Tuesday, May 31, 2011

African Pied Wagtail

The African Pied Wagtail is a distinctive black and white bird with a long tail. We often see two or three at the river below the office, although they are also common in the camp and in our gardens. On Sunday we stopped on the bridge to watch the bird above and it rendered a lovely clear trilling song as a reward

The neat-looking African Pied Wagtail in full cry

For more on other people's worlds, click here

Note: I've been approached by Pick n Pay, a large supermarket chainstore in South Africa, to write an article on international pet travel for their in-house magazine Travel Ideas. As soon as I've submitted the article, I will post about Shadow's recent travels from Johannesburg to Nairobi and finally to the valley. Till then, bless you all!

Monday, May 30, 2011

First weekend back in the Valley

My weekend started like every day does here in the valley, viewing my garden from my desk!

As usual, I went for a walk through the security gates and up the road
The bush and mountains are so lush after the regular rains which have fallen over the past two months
Following a bird call, I went off the road and onto a path through the bush. The bird was a Black-headed Gonalek which I don't have a photo of so I have one below downloaded from the Internet

Black-headed Gonalek - isn't it gorgeous?  I continue to try and get a decent photo on my camera!
Early on Saturday morning, Naomi, my houselady arrived with a bag containing three pawpaws and about a dozen avocado pears. They were from her father's farm, she said and a gift for us. Isn't that sweet?

In a post at the end of April, I wrote about helping Sue clean and prepare the house next door for the mine manager. He arrived and moved in on 3rd May and we went on leave the next day. Last week, while Grant and I were walking around the lanes after work, we met up with Borries which was the first time I'd met him. On Friday his wife flew up from Johannesburg for a week's holiday. On Saturday morning I popped over with a plate of hot cheese puffs, a longstemmed rose and a card welcoming her to the valley. I also took two pawpaws and half-a-dozen avocado pears as a gift.

Avocado pears are high in vitamins A, C, E and K; also potassium, iron, magesium and vitamin B6. You can read all about the health benefits of this natural sourse of oil here. In South Africa, avocado pears are rather expensive; you can pay up to ZAR20/US$3 for one avo. Here in Kenya they cost KES 20/US$-20c! Fortunately we love avocado pears and I use them in salads, we enjoy slices of this delicious butter-flavoured fruit on toast or just as guacamole with crisp biscuits. I have eaten cold avocado soup at the Guest House, and will probably try my hand at making this while I have a surplus of avos.

On Saturday evening Grant and I drove out in search of birds and stopped, as usual on the low-level bridge across the river near the office. I managed to capture these two young boys fishing

On Saturday night, Grant made the ubequitous braai (barbeque). He invited Johan, the financial manager who is here on single status, to join us. After the meal, the men watched Super 15 Rugby while I caught up with my blog visits. I could follow the entire game on the television behind me, [without watching] because the men inadvertantly gave me a running commentary (you know the sort of comments: "now run the ball; pass to the left/right; wake up ref, didn't you see that high tackle? Yesss! Cheetahs - our team - scored right under the poles")
Early on Sunday morning Grant and I went out birding again. He stopped on the bridge so that I could photograph the river . Isn't it beautiful? 

After watching and photographing a trio of African Pied Wagtails on the bridge, we drove further along to a road running below the damwall beyond the office buildings. We were amply rewarded with Pied Kingfishers having a feast on the fingerlings in the dam. There were also about five White-bellied Go-away birds, a host of Cattle Egrets, an African Jacana and three Hamerkops. More about these later.

On our way home, along the road I snapped an old lady who walks from her home higher up on the hill to the market below. She does this every day. When I asked Sephania why she did this, he said she waited at the market for someone to give her a cup of chai (spicy, sweet, milky tea) and mandazi. (a flat piece of deepfried dough, popular with the local people) 

 Every day thiis old lady strides along the road (barefoot) from her home in the hills to the market square in the village. Late afternoon finds her walking back home again

Last night Borries and his wife invited Grant and me and Johan to an informal supper of vetkoek and mince. Vetkoek is made from handfuls lumps of dough deepfried in hot oil. When drained and cooled, you split the "bun" open, fill it with savoury mince and enjoy. I had cheese and apricot jam with mine. In the name of good manners, for once I subdued my concience and ate this high-calorie treat along with the others.

A wonderful peaceful weekend in the valley.

To see more of what others did over the weekend, click here. Gattina of Writer Cramps hosts this delightful and necessary (at my age, lol!) meme.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Our South African Pets

In case it seems as though, a) we only have two cats namely Ginger and Shadow or b) that we don't care about our pets back home,  please read on.

I 've decided to write about our beloved pets in South Africa today.

For the past ten years, Emily, our Sesotho houselady, has taken care of our pets at home in our absence.
When we go home, however, the dogs are very forgiving and greet us like long-lost friends. Or like ever-present, loyal owners! The cats take a little while longer to "thaw" which barrier is broken when I give them speciall cookie treats in the evening.
Felix, Ginger and Chip at the cookie bowls

In between, we spend time in the garden with the dogs and whichever cat deigns to wake up and join in the fun. When possible we take the dogs for a walk on the golf course two doors from our house. This causes great excitement; once we get to the 17th hole, across the course fence, we slip their leashes and they hurtle around the course with great abandon.

Our three dogs, Eddy (front), Megan (centre) and Angie (rear) lie on the lawn while we have a barbeque
The dogs love running across the golf course. Above Angie and Megan show their heels. Eddy had already disappeared into the blue

Eddy, inherited from the children, and Angie a rescue dog from the SPCA, have been great friends since the day we brought Angie home in December 2008
As normal, while home in May, Grant and I gave all the animals their three-monthly, de-worming medication and applied  spray, called Frontline, to their  backs. This is to keep any unwanted creepy-crawlies away and avoid nasty diseases like tick-bite fever. The dogs are no problem, but the cats, immediately remove us from their e-mail list !

This time all the yearly shots were also due. I always get our vet to supply the rabies and three-in-one shots and syringes for all our pets. He realises that it is far easier for us to administer the injections at home than to unsettle my elderly pets by taking them to the the surgery.

Angus came to our house one evening to help with the innoculations.  Dogs and cats have the same vaccine against rabies but the other innoculations are different strengths. Angus soon got the hang of drawing liquid from the one vial, squirting it into the vial with the powdered medication and drawing it all out into a syringe. I had kept the cats inside the entertainment area where they get eat and sleep. I held one cat at a time (there is a special way to do this without getting scratched or bitten but I won't elaborate here) while Angus first administered the rabies shot into the rump and then injected the three-in-one under skin at the back of the neck. Not that simple. The cats' skins were terribly tough (which I remembered from when I innoculated a very young Shadow in Khartoum last year) but eventually all four the cats were done and we moved on to the dogs.

This is why I learnt how to hold a cat while administering any medication! Thanks Gattina for the cartoon!

The three canines were scrabbling at the door when they heard the cats were being given something. Not one of them are actually allowed indoors although Emily brings 11-year-old Megan - who is petrified of storms - inside when there is one. They all have comfortable, blanket-lined beds on a raised wooden pallet in the back of my garage.  During the day, they lie on the doorstep in front of the open door or in the sun on the patio. Every now and then they succumb to temptation, make a dash to the bowl of cat cookies in the entertainment area, and gobble as much as they can before being caught by a human!

Now though, as I bent down to catch Angie, she slipped out of my grip and ran across the patio. There ensued a chase and eventually I managed to get a good grip on her collar and lead her into the house. Have you ever been on the "other" side of 40kg Labrador trying to convince it to "come inside"? Grant arrived on the scene with a few pieces of biltong/spicy dried meat similar to jerky. Everyone in South Africa,  with the exception of vegetarians, likes biltong ! And since the pioneers in our country, the Voortrekkers preserved their hunted meat in this manner, the curs following their oxwagons eventually becoming domesticated pets,  also acquired the taste of this treat. Their descendants, which are all dogs in South Africa, also love biltong. Still a little suspicious of why I wanted her in the house, Angie couldn't resist the alluring smell of the biltong with which Grant enticed her into the house.

Angus, aka Dr Platzhund, (lol!) was standing ready with the first injection which he administered without any problem. Then it was another into her neck and she was free to leave. She dashed out of the house and into the garage, where I followed her to collect Eddy.

Eddy and Megan were a little easier ; I pick them up and carry them into the house for their innoculations. Angus also seemed to insert the needle much easier than with the cats. Grant gave these two dogs  a treat of biltong, which they devoured.

Not only did we make sure they were innoculated, de-flea-ed, de-ticked and dewormed;  we also bought new beds for the cats and the dogs. Puff and Felix (brothers) normally annex the two armchairs in the entertainment lounge. Tigger and Chip, respectively 15 and 12 years old, end up sleeping on the diningroom chairs under the table. When we placed the three new beds down for them, Tigger looked at each one with great disdain but Chip immediately made herself comfortable in the one and fell asleep.

Puff, one of the "brothers", stretches out on an armchair
There are now two armchairs and three cat-beds for the four cats. The tartan "carry-cot"  belonged to Shadow but he didn't need it here in the warmer climes so it was donated to the home-cats
We had Megan clipped the day before we left SA. Here she is with her bright new winter pyjamas to keep her warm while her fur grows again
I was thrilled to find these tyre dog-beds in a pet shop. Each is lined with carpeting, I added a thick winter blanket so these make perfect beds for dogs. I took this photo just after the dogs had had their injections, hence the suspicious looks on their faces!  

On a different and very sad note:  a few weeks before we went home, Clarice, one of our cats died. Clarice jumped into our vehicle in February 2003 while collecting our dogs at Albie's kennels (where Shadow stayed recently). When I asked Albie whose cat it was, Albie said she had never seen it before. We borrowed a cat carrier from Albie and took Clarice home. When I had her spayed a few weeks later, my vet estimated her age at about a year. So this year Clarice was nine years old.  Emily said that one Saturday morning she fed the cats as usual and Clarice was there and ate well. On Monday morning when Emily arrived at work, she found Clarice dead on the doorstep. All we can think is that Clarice, who was an excellent ratter, ingested a poisoned rat. Rest in peace, dearest Clarice.

Clarice, our gentlest and best-natured cat, died in April this year

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Happy Birthday Rose

Today is my sister, Rose's birthday. I don't have a photo of her but if you'd like to read last year's post to her on this day, click here.

A year ago I didn't have her namesake flower to post and downloaded a bloom from the Internet. However, this year I do have a rose garden with beautiful blooms and it is with one of these that I want to honour Rose on her special day.

Happy Birthday Rose. May you be blessed today and for the rest of the year.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Shadow in the Valley

Strange heading, I know, but I couldn't resist it! Shadow has arrived in the valley with us and getting to know his new home and garden. He still walks on a leash; I hope he will soon be familiar with the surroundings and know where home (the front door entrance) is and be able to wander around like a normal cat.

Meanwhile he and Ginger have made friends and share their bed with us. *sigh*

Grant assumes one position in bed between the two cats!

I never thought the day would arrive when our darling cat would be sitting on my desk...
... looking out of the window

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Family fun and travelling

At daybreak on Saturday Angus and Amanda collected us from home. Shadow was safely ensconsed in his travel cage,  his [millions!] of documents taped to the top - more about this in a later post -  and we were on our way to Johannesburg. This was the the first leg of our journey from South to East Africa.

As it was Angus' birthday on Monday 16th May, we offered him, Amanda and Joel a treat out in Johannesburg. And what better way to celebrate a special day and to enjoy some good family fun together than a visit to the famous Gold Reef City.

First we stopped off at the kennels where Shadow would spend Saturday night. We also were about to meet Yvette, the pet travel agent who arranged Shadow's entry into South Africa from the Sudan in October last year and was in charge of his travel arrangements from SA to Kenya this weekend. I didn't get a photo of dear, sweet Yvette (she refers to your pet as your baby!) but our 16 month-old grandson, Joel spotted her super bike in the parking lot and within minutes his mum had lifted him onto the seat and dad was taking photos!

I left Shadow in a clean, spacious and cat-friendly cage (he didn't even notice me leaving he was so busy exploring the little bed he would spend the night in and also checking out a friendly black-and-white cat next door) and went outside to join the family.

Then we drove across the city to Gold Reef City.

Johannesburg came into existence after the Witwatersrand Gold Reef was discovered in 1886, and remains the richest gold deposit known to man.  The town moved from tent town to wood and iron shacks to bricks and mortar within the next two decades. (If you wish, you can read more about this here)

Gold Reef City is a theme park which celebrates these beginnings by offering visitors the chance to experience life in a gold mining museum town with opportunities to explore a mine, watch gold smelting demonstrations as well as enjoy the numerous themed rides. There is a flat rate entrance fee  which is quite high: R150/US$21.50 for adults; a discount for pensioners, which Grant qualified for much to the amusement of the young ones, and Joel went in for free. However, the entrance fee includes visits to the many museums and places of interest and all the major rides.

First it was past lunch time so Grant took us for a light meal at Mugg and Bean which was situated on The Town Square.  Joel was especially fascinated  by the live band performing on a stage nearby. (See below)

Little Joel enthralled by the live band playing while we waited for our lunch order to be served

Gold Reef City  is a replica of the original town with museums, gold smelting demonstrations, visits down a mine shaft, themed rides for children and adults alike with exhilirating rides for the young and young-at-heart (or is that just "plain crazy"?) We didn't visit any of the museums as Angus wanted to do as many of the "wild" rides as time would allow and we also wanted Joel to have a ride on one of the more gentle rides.

Angus waiting in the queue to go on The Tower of Terror (see him second from left)

The first ride he chose was called The Tower of Terror. This is the description: "Ride the heart-stopping Tower of Terror 50m drop at a speed a of 100km p/h straight into an open mine shaft. Ride it if you dare!
Fear Factor: 10 "

 Waiting for the slow ascent to the top of the tower
The Tower of Terror

Standing below and merely watching this cart drop into a mine shaft at 100kph, made my heart jump into my throat!

