GIASCO Fundraiser

In 2015, when I was in Uganda, I met the GIASCO boys. Now, the organization that supports them is in trouble. Uganda’s under lockdown, like us, and food prices are way up. Also, many of their fundraisers have been canceled, so they’re having a hard time raising the money they need to support the boys. With your help through this online fundraiser we’ve created, we can support GIASCO and the boys through the months to come.

Will you join us in helping them? Together we can make a huge difference in the lives of these kids!

Watch this video I did with my mom giving more information:

Guatemala Part 1

We arrived in Antigua, Guatemala after a long day of travel. We had to wander around our hotel to figure out how to get to our room, and even though I was tired, I could see the beauty in it. The building used to be a convent, and that was easy to see, as the architecture and the greenery were spectacular. The next day we went around and looked at the ruins area of the hotel, which were pretty cool. They even had a little chocolate shop and a little candle shop. We later went back and bought some chocolates as gifts for people. Fun!

Later that night we went to dinner with a view of the volcano, which was an awesome thing to see while having a meal. We had a very cool conversation there, about me learning Spanish, my plans for the future, and over world history. I learned about as much Spanish in Guatemala as I did in Argentina 2 years ago, mainly because I’m finally ready for it and I’m making the effort. By listening in to strangers’ conversations and by taking the opportunity to read things like signs and menus, I’m learning how the language is used, deriving meaning not from translating but by examples. I’ve gotten a tiny bit closer to fluency. And I hope to get all the way there during my gap year between high school and college. Guatemala’s only the beginning. I have huge goals and I’m going to accomplish them all.

South Africa’s Final Charms

It had been a few days after our roadtrip through the South African countryside, and we decided to take Aunt Helen somewhere special, somewhere we’d been before without her. We were taking her to Cape Point.


We had lunch at the cafe before, making sure to keep the birds away from our food. But one of them swooped in and stole a piece from Aunt Helen’s sandwich! She completely panicked and refused to sit back down, and mom, dad, and I found it hilarious.

Me ready and prepared to shoot some birds in the face


After lunch, we took the sky tram up the mountain and climbed to the lighthouse. The views from up there were amazing – it was like we could see the entire coastline. And that’s how South Africa stunned us for the last time, with a sight that we’d still see in our minds as we left a couple days later.

The South African Excursion, Part 3: Serious Safari

The car rolled into a gravel parking lot, and we got out. We were at our next stop on our roadtrip through the countryside: a beautiful safari resort. Waiting for the room to be available was a pain, but when we finally got in, it was beautiful. It was a dark wood building, small but spacious, and I loved it. I nearly fell asleep as we waited for the safari, but thankfully, I didn’t.

The safari was a bit cold, but it sure was nice to snuggle up in a blanket while spotting rhinos and cape buffalo and zebras. There were hippos and ostriches and baboons and eland. There were baboons at our rest stop, which the park rangers fended off. We even saw a few lions as they walked up the mountain. And on our way back, we saw an elephant and a giraffe.

We had a lot of time afterward. After some encouragement, I went to get my book from the car, and there was a huge bird in the parking lot. A secretary bird. I took picture after picture of it, trying to give it a wide birth. However, I once asked it to look at the camera, and then it bit me on the finger. I had to get a band-aid. Still, it was a beautiful bird.

The South African Excursion, Part 2: The Ostrich Farm

It was a bright and warm morning, and the car finally stopped at a wonderful place: the ostrich ranch. We walked past the restaurant and past the gift shop to reach the place where our tour would start. The tour guide started by showing us a replica of an ostrich’s skeleton, explaining how its knees were actually ankles, with what looked like its ankles actually being the knuckles of its foot. The tour guide showed us an ostrich pelt, covered in bumps from where the feathers were. They also showed us some jarred organs, displaying that an ostrich’s eye really is bigger than its brain.

They also had some ostrich food on display: maize and mystery pellets, which we’d already bought some of. We then were lead outside were we fed the ostriches. They were very greedy, and did not hold back, eating the entire handful in one go. The younger ones were smaller, gentler, and had less painful bites, but by we had so little food when we got there that they barely got any.

We learned a lot about ostriches at the farm. We got a chance to stand on the ostrich eggs, which are capable of resisting a lot of pressure. We learned the difference between male and female ostriches – females have brown feathers, males have black feathers. And we were treated to something super special.

We got to ride an ostrich.

Well, more like sit on one, in a small enclosure where it was kept standing. One by one, we climbed in its surprisingly sturdy back, petting its soft neck. The were three other ostriches in that enclosure, and they gave off a perfect display of their tiny brains, because they bit everything that was shiny – including the buttons on my shirt and the sunglasses on Aunt Helen’s head.

After the tour ended, we had lunch at the restaurant. And I decided ostrich tastes delicious. It’s like beef, but a bit more earthy. I also decided that ostriches are kinda cute. After you get past the bald-looking head that they have.

The South African Excursion, Part 1: The First People

It was early in the morning, with the first rays of daylight shining through the window, and the family and I were packing our bags. Dad had something truly special planned: a 5-day road trip through the South African countryside. On the first day, we reached a special place in the middle of the wilderness: South Africa’s San cultural center. The San are a culture native to South Africa (as well as most of its Southern African neighbors) and are as old as humanity.

We learned that they would have beautiful and entrancing dances and the village campfire to contact the gods. We learned that they would kill eland with poisoned arrows and then pray to the gods for their wonderful gift. We learned that they carried water for hunting trips in hollowed-out ostrich eggs and that they would return the shards of a broken water canteen to the village’s women so they could make jewelry. They cooked using tortoise shells, and they used hollow sticks with frizzled ends to drink water. It was amazing to see how they efficiently used the resources of their surrounding environment, and it was fascinating to see how their tools match ours despite not having the technology we’ve built our lives around.

Most San have assimilated into cities in their home country, but there still are San groups in Namibia and Botswana who live traditionally, who live the same way they have for the past 200,000 years. Despite hardships from the introduction of the Xhosa, the Zulu, the Portuguese, the Dutch (who later became the Afrikaaners), and the English to South Africa, the San have survived, but their culture is still recovering from the decades of Apartheid in which black South African culture and language was horribly suppressed. I encourage you to learn about their culture. Because it would be such a shame if we forgot our roots.

Cooking Class

It was just starting to turn dark, and we walked inside a building in an urban Cape Town neighborhood. We were greeted by a pair of locals into what seemed to be a small restaurant. We weren’t only there to eat, though.

We were taking a traditional cooking class.

Before it started, they offered us interesting snacks and wonderful drinks. We tried all 5 snacks: beef, worms, termites, dried baby fish, and peculiarly shaped peanuts. I loved the peanuts more than anything, but only the fish tasted bad.

First, mom and Aunt Helen were called up to cook the chicken. Then, it was my turn, and I cooked the beans. Fill a bowl with water and put it on the stove, then open the can and pour the beans in. I also poured in some tomato sauce, then let it cook.

Dad, cooking the pap, had the most difficulty. He had to use a lot of his strength to stir it, and it became more difficult as it cooked.

The meal turned out amazing. It was delicious and if I hadn’t eaten so many peanuts while it was cooking I would’ve eaten multiple plates of it. The cooking class was a great experience and I hope I can do something like that again.

Adventures with the Aunt

We’d been in South Africa for 11 days, and had already had a wonderful time. We’d seen penguins, we’d ridden a Ferris wheel, we’d been to a farmer’s market and a botanical gardens and a beautiful beach. Things were about to get more awesome. Because when I woke up that morning and walked out my room, there was a new face in the cabin: my dad’s cousin Helen. I saw her every Christmas and every Thanksgiving and every family holiday, and I knew having her around would make things fun and unique. My dad had a lot of cool things to show her, and she was excited for everything.

We started off my showing her the farmer’s market, with all of its different flavors and food stalls. There, we bought pasta for dinner, biltong (dried meat) for snacking, and avocado toast and a sandwich croissant for breakfast. The food from the farmer’s market was all amazing, and I loved the woodchip floor that felt soft but firm underfoot.

If you know me well, you’ll know my dad’s birthday is on July 15th, and that means a long day of cool and amazing experiences. He took off work that day and took us to see the penguins, which were much more active than the last time. We loved watching them waddle around, enter and leave the water, steal sticks from other penguins’ nests. Everyone loved watching them, my Aunt Helen especially.

We then went on a long drive to a surprise location. I know dad was probably talking about it the whole way there, but I slept the whole drive. We stopped along the way to get some lunch, I ate some unusual fish and chips, and we kept going. After a lot of driving, we finally reached the coast and dad finally revealed his big surprise.

More penguins!

The penguins were so cute as they waddled around, laid around, anything. We even saw a small group walking down the road! Sadly, it was turning late, and we had to leave pretty quickly.

I couldn’t wait to see what dad’s planning and Aunt Helen’s excitement would bring us next.

Quaint Kirstenbosch

It was the beginning of a beautiful day, and mom and I were walking into the Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens near Cape Town. We were instantly hit the sight of beautiful, lush greens trees and shrubs and everything in between. We walked between a row of powerful large trees and a relaxing green field as we looked for the sign pointing us to where we were headed: The Canopy Walk.

We walked between collections of fascinating plants, across quaint stone paths, and finally found the dense collection of trees where the canopy walk was said to be. Right as we walked in, we saw a giant, gnarly walnut tree, with younger kids playing on it. And all around us were huge trees and beautiful plants. We wandered around in there, entranced, looking at the forest around us as the soft mulch crunched under us. We did find the canopy walk after a few minutes of enchanted wandering, and it was amazing. Looking down upon all those amazing plants, upon the mulch paths and the people walking on them.

But by far, the best part of that canopy walk was the view. It was high up above everything else, and the glorious mountains shone in the sunlight. It was beautiful. And soon it was over. We were back into the forest with the mulch paths, and explored around the gardens from there. One part showed plants from the time of the dinosaurs. Another part showed plants unique to the Cape of South Africa. And a different part showed plants traditionally used in cooking and medicine. The botanical gardens turned out to be wonderful. If you ever find you have time in Cape Town, that’s somewhere you need to go.

Return of Round the World Kid

It’s been 2 years since my last post and 6 years since the round-the-world trip, but I’m back! I’m currently in a quarantined South Africa, and I’ve got to say, traveling during Covid is a weird experience. Empty airports, closed restaurants, and a generally slow world. Not to mention everything we had to do to prepare! We had to update our immunizations, like typhoid, not to mention get the Pfizer Covid vaccine, which sent me into the hospital with myocarditis. We had to get tested, and show proof of a negative Covid test, as well as provide immunization records to enter the country. Also, South Africa’s lockdown completely interrupted our normal city-exploration pattern of walking around, looking at the amazing scenery, and then going to a restaurant to wind down. We instead rode the Ferris wheel we found, which, while not the same, did give us a great view of the Cape Town harbor.

Despite the quarantine, our trip to Cape Town began with a fun, active period. Two days after arrival, we went out to the coast to see penguins. And boy did we see penguins. They were everywhere in the bushes along the path toward the beach, and they were also plentiful in a cluster on the beach itself. They were even baby penguins, molting penguins, and penguins with an interesting bluish hue! It was a wonderful experience!

We also went to a mountain for a short hike. The hike itself wasn’t notable, but what happened after was. I was just leaving the bathroom when Dad, carrying the food bag, was being approached by a baboon. Even as he backed up, it kept coming closer. Dad threw the bag, and the baboon soon ripped it over and went after our snack mix. A park ranger helped us retrieve the bag, but there was no repairing it. Our day bag from six years ago was gone.

You know what’s not gone, though? Me! I’ll be keeping up with you throughout this month-long vacation in Cape Town, so stay prepared for more posts from Round the World Kid!

The Scars Argentina Wears

Weekly march for the disappeared victims of the dictatorship

Argentina, just like any other place, is not all happy. There are sad things in its history, too. From 1976 to 1984 the country was ruled by a rightward-leaning military dictatorship, backed by the U.S. It disappeared people, taking them, killing them in secret through various means. It also banned some books, as seen by markings on the card catalog at one memorial. This memorial that we saw was beautiful, but also sad. It had the names of what seemed to be thousands of people, people who’d been disappeared. These were just some of the 30,000 people that were killed by the military dictatorship during its reign.

It wasn’t uncommon for the people taken to be tortured before being killed. Any name they said is another person who would be tortured and killed. Age didn’t seem to matter, and neither did whether or not they were innocent.

Thankfully, the dictatorship fell. One of the things that led to its fall was a group of mothers who would storm the Plaza de Mayo, right in front of the home of the leaders and spend all day banging on pots and pans. Some of them were arrested in the shadows, but opening fire on a group of unarmed, desperate mothers was a line that the dictatorship was not willing to cross. This group’s headquarters was in the center of the city, near what is now congress, and it featured pictures of some who inspired them. Some portraits were of people who fought in a peacefully way for equality, like Martin Luther King Jr, Mahatma Ghandi, and Nelson Mandela. Some people portrayed there were a little more radical, such as Fidel Castro, Karl Marx, or Vladimir Lenin. Obviously there were some more open to communism because of the right-leaning, horrible military dictatorship.

Energetic Empanadas

One night in Buenos Aires, mom, Lexi, and I went to an empanada cooking class, since I just loved them so much and they are a very traditional food in Argentina. We were shown the traditional style empanada, stuffed with onion, cubed beef, boiled egg, and olives, and helped make some ourselves.

The hosts, Adrian and Marcelo, fixed the ingredients to be stuffed inside themselves, then we took a break and had some snacks in an Argentine fashion. We talked about some of the politics of the country, and then finished making the empanadas. We put the ingredients in the dough and folded it, then one of our hosts fried it in sunflower oil, and voila! Perfect empanadas. They tasted pretty good, too.

Getting home from the class was somewhat disastrous, as the trains stopped halfway through, but we managed. Turns out the buses weren’t a bad transportation choice.

Empanada Recipe:

To prepare the dough:
Wheat flour
¼ to ½ teaspoon of salt
1/4 butter
1 egg
¼ to ½ cup of water (Add the amount needed until the dough is smooth)
Roll 6" discs to about 1/4" thickness
To prepare the filling:

Ingredients:
1/2 kg Rump Beef, Cubbed
1 Bunch green onion (4 or 5 seddlings)
2 common onions
4tbsp oil
3 hard-boiled eggs
To Taste: cumin, salt, sweet paprika and olives

Preparation:
1) Cut the onions into small cubes.
2) Place oil in a bowl, add onions, coat and cook until tender.
3) Add meat, mix it with the onions and cook until golden, avoiding drying.
4) Add salt, cumin, sweet paprika, and mix.
Turn off the heat and add hard-boiled eggs, olives. Mix
5) Remove from heat and allow to cool.
6) Spoon filling into center of dough disc.
7) Moisten the edge of half the disc with water using your finger, fold in half, and pinch the edges together to close the empanada
8) Fry in a neutral oil (sunflower is best) until golden brown.
9) Enjoy!

Terrific Tango

One night in Argentina, my parents, Lexi, and I left for an exciting class about the wonderful art of Tango. The Tango dance had its roots in the late 19th century. Immigrants to Argentina would make songs about a few things, mostly homesickness. These songs eventually formed a dance, called the milonga, a dance centered around the embrace. Milonga slowly evolved into the tango dance we know today, with influence from Europe. This dance was taught to us in four forms, some easier to learn than others.

Learning to Tango

After a good couple hours mastering the dance (we’re not much better at it now than before we started) we had a traditional Argentine meal. Steaks and sausage and blood sausage were the food of the evening, as we talked with our hosts. Two of them, cousins, had Italian immigrants to Argentina in their ancestry, and the third was a Romanian woman who’d met her Argentinian husband while learning in a European dance school. After that amazing night, the group was taken to a tango place, while I was taken home and slept the night away. 

Amazing Argentina

The Devil’s Throat, as seen from Brazil

One Sunday in Argentina, a family friend from the U.S. by the name of Lexi joined us in the country. Our warm welcome was extended by walking around in the San Telmo artisan market for several hours. The market sprawled all around the neighborhood we were staying in, San Telmo. Staring at and buying jewelry was a common activity there. As if that wasn’t enough, we gave Lexi a grand tour of the city, including Plaza 7 de Julio, with a giant obelisk in the middle of it all. Sucked for me, but at least my mom and Lexi enjoyed the experience. 

The next weekend, we went north to see a waterfall in the jungle called Iguazu Falls. We saw the hundred plus waterfalls from a lot of different angles as there was a lot to see. On our first day, we took the longest hike possible and saw the biggest waterfall yet, a waterfall colored with white and green and yellow until it disappeared into the mist below. It was called “The Devil’s Throat”. The second day, we hiked two trails, one where we could easily see the top of the falls, and the other gave us a great view of the bottom of the falls. We crossed over for a day to the Brazil side for a better view on our third day. The Brazil side didn’t have a whole lot, just one trail that focused on a lookout point. The Brazil side also had a bird park, which wasn’t really all that packed. Well, it was sparse enough for us to walk around and actually enjoy the place. The bird park was made to protect endangered birds from the type of habitat around us. It had everything from flamingos to macaws. Well, we had a good time at Iguazu. If you went, you would too!

Buenos Aires The Beautiful

Exploring one of the most famous neighborhoods in Buenos Aires, La Boca.

My family and I have been in Buenos Aires for a few days. Our biggest reasons for doing this are to escape the summer heat of Texas and so that I can improve Spanish. Here is a short record of our time so far.

With the Italian influence in Argentina, many delicious pizzas can found!

Here in Buenos Aires, we’ve already formed our routines. Before I started my Spanish school, we’d always go to a new neighborhood each day. One night, my dad and I went to a neighborhood called Palermo-Soho, a smaller neighborhood in the Palermo neighborhood. We ate really good pizza, then walked around a plaza called Plaza Armenia. We found a really good milkshake place, and then went home. After my Spanish school started, our routine changed.  At 4p, dad comes home from work, and he takes us somewhere new. One time, he took us to a cafe with a long history for dinner, La Poesía, then another for dessert. He really knows which places are cool.

Milkshakes at a diner in the 1950’s American style

One of the best things about Buenos Aires, specifically San Telmo, where we’ll be for the month, is the nearby market. It has so much good food! My favorite is the ever-abundant empanadas, pockets of bread stuffed with various ingredients, baked to perfection. Multiple places sell them, and I love them so much I could eat them three meals a day. 

I love Empanadas!

Another thing we’ve done in Buenos Aires is go to a book store called El Ateneo Grand Splendid. It was a remodeled opera house, so, naturally, it is an amazing, beautiful book store. Walking through the front archway into this massive, elegant space with a giant mural on its ceiling is quite a sight. It has a great cafe, too, and its desert was thoroughly enjoyed.

El Ateneo

One time on a Thursday and Friday we went to a small town called San Antonio de Areco. Our stay there centered around a nearby ranch called El Ombú. We rode horses, ate a traditional meal consisting of various meats call “asado”, and experienced a beautiful song and dance. Riding horses through the beautiful Argentine countryside, locally called La Pampas, was quite an experience. 

Horseback riding on the ranch

The Sixth Floor Museum

We exited the elevator, and pushed a button on the audioguides. The audio-tour had begun. Over the course of several hours, our audioguides talked about John F. Kennedy being elected President, abroad meetings, and the tour went up to visiting Dallas for reelection. Everything was going great that day. People were delighted to see him.

View out of the window from the 6th Floor. The street below is where President Kennedy was shot.

They turned from Main Street to Oak Street. Suddenly, a loud bang was heard, which people thought was a firecracker, and the President hurled over. It took a few seconds for everyone to realize that he had been shot. He was rushed to the hospital and tragically passed away at 1:00 in the afternoon. No time was wasted in capturing the suspect, Lee Harvey Oswald, who had many questions to answer. However, during transition, and before he could answer most of the questions, he was shot at point-blank range by Jack Ruby. Oswald was pronounced dead in the hospital, and Ruby was sent to prison for life.

The death of Oswald left a lot of unanswered questions and theories arose. There was a theory about a conspiracy to kill Kennedy that Oswald was part of. A few people heard gunshots from the Grassy Knoll, and some people believe there was indeed another shot from the Knoll that missed. However, the government denied it. When I was hearing about it, it sounded to me that Ruby shot Oswald to stop him from answering too many questions. However, I didn’t give it much thought.

Finally, the legacy of John Fitzgerald Kennedy was discussed. He took the Space Program to another level and continued the work on Civil Rights that past presidents such as Dwight D. Eisenhower had worked on. He also helped to ease the tension in the Cold War. So, we walked out of the building proud, proud of a great president who changed lives, and sad, sad about the brilliant president’s death.

 

The Most Meaningful Walk Ever!

We walked forward, along with the thousands of other dogs and their people. My youngest packmate, 142-month-old James, said that we were doing a fundraiser, Strut Your Mutt, to help end animal cruelty and that this money would go to the SPCA, a non-profit organization that seizes animals that were treated cruelly and let other people adopt them. I didn’t know what this SPCA thing was, but what it was doing sounded good.

All of the scent trails confused me, so I followed the freshest one. I found another dog, slightly smaller than I was, and greeted it (by sniffing its butt). Its name was Kerry. I repeated this many times, with some people but mostly dogs. I remembered Lucy, Adam, Bob, Jerry, Max, and Bella. There were plenty more, but I forgot their names. One of my sweet leather shoes fell off a couple times. Darn that crooked paw! I was offered water once, but it was hard to lap up because the sides of the container were so close together. I was getting really hot and tired when we walked under the thin tunnel thing. However, it wasn’t for about forty-five minutes until we got into a cool car. When we got back home, I was exhausted, but I was happy. Strut Your Mutt was really fun!

We raised nearly $200 to help!

Thank you so much to:

  • Motorcycle Grandma and Grandpa
  • Laura Griest
  • Heather Welch-Westfall
  • Laura Berger
  • And my mom, of course!

My Time at Space Camp

Day 1:
I looked around, oohing and ahhing at every sight. That’s when I knew Space Camp would be awesome. At first, I thought it would be a lame, space-themed camp. However, I was proved wrong. We were all assorted into teams; I got Team Andromeda. All of the teams had a presentation about all of our exciting missions. I was very excited. I made some friends and played Madlibs until bedtime. Even though the other teams in our thirty-bed dormitory wouldn’t stop yelling, I managed to get a decent amount of sleep.

Day 2:
My second day at Space Camp was a bucket full of fun. I admit it, I was grumpy when I woke up in the morning, but that was the day when I learn how delicious Space Camp meals were. I also got a really cool flight suit that I wore. The flight suit made Space Camp feel ten times more real. I learned about where my mission would be and my role on that mission. I was super excited for the following day, and for a good reason, as if I could see the future.

Day 3:
My third day at Space Camp was a blast! (You see what I did there?) I went on a mission, on a stimulated version of the International Space Station (ISS). With a partner, I created two different kinds of slimes: one of them was clear, cold to the touch, and held together really well, while the other was white, warm, and chunky. We also went on some simulators that felt like they could be found in an amusement park. The first one, Skyshot, was scarier than it was fun. It would shoot you up, then drop you, then shoot you up again, with another drop following, repeatedly. Since I have a minor fear of heights, the drops really scared me. I thought I was falling to my death. I had my eyes closed almost the whole time. Once, a friend told me it was okay, and I believed him. I opened up my eyes, saw how high up we were – around fifty feet high – and screamed, “You lied to me!”. Then, I shut my eyes again. The ride I liked was the G-Force Accelerator. I was strapped to a slanted wall in a large building shaped like a teacup.  The building spun around very quickly. It was meant to simulate multiple G’s. Trust me, it did its job well. Once, in the middle of the ride, I lifted my legs up and was surprised to feel how heavy they were. They felt like they were made of magnets, sticking to my wall! Boy, was that day eventful!

Day 5:
Day 5 of Space Camp was extremely eventful! We watched an IMAX movie about the upcoming Project Orion. It was in a large dome, which was really cool but slightly distorted the images on the screen. The movie was astounding. It followed and was narrated by a former astronaut who worked with the Space Shuttle program. He did talk about the program, but then he talked about the cool knew thing: NASA’s first mission to Mars, coming up in the 2030s. NASA is designing a new rocket, a new probe, and new spacesuits. They are designing the Space Launch System, a combination of the Space Shuttle and the Saturn V. It will have an external fuel tank below the probe, and two solid rocket boosters on each side of the external fuel tank, just like the Space Shuttle. It will also be painted like the Saturn V rocket. Its height and weight will also be similar to that of the Saturn V rocket. On the same day, I did a simulated take-off and landing of the Space Shuttle Endeavour. That was really cool. We also went to a gift shop. I bought a really cool set of the Space Shuttle (containing cargo), three astronauts, one Kennedy Space Center sign, and an American flag. However, as we were about to leave, Ian was searching for a piece of his styrofoam runway. I was helping him, and as he picked it up off of the floor, I turned around and our group of 15 others was gone without anyone noticing our absence. After an hour or two, we were back with our group, but boy, being left behind was hectic!

Day 6: Of course, a glorious week must end with a glorious ceremony. We had a graduation ceremony, along with three other teams, and there were about twenty parents in the audience. We were each given a folder which contained a photo of ourselves, and a freaking diploma! It was a momentous occasion, and as I walked out with my dad, I looked at the Space Shuttle in the middle of it all… and smiled.

Author’s note:

This is indeed a true story. I would not lie to you about my own life story. Also, in case you’re wondering, Day 4 was skipped because I do not remember anything exciting happening on that day.

Theater Thrills

You all know by now that I do things for fun, right? Well, what could be more fun than acting in a sci-fi comedy?! That’s exactly what I did in Wylie with an organization called Wylie Acting Group. Wylie is one of the three ‘Triangle Towns’ as I call them, in the suburbs of Dallas. There were tons of other kids, even at auditions! Not knowing anyone there, I sat by myself, but it got so crowded that there was someone on each side of me! I quickly became friends with a girl named Paige. She is very nice.

The play was called Star Warped, a play that blended together a mix of sci-fis and, in a way, made fun of them. I got the roles of Scooty and Dr. McJoy. Scooty, which were based on Scotty and Dr. McCoy, from Star Trek..  Almost everyone at the auditions got roles. However, some kids didn’t. We practiced throughout late January through most of February. On February 24, we had our first of six performances. It went amazing. I felt so proud and happy to be doing my first play enjoyed by people of all ages.  After that, we had five more performances on February 25, March 3, and March 4. I feel I did very well. The best part about it? I had fun. Lots and lots of fun.

Check out the clip of my scene:

 

Sad News…

with-mita
Cousin Victoria and I with Mita (mi abuelita), 2012.

Sometimes in life, sad things happen. Really sad things happen. You can’t escape them. Sadness, like happiness, is natural, and a part of life. Sometimes, these sad things come unexpectedly.

Like when we found out that my grandma has cancer. It was heartbreaking. Even worse, it is fully developed, and can’t be cured because my grandma is too weak, and because of the kind of cancer. We decided that we had to be with her for as long as possible. So, we are heading back. I am very sad. She’s my closest grandma. This breaks my heart open. However, on the bright side, I’ll be able to play with my cousins. Also, we’ll be able to have Christmas with the family, which is nice.

We will pretty much settle in Dallas for a while. Hopefully, my grandma will get strong enough, and the chemo will work.  Anyway, we have no idea what is to come. I guess I’ll write about that in another post.

Tour of a Township

reading

timeline
Reading about other non-violent protests in history

Humanity sometimes does cruel things to itself. Apartheid is no exception. For anyone who doesn’t know what Apartheid was, it was basically an oppressive system to divide the races in South Africa. The hierarchical structure goes like this: whites at the top, then Indians, then coloreds (a mix of races), and, at the bottom, the blacks, who, ironically, happened to be the natives, the people that were there first. Yes, it was a very racist society. All races, excluding whites, had their own, separate townships outside of cities. These townships were not their homes. These were designated neighborhoods, the only places they were allowed to live. However, different races in the hierarchical structures had different townships, and the states of them were different, too. The Indian township didn’t look so bad, but the black township just across the road was looking pretty bad. Of course, this was the state of things during Apartheid, and many things have gotten better since the end of Apartheid.

quoteWe already knew that Gandhi had started his work in South Africa, after an incident on a train. He had bought a first-class ticket, and sat down in the first-class car. However, the first-class car was reserved for whites. Then again, Gandhi had bought a first-class ticket! He refused to move, so he was beaten and kicked off the train in Pietermaritzburg.

You would never expect Gandhi to be prejudiced, right? However, we learned one thing that shocked us about Gandhi: he was racist, but only in the beginning. It completely blew my mind. How could he? Well, he couldn’t for long. Being the target of racism, he lost his own racism, which was kind of necessary if he was going to unify all of India against the Empire of Great Britain!

I also read about protests around the world. The one I remember best was in the Prague Spring, when a lot of people sat on Wenceslas Square in what was then Czechoslovakia, in protest of the Soviets taking over their country. Unfortunately, this protest did not work. However, many protests did work. For example, Gandhi’s salt march in India. That, along with dozens of other protests, ended up in the British leaving India!

gravesite
Dube and family gravesite

One of the key founders of the civil rights movement was Reverend John Langalibalele Dube, the founder and first president of the ANC. Originally, it was called the SANNC, or South African Native National Congress. However, no matter the name, the ANC’s goal was always to get rights for non-whites. He also founded the Ohlange Institute, a high school that taught not only academic skills, but also vocational skills. He got the idea for it from the Union Missionary Seminary in Brooklyn.  John Dube was the first black man to ever found such an institute in South Africa

img_1922
Where Mandela ave his first vote.

At first, the institute was so popular, that there were too many students to buy beds for all of them! It would later become one of the most important places in all of South African history. The reason? Here, decades later, Nelson Mandela cast his historic vote.

Well, we learned that times can be tough, but humanity is like a phoenix, rising up… from its own ashes.

Shimmery Sharks!

DCIM100GOPROGOPR9047.

The sharks swarmed around us, circling and circling. The theme song from Jaws played in my head. We were snorkeling… South Africa style, meaning that we were swimming with sharks. With snorkeling equipment on.

DCIM100GOPROG0268992.Don’t worry, the sharks were harmless. The only things that they wanted to eat were sardines. Also, you may not expect this, but the sharks were actually rather majestic. And, oh, that shimmer! The majestic, shimmery sharks swam through the water to the sardines. However, there is a reason people could be scared. When they get close enough, the sharks gobble the sardines up whole!

The sharks were black tip reef sharks, but only the females. The males were chasing the sardine run up the coast. You know, classic male stuff. All of them go great distances to find the males and mate, and these have scratches and marks on them. The scratches are from the males biting onto them as they mate. Rough. I know. Also, why were they here while their mates where swimming up the coast? It was because this was a better place to have babies.

Anyway, what was it like swimming with sharks? I held onto a log and looked all around us. One shark, two shark. From here to there, from near to far, shimmery sharks were everywhere! Wait. Let me get this straight. It wasn’t a mad frenzy of sharks, but there were a lot. However, sometimes you have got to zoom out on life. Doing that, our day with the shimmery sharks was amazing!

African Birds of Prey: Amazing, Beautiful, and Pretty

abop-sign

We got out of the car, and walked into reception. As mom was busy sorting out some stuff, I played with some stuffed monkeys that just happened to have magnets on their feet and hands. I loved how they stuck to the metal! However, this was a bird park! We had come here to look at birds, not play with stuffed animals!

abop-pano

The African Birds of Prey Sanctuary, the sanctuary we were at, collected birds that needed caring for. They didn’t capture wild birds. Most of them were released, but some couldn’t be – either because they couldn’t fly due to a wing injury, or because they thought they were people. Those who stayed were bred so that their babies could be released into the wild.

nando-owlOf course we learned about different kinds of birds! We saw and learned about different kinds of the scavenging vultures. We learned about eagles, owls, and… eagle owls? Yup, apparently there’s something called an eagle owl. Eagle owls are not like you imagine. They’re not what come out when you mash together an eagle and an owl. Okay, kind of. They do look like eagles and owls at the same time. They have feathery legs right down to their feet, like eagles, and have a face in a disk shape, like owls. So, that’s why they’re called eagle owls.

kite-huntingAnyway, we watched some birds fly, and one hunt. An African Goshawk did an amazing stunt as it caught a piece of leather while the leather was moving across the ground. See, this type of bird is always on the hunt, sitting in branches, waiting for its prey to pass by, so it registers a piece of leather moving swiftly across the ground as its prey. It dives for it, and catches it with its sharp talons.  The trainer had to give it a lot of convincing for the bird to let go of its catch.

Anyway, we learned that some African birds of prey are amazing! Others are beautiful and pretty. However, at the end of the day, all of them are awesome!

Take Me to the Other Side of Durban

at-the-workshop

One day, we finally decided to see the other side of Durban, the side that’s not as westernized as ours. I have to say, Durban’s other side was truly revealed. Of course, you can’t talk about Durban without talking about its ethnic groups, so I will. The majority ethnic group is the Zulu people, the largest ethnic group in Durban and South Africa. The guide told us lots about the Zulu. What I remember most is about how some Zulus in villages traditionally met their wives/husbands.

Everyone comes to the river, the girls and women to wash themselves and carry water in large jugs on their heads (of course) to the village, the boys and men to let their goats or cattle drink. Anyway, sometimes they are at the river at the same time, and the man falls in love. To tell her, he waits until the woman is taking the water back to the village. Then, he gets up, and knocks the jug off her head! I know, that’s really mean and rude, and of course she is angry! To make her happier, the man goes and refills the jug, then places it back on her head. This seems to flatter her. She goes back, and goes to this one young woman that’s like, the elder of the teens and young adults. The ‘elder’ will ask the woman about the man they met. The woman will tell the ‘elder’, what he’s like, where he’s from, what he looks like (if he’s handsome), and, most importantly, if she loves him back. Then the ‘elder’ will give her advice, and woman will do something the next time she sees him.

poundingNow you know what we heard. However, you don’t yet know what we saw. Most memorably, we saw a market for herbs. Interestingly, it was planned to be a highway overpass. However, the plans were cancelled, and the what was already made was given to the people who needed it. Now, it is what the people call a pharmacy. But, it isn’t the kind of pharmacy you would find in the West. It was more of a market for herbs. There were the herbs themselves, and then the plants in different stages of the process of preparation. Some herbs were to be swallowed, some to be taken with other things, and others… were supposed to go… up your butthole. Yeah, I think I would rather just stick with modern medicine, thank you very much. I’m sorry, we weren’t allowed to take photographs, which is a real bummer, because it was the most interesting part.

We also learned about an indoor shopping center. It was called ‘The Workshop’, because it had once been a workshop for tram lines and tram tracks. There, to wrap up our day seeing the other side of Durban, we had a bunny chow. So, now you’ve heard about the other side of Durban. Also, as you know, things are better when you experience them for yourself than when you see it through someone else. So, I wouldn’t be surprised if you are now singing, “Take me to the other side of Durban!”.

South Africa Life

james-surfing

img_1848
Braai with my new friend Kaderyn

One day, we got invited to a Braai. Braai is, pretty much, a South African barbecue. Its name comes from the word braaivleis, meaning roasted meat, in Afrikaans, and is a tradition in Namibia, Zimbabwe and Zambia. It was originally of the Afrikaner, or Boer culture, but has since been adopted by many cultures in Southern Africa. Well, it was delicious! The long wait was worth it! And anyway, I got to swim around and play with other kids, so the wait might have been better than the meal. Might have. You know, we all have this sort of ‘inner caveman’, as I like to call it, where you just want to act like a beast! Well, I let out my inner caveman on the braai. I grabbed it with my hands and tore it apart! No plates, no forks, no knives! That’s why you have canines and incisors. And hands! Then I had a marshmallow and a slice of cheesecake! No, I didn’t let out my ‘inner caveman’ again. This was dessert! I only let out my ‘inner caveman’ on meat! If allowed…

Well, I hope you enjoyed the story of my braai.

An ice cream after surfing!
An ice cream after surfing!

I am really lucky, luckier than a lot of people. But no life is complete without surfing! That’s right! While we were in Durban, we went surfing! Well, we learned. I had a hard time figuring out how to jump up onto the surfboard. At least, that’s what I felt. It’s just that… I didn’t really want to listen to the instructor. But even with my hard head, I managed to ride two waves all the way to the beach! This is how I did it: I laid down on the board as if I was going to do a push-up. Then, I pushed myself up a little bit, and finally I jumped and adjusted my weight. I fell off a lot of times this way, though. I feel like I fell more times than I caught a wave! Anyways, at the end of the day, I have to admit that it was a great day.

img_5100
Bring it!

As you know, no place is complete without sports. Since South Africa is biggest on rugby and cricket, and rugby was out of season, we decided to go to our first cricket match. Our first cricket match was very interesting. Cricket is a lot like baseball in many ways, but is slightly different. Their pitches are called bowls, and are bounced off the ground. There is field all around the batter, and they have to run from one set of sticks to another. Those are just a couple of the differences, but even though the sport was very different, the vibe wasn’t. It felt laid back, and generally the vibes were good. There was also some stuff for kids to do. There was a slide that I went down. Mainly, I got into a puffy suit and did sumo wrestling. It was really fun, and I won! The line was almost not worth it, though. I spent about an hour, I think, waiting in line. As I waited, I watched the other kids wrestle, and I looked to the cricket match. We were rooting for the Durban Dolphins, and were playing at home, in the Sahara Kingsmead Stadium.  Did the Dolphins crush the other team, the Cobras from Cape Town? Sadly, no. Of course, if you’re from Cape Town then you would be happy, but when we went back home, I was sad. Every time me or my team is defeated I get sadder than I should. One of my many flaws. Anyways, our first cricket match was great!

So, if you had no clue what South African life was like before, now you understand life in South Africa a little bit better. Some of the things you might do are have a braai, surf, and watch a cricket match! What interesting things to do! That’s… 🎶SAH SAH South Africa Life🎶.

Okay, I don’t think that worked. Anyway, bye!

The Wonders of the Forest

img_1814

img_4801One day, long, long ago (okay that’s not true), we went to see frogs in their natural habitats, in Springside Nature Reserve. I didn’t catch any, but some other kids did, all pretty small. One was very  small. He was a cute, black, bush squeaker. The other frog was a lot bigger, and he was light brown, with light green spots on his sides. This was a Natal Tree Frog. Like you might expect, he had the classic ‘tree frog’ eyes. Others were caught, too. There was a small, light brown one, with a yellow stripe, all the way down its back. I was able to identify this frog as a Quekket’s River Frog. As I identified every frog, I tried to find my own. I even went far from the group, and listened to their calls. For some reason, I could never quite tell where they were. Well, that’s nature. Sometimes you get lucky. Sometimes, you don’t.

img_1811We also went hiking into a lush, green place, called Giba Gorge. We hiked through relatively cool forests and grasslands. We were going to McIntosh Falls, a waterfall with a pool below it. The waterfall actually looked like the river creating it split into many rivers before recombining in the pond. There we saw a dragonfly laying eggs. It was strange, because the male was attached to the female, and she took so much time, but it was still wonderful. We saw other animals, like frogs and centipedes, and went through forests that almost made it feel like home. Almost. It was very hot and humid, which did not feel like home. At all. Oh, the wonders of the forest.

Wet n’ Wild at uShaka

img_4754

Once upon a time… we got Wet n’ Wild… at uShaka, in Durban. My favorite ride was one where you get in a big tube, and slide down a curvy slide. I went back by myself. At the end, I tried to impress everyone by doing a stunt off the tube. Well, I was soon to discover that the water was, like… a foot deep. I hit my head really hard, scratching it up and creating an enormous lump the size of my fist. When my parents found me again, they wondered why I hadn’t gone to first aid. I didn’t need it. We iced it, and by the next day the swelling had gone down quite a bit. Still, other than my big bump, uShaka Wet n’ Wild was wet! And wild!

Delightful Durban

dsc_7199

img_4614In Durban, a lot of fun. We went to a beach. I spent hours in the water and playing in the sand. I splashed around, and made up a game in the water. The point of the game was to get past each coming wave without going under or being knocked over. I, eventually, lost, and was toppled over by a wave taller than I was, but still had great fun.

He was also very curious and came right into the crowd!
He was also very curious and came right into the crowd!

We also went to a bird park. We watched a hilarious bird show. None of the birds would listen to their trainers! And the vulture tried to bite people’s feet and take their bags! The owl ran out of sight, and the kookaburra, as well as another bird, and the so-called ‘granny of the show’, refused to exit. Well, they did, eventually, but it took a lot of work. Crazy how some birds – and people – can be so obstinate!

American Holidays Not in America

thankgsiving

So, Halloween and Thanksgiving are predominantly American holidays, right? So how did we celebrate them in South Africa? Well, read on to find out!

berber
Dressed as a Berber

You wouldn’t expect us to be able to have Halloween in South Africa, right? Turns out, there was a small celebration in Durban. It was only down a tiny fraction of one street, but it was nice. Although, I didn’t exactly get the Halloween craze you get in the US, but I still got some candy! Which was very nice, although the 8 pieces that I managed to pick up didn’t last long. I ended up eating them all later in the night. And sharing them with friends! I dressed up as a Berber, the first inhabitants of Morocco. I say, my costume was the most unique. The decorations were unique, too! All of them were homemade. Cool! What a way to lift the Halloween spirit! I had a spooky time!

cheesecake
Cheesecake!

Another thing you wouldn’t expect in South Africa is Thanksgiving! Well, we were able to find an American family who hosted it, and they kindly invited us. Mom brought one of her delicious cheesecakes, which I had helped in baking, and it was devoured. People loved it! I was so excited! I also really liked a chocolate cake there. Well, well, well! Isn’t that obvious! I also played with some kids there. They were really nice! Thanksgiving was great!

Lovely Lesotho 3.

horseback-riding2

leseba
Tried to learn the Leseba, a traditional instrument, but it was impossible!

With our wonderful guide, Tsebo!
With our wonderful guide, Tsebo!

I groaned and stretched, waking up in our rondavel. We got ready for the day and I went to play. As I was playing, a young shepherd galloped past us on his horse. He looked magnificent. Supposedly he was chasing a different horse that had attempted to escape. After an hour or so, we were back on the horses, going through the magnificently beautiful countryside of Lesotho. We rode for hours upon hours, until at one point a storm threatened to move in. I copied someone we had seen in the village the previous day, and waved my stick, begging the storm to wait. Now, it was just a belief that they had, and wasn’t guaranteed to work, but it did. The day brightened up and got beautiful, all thanks to my magical stick. Immediately after we got into the car, though, it started raining hard. On the way back, we stopped at the highest pub in all of Africa, at Sani Pass.

One thing I’ve learned from traveling the world is: you only live once, so try your hardest to make your only life the best it could be! Anyhow, Lesotho was lovely!

horse-with-a-view
Our horses enjoy a break with a beautiful view

Lovely Lesotho 2.

jump-roping

Many of the students at the school.
Many of the students at the school.

We arrived at the school, and got out. All of the kids looked at me, interested. Like the toddler in the healer’s village, they had never seen a white boy before. They also thought that white people were made of candy, because whenever a white person came by in a car, they would throw candy to the children. One of the kids beckoned me. So I climbed up the hill…and ever since then, I had an entourage. They grabbed my arms, and took me from place to place. They made me jump rope, something I wouldn’t normally like doing, and I tried to scare them by acting like a lion, and then by acting like a zombie. Most of them were scared, but there were a few that weren’t. Mom had a crowd too, and so did Inge, a Dutch woman on the tour with us. The kids would rub their hands against the women’s arms, supposedly because they thought that if they did it enough times, they would become white.

A very scary looking storm!
A very scary looking storm!

