Blog Archive

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Journey to the Center of the Earth

This is the third post in my adventure series. 

Last weekend Mr. Deep and I visited a town called Cullinan located in Gauteng near the border of Mpumalanga province about one and a half hours from where we live. While we were there we took a fascinating tour inside the Cullinan Diamond Mine.  Prior to this adventure my knowledge of mining was limited to what I learned while watching Coal Miner's Daughter. I had never been near let alone inside a mine. The Cullinan mine is well known because the world's largest diamond was found there in 1905. Today, pieces cut from that diamond are found in Queen Elizabeth's crown and scepter. The Cullinan Diamond mine remains operational today.

We booked our tour with a company called Cullinan Tours. They offer numerous surface tours (you stay on the surface of the earth instead of going inside it) throughout the week but the only time the underground tour is held on the weekend is on Saturday morning at 8:00 a.m. Even though Mr. Deep and I don't sleep all that late these days, it was still an effort to get from where we were staying about 35 minutes away from Cullinan by 8:00 a.m. When we arrived, we were also confused about exactly where to go and had to call the tour company for clarification. Luckily, we were just around the corner from where we needed to be and we managed to arrive by 8:00. When we got there they were just opening up shop and we quickly realized there had been no need to rush. 

Mr. Deep standing next to a replica of the Cullinan Diamond Mine.
Once the doors opened we were told that they were unable to accept a credit card for payment. They had a credit card machine but the lady there didn't know how to use it and so Mr. Deep had to run to the ATM so that we could pay in cash (tour cost was R550 per person.) Once all the tour goers arrived and paid, we got suited up. It likely won't surprise you that the main reason that I wanted to visit the mine was because I wanted to wear the suit. Each of us were given a jumpsuit with a big belt, thick socks, rubber boots and a hard hat. There were lockers to store our clothes and personal belongings. Once everyone was dressed and our items were locked up, we were told that we could not bring cell phones into the mine (it makes sense as they have explosives down there) so everyone had to go back to his/her locker to put the phones away. Next, we were told that we couldn't bring bags into the mine, so everyone had to go back to his/her locker to put their bags away. 

We were introduced to George our tour guide. Mr. Deep and I estimate that George is at least 80 years old. He said he worked in the mine for 38 years and retired in 1993 - thanks to Mr. Deep for his help with the math on this one. George is what Mr. Deep accurately described as a hoot. In addition to having a great personality George was extremely knowledgeable about the history and workings of the mine. He was the best tour guide I've ever had at any museum or anywhere as his presentation and the information he shared with us was not canned at all. The guide and the tour were 100% genuine. As we visited the mine we observed what would have been happening on that day had we been there or not. 

George gave us a short tour of the Cullinan Diamond museum and educated us about kimberlite, which is a blueish rock where diamonds may be found.
Finally, after about an hour of paying, dressing, locking things up and listening to George, we got into a vehicle and headed down the street to the mine. We had a quick tour of the surface before it was time to finalize our preparations and go in. 

Cullinan Diamond Mine. 
Every few minutes huge dumpsters full of rock are brought to the surface via these shafts. I am not sure how much rock they bring up each day but they get 65 carats from each 100 tons of rock. 
I told you this tour was genuine! 

As haphazard as things began with our tour, once we reached the mine, everything was extremely organized with tremendous attention to detail and safety. We had to watch a mandatory safety video to learn how to use the Afrox pack, a self contained breathing apparatus to be used in case of emergency. There are SEVEN steps involved in getting the Afrox pack to function. While it seems self explanatory that if a mask drops down in front of you while on a plane your going to "place it over your nose and mouth a breathe normally," trying to remember the seven steps involved to get the Afrox pack to work while you are breathing poison gas seems like it could be challenging.  Following the video an Afrox pack, encased in a metal box, was attached to each of our belts. We were also fitted with our headlamps. 

The Afrox pack.
The seven steps.
The Afrox packs are the silver boxes and the lights are the blue bulbs and the blue packs. Regarding safety, notice how there is a sign with the name a person who is responsible for maintaining the items on this particular rack. These types of signs were visible throughout the mine. I think it makes great business sense to clearly display who is responsible for what given that working in a mine is extremely dangerous.

Mr. Deep getting his Afrox pack. 
The Afrox pack. Step one is to open the box. I do remember that. 
George helping me with my headlamp.   
Ready to go in! 
This is the cage that took us down into the mine. 
We were going to 763 level. That's 763 meters down (2500 feet.) They are currently mining at level 763 and level 839 is still under construction.
Safety warning in the cage. While important it was a little bit funny. 
To be continued....

Monday, February 20, 2017

I got got got got no time

For years I have been asking Mr. Deep if he and I can start a business together. It's not that I have some great business idea that I think would make us millions but rather because I like spending time with Mr. Deep (most of the time) and I think our approach to accomplishing goals would lead to success. Mr. Deep and I also have complementing talents. Mr.Deep for example, could handle all of the accounting and finances for our business and I could not. For some reason Mr. Deep does not seem that excited about starting a business with me. I think it's because he has a fear of losing money. It's also possible, although unlikely, that he doesn't think working with me would be all that much fun. 

Strangely enough over the past few months Mr. Deep and I have found ourselves running a business of sorts. Although our business is not making a profit and our services are only available on a limited basis to family and friends who come to South Africa, working with Mr. Deep in this pseudo-business endeavor has proven my theory that we'd make excellent business partners. 

Like many important inventions of the modern age, the cotton gin, the printing press and the flat iron, our business concept, Time Pressure Tours, or TPT for short, was born out of necessity. The necessity of trying to plan meaningful, fun and exciting visits for people coming to South Africa for very short periods of time. 

Americans are very busy people.  Unlike Europeans who may take a holiday for the entire month of August or Canadians who take a whole year off for maternity leave, Americans like to work as much possible and they wear their busy-ness and workaholic tendencies as badges of honor. Ask an American what is new or how things are going and he will surely tell you just how busy he is. As an American, I shared these traits when I had a job. I found nothing more satisfying than working all day on Sunday only to be able to hit send on fifty emails first thing Monday morning thus hammering my colleagues with information, outlook meeting appointments and requests for analysis. I didn't even have to tell anyone that I worked all day on Sunday, but believe me, they knew. It's not only work that keeps American adults busy, it's their kids who seem to participate in an unfathomable number of sports games all of which the parents apparently need to view in person and in entirety. 

Mr. Deep and I are thrilled that over the past year we've had numerous American friends and family members take time out of their very busy schedules to come to South Africa and see us. These visits are often very short, as short as one week, although our American guests will calculate the visit as longer because they like to count time spent on the plane as part of the vacation. 

At TPT we meet the needs of our busy and over scheduled customers by planning travel agendas that are relentless. TPT allows visitors one half day to recover from flying half way around the world but beginning the morning of the first full day visitors must fasten their seat belts for they are in for a whirlwind tour of South Africa that leaves no time for tardiness, dilly dallying, questioning of or revision to the agenda.  Guests "enjoying" the TPT experience fall into bed late at night thoroughly exhausted from such adventures as visiting Cape Town, tastings at wine farms, viewing wild animals, and going to school in Diepsloot. TPT travelers learn about Nelson Mandela's struggle to gain freedom for the South African people AND the intricate details of the mating habits of hippos, they feast on braais chock full of meat (at TPT we always make time for meals), meet people who were born and raised on this continent and take in gorgeous skies and awe-inspiring scenery all in a short window that might leave many begging for a break. 

Agendas are communicated to guests prior to arrival in an email detailing the activities planned for each day. Often, our guests are so busy, that they fail to read this email in advance of the trip and so upon arrival are surprised at the sheer volume of of planned activities. Under the guidance of TPT leadership (Mr. Deep and me) guests quickly learn that their agenda has been carefully orchestrated with no room for error. If guests want to stray from the plan or are taking too much time enjoying a particular activity, TPT management will firmly rectify the situation. This was best evidenced when we took Mr. Deep's family to Boulders Beach. Everyone was enjoying the waterfront and watching the penguins when Mr. Deep suddenly announced that in order to stay on schedule we had to leave immediately. He then began walking back to the van and everyone had to follow. Similarly, if the weather is conducive, we have been known to take guests directly from the airport in Cape Town to Table Mountain to ensure an opportunity to enjoy the view before the clouds inevitably roll in. 

Mr. Deep and I are efficient, decisive and we like to have fun. These traits combined with the limited time our American friends have to spend in South Africa formed the foundation for TPT which is proudly communicated in our succinct yet memorable slogan which we state repeatedly to ensure compliance with company policy "Move Your Ass!"

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Riversands Farm Market

As I look back over my two years of blog posts I'm surprised that I haven't written more about markets. Joburg is full of markets.  There are day markets, night markets, organic markets, flea markets, holiday markets, craft markets and more. I try not to compare South Africa to America but I am going to take a stand and announce that America needs more markets and when I say markets I mean markets in the South African sense of the word which I'll explain shortly. 
Interesting statue at the Riversands Farm Market
Meanwhile I haven't forgotten about the adventure series that I launched back in December. The purpose was to encourage me to explore my surroundings with a goal of writing 20 blog posts about adventures in and around Joburg. And so here it is the official post number two of 20 in the adventure series....The Riversands Farm Market. 

Back in the 1940's Riversands was a free range chicken farm in Fourways. This is back before free range was a thing and before Fourways was built up to be the the commercial, residential and traffic clogged area we know today. William Nicol Drive, now a main four lane road, was still a dirt road back then. According to the market website a woman named Granny LeMay made chicken pies and sold them on William Nicol Drive. Side note, when South African's talk about pie they mean something savory, not sweet. Something sweet that we might consider a pie would be called a tart. Anyway, Riversands Farm is no longer operational on the site where the market is held but it the market definitely has a farm feel. 
Old farm buildings still remain.

I love this homemade checkerboard. It was lying near the market area and I think some caretakers made it and use it.

Riversands only has a few vendors selling crafts, cheese and clothing. I also think there was one produce stand, but as I've learned in South Africa you don't need many vendors to make a market and you don't need produce for sale to make a farm market. In South Africa markets are all about vibe and creating a space where people will want to come and stay for a while. Each market has it's own vibe. The Riversands Farm Markets vibe is relaxed as there is lots of open space so it's not crowded. 
Live music

Riversands market also offers lots of food stalls, pony rides, live music, zip lining, a beer garden and supposedly a small little petting zoo (which we didn't bother to visit.) Many people bring their kids and dogs as there is lots of room to run. 

Mr. Deep with some rhino sculptures. We could tell these were black rhinos as we are now quasi-experts in the intricacies of African big game.

So what do I mean by a market in the South African sense of the word? First, a market is a place to hang out for a few hours or even the whole day.  Going to the market is not an errand one runs to pick up fresh fruit, It is a plan to spend to time with friends or family. 

Many times you can even book (reserve a table) and then spend hours sitting there at the table and no one bothers you or pushes you to order food if you just want to hang out. 

As South Africa is full of many cultures and tastes there is always a wide range of food available for purchase to eat on sight at the markets. Also, there is often booze for sale. Not just beer in a plastic cup although you can certainly get that. Many times these markets sell bottles of wine, champagne and even cocktails. 
Lots of space at the Riversands Farm Market

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Robben Island

A view of Robben Island from the top of Table Mountain.
Last month I visited Robben Island for the second time. For some reason, the first time I didn't write about it. Maybe that's because I try to avoid writing blog posts where I need to do any research or remember any historical facts. Or maybe it's because what was most memorable about that particular trip to Cape Town was that Mr. Deep and I got lost hiking up Table Mountain.

Table Mountain as seen from Robben Island January 2017. 
Table Mountain as seen from Robben Island January 2016.

Robben Island is located in Table Bay about nine miles off the coast of Cape Town. The island is most famously known as the home of the prison where Nelson Mandela was held for 18 of his 27 year sentence.  In addition to Mandela, numerous other political prisoners were kept on Robben, about 3000 in total. Actual criminals were also held there and political prisoners and criminals were housed together from 1961 until 1971. In the past, Robben Island was also home to a mental hospital and a leper colony. 

As an American I can't help but compare Robben Island to Alcatraz (I also frequently compare Cape Town to San Fransisco) but other than being islands and former prisons, the two are not very similar. 
  • The boat ride out to Robben Island is longer than the one to Alcatraz.I think the boat ride to Robben takes at least 45 minutes each way depending on the boat that you take. 
  • Robben is much larger than the tiny rock that is Alcatraz Island. Robben Island is over two miles long and nearly two miles wide. 
  • There is a town on Robben Island. In the past the warders live there and these days some of the staff who work on the island live there. There used to be a school but it closed and so now any school age students who live on the island have a very long commute to school traveling to Cape Town by boat.
The tour includes a round trip boat ride from the V&A Waterfront in Cape Town, a bus tour around the island and and a visit to the prison. The prison tour is led by a former political prisoner. 
Unfortunately, Derek, the ex-political prisoner who spoke to us, was repeatedly interrupted by a crying baby. At some points the baby was making so much noise while Derek was trying to speak that he lost his train of thought completely. All I kept thinking was it was a good thing that Mr. Deep was not on the tour with us because he would have gone bananas over the crying baby and the parents who thought it was a good idea to bring a small baby on this tour. 

Derek enjoying a moment free of baby screeching.
Mandela's cell. Number 5. 

While I love any excuse to pat myself on the back publicly for having read Mandela's book "A Long Walk to Freedom," I truly believe a trip to Robben Island has more impact for those who have read the book. The tour of the island and the prison provides and opportunity to see the quarry where Mandela and the others worked in the bright sun for years as well as Mandela's prison cell, and the garden where he buried his manuscript. 

One of the most unimaginable stories that is shared on the tour is that of Robert Sobukwe. Sobukwe was a freedom fighter and the founder of the Pan African Congress. The apartheid government was very afraid of Sobukwe. He was sentenced to three years in prison but after he served his sentence the government created a new law stating that the minister of justice could extend the sentence of any political prisoner as long as he wanted. So Sobukwe was sent to Robben Island for an additional six years. For those six years he lived alone far from the other prisoners and he was not allowed to speak with anyone.  

The quarry. Notice the pile of the rocks. Each rock was placed by a former prisoner when visiting the island as a free man. 

The garden
The cell block

"There is only one race. The human race."
-Robert Sobukwe

Thursday, February 9, 2017

And I think to Myself What a Wonderful World

I was slightly hesitant to publish a blog post a few weeks ago that was comprised of more photos than words. However, I received a lot of positive feedback on the photos. And as Mr. Deep so delicately told me this morning, "sometimes people only want to look at photos and don't want to read all the bullshit." So I think a photo blog every now and then is o.k. 

Last month in Pilanesberg I took numerous pictures of a gorgeous sunset which prompted me to look back through my photos and find other beautiful sunset pics taken in Cape Town in October that I never shared. Then, I got so excited that I expanded my search to include some lovely photos of the South African daytime sky. Enjoy! 
The downtown Joburg skyline taken from the apartheid museum. You can see the green roller coaster at Gold Reef City amusement park "photobombing" the image. 
A heart shaped cloud outside the Regina Mundi church in Soweto. 
Clouds over FNB stadium in Soweto.
Sunset over the Atlantic. Camps Bay, Cape Town (and 2 following photos.)

Sunsets at Pilanesberg National Park, North West Province: 

Madikwe, North West Province.
Oaklands Country Manor, Free State Province.

About Me

My photo
Hello and thank you for taking an interest in my blog. This blog tells the story of some big life changes. First, my husband and I have moved from the U.S. to South Africa for three years. We moved due to an exciting opportunity my husband had with his job. Second, I won't be working anymore. I'm actually not allowed to work so that will be different given that for the past twenty years I've been somewhat of a workaholic. I'm excited to share our adventures with you! My thoughts and opinions are my own.