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    Born to Run by Christopher McDougall - (K) Humorous and thorough history and science behind ultrarunners and long-distance running
    Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela - (K) An autobiography covering his childhood, years as a freedom fighter and incarceration. Inspiring and informative
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    Setting the Table by Danny Meyer - A "how-to" on hospitality and business acumen by the restaurateur behind such NY institutions as the Shake Shack and Union Square Grill
    The Audacity of Hope by Barack Obama - Obama lays out what is wrong with the current government and how, vaguely, to change it.

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It’s Saturday night and K is making spaghetti while the laptop blasts out Tom Petty and I try to get a decent fire going in the fireplace. We’re renting a cottage for a few nights in Franschhoek, South Africa. Our cottage sits alone on the edge of a field with a dozen or so sheep and a couple of donkeys. It is a nice way to end our trip to Africa – in a village that could be out of Holland or New Zealand. Everything would be perfect if I wasn’t having digestive system issues.

The whole reason to come to Franschhoek or Stellenbosch, just down the road, are to taste from one of the 200 wineries and sample the fare in the foodie capital of South Africa. Of course this is exactly when my stomach dediced to go south for the first time on our trip. So instead of going to the winter wine festival, we sat around all day watching movies on the laptop and reading. The big event of the day was a walk around this small town.

How did we get here? Yea, I know we’ve been bad about blogging. The internet connection is pretty good for surfing and emailing here in South Africa, but the upload speed is brutal and we’ve wanted to add pictures to our posts. But I guess we’ll just have to do without – until we get to France.

We flew into JoBerg on July 15th, after a 14 hour layover in Paris that saw us skip into town for a very mediocre meal and nap outside the “closed for bastille day” Pompidou Centre. Two 10 hour flights in a row is a bit rough but at least we were in Air France Biz Class (where we totally overate and overdrank) and we didn’t jump any time zones on the second flight. It would have been better if I hadn’t packed the Ambien in the luggage.

Once we arrived in JoBerg, we headed straight for the ATM to get some South African Rands (8.2 to the dollar just two weeks ago, the exchange rate is now closer to 7.8) and then to the Thrify Car Rental desk to pick up our Golf.

It was advertised as a Golf but it wasn’t exactly what we expected. It seems that the factory that makes the “Citi”, as they call it here, hasn’t changed since the late 80s. The car was a dead ringer for a 1988 VW, except it was probably made in 2008. We laughed a bit and then grew concerned when our two suitcases would barely fit in. Then, after a moment of getting used to the gear shifter for this manual transmission car on the left side, we took off for Kruger National Park.

I had heard about Kruger from the Lonely Planet message boards. We originally planned on doing a safari in Tanzania, but because of how our flights worked out, we only had 3 days for the safari and flying up to Dar Es Saleem in Tanzania and then driving several hours did not seem like a good plan. Instead, I got some great advice to head to Kruger, one of the only self-drive safari parks in SA.

It took about 5 hours to get there, our Citi struggling to do 120 kmph and when she did get that fast, she felt on the edge of control. Like she might just come apart and veer off the road.

We had our doubts about this park, but they were quickly alleviated when we entered and immediately saw elephants and impalas crossing the road and grazing in the nearby grasses.

The next morning we got up at 4:45am to take a morning safari walk with two very armed guides. We drove down some dirt roads for about 30 minutes and then we came across a male lion. He and his giant maine were just resting in the grass and we were able to get within 20 or 30 feet of him before he stood up. So, we drove a bit further down the road and got out of the truck.

Our guides explained how to walk and talk so as to not spook the animals and what to do if we found ourselves in danger. Then, we started back towards the lion.

By the time we got there, the lion had left and so we started looking for other animals. While watching a few dozen impalas playing, we noticed a white rhino come out of the bush and head for a tree. He was MASSIVE – the size of an adult elephant, and apparently they have really bad vision because he didn’t even notice us because he started wandering up close. When he got within 30 feet, our guide gave him a whistle so he would know where we were and he got spooked and took off.

After a couple hours of walking, