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.
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.
We 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!
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
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.
Always looking for a pickup game!
Shisanyama (“Hot Meat” and is the traditional version of a barbecue or the famous South African Braai)being prepared
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.
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!
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!
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.
Of 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.
Anyway, 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!
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.
Now 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!”.
The veggie market under the herb market and some street art
Mosque in the old muslim quarter of Durban
Herb Market Man
The unfinished overpass that is now the herb market
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.
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.
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 cricketmatch. 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!
At the cricket stadium
The Durban Dolphin!
The harbor, where we had the braai.
The best part of the braai was playing with the kids
One 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.
We 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.
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!
In 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.
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!
So, Halloween and Thanksgiving are predominantly American holidays, right? So how did we celebrate them in South Africa? Well, read on to find out!
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!
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!
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!
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.
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!
When 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.
Ploughing the field. Most people can’t afford cows for ploughing so this man is hired to do the work.
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.
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.
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.
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 village of the Traditional Healer.
The Sani Pass road
Sheep Shearing. All done by hand!
Our vehicle going up the road to Sani pass.
Can you spot the Rock Rabbit, also known as a dussie?
The new road through eastern Lesotho
View of Sani Pass and the mountains from South Africa.
Exploring the river in Lesotho.
Graduate. This man just completed his Traditional Healer training.
Lambs caught a ride!
A beautiful view.
With our village host, Mpoh, and Inge, from Holland.
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.
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!
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.
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!
We 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.
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!
Also 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.
And 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?
Met some nice university students at the capture site.
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.
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 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.
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!
Beach time! Port Vidal Beach
From the uMziki Lookout
Our first Braai (South African BBQ)
Looking for animals.
Dung Beetles fighting over…you guessed it.
Port Vidal Beach
This is a real sign. You don’t want to swim in THAT water.
We 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!
Also in Casablanca, we saw the amazingKing 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!
Inside the mosque
The bath under the mosque. It has nothing to do with the mosque and prayer, but is there as an example for tourists to see.
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!
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!
A view of the pass we hiked through. It was HARD!
It was a long walk to see this waterfall. It’s small now because of dry season.
I got to hold this baby goat!
Tried walnuts right off the tree…eh.
Played Uno with some kids I met.
View of the gorge.
Near the village we stayed in in Todra Gorge.
Reached the top!
Cave homes of the nomadic Berber family who gave us tea.
The villagers farm in the river valley.
Hiking to the Berber village in Azadan Valley.
On my way to the waterfall. It’s WAY out there in the distance behind me!
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!
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!
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.
I have to say, they are the nicest family I’ve ever met in the entire world. They did so much to make sure I got better. They gave me herbal tea, and made sure I got lots of rest. Simply put, they took care of me like family. We even had dinner at their house! A few hours after the family treated me, I was feeling much better. By the next day, I was fine.
We actually ended up going on a tour. We went all around the desert, avoiding the dunes. We bought a bright pink geode from a mine, took pictures of a baby desert fox, and walked on fossils. My favorite part was the fossils. The fossils were of fish, millions of years ago. At that time, the Sahara Desert was actually an ocean. After the ocean dried up, and it became desert, the fish died and fossils were formed. Throughout all history, those fossils were still there, right out in the open. The nomadic Berbers found them there, in the open… and left them alone. Today, however, they are used for countertops and similar things. At a nomad’s tent, we had a Berber pizza, which is like tons of vegetables stuffed inside a huge, circular loaf of bread.
We also spent one night out in the desert, way in dunes. We rode on camels to the camp and back, which was pretty cool. In fact, it was more work for us than the camels! With each step, I leaned forward and backward. Another step, forward and backward. And on and on and on and on. When we finally got to the campsite, we got settled and I played in the sand. It’s so fine, the whole desert is like one big beach, minus the water. And the crowdedness. I played for hours and hours, until it was time for bed. Sleeping was not great. The bed I had was as hard as a rock, and it was so cold that I had to wear thermals and have two blankets. But overall, the desert was great. Lastly, we were back on camels, and the beasts brought us all the way back. Wow! What a way to leave the desert!
Played with a beetle.
The pink Geode.
Making music with the Gwana band
A desert fox
Ibrahim wrapping his turban around my head
Sandboarding the dunes of the Sahara
Learning some blacksmithing at the market
animals at the market
The donkey market
Sunset in the Sahara
My Moroccan Grandma taking care of me while I was sick.
We passed through the grand Blue Gate, into the medina. We were in Fes, Morocco, just starting our time and getting to our hostel. The owner, Aziz, was so nice and hospitable. He even invited us to his house to see his family. He has a toddler, whose name is Adam, and an adorable little baby. Aziz has tons of live chickens upstairs. I tried to approach them and scare them, but something went wrong. Five chickens left the room, and ran all over the house! Three of them were chased back into the room, while the I picked up and carried the other two, one at a time. It was quite an adventure for Adam! Aziz also helped us get a tour all around the medina, or old quarter.
We saw loads of things, including a tannery, and some beautiful courtyards. A tannery is a place where they make leather. And from what I’ve seen, they STINK! I’m not kidding. The tannery we visited smelled like a massacre. It was so strong, I had to go back into the shop. Ew, ew, ew, ew, EW!!! I’m normally not the one to be grossed out, but that place REEKED. There’s nothing to compare it to, the death-smell was so strong. I saw them scrape the skin from fur, and… it was just so gross. But the grossness didn’t last.
We saw one beautiful court that belonged to a madrasa, basically a high school, but in Arabic. Tiled mosaics were everywhere. We also peeked through a door on the side of the street to see… an absolutely stunning mosque. It was so big, and covered in lavish quartz. The light bounced all around and dazzled our eyes. Wow! We had a fun time in Fes!
We scrambled up the muddy slope, trying to avoid spiky branches. We were in the Rif Mountains around Chefchaouen, taking a long hike to see a waterfall. As it turned out, there really wasn’t much of a waterfall, but it did lead to a pond with a lot of caves in the surrounding cliff. It was a beautiful place. In fact, it influenced my writing. I hope to make a whole story based on it. On our way back, we saw some monkeys. I didn’t even know that they had monkeys in Morocco! Did you? Well, turns out they do. Mom got some great pics! One baby monkey was on top of a tree, kinda far away. He was so cute, though! The monkeys got closer and closer, until they were right above us. We were worried they were going to attack us, so we continued back down the trail. When we got back to the village below the waterfall, it was like a party. Haha. 😄😄😄😄😄😄😄😄😄. Fooled you so hard! If you read my post Terrific Tangier, you probably didn’t fall for it. As I said, I’m not that famous. People continued on with their days and lives, just as we did. We hopped on a shared taxi and away to Chefchauen!
In Chefchauen, we didn’t really do much, but we did walk around and eat new foods. Chefchauen is the bluest city I have ever seen. In some streets, even the streets themselves are blue! Wow! One night, I tried meatball tajin. Yummy! It’s very good! It’s my favorite Moroccan meal! Meatbaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaalls! I also tried pigeon and rabbit. The pigeon tasted a bit like chicken, but not just like chicken. I don’t know how to describe the rabbit, but it sure was tasty. Savory. Yum, yum, yum!
One day, we went to the countryside near Bab Taza in the Rif mountains. There, the main crop is cannabis, a crop used to make marijuana. Don’t worry, we didn’t smoke any marijuana. We went hiking in the nearby mountains. It was a good, long hike. At night, we all gathered around and read some Moroccan folk tales. A lot of them have to do with death and marriage. Yuck!
We stepped into the maze of pathways, the Kasbah. Suddenly, the attitude changed. It rang out, ‘Everybody Dance Now’. Haha. No. Just kidding. The attitude didn’t change. I’m not that well-known. We eventually found our way into a courtyard. One building held a few men who make local music and mint tea together. The music was magical. They used a violin and a fat, guitar-like object with a bent neck. I got to try playing the guitar-like instrument. I made a couple of tunes up. I didn’t quite match up with the violin. Okay, in truth, I was doing something completely different from the violin. Pretty good for a first try, though. We then listened to some more music, watched the sunset, and had some more mint tea, as if my mom and dad hadn’t had enough. Then, we went back home, and later explored the town of Tangier even more.
The American Legation was an interesting place. It mainly talked about how Moroccan history and American history interconnected. As we first walked in, I saw a poster that said, “Keep mum; she’s not so dumb.” I was a little confused. I thought that when they said ‘keep mum’, I thought they were saying ‘mom’ like the British. This made me shout out, “That’s so sexist!” My parents explained to me that the poster was really saying, “Be quiet. She might be a spy.”
In 1777, Morocco became the first country to recognize American independence, and establish diplomatic relations. In 1822, Morocco gave a legation to the United States. A legation is basically like an embassy. Mark Twain once wrote, There is no job worse than working for the legation in Tangier. If a man were to commit a horrible crime, then his sentence should be to be working for the legation in Tangier. Only one day would be torture enough for the average man. While in the legation, we learned about pigsticking. Pigsticking is an indigenous sport. A bunch of people ride on horses, hunting down a wild boar with spears. It can be dangerous, but it is only fatal to the boar.
Below the terrace, there is a small patio with a tortoise the size of my little head. The tortoise basically had the whole place to himself, but his area wasn’t blocked off, so I came to say hi. At first, he was scared of me, but seemed to forget about his fear. I was able to scratch his hard little head. He clearly didn’t want any scratches under the chin, though. Every time he was going somewhere, he would go very fast, but then stop, seem to forget what he was doing, and then head in a different direction. Finally, he ended up hiding among some plants. Tangier was terrific!
The ball flew from the player’s foot, past the goalie, and – was it really? Yes! It was!
Goooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooal! Goooooooooooooooooooooooooooal! The stand was filled with cheers. Some people sang the Sevilla FC anthem. In my view, at the top, was a section of people wearing green shirts. These people were supporting the other team, the rival, Real Betis, and were silent with anger. The Real Betis fans had been escorted into the stadium before the Sevilla FC fans, to prevent fights. Throughout the match and their entrance, the Real Betis fans were guarded by police, also to prevent fights. That moment, when the cheers rang out for Sevilla FC, it felt like everyone was united. The stands roared, no one sat, and all other activities, such as smoking, had been paused. It was a beautiful moment. Everyone was united. Sevilla FC ended up winning 1-0. Go Sevilla!
Quickly hopping out of the bus, we arrived in the very historic town of Carmona. Originally a Carthaginian colony, it was taken and incorporated into the Roman empire in the 2nd Punic War, about 200 years before Christ. We even got to see the Alcázar, though not for long. It has been turned into an expensive hotel. Sweet! We then strolled around. We found and explored a Roman necropolis, which you could also call a city of the dead or a freaking ancient cemetery. Yes. That’s right. A freaking ancient cemetery. Most of the graves were in clusters. This was evidence of the Christian impact on the site. Wow! Carmona was crazy!
When you visit Spain, you’ll find that Spaniards go out and eat tapas, which are sort of like mini-versions of larger dishes, part of the Spanish cuisine. We tried these many times in Seville. They are delicious, cheap, and small, so you don’t eat too much. I’m sure everyone likes food like that. Well, these people certainly like food like that!
Playing Pokemon with a new friend.
The view of Sevilla from the cathedral.
Inside one of the tombs of the necropolis.
Christopher Colombus’s tomb.
The catherdral in Sevilla is HUGE! The third largest cathedral in the world.
Flamenco is a Spanish dance originating from the Gypsycountryside in Andalusia. The original song is of despair, but it has been adapted to be more happy. There are three main pillars of flamenco: guitar, singing, and dancing, but for me, there’s a forth pillar: clapping. Without a certain kind of clapping, flamenco collapses, just as it collapses without guitar, singing, or dancing. In a lot of places, a good dancer is only Gypsy, but in one small town, anyone can be a be good dancer. “A good dancer could be Portuguese!” someone once said. In the 1960s, José Monge Cruz started singing. He was an amazing singer from the start. He is called La Camaron de la Isla. In 1973, however, he became a hippie. Hence, he made an album of the pop version of flamenco music. This became very popular in the world in general, especially among Spanish Gypsies. There isn’t a Spanish Gypsy without an album from him. One night, my parents and I went to a flamenco festival. I didn’t get to see much, because I fell asleep, but what I did get to see was amazing. In my mind, the dances each had their own story. One dance, a woman was pulling off some impressive moves, and one man tried to copy her, but didn’t for long. One at a time, three other men showed up and did the same thing, before exiting. Flamenco is Andalusia. Flamenco is Seville. Flamenco is… magic.
The amazing Alcázar stood there before us, looming over us like a mountain looming over a couple of shrubs. My dad and I were at Real Alcázar in Seville, also called the Alcázar Seville. Which name do you prefer? I prefer Real Alcázar, because it sounds more Spanish and beautiful. Real Alcázar was ordered to be built in 1340, commissioned by King Alfonso XI, a Christian king, in Mudéjar style, a blending of Spanish Christian, and Moorish architecture, and used as the capital. Well, today it’s one of the Spanish royal family’s many houses. Yes. That’s right. One of the many. We got to look at some of the rooms used by the royal family. They all featured elaborate furniture and marble floors.
I had a lot of fun sliding my feet on the marble floors. Slide, slide, slide, slide! All of the rooms had the same carved wooden ceiling. One of them had an amazing view of the gardens. Another of them featured lots of tapestries, mainly of the the Don Quixote series. After exploring the rooms of Real Alcázar, we explored around the gardens and caught Pokémon. We really didn’t catch any new or good ones, but did manage to get lots of Pokéballs. Definitely a good place to stock up on Pokéballs. While we were in the gardens, I managed to catch a Machop, and evolve it into a Machoke. Awesome! It was obvious that at Real Alcázar, we had a very fun time!
The van was chased by loads of cattle as we drove by. We were in the Spanish countryside, visiting a bull farm, which breeds bulls to fight. This was one of the places were cowboy culture originated. The ranchers also had horses. They rode on the horses to help guide the bulls because guiding them on foot is too dangerous. Twice a week, the bulls run three kilometers. That’s far. Okay, okay, I know what you’re going to say. “It’s a bull farm. Shouldn’t you be talking about breeding bulls?”. I’m getting to that.
There are six very lucky bulls on the ranch, not to go to a bull ring, but to mate. Each of them have 20 mates. My dad says, “That’s a lot of headache”. No offense, women. The cows, once they reach age 2, are tested by a torero, for strength and aggressiveness, to show which cows to breed, so they can have fierce babies. Only 20% of them pass the test. The other 80% go to other farms, for other uses, such as dairy. The ones that stay get to mate… and share their mate with 19 other cows. Would you rather pass or fail the test, if you were a cow? I would rather fail, so I won’t have to share my mate with 19 others. However, I would rather be human, and out of all the humans, I would rather be… me.
Real Alcázar garden
Courtyard of the Damsels – Real Alcázar-
Ceiling in Real Alcázar
Walking on the Bull Farm
Ranchers hearding some cows.
This is a cork tree. They are native to this part of Spain.
All these bulls have grown up together so they get along.
Breathing hard, I reached the other side of the pool. 14-year-old Jamie had already tagged his sister, 10-year-old Felisha. My parents and I were in Valencia, meeting up with podcaster Jason Jenkins and his family. As you can tell, I had an amazing time with Jason Jenkins‘s two kids, Jamie and Felisha. We played Sharks and Minnows in the pool, zombie tag, and Pokémon Go. We caught many Pokémon, including some new ones. The most powerful new Pokémon we caught was a Growlithe at level 527. That’s almost at the end of spectrum! We also took down a gym, through hard work, perseverance, and many potions. We also put another Pokémon in a different friendly gym. I had so much fun with Jamie and Felisha!
There was the courtyard, covered in medieval stone with orange trees every six feet. There was a fountain roughly in the middle of the place. We were outside theCórdoba Cathedralin Córdoba, Spain. Built by many Moorish rulers from 784 to 987, the center was converted into a church in 1236. The interior of the cathedral was much grander than the exterior. The floor and the pillars are marble, and the arches red and white. What I found interesting was that there were two levels of arches, instead of one level. It was beautiful, but very plain. Until we got to the main church. Glorious Christian elements covered the altar and the area around it. Mary was portrayed on one of the walls; colored glass panes filtered the light into colored light. The most obvious Christian element was the big cross in the middle. We explored all around, gazing up at the miraculous wonder, and before we knew it, there was the exit door.
A Roman ruin inside a parking garage!?
The Roman bridge
Inside the mosque with the catherdral in the background
The Christian cathedral with elements of the Islamic mosque visible..
The fountain sprayed water delicately into various places. We were at a light show, with a couple other travel families. Some of us had managed to get amazing seats at the front. I was sitting at the far left, next to Katelyn, one of the three kids older than me. Liam, her younger brother, was sitting on the far right, next to another new friend of ours, Bennet. In front of us, the water changed colors as it changed its position. They switch from pink to orange, red to yellow, and even some of the sprayers pointed towards the middle, then towards the crowd, back to the middle, and rested, pointing straight up. Don’t think that the fountain only did that. It did a whole variety of complicated things, played pop songs, had tons of different colors at once, even spraying us a little. As you can tell, the fountains were pretty cool. So beautiful!
Casa Milá is an engineering feat designed by Antoni Gaudí, a famous Catalan architect. Because of that, it’s quite an astounding building. It has these amazing courtyards reaching up past the roof, to let in natural light. It has freaking elevators! In the early 1900s, when Casa Milá was built, elevators were pretty new, so it was quite something to have them. Also, the building is very, very wavy.
The roof is also incredibly well-done. It’s got tons of sculptures, mainly looking like abstract knights and serving as chimneys. Awesome! Check It’s made of marble, too, a beautiful material that’s very nice to slide your feet on. The staircases go straight over the courtyards, too. I find that one of the most impressive and advanced things. What do you think? Say, “👍” or “totes true” in the comments if you agree. Casa Milá is some pretty impressive stuff, right?
I stepped in, and gasped in astonishment. It was as if I had stepped into a forest. The tree-like pillars branched apart and held up the roof, which resembled the canopy of a jungle. Light was dappled all across the basilica. Colored light filtered in at the back of the place, warm colors from the west, cool colors from the east. We were at La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, Spain, another amazing engineering feat designed by Catalan architect Antoni Gaudi. Even today, it’s still incomplete. The main entrance hasn’t even been finished yet! Also, only 8 of the 18 towers have been built. The main tower, which is also called the Tower of Jesus, will reach a height of 170 meters above the ground, just a little shorter than the tallest hill in the area. La Sagrada Familia has been built to look like a forest. La Sagrada Familia certainly continues to be built just as Gaudí intended.
It is covered in sculptures. The sculptures are used for telling bible stories. The main altar was, unfortunately, closed off, due to construction, but the crucifix hung in the air, supported by a chandelier. Up at the far end of the church, way up, was a triangle, made of smaller golden triangles. This symbolized god the father. Below it, but above the crucifix, was a hazy collection of light, staying near its source. This symbolized God the holy spirit. We explored the whole place, end to end. Every detail was amazing. Even the doors! It was obvious that an immense amount of effort was put in to create the basilica. What a wonderful place. What a wonderful world.
The sun beat down as we walked past the Ancient Roman coliseum. We were in Nîmes, a town in southern France roughly halfway between Spain and Italy. I was confused as to why we walked past the coliseum, instead of going in, but I held my tongue, and soon learned why we had passed the coliseum. We were meeting up with our friends from Amsterdam.
You’ll remember from my post Amazing Amsterdam Part 2 that Asher is a lot like me. Really, if you ever got to know him, you would believe me. We talked for hours about various things: about a game I recently started playing called Civilization Revolution, about a game that he’s addicted to called Kerble Space Program, about my drafts for sci-fi novels, etc, etc. In fact, Asher even helped me make my stories more like real life. The big thing we discussed is that we agreed to both write half of a realistic, scientific comedy. Most of the time we were talking, we were waiting for dinner, but before dinner, we visited the coliseum from the beginning of the day, Maison Carrée, a former temple, and other old, cool sites.
The coliseum, built in 70 A.D, was almost intact, though not at its former glory. We learned a lot about gladiator fights. First off, gladiators went to schools to learn their skills, and represented their schools in their fights. Second, gladiators were rarely killed. When a gladiator fell, the crowd would scream out, giving their input. The guy in charge would then decide whether to give the signal for killing the fallen man, pointing his thumb at him, or to spare him, the sign being to clench his fist with his thumb inside it. If a gladiator was killed, the guy in charge would have to pay a large fee to the gladiator school.
Maison Carrée, which, as I said, had once been a temple, now has another use. It currently houses a short film of some of Nîmes’ history with the Romans. The short film was very interesting. It told of Nîmes’s founding, and then of how its culture changed, back in Roman times. At first, the area of Nîmes was very Gaul. They worshiped Nemausus, and then they became more Roman, made wine, worshiped Roman gods, etc.
After watching the short film, we went to a small, cute little park, and to another temple, this one mostly in ruins, the Temple of Diana. It was very small, so there wasn’t much to see there, but it was still pretty amazing. It’s amazing that it’s still there.
After visiting the wonderful, yet small and ruined Temple of Diana, we climbed up a hill, and then to the top of Tour Magne, an old Roman tower which was one of the eight towers that used to be part of the city walls. There wasn’t much room at the top. In fact, there was more room at the bottom than at the top! The top was basically a balcony. However, the view was amazing. We stared off into the distance, our gazes sweeping across the whole town… to the horizon.
The car stopped, and we got out. We made our way to the sidewalk, gravel crunching under our feet. We treaded up the hill to the courtyard in front of the Baume abbey, in central France. Then… we entered the abbey that had been built in the 9th century. After that, I wandered off on my own. From what I saw, the abbey was made up of three public courtyards, and various private buildings surrounding each of the courtyards. The first courtyard had a public church on the side, which I visited briefly. I strolled through the other two courtyards. When I exited the third and final courtyard, I found myself on a road outside the abbey. I followed it back to the parking lot. Climbing the hill again, I stumbled into a ceramic shop. I spent a good 15 minutes or more admiring the cute, little clay works. When I found mom and dad, we were back in the car and on the road to Saint-Étienne!
Worn out and exhausted, we finally arrived at the house of our friends, Antoine and Amélie. We talked for a bit, then went to bed. The next day, my parents, myself, and Antoine, went to the nearby Saint-Croix-en-Jarez abbey, which was still in use, as a village. It used to be a monastery, but was converted during theFrench Revolution. The bathroom was truly one of the worst I’d seen since Myanmar! The toilet was a squatty potty, and stank multiple times worse than a zoo. I would have never expected to see a toilet like that in France! However, I remembered from Kenya, Uganda, and Rwanda, that you can’t judge a place by its toilets. The same rule applies for the Saint Croix-en-Jarez abbey and village! It is cute, small, and wonderful, with adorable courtyards, complexes, and sculptures around every bend. No Pokémon, but 1 or 2 Pokéstops! We turned one bend, and it had an old courtyard with a fascinating statue. Why was it fascinating? We turned another bend, and found a cute complex. It would have been nice to stay the night, but Saint-Étienne was calling us back, so back to Saint-Étienne we went!
The food came, not looking very appetizing, but at the same time, it didn’t look that disgusting. We were at L’escargot d’or in Saint-Étienne, a small town in Eastern Central France. Now, you might be wondering, “What is it? What was the food?” I’ll answer your question. Our meal mainly consisted of… snails and frogs. Sounds pretty disgusting, doesn’t it? I am seriously not kidding when I say that frog tastes just like chicken. Snails though… both taste and feel like squid. They’re good at first, but the aftertaste, combined with the texture, makes them gross. France was full of fun. It wasn’t full of just any fun, but French fun.
I stepped into the opening. A vast cave system stretched before me, as far as the eye could see. These were the Baume caves. Stretching roughly three kilometers (around 2 miles) and consisting of many rooms, the Baume caves were a spectacular sight so see. The first room, like all the rooms in the cave system, had circles at the top, caused by swirling water, roughly 20,000 years ago. That’s a long time! All along the walls and the ceiling where black ovals, each about the size of my fist. These… were caused by bats. Good thing it was summer, because in winter, that room would have been full of bats. I nicknamed that first room “The Bat Room”. The next room was covered in veins, and had a loud, yet comfortable echo. The echo in the second room was similar to the echo in most auditoriums. Hence, I nicknamed the room “The Concert Room”. There were a couple more rooms, such as, the Lake Room, which I called, “The Picture Room,” because the rock formations could be used to create imaginary animals. The next and final room we saw was the Tombstone Room. I didn’t give this one a nickname, because the name it had suited it very well. It’s called the Tombstone Room because the rock in the center looks like Napoleon’s tomb in Paris. We walked back, through the amazing Picture Room, the booming Concert Room, and the fascinating Bat Room, to the open… and breathed fresh air.
Dambach La Ville was our first stop in Alsace. We stayed there for three nights. We rented an adorable apartment. The owner of the apartment had a pretty, brown, black, and white cat, who was very sweet and nice. The cat really liked her ears scratched.
One day, there was a dance performance at the weekly summer market, where five different pairs danced to various songs. They even danced to Cotton-Eyed Joe. It was a big surprise. I wasn’t sure they were dancing the Cotton-Eyed Joe, but I was plunged into memories of when I was nine, before the trip or even this blog had started, I was to learn how to dance the Cotton-Eyed Joe with my class. Back then, I took it for granted, and didn’t really like the song, but at the moment I watched the dancers spin around, I had a strong desire to return to those times. Oh, the memories.
You know how much I like cheese, right? If you’ve been looking at my blog a lot, you’ll remember that in my post De Dutch Diet, I declared that I would buy my whole weight in cheese. Well, that’s right. Especially if it’s Munster cheese. In Munster valley, we were shown how Munster cheese is made. Believe me, cheese looks gross when it’s just getting started. After it’s processed, it turns into water with disgusting milk curds floating around inside it.
Once it’s stirred, it turns to smaller curds. In fact, if you added salt at this point, you’d have cottage cheese, which, from when I was 6 to when I was 8, used to be my breakfast. But the goal isn’t to make cottage cheese. The goal’s to make Munster cheese! After they get the small curds, they filter the curds, and put the cheese into a small wooden bucket. After a few hours, it hardens and takes its circular form. Finally, it’s stored for at least 3 weeks, and there you have it! Munster cheese! What a fascinating process!
Also in Alsace, we took a trip to Colmar, were we saw an Alsatian folk dance performance. Some of the dances they danced were similar to some of the dances I did for my music class performance, back in fourth grade. In the performance, many of the dances were circle dances, and in a few of those, the dancers jumped into the circle. In another dance, the dancers held strings of fabric in their hands, and entwined them.
On the way to Colmar, we stopped by a gorgeous and cute town called Kayserberg. It had stone buildings in German architecture, something hard to find in France, but easy to find in Alsace. There, we walked around and saw a vineyard. We also bought and ate a chocolate bar. Alsace was awesome!
Tried Tartes Flame (Alsation Pizza) in Colmar
Trying honey at the summer market in Dambach la Ville
In 1844, the Christilles family left their home town, Lampertsloch, in Alsace, a province in France. Jean Pierre Christilles, my great-great-great-great-great-grandfather, left, with his father, wife, and four children, by boat, and landed in Galveston, Texas, back when Texas was a republic. Eventually, they received land southwest of Castroville. They are my ancestors.
My great-great-great-grandmother was a Christilles. Roughly 172 years later, me, my mom, and my dad came back to Lampertsloch. As far as we know, no descendants of the Christilles family had came to Lampertsloch for over 150 years. It was a very cute town, in such a rural place that no Pokéstops even existed. At the end of the road, Lampertsloch looked more like a German town than a French town. The houses were much shorter and much wider than most French buildings. Trying to go even farther than most, we even visited a graveyard. Unfortunately, we couldn’t find any of our ancestors there. It was too new. What really helped us was an e-book that mom had found online. It stretched back generations and generations, to our ancestors in Alsace. Then, it stretched all the way forward, and didn’t miss a single person. Well, not exactly. Since it had been published in the 1960s, it was very outdated! In fact, it was missing two whole generations! The book was missing my mom’s generation, and my generation! How dare you! Whatever the case, tracking down our ancestors was both fun and exciting!
There it stood, in all its glory, the Palace of Versailles. The shining gold, the towering walls, complete with a massive courtyard. Built in the 1600s, the Palace of Versailles contained just as much glory as it had in the 17th century. The inside museum was a little boring, but don’t get me wrong! It was still amazing! The best part about the palace was that we got to rent a golf cart to drive around the gardens with. Even better, I got to sit on the back and catch Pokémon. I evolved an Eevee named Joan D’Arc into a Vaporeon, at combat power 1034. It’s our new best Pokémon! I found the golf cart tour really cool. The gardens were so big, the palace could have easily been called an estate. It even includes a small forest! Wanna guess what that was used for? Hunting! King Louis VIX, who built the palace, really liked hunting. That’s why he incorporated a forest into his palace. At the Palace of Versailles, we had an amazing time.
The graves stretched down the hill and into the distance at the Normandy American Cemetery. Such a sad graveyard. Down below us was Omaha beach, where many of the buried American soldiers fell and died. The countless rows and columns of crosses were dotted here and there by Stars of David. On each of them showed the soldier’s name, when they died, and which state of the United States they came from. I shuddered at the ones that said “Known But Unto God” because the idea of being blown to bits or burnt to death gave me the creeps. No one deserves to go like that. All of those soldiers deserve Medals of Honor. However, being buried in the land they helped to liberate might be even better than a Medal of Honor. We all give thanks to our soldiers. If Nazi Germany had won the war, more horrible and more terrifying things would have happened. The only things that stopped Nazi Germany were the Allied veterans and fallen soldiers. We thank you with all our hearts.
Omaha Beach Landing Monument
Omaha Beach Infinity Pool
Omaha Beach today – just a normal beach where people enjoy themselves
There it stood, rising up into the air like a mountain, sloping up on one side and down the other. There it stood, its tip scratching the sky and splitting the clouds as they blew by. There it stood, with its dozens of visitors going up it in elevators and taking cheesy pictures. Can you guess where we were? If you guessed the Eiffel Tower in Paris, France, you were right!
In Paris, we went all over the place. We caught Pokémon, saw sights, and walked around. We even caught 7 new Pokémon: Pinsir, Cubone, Tangela, and others. We even hatched a Mr. Mime! It was funny, hatching a Mr. Mime in Paris, because miming is a form of French art. Interesting, right?
We went to the Rodin museum, which was pretty dang cool. It was a museum on Auguste Rodin’s works. Rodin was a sculptor in the mid-1800’s to early 1900’s, whose works were like a version of impressionism in sculptures. His two most famous works are the Thinker and the Kiss.
Notre Dame, a large, stone cathedral first built in 1163, was beautiful, but a little boring. Climbing to the top was hard, but the view was pretty good. We saw the bells, and they were huge! We took silly pictures with them.
We also saw the Arc de Triomphe, which was a Pokémon gym. The Arc de Triomphe is a monument, a huge arc with carvings that commemorates the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic wars. I noticed someone fighting it, and waited. I was waiting for a while. All of a sudden, the gym leader was down, and the gym lay unclaimed! Quickly I assigned my best Pokémon, a Golduck at level 705, to the gym, claiming it for my team! Two Pokémon joined mine. I knew we would hold the gym for a while. All I could think as I proudly watched my Golduck spin around and around at the top of gym was: Go Team Instinct!
Pokemon at the Arc de Triophe
Mom and Dad bought me an awesome mini verion of this racecar!
Desserts are everywhere is Paris!
There it is!
At the Gates of Hell
Put a lock of love for mom and dad on the Pont des Artes bridge!
As you may know, my dad is a huge beer fan. In the Netherlands, my mom also came to like beer. We decided to drive down to Belgium through the Netherlands to Ter Dolen castle in the small town of Houthalen. On the way, we stopped by two Trappist breweries, which are run by Trappist monks, who are separated from society. They have to find a way to support themselves. Some of them do this by making bread, others by making cheese, but most of them support themselves by making beer. Most of the beers we tried were bad, in my opinion. However, there was one dessert beer (who even knew they existed!) that I would have been able to stand, if only it wasn’t so yeasty! It tasted sweet, like cherries.
At the La Trappe brewery, there was a beautiful garden to walk around in. Also, it was full of Pokémon. Just to let you know, our new best Pokémon is a Golduck at level 705.
The Achel brewery was walled in, and gave me déjà vu. On the outside, it looked a lot like Old Dubai. On the inside, however, it looked like an outdoor café. After eating a whole sandwich, I had a whole ice cream, and got a bellyache. At least I wasn’t hungry!
The Ter Dolen brewery was where the dessert beer was from. I met another kid, whose name was Alec. Alec and I shared our builds in Minecraft. We had a wonderful time.
Back in Alkmaar, Netherlands, rows and rows of cheese covered the courtyard. Slowly they were carried to the scale, then to the carts, where they were bought via auction. This went on for hours. The cheese wheels were slowly taken away, until at one point, they were all gone. Believe me, I would have bought my whole weight in cheese!
To end our time in Amsterdam, we went to De Taart van M’n Tante. We had some delicious Dutch Apple Pie. What a way to end Amsterdam!
Did you know that I am very interested in space? If you do, you’ll know where to find me in 20 years! If not, you don’t know me yet! At the Space Expo, I was all around amazed at all the close-ups of planets, the International Space Station, and the projects that are going on. Galileo is a project by the European Space Agency. It is supposed to be Europe’s version of GPS. That sounds amazing, doesn’t it? The European Space Agency is also working on a moon base. They’re planning to use moon dust to 3-d print blocks to use. However, they don’t want to use actual people to create the base. Rather, have robots do the dirty work, while the humans in the International Space Station control the robots. The European Space Agency also wants to send another rover to Mars. This project is called ExoMars. Its goal is to find life on Mars by drilling a couple yards under the surface. Who knows what will happen? Maybe they’ll find life like humans on Mars! It’s possible! Scientists have found evidence that proves the fact that liquid water used to exist on Mars! Perhaps by the time I follow my dreams and become an astrobiologist, they’ll already have found life on other planets. Whatever happens, I will dedicate my life to finding, studying, and preserving life on those other planets.
One great day, we met a family of three at the NEMO Science Museum. Lily, 8; Alex, 6; and Maya, 3. We explored the entire museum. Alex and Maya got very hard to keep track of. We saw a short video on the ‘life’ of a hydrogen atom named Harry. He appeared after the big bang, drifting through space, all alone, until the first star was born. Right before his eyes, two hydrogen atoms collided to make an oxygen atom. She introduced herself as Odette. After a few billion years, the star exploded. Harry was on his own again. However, he couldn’t be alone forever. He met another hydrogen atom, named Huis. He and Huis combined to make a hydrogen molecule. They were drifting along happily when Odette crashed into them, combining to make a molecule of water. Suddenly, they were swept away by a comet, which took them to the nearest planet in sight, our planet Earth. They were in the water cycle. At first, it was fun. However, it got annoying after a while. Eventually, Harry became part of a different molecule. The molecule combined to form one of the first cells. Eventually, these cells combined to create a coral. After multiple years, the coral turned into a fossil because the level in oceans decreased. The fossil rolled into the water, and Harry became part of the water cycle again. Harry rained down, and was absorbed by a tree, becoming one with it. When the tree rotted, Harry turned into petroleum. The petroleum was pumped up, Harry turned into gasoline, and was released back into the open. He fell into a wheat field, and was ground into bread. Then, a boy ate the bread, and Harry became part of the boy’s bones. All of us liked Harry’s story, but none of us were more intrigued than Maya. We ended by making cars that ran on air. I’m not kidding! They really did run on air!
Boat after boat floated by, and I’d started to dance a little. On top of the chair, I got a great view of the parade, which was a celebration of gay pride. At first I was nervous, but I started to get into it. We spent an hour or two, watching one of the coolest parades ever. The floats were drifting by on the canals, though it was more like partying by than drifting by.
On the beach in Zandvoort, we saw our friends, Asher and his mom. If you searched around the world for a clone of me, Asher is about the closest thing you’ll find. He doesn’t look or sound much like me, but we have almost the same personality. We both like science, we both like video games, we both are creative, so on and so forth. I got to meet some of his friends, Sam, Zane, Saskia, Nate, and Mia. We had a great time building a stable sand-fort, and burying each other in sand. First was Sam, then Saskia, then Asher. However, they’ll have to wait until next time to bury me! We had a wonderful time!
The windmills in the distance spun around and around. The smell of chocolate in the air drifted around the block and across the street. It was so strong, I could taste it in my mouth. We walked on and on, over the bridge. We finally poked our heads into a chocolate shop. We were told about how chocolate was made. First, the beans were taken out of the pod, which was harvested from the trunks of chocolate trees. Second, they were roasted. Third, the roasted beans were ground into powder. This is how cocoa powder is made. Once you get the powder, you can make a lot of chocolatey things. I made hot chocolate, using a spoonful of cocoa powder, a spoonful of sugar, and about an ounce of milk. Honestly, the heaping mound of cocoa powder on my spoon was probably enough to fill two spoons. I might’ve added a little extra sugar. Also, we took a dress up picture. It was unbelievably boring, but Mirjam was very nice.
The Rijksmuseum was a sight to see. Painting after painting after painting after painting. It got ridiculous. The two paintings that were singled out were The Night Watch by Rembrendt and The Battle of Waterloo by Jan Willem Pieneman. I preferred The Night Watch; how the light fell on the men in the foreground, how the faces of the people portrayed looked so serious. I caught a Pokémon right in front of the thing. Really! It was amazing.
Pokémon update! We’ve been catching a lot of Pokémon lately, and gotten some advice. If you catch a Pokémon that’s not your best, hand it to the professor! He’ll turn in into candy (not my own doing)! Also, our current best is a Seaking at level 539!
A huge clock that tells time with water by using gravity!
An activity about keeping cities from flooding
A scale that measured amounts of different elements in your body
Building a car that runs on air
Making electric currents light up a bulb
Mom and I learning about The Battle of Waterloo by Jan Willem Pieneman
They got a plane in the museum!
Lifting really heavy bags!
Climbing the stairs in a windmill
It was cold, but I didn’t care!
So much cheese in Amsterdam!
So much bread in Amsterdam!
Look at this ship in the Rijksmuseum!
A huge library at the Rijksmuseum
The Battle of Waterloo
The original units of measure for the metric system! I just studied that in science!
Mmmm…Omlette with Bacon inside!
I got to play the accordian in Zaanse Schans
They have huge feet in the Netherlands!
Watching a wooden clog making demo
What else am I going to do when they hand me a huge block of chocolate?!