We also went horseback riding to another village. It came naturally to me. I galloped at one point. The only problem was that my horse tended to ignore me, even if I hit it really hard. I normally am against hitting animals, but there was no other way. Man, that was an obstinate thing!

puppiesWhen we finally got into the village, I looked around, and heard about and saw something that surprised me: a clinic. It was in the middle of nowhere in the countryside! But, it was good for the people and animals living there. The sheep in the area are kept for their wool, so nobody wants anything bad happening to them. All people and animals are supposed to be vaccinated from diseases like rabies and cured of ticks, fleas, and other parasites, so supposedly it was safe to pet them. Supposedly. Apparently, some dog owners still didn’t take care of their dogs properly, so I was only allowed to look, not touch. But what I did see! Four adorable puppies, standing on their hind legs, sucking milk from their mother, who refused to lay down. She looked very tired and hungry.  Tired… sounds very familiar. Because that’s what I was! We sheltered from the rain in our hut and…sorted and stored our memories, in a process called sleep.

Lovely Lesotho 1.

lesotho

Our vehicle rode up…to Sani Pass, the border between the South African province of KwaZulu-Natal and Lesotho. We crossed into Lesotho…country #33.  Sani Pass was amazing, the view absolutely stunning.

The Twelve Apostles on our way up to Sani Pass.
The Twelve Apostles on our way up to Sani Pass.

holding-lamb

After admiring the view, we went to a sheep farm. I loved on all the little lambs, and watched sheep get sheared…by hand. It didn’t look very comfortable, but they weren’t complaining, so I won’t complain. One of the sheep was pink, and had a mustache. He started singing, “Yo, what up, it’s yo boy! Guess what? Ya ain’t getting no toy! Gonna spit fire in this track! Oh yeah, fam! Ya better have my back!”* Lol! 😆😆😆! No! That didn’t happen! It would be cool, though.

Traditional Lesotho Healer
Traditional Lesotho Healer

We had lunch at another sheep farm, which had tons of tadpoles in the water. So many! Some of them were seemingly brand new, others were growing legs, and still others looked just like frogs with tails. I also saw a teeny tiny frog! He was so cute! We also saw a local healer. She had been picked in a dream by her ancestors, and went through six months of training. Whenever she needs to heal someone, she asks the ancestors what remedy to use, and often uses herbs. Her house is a rondavel, a circular building, so that her ancestors don’t get trapped in a corner. They only come to her in dreams. She somehow managed to help Dad’s shoulder pain.

Kids all over the world like to play!
Kids all over the world like to play!

I played in the village with the kids. But one kid, at around 3, was so scared of me! He was crying  and crying and crying. Why? Apparently, he had never seen a white boy before, and so, he must have been like, “OH MY GOD! WHAT DID YOU DO TO YOURSELF? DID YOU PEEL YOUR SKIN AWAY?” I’m pretty sure that’s why he reacted in the manner he did.  Our two guides, both being Basotho, shared their stories of the first time they had seen a white person. It can be scary, from what I heard, but because they work in tourism, they got used to it at some point.

Finally, we settled down around the fire and watched some dancing. We eventually joined in, and at the end I jumped into the circle. Everyone cracked up, while I wondered, “What’s so funny?” Still, I joined in in the laughter, and had a great time.

*Reference to Pink Sheep, one of my favorite YouTubers.

The Dazzling Drakensbergs

james-in-drakensbergs

We hiked up, up, up… into the dazzling Drakensberg Mountains. We explored all around, at one point seeing a small black bird with a 🎶 VERY long tail-thing 🎶. How could it fly like that? Dunno. Well, as you’ll soon see, our adventure in the Drakensberg Mountains was just beginning. drakensberg

in-a-cave
Safe in the cave!

The rain came. It got very, very wet. Isn’t that obvious? We stopped, and discussed whether to go hide in a nearby cave. All of the sudden, it started hailing! We dashed into the cave and climbed onto a pile of rocks. The whole rest of the cave got wet. LOLOLOLOLOLOL!
We are so prankster gangster! Too bad for the bugs and stuff!

rock-art1
Amazing rock art of elands.

We had been on a hike to see Bushman cave paintings. The Bushmen, also called San people, are hunter-gatherers, who started out around 100,000 years ago. That’s possibly as old as humanity! Many of the Bushmen were eradicated by farmers, black and white, which is unfortunate, because their paintings are absolutely amazing! The paintings showed light and shadow, and were even carefully detailed. The ones we saw were fairly recent, dated from 300 to 500 years ago, but were painted on top of older paintings originally painted thousands of years ago. One of the paintings was of a lot of eland, but one of them showed signs of…dying. However, our guide explained that it was actually symbolizing a shaman in a trance. We also saw a painting of a hunt, and a dance the shamans did to enter their altered state of consciousness. Another painting showed a bunch of tick marks, seen when shamans start to enter their altered state of consciousness.

rainbow
This beautiful rainbow emerged after the intense rain.

The paintings were amazing, however the landscape was no less amazing. Dramatic mountains, completely green, rose up from the ground with lines of rock streaming across them, created when lava pushed up the layers of sedimentary rock. Curved mountains, pointy mountains, mountains above the clouds, you name it! All were there. 🎶  Trees and trees covered the land! They spanned from town to town! 🎶 Actually, there were only short patches of trees. We were informed of controlled burning of the grass in dry season. Why? To  prevent more dangerous fires from happening. Also, when the grass is burned, it grows back greener than before. That means that the grass is getting nutrients from its own ashes. Gross! That’s self-cannibalizing! And wrong! Self cannibalizing? Yuck!

garden-castleWe climbed up, searching for a river. We were on one of the hiking trails near Garden Castle. Then we found it. We scrambled towards the river, which was really more like a stream. We followed it to a series of three pools, where we sat down, and got comfy. After a long rest, we got up, and went back the way we came.

Wow, the Drakensbergs were dazzling!

The Midlands

img_4235

We arrived at the Nelson Mandela Capture Site, pretty much in the middle of nowhere, in the midlands of KwaZulu-Natal. They had a café there, as well as a temporary exhibit of Nelson Mandela‘s life, in six stages: character, comrade, leader, prisoner, negotiator, and statesman. He was captured at that very spot, for resisting and protesting against the Apartheid government, on August 5, 1962. Mandela was in prison for 27 years, and the Capture Site is a memorial to him. However, it was not in order, but a larger, permanent exhibit was under construction. The real thing to see, though, was the sculpture of his face. It was a huge thing, and was made of sheets of metal rising from the ground. Ingeniously, you could only see the image of his face from a certain angle. I didn’t know what that angle was, so it completely fooled me, and I only saw it later in a picture my dad had taken of it. What do you know! History in the countryside!

img_4249img_4255Also in the countryside, we stayed at a cute trading post and farm, which had been converted into a quaint guesthouse. I said hello to the horses, explored the nearby nature, and met the farm dogs. There are two Great Danes and one German Shepherd. I didn’t meet the German Shepherd for very long, so I don’t know how old he is, and I don’t remember his name. One Great Dane is a male, his name is Oscar, and he is super sweet. He followed me around everywhere I went, and I loved on him, which he didn’t seem to mind. He is eight years old. He has a mate, I think, but I forgot her name. She’s just as sweet as he is, only she’s way younger, around five. I heard a heartbreaking story about her. She was pregnant, but her owners never saw her puppies. Sad. I know. But, don’t let that cloud your vision of the farm, it was still amazing.

img_1724And lastly, here comes the most important part… reuniting with mom, after she was in a silent meditation retreat for nearly a week. Now, she wasn’t silent the whole time, there were times here and there when she was allowed to speak with the instructor on how she was doing meditating, and at the end they could speak again. Well, reuniting with mom was something special. Because at the end at the day, what’s more special than family?

