for 52 straight weeks. This week I visit Antique Route 6 in Pretoria. South Africa has a tumultuous past and a tumultuous present. The only thing that’s consistent here is change. South Africans tend to be constantly on the move, coming and going, accumulating and leaving behind trails of possessions that must be bought and sold, and bought and sold again. This state of flux leads to many interesting cultural phenomena, one of which is an abundance of antique shops. Antique shops are everywhere in South Africa but in certain places they concentrate together in clumps. Johannesburg’s Long Street is one example. Pretoria’s Antique Route 6 is another. The Retro Rabbit Antique Shop in Pretoria North. Antique Route 6 is a bunch of antique shops in Pretoria North, not far from the Hatfield Gautrain station, clustered mainly around Pierneef Street and Soutpansberg Road. The route has its own online map, at www.antiqueroute6pretoria.co.za. I have no idea why this route is called Antique Route 6. Are there another five antique routes somewhere? If anyone knows the answer I’d love […]

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Video Town in La Rochelle

#JoziWalks: Exploring Johannesburg’s Forgotten Frontiers

Last weekend the Johannesburg Development Agency sponsored 13 walking tours all over the city as part of an initiative called #JoziWalks. The weekend was meant to encourage Joburgers to get out of their cars and engage with urban communities in ways they might not do otherwise. Kids in the Soweto suburb of Noordgesig.  #JoziWalks was an incredible opportunity for me. I’ve been on many walking tours in Johannesburg but #JoziWalks offered tours in places I’d never been, and the tours were free. The only bad part was most of the tours happened concurrently and I had to make agonizing choices over which ones to participate in. I eventually settled on a Saturday morning tour of La Rochelle, a suburb in the south of Joburg known for its Portuguese culture, and a Sunday tour of Noordgesig, a suburb on the edge of Soweto that played a big role in the anti-apartheid struggle. #JoziWalks La Rochelle Our tour of La Rochelle was led by Judith Muindisi of Tsica Heritage Consultants and Calvin Montgomery of the Southern Suburbs Heritage Society. La Rochelle, just south of the city center, is best known for Parreirinha, Joburg’s most famous Portuguese restaurant. I myself had only been to […]

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November 2016 blog course

A New and Improved 2Summers Blog Course

I taught two one-day blogging courses last year, and they went really well. We met at Bridge Books, learned about blogging and social media, and photowalked around downtown Joburg. Everyone seemed to have fun and leave the course with fresh inspiration. My November 2016 blog class in front my favorite downtown mural by Faith47. But this time I want to do more. Learning to blog is not a simple, step-by-step process. Every blogger wants something different from his or her blog and the people who attend my class tend to show up at various points in their blogging journeys. Some have established blogs already and are looking for pointers to spruce things up. Others have only a vague notion of starting a blog. Some plan to blog about food; others about women’s rights. Some want to start a new business while others just want a new hobby. I started to think about a way to structure my course so that every blogger or potential blogger, no matter where they are on the spectrum, can come away with a clear plan of action. The new and improved 2Summers blog course was born. The Next 2Summers Blog Course: August 2017 My next […]

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