Category Archives: African Adventures

Bourke’s Luck Potholes in Mpumalanga: Not All Potholes are Problematic!

                Do you go crazy trying to avoid all the potholes in spring? In Michigan, the winters are so brutal that by springtime roads are pocked with depressions where the ground has heaved, leaving broken asphalt and treacherous traps just waiting to pop the tires of unwary commuters. So, when we were told we were going to stop along the Panoramic Route between Kruger National Park and Johannesburg in South Africa to see “the potholes,” I wasn’t particularly impressed…until I saw them!  These potholes have been created by the confluence of the Treur & Blyde Rivers                                                      at Blyde River Canyon, where centuries of wear have formed deep, cylindrical depressions in the sandstone bedrock. They are indeed potholes, but they’re not the dangerous ones we see in America. These potholes are grand and spectacularly beautiful formations in layered shades of rust, amber, brown, and taupe.  Their name refers to Tom Bourke, who was an unsuccessful gold prospector in this area, but I think he found something better than gold! Today, tourists (like Alan and me) come from around the world to marvel at the natural beauty of this area. So, the next time you see a pothole in your road, please avoid it to be sure, but remember that some potholes can be beautiful. How about us? Is the wear and pressure in our lives revealing natural color and creating unique patterns of beauty in us, or are we becoming broken and depressed? God intends the floods of time and pressure to transform us (particularly at the confluence of ourselves with another “river”).He cutteth out rivers among the rocks; and his eye seeth every precious thing. He bindeth the floods from overflowing; and the thing that is hid bringeth he forth to light. But where shall wisdom be found? and where is the place of understanding? (Job 28:10-12)   But now thus saith the Lord that created thee, O Jacob, and he that formed thee, O Israel, Fear not: for I have redeemed thee, I have called thee by thy name; thou art mine. When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee: when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon thee. For I am the Lord thy God, the Holy One of Israel, thy Saviour (Isaiah 43:1-3)

(All photos taken on our trip to South Africa at Burke’s Luck Potholes,  2016.)

Anticipating the View from God’s Window

“God’s Window” is in South Africa and was our first stop on the Panoramic Route between Kruger National Park and Johannesburg.* For  those of you who read my blog on a regular basis, you might notice that I haven’t written anything about Africa for a month, and that I have as yet to say one word about our safari in Kruger National Park, which is likely to be even more interesting to you than the view from God’s Window.

I apologize. At the most interesting sites, I take hundreds of photos,
and it takes hours…no days!…to choose and process the best to share. This requires unhurried days at home without any heaven-sent opportunities to interact with family and friends
(which often fill many days to overflowing).

That aside aside, I want to share three favorite stops along this famous Panoramic Route in the coming week before April begins and I try to finish telling tales from our adventures in Southeast Asia last spring. (I will return to African experiences sometime, though, because they were great!)Renier, our travel guide in Africa, explained that God’s Window was a special place in Mpumalanga along the Drakensberg escarpment where the cliffs drop over 2,200 feet to the “lowveld” (low grassland) below, opening up vistas of the entire Blyde River Canyon Nature Reserve, and on a clear day you can see some 150 miles to the border of Mozambique!**                         That’s pretty close to “On a clear day you can see forever!”                                                   We were all super excited! Unfortunately, by the time we actually got there, clouds had filled the canyon and we couldn’t see anything but a sea of mist. So disappointing!  😦  But, how like life on earth! We have hopes and dreams and prayers for vision, and sometimes it does seem like we can see everything clearly from God’s window…from His perspective. However, other days our vision is totally obscured, and we have no clue what the future will hold. No matter how clear or cloudy the present is, may we keep calm and carry on with what we know to do (even if that means not going very far), waiting patiently for the clouds to lift and the Lord to give us more vision for the next steps in our journey.  And when the cloud was taken up from over the tabernacle, the children of Israel went onward in all their journeys: But if the cloud were not taken up, then they journeyed not till the day that it was taken up (Exodus 40: 36-37).

(Photo credits: *First photo from South African Tourism: http://www.southafrica.net/za/en/articles/entry/article-southafrica.net-gods-window
**Photo from Wikipedia
I took the animal photos during our safari in Kruger National Park and the rest on our trip to God’s Window and along the Panoramic Route in South Africa.)

Before Black History Month Ends: Take Time to be Charmed by the Queen of Katwe

queen-of-katwe Have you seen Disney’s Queen of Katwe?
It’s a perfect movie for celebrating Black History Month! queen-of-katwe-enjoying-her-first-snowQueen of Katwe is a glowing tribute to the brilliance and beauty
of African people, as well as their capacity for integrity and perseverance.

queen-of-katwe-accepting-recognitionWhen I first started preparing for this post, I was tempted to complain that the shortest, darkest month has become Black History Month, and that if I were running the country I’d choose March or May—long beautiful months…until I read the reason why. carter_g_woodson_portraitDr. Carter G. Woodson (African American with a PhD from Harvard who is known as the Father of Black History) chose the second week of February as “Negro History Week” because two men who were very influential in elevating African Americans, Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln, were born then.

lupita-nyongo-as-nakku-harriet-in-queen-of-katwe Do you get frustrated by my rabbit trails? I hope not. phiona-mutesi-in-queen-of-katweAt any rate, Queen of Katwe tells the true story
of a young girl named Phiona Mutesi, kampala-uganda-in-queen-of-katwewho grew up in “Katwe,” a slum of Kampala, Uganda. harriet-in-queen-of-katweHer father had died, and Phiona’s mother, Harriet,
fiercely defended the children, vegetable-market-in-queen-of-katweworking constantly in a street market selling vegetables so they could survive. phiona-at-mission-school-in-queen-of-katwePhiona and her little brother, hungry,
wandered into a mission school, where they were fed. missionary-with-child-in-queen-of-katweWhile there, they also met Robert Katende, a young missionary  robert-katende-praying-with-children-in-queen-of-katwewho coached soccer  chess-game-in-queen-of-katweand taught the children chess with the hope of helping them learn skills benjamin-in-queen-of-katwethat would enable them succeed in life generally. phiona-mutesi-and-madina-nalwanga-in-queen-of-katweThe rest is history
(current history:Phiona is only 21 today and still going strong!), returning-to-school-on-mission-bus-in-queen-of-katwebut I don’t want to say too much so you can fully enjoy the movie. receiving-prize-in-queen-of-katweAnd, if you have any school-aged children in your life, it would make a wonderfully inspirational movie to share with them too. Disney does it so well!

slum-of-katwe-in-kampala-uganda-in-queen-of-katweBear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ. For if a man think himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceiveth himself. But let every man prove his own work, and then shall he have rejoicing in himself alone, and not in another. For every man shall bear his own burden. Let him that is taught in the word communicate unto him that teacheth in all good things. Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting. And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not. As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith. Let him that is taught in the word communicate unto him that teacheth in all good things. Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting. And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not. As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith.” (Galatians 6:2-10)

(I took all the photos while watching the movie, except for the first [publicity poster] and the B&W of Dr. Carter G. Woodson, which is public domain, from Wiki.)

A Few of My Favorite Birds (36): The Vulture Culture Experience…Really?!

zimbabwe-african-christmas-tree-vulturesEver hear of an African Christmas tree? This is what it looks like.vultures-in-african-christmas-treeDozens of vultures roosting in a dead tree,
just waiting for some dead meat for lunch. vultures-fighting-over-food-zimbabwe-africaDoesn’t sound very pretty, does it? And…who likes vultures, anyway? vulture-high-on-a-snag-chobe-national-parkAren’t they sort of the offscourings of the world? the-vulture-culture-experience-at-victoria-falls-safari-lodgeWell, all that changed for me when we went to Africa
and discovered that vultures have gotten a bad rap. vulture-in-flight-african-birdsThey are so universally considered disreputable that they have been mistreated until they’re the world’s #1 endangered species.the-vulture-culture-experience-at-victoria-falls-safari-lodge-information I had no clue. vultures-in-zimbabwe-11-8-16Furthermore, they are an important part of our ecosystem,
serving as the world’s morticians and garbage collectors.vultures-and-bonesPolishing off carcasses ASAP helps prevent diseases from spreading.vultures-drinking-water-chobe-national-park-11-10-16 So fierce has been their persecution and demise that I’ve had a change of heart toward them, and they’re now on my “favorite birds” list. vultures-gather-in-dead-tree-zimbabwe-afrcian-safari-lodgeLet me tell you about our vulture culture experience.vultures-eating-lunch-at-the-victoria-falls-safari-lodge-zimbabweEver hear of a restaurant that caters to vultures by serving free carcasses?  victoria-falls-safari-lodgeWell, neither had I until we stayed at the Victoria Falls Safari Lodge
in Zimbabwe, victoria-falls-wildlife-trust-vulture-restaurant-11-7-16where they have started working with Victoria Falls Wildlife Trust
to help save vultures from extinction. watching-the-vulture-culture-experience-at-the-african-safari-lodgeEvery day at 1:00 pm they serve up yummy carcasses
at their “Vulture Restaurant.”debris-blowing-in-wind-zimbabwe It was very windy the day we watched, but pretty soon the debris and leaves vultures-gathering-overhead-in-zimbabwegave way to the air being filled with circling vultures, vultures-coming-for-lunchwho knew it was almost time for some claw-licking’ good fine dinin’.vulture-culture-experience-zimbabweA few minutes before 1:00, the waiter arrived with a load of gourmet delights.vultures-wait-for-food-at-victoria-falls-safari-lodgeI was surprised at how politely the vultures awaited their luncheon party. vultures-getting-ready-for-lunch-zimbabweAs the crowd grew, there was definitely an electric feeling…great expectations!vulture-restaurant-victoria-falls-safari-lodgeGet on your mark, get set…vulture-feeding-frenzy-victoria-falls-lodge-zimbabweGooooooo!!!vultures-eating-meatA feeding frenzy followed for about fifteen minutes,vultures-with-marabou-storks-and-wart-hogs-eatingreplete with party crashers, in particular some gangly marabou storkswart-hogs-join-the-vulture-culture-partyand a couple of Pumba’s cousins…totally muddied warthogs.vulture-culture-experience-africaIf you’ll forgive the comparison…we humans can be a little like vultures. vultures-circling-in-skySometimes it’s easier to live off others
than it is to work hard providing for ourselves.vulturesSome people become very unpopular and develop bad reputations.serving-meat-at-the-vulture-culture-experienceI am thankful that God is a kind Father who provides for all who will come. warthogs-feasting-with-vultures-africaHe doesn’t turn anyone away…no matter how awkward, dirty or ugly we are!vultures-eating-at-victoria-falls-safari-lodgeFurthermore, He encourages us to do the same for those who need our help.

victoria-falls-safari-lodge-vulture-restaurantBut I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matthew 5:44-45).

A Few of My Favorite Birds (35): Africa’s Golden “Cape Weaver” Birds

ploceus-capensis-african-weaver-bird-hanging-upside-downWhile visiting North Uthungulu in South Africa, tourist-shopping-center-in-north-uthunguluwe stopped at a strip mall (aka little souvenir location built for tourists). hovels-by-road-in-north-uthunguluI usually tried to buy something home-in-north-uthungulu to help support the local artisans, cape-weaver-weaving-his-nestbut this time I was so taken by the birds that I could hardly take my eyes off them long enough to look for soaps, candles, or glassware! cape-weaver-bird-weaving-with-his-beak-using-grassA really squawky colony of brilliantly arrayed Cape weaver birds
were busily making nests in a tree along the path, brilliantly-colored-cape-weaver-bird-south-africaand they immediately captured my attention, cape-weaver-bird-south-africabecause I’d never seen anything quite like them before. cape-weaver-bird-s-a-11-2-16In fact, there are weaver birds in some tropical areas of Asia and Australia,
but weaver birds are most common in sub-Saharan Africa, colony-of-cape-weaver-birdswhere they tend to live in colonies of 2-20 gregarious (though fiercely territorial) males and how-many-ever females they attract. ploceus-capensis-african-weaver-bird-in-tree Male Cape weavers (Ploceus capensis) are about 7 inches long,
have long, conical bills (good for weaving and for sucking nectar).intricate-nest-of-cape-weaver-birdThe males are especially colorful during the long mating season,
which lasts from June to February and peaks during the rainy season. cape-weaver-bird-in-treeDuring the mating season, Cape weaver males are decked out
with golden underparts and orange faces, olive-drab-back-of-weaver-birdsalthough their heads and back are more olive drab in coloring
(which is also the year-round color of females and young chicks.) cape-weaver-making-nestThese talented guys weave intricate, kidney-shaped nests
out of grass, reeds, and leafy fibers to attract prospective mates. kidney-bean-shaped-cape-weaver-bird-nestTheir nests have small, downward-facing entrances and are fully waterproof. cape-weaver-bird-in-nestInterested females test the construction quality by tugging at the interior walls, and if a nest makes the young lady feel snug and secure, father-cape-weaver-bird-helps-feed-youngshe’ll adopt it for the season, mating with her benefactor. colony-of-cape-weaver-birds-north-uthungulu-south-africaUnlike most birds, Cape weavers are polygynous, and one male may build
and therefore entice up to seven mates during any one season. cape-weaver-bird-with-nestEach female spends a couple of weeks brooding her clutch of 2-5 eggs.
She stays the first few nights with the chicks after they hatch, unused-nest-of-cape-weaver-birdbut then she roosts close by in one of the unused nests. cape-weaver-birds-south-africaAlthough the females initially care for the chicks, ploceus-capensis-african-weaver-bird-making-nestas they get older, the males help out with their own chicks,
which must keep them extremely busy for awhile! empty-nest-of-african-cape-weaver-bird-11-2-16Happily, in about 17 days the fledglings are big enough to find their own suppers of seeds, fruit, nectar, unsuspecting small spiders, and insects,
and the parents become empty nesters.

Are you an empty nester? Do you have a home? Keeping up a home seems like a never-ending job to me. Have you considered Jesus, who worked constantly—much harder than the energetic weaver birds—to prepare spiritual homes for “whosoever will”? Still, despite his tireless work, he never had a nest of his own, because He was too busy helping others!

The Son of man is not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them…
Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests;
but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head
(Luke 9:56, 58).

(If you want to hear what Cape Weaver birds sound like, this is from YouTube):

 

Reflections On The Devil’s Pool: Did The Devil Make Me Do It?

victoria-falls-from-zimbabwe-national-parkAs one who taught life saving and served as a water safety instructor for ten years,  and as one who swims around our little lake most days during the summers, I thought we’d do okay at the Devil’s Pool. team-on-livingstone-island-preparing-for-devils-poolAlan wasn’t going to go at all, but he did sign up at the last minute—mostly in hopes of keeping me from drowning, I think. We did survive, but after thinking it over, I personally feel that the adrenaline rush and excitement wasn’t worth the risk to life, limb, and health. Here are my reasons:

view-of-hippos-on-zambezi-river-from-royal-livingstone-hotel-zambia1. We had to swim in the Zambezi River,
where I’d seen hippos and crocodiles upstream.warning-about-the-danger-of-the-devils-pool-zambia2. Even though there had been a twenty-year drought and we visited just before the rainy season began, there were all kinds of safety issues. zambezi-river-on-way-to-devils-pool-victoria-falls3. There was a definite current to negotiate. rocky-path-to-the-devils-pool-victoria-falls4. We had to walk on somewhat slippery rocks to reach the river. starting-across-the-zambezi-river-to-livingstone-island5. We had to feel our way over slippery rocks under the water
for part of the time. swimming-to-the-devils-pool-victoria-falls6. We also had to swim upstream (up river) for a short distance.sitting-atop-victoria-falls-zambia 7. Logs or other debris could have hit us at any time. basking-in-the-devils-pool8. Fish nibbled at our feet and made us all jumpy. current-in-the-devils-pool-zambia9. One false move could have sent one of us over the edge. top-of-victoria-falls-at-the-devils-pool10. The rock ledge, though sturdy, will doubtless one day give way. devils-poo-victoria-fallsMay it not happen when anybody’s nearby!
(That was the #1 reason our tour guide didn’t want to try it.)

basking-in-the-devils-pool-victoria-falls11. Last, but perhaps most importantly (and I didn’t know this until we were having dinner  a week ago with some friends who do medical mission work in Africa), the Zambezi River is known to have a strain of parasitic Schistosomiasis which is a common in Sub-saharan Africa and can be lethal if not treated. There are some 200 million people affected world wide, half of whom live in Africa. Since learning this, I’ve made an appointment with my doctor for testing.  So, to answer my question: Did the Devil Make Me Do It? No. I chose to do it. Was it a wise choice? I don’t think so. Would I do it again? No. Did I pray about it? Yes. Why didn’t God tell me not to go? I’m not sure. I think sometimes God allows us to do things that aren’t wise, just like a parent allows his child to do things that the parent knows are risky. I do believe in God’s divine will (which cannot be altered) and His permissive will (which allows us freedom of choice). I prayed and didn’t get a clear “No,” so I went. And, as with all unwise decisions, there may be consequences I didn’t consider when I made my choice. In future, I think I want a clear “Yes” before making decisions, not just a “You may!”

Seest thou a man wise in his own conceit? there is more hope of a fool than of him” (Proverbs 26:12)

Taking a Dip In The Devil’s Pool and Enjoying the Loo with a View

waving-from-the-top-of-victoria-falls-at-the-edge-of-the-devils-poolToday I’m going to tell you about our thrilling adventure hanging out at the edge of the world’s largest waterfall, Victoria Falls, and swimming in the Devil’s Pool, although next Monday I’ll explain why I very strongly do not recommend it…not only for the obvious reasons you’ll notice today, but for one very un-obvious medical reason I only discovered after the fact. Even Alan, as a physician, hadn’t considered this tropical possibility when we made our decision to go! But, it was definitely one of those “adventure of a lifetime” sorts of events that we’ll never forget! hotel-in-livingstone-zimbabweFirst, we were staying in Zimbabwe, so we had to leave our comfy hotel and take a trip across the border into Zambia, which is a bit of an adventure in and of itself (but one that can’t be photographed).

group-waiting-at-royal-livingstone-hotel-for-boat-to-devils-pool      We met other adventurers at the Royal Livingstone Hotel, adventurer-waiting-to-go-to-the-devils-poolwhere we immediately noticed that the rest of the group were young adults
in the prime of life and fitness.
That was our first clue that we might be out of our depth!  🙂  livingstone-islandThe only way to access the Devil’s Pool is via Livingstone Island, and that’s mediated by the tour operator Tongabezi. Trips are expensive and sell out fast, view-of-devils-pool-and-victoria-falls-from-zambezi-national-park-zimbabwe-3so if you want to go, you need reservations ahead of time. In all fairness to Tongabezi, they have never lost a customer yet, and they’re very careful.
(Can you see people in the middle right in this picture? This is where we were.) boat-on-zambezi-river-to-take-us-to-livingstone-islandOur group were transported via a small motor craft on the Zambezi River,
which just ran a few people through the treacherous channels each time. boat-ride-to-livingstone-islandI’m told they are very careful to make sure there are no hippos or alligators deck-of-the-royal-livingstone-hotelroaming the water as they travel, although I did see some
just up the river from the deck of the hotel while we waited. david-livingstone-island-on-the-zambezi-riverOnce we all made it safely to Livingstone Island, we were taken on a short tour, changing-room-and-loo-with-a-view-livingstone-islandincluding the opportunity of using their unique “Loo with a View” bath house a-loo-with-a-view-on-livingstone-islandfor changing and to use the Loo (aka toilet). view-from-the-loo-with-a-view-zambezi-riverActually, it was only a three-sided loo, and it did have this pretty good view! welcome-drink-before-swimming-in-the-devils-poolAfter a welcoming (non-alcoholic) drink tent-on-livingstone-island-prepared-for-high-teawe were taken past the tent to let us know that a proper high tea
would be awaiting us after we’d accomplished our aquatic mission. view-of-victoria-falls-from-near-the-devils-poolNext, they walked us to the edge just to let us make sure we were “in” on this gig. approaching-the-edge-of-victoria-falls-zambiaAnyone who chickens out can stay and watch, but after paying good money,
I doubt many people take that option. david-livingstone-plague-angels-in-their-flight-over-victoria-fallsThere was also time to read a bit about David Livingstone and take a few photos.devils-pool-center(Devil’s Pool is behind the second rock to the right upper middle of this photo.)ropes-to-stop-people-who-sliipGetting to the pool was a bit of a challenge. These ropes are not to walk between; we had to walk and swim to the right of them, but the ropes offered two chances white-water-in-zambezi-on-was-to-devils-poolfor people who lost their balance or couldn’t swim against the current to catch a hold and pull themselves out rather than fall over the cliff. Reassuring, huh? waiting-for-our-turn-in-the-devils-pool-zambiaWith a little angst, we all made it to the edge, where we rested and waited. We had to experience the pool a few at a time so the tour guides could supervise us sitting-on-the-angels-armchair-in-the-devils-pooland take photos (since it’s the sort of thing everybody wanted to remember).   This little perch is called the Angel’s Armchair, and it’s a trick to stay on it!we-all-survived-the-devils-pool-victoria-fallsWe survived and felt quite brave (and relieved) once we were back on dry land!tea-party-in-tent-on-livingstone-island-devils-pool-zambiaTo celebrate, our hosts provided a lovely “high tea” (afternoon option).high-tea-party-at-livingstone-island-after-devils-pool-adventure We were extremely hungry and thirsty, so it was a most welcome treat!sunset-over-the-zambezi-river-with-steam-from-victoria-fallsOurs was the last tour of the day, so the sun was setting by the time we left.
I almost felt like God was smiling down on us.sunset-cruise-home-from-devils-pool-on-zambezi-riverIt turned out to be an amazing and most memorable trip! The Lord was gracious.view-of-devils-pool-and-victoria-falls-from-zambezi-national-park-zimbabwe-2Nevertheless, I wouldn’t do it again. Some chances aren’t worth taking. victoria-falls-along-the-zambezi-river-in-zambiaThe prudent sees danger and hides himself,
but the simple go on and suffer for it” (Proverbs 22:3).