Wildlife in a Wild Place

img_3947

HIPPOS!
HIPPOS!

Our boat undocked, and floated down the river. From time to time we saw pods of hippos. Our guide explained to us how they live. A pod of hippos consists of one dominant male and a lot of females, all his mate! That’s wrong! Occasionally, there are some baby hippos. Normally they know their mother better than their father. Very rarely, a pod also has an old male in it. Whenever a female has a baby male, the father will do something horrible. He will try to kill his own son! That’s nature. Brutal. Sometimes, however, the female successfully protects her son or sons. They will grow up, and chose to stay or to leave. If they stay, they must beat their father in combat. After that, either they take a few of the females, and start a new pod, or take over the pod, and send their father into exile. If they leave, the same thing happens, just with another male. If they lose, they are sent into exile, but can try again. However, they can’t come back to the same pod. The baby females get to stay in their pod, and live a normal life. Including having to mate with their fathers! That I find incredibly disturbing. Well, on the boat cruise we had a wonderful and relaxing time.

Hippo at night
Hippo at night

One night, after having a delicious dinner, we were driving onto the street from the parking lot, when, suddenly, our headlights flashed straight on… a hippo! This was before the cruise, and we found it exciting. It was just grazing right there, right before us. We could even hear it munching. Wow! What a night!

We moved out of his way!
We moved out of his way!

We didn’t just see hippos in and around St. Lucia. We went on a long game drive in Hluhluwe National Park (pronounced ShoShlewy). We saw tons of stuff, but I’ll give you just the highlights: a pride of lions, only up the hill above our van, and a bull elephant, with one tusk, that came dangerously close to us. We were worried it was gonna charge, so our truck backed away. It ended up crossing the road.

Rhino and baby through the binoculars
Rhino and baby through the binoculars

Another highlight was seeing a rhino eating grass, while her baby nursed. So cute! We saw this many times, but didn’t get a view as good. As it was raining, our guide took us to a place where lions and cheetahs had been spotted earlier. We couldn’t see any cheetahs, but we did see something amazing: a huge, male lion yawned, and woke up from his nap, while another male with a black mane approached it. These, our guide explained, were brothers. Eventually, the two lions walked off into the forest. We had an amazing game drive!

Crazy Casablanca

dsc_6446

img_1678We stepped through the door. We were in Casablanca, eating a nice meal at the cheesiest restaurant in town. I won’t tell you the name of the restaurant, but I will give you a hint: it’s the main scene of the old movie *Casablanca*. Yep! We went to Rick’s Café! Of course, it was a complete imposter, but still! Cheeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeesy!
I had a delicious burger! A burger! We hadn’t had burgers for a month! Crazy, huh? However, it *is* healthy. Well, we had a tasty meal at Rick’s Café!

Inside the amazing King Hassan II Mosque
The amazing King Hassan II Mosque

Also in Casablanca, we saw the amazing King Hassan II Mosque! It is the third largest mosque in the entire world, and is made of material almost entirely from Morocco! Wow! That must be hard to do! Apparently, it holds twenty-five thousand people. Imagine twenty-five thousand people, simultaneously praying in the mosque. What a sight that must be! Twenty -five thousand people! Also, when it is hot, or the weather is nice, guess what they do. They open the roof up! It opens in three seconds, and closes in two. Amazing! Unfortunately, we did not get to see them open the roof up, but when they do, I imagine it is amazing. You must be very lucky if you see the roof. Also, we saw a room where they wash themselves before praying. There, they had special, natural de-humidifying columns. I don’t remember what they were made from, but I do remember that the recipe involved raw eggs. Yuck! From what I can tell, Casablanca was CRAZY!

High Hiking

dsc_6310

dsc_6312
Standing near one of the caves the family lives in. This bunch of caves is considered a sort of base camp for the family.

Up, up, up, we went, up the rocky hill. I was hiking in the Atlas Mountains with my mom. Dad had a stomach bug, so he couldn’t come. We hiked through the barren landscape through the Todra Gorge, up into the Atlas Mountains. It was a tough and slow hike up, but we got to a small hut near some caves, where Berbers lived. Mom and the guide had tea there. A couple of young girls where there with their grandma. They curiously but shyly watched us from a distance. The guide explained that they stayed with their grandma year-round, while their parents moved around the country in search of food. They were the nomadic Berber people, the indigenous people of Morocco for over 3,000 years. Other cultures came and went, such as the Phoenicians, the Carthaginians, the Arabs, the Spanish and French, but all of them found the native Berbers. And so did we! We hiked back down the rocky, barren hill, into the valley and the town by Todra Gorge!

img_1655
Me in a dragon mask with our mule

We also hiked near Imlil in a two-day trek to a Berber village and back. I know I said that the Berbers are nomadic, but some of them settled down into villages and towns. We had a long hike, during which we saw an amazing waterfall. But, man, was the waterfall cold! No, no, no, I didn’t get in it! Why would I do that? The spray went everywhere! That’s how I could tell it was cold! The village was pretty cool, though. It was around a couple centuries old. Wow, that’s really old! We stayed the night in the village. Our room was plain, but I’m not complaining. We slept in sleeping bags. Why? Because nights are cold in the Atlas Mountains! We were warm, though. And I found that I prefer sleeping in a sleeping bag to sleeping in a bed! Yes! Really! I think it is because I like my whole body surrounded by warmness and softness. With a sleeping bag, I get that! With a bed, I don’t. Well, the next day, we loaded our stuff on the mule and headed back to Imlil!

Mainly Insane Marrakech

dsc_6338

The main square was absolutely insane. People walking monkeys around, snakes and cobras at an unsafe distance… some people even grabbed snakes and ran towards other tourists. Others tried to prank us by running towards us with fake snakes. Not cool! One guy ran towards us with a snake. We scattered and ran, and I had to dodge another guy with a snake. Only later did I realize that the second snake was fake. I passed the food stalls and vendors, eventually finding Mom and Dad far from the main plaza. But, man, was that CRAZY!

img_3635
Had an ice cream break, too!

Also in Marrakech, we had a break from a straight month of tagine and couscous. I’m not saying that I hate Moroccan food, but it can be repetitive, and not very diverse. We had a couple of pizzas, and some paninis. We also had some good Wifi. We stayed at a hostel and I met some epic people. The young adults were too cool for my parents. I mean, my parents just didn’t feel like socializing as much as I did. I met someone from South Africa living in London, and showed her my videos. And I talked to a huge group of Norwegians. And I had an epic time. As for the plaza… that was DANG insane!

The Super Sahara

Oh yeah!

My Moroccan Grandma, Mahelo in Berber.
My Moroccan Grandma, Mahelo in Berber.

We stood outside the hotel, and waited. It was five o’ clock in the morning, I had had food poisoning on the bus since midnight, and the hotel was completely locked.  We knocked on the door. Nothing happened. We waited. A man came from next door. He tried to talk to us in French, but we didn’t understand him. Dad asked if he spoke English. The man said that he didn’t. Uh oh. Dad asked if the man spoke Spanish. He did. Whew! Dad told him of our situation, and he let us into the hotel. He was the owner, apparently, and his name was Ibrahim. We slept in the lobby. I was worried that my sickness would keep me awake, but I was able to sleep for a few hours. Ibrahim’s family was very hospitable.