Angus, totally unperturbed, emerges  from tunnel where the ride ended!
We wandered through the streets until we arrived at the kiddie's entertainment centre. There were several rides but time was running out for us so Amanda and Angus opted for one in an "airballoon".

Joel doesn't seem to be afraid of heights or moving machinery and hung out of the "window" as the balloons circulated

Then we wandered through the streets of the city once more, stopping to photograph beautifully-restored buildings of yesteryear.

The ornate door leading into a replica of Johannesburg Stock Exchange during the period depicted at Gold Reef City

Langlaagte Station is where you can board a fun miniature train which takes forty passengers to enjoy a circular route of Gold Reef City. We didn't take this ride but Grant, Angus,Amanda and Joel posed in front of the entrance for a family photo

 Next, Angus climbed aboard the Golden Loop which is described as follows: "From start to finish this ride will blow your mind. Be propelled at speed from 0 - 85km in 3 seconds to a height of approximately 40m. But beware! What goes up must come down. Fear Factor: 8"
The Heart-stopping Golden Loop

There was time for one more ride and Angus said he'd like to go on the Anaconda. This is the description for this ride: "Calling all adrenalin junkies. Take your seat & prepare to curl like a giant snake, roar like a frightened lion & sweat like a scared rat. Welcome to the Anaconda.Fear Factor: 9"

Walking towards the entrance gate of this ride, Amanda said she'd do the ride with Angus. However, when we got there, she changed her mind!
In a moment of total madness I gave her my handbag and said I would go with Angus. We hurried through an underground tunnel and minutes later we'd taken our shoes off and were clamped into seats with huge bars protecting your body. The first part of the ride is a steep uphill gradient where the train seems to hover and then it drops you down in a gut-wrenching, mindboggling void; twists you around, turns you upside down, whips you over another loop with your feet above your head, then around a series of hairpin bends around rock-like structures (I remember opening my eyes briefly - very briefly - and wondering if they were real or fake!) and over another loop with your feet in the air. Then you swoop down a long loop and suddenly you stop. Just like that.

The ride snakes around huge rock-structures and whips along the rails just like an angry giant serpent
Amanda took the photos of the ride in action and as with all the rides, automatice photos are taken of all the participants. You be the judge of my experience...

Worth a thousand words? Mmm?

Then it was time to go home. On the way to the car park, we watched a helicopter land a few meters away. Not wanting this fun day to end, Amanda ran over to the entrance gate of the helicopter rides to check prices. (Normally these rides cost anything in the region of about R700/ US$100) She returned with the good news four people would be able to take a short (four-minute) flip over Gold Reef City for the grand sum of R240/US$34! Because Joel counted as one person and Grant had not yet done anything exciting that day, I said I'd stay on the ground.

Late afternoon sun over Johannesburg

An aerial view of Gold Reef City with the Anaconda ride in the foreground

A fascinated little boy sits on his mum's lap and watches the world way down below

And then it really was time to go home. We drove to our accommodation which I had booked for the night, Angus ordered pizzas which we ate at the breakfast bar and washed down with refreshing cups of tea. A great time was had by all.

As Angus said later that evening, we'd spent a wonderful day  together as a family and making memories.

Very early on Sunday morning Angus and Amanda took us to the airport. Once we'd booked in our luggage, Grant bought us breakfast and then it was time to say goodbye!

More about Shadow's travel and our flight in a later post.

Photo credits: Angus and Amanda Hedges

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The eagle has landed

Uh, I mean, the cat has landed!

Yep! We have arrived in the valley, along with Shadow, ex-Sudanese, ex-South African now Kenyan cat.

I have so much to post about and I will.


Thanks to all for your kind comments on my moon shot on Friday and for the kind thoughts and prayers for our safe trip from South Africa to Kenya. As Peggy says, we always seem to be flying one way or the other. And dearest Desiree, yes our holiday literally flew by because we were only away from the camp for 16 days.

Thanks too, for the kind wishes for our littlest Hedges' first birthday. We did get to see him very briefly as he was ready to go down for his mid-morning nap. I 'm sure the children enjoyed the birthday cake later that day.

Thanks for the birthday wishes for Angus. He and Amanda drove us to Johannesburg so that Shadow could be kenneled on Saturday and also for us to catch the same flight on Sunday morning.

But more about our holiday later this week.

Blessings and hugs to you-all


Friday, May 20, 2011

On our way...

Full moon this week in South Africa

This is a quick post to say we're preparing to fly back to Kenya. We should be back in the Valley by Sunday evening, God willing. Thanks to everyone who visited my blog even though I've not posted regularly. I will be back to normal next week, I'm sure. Till then, bless you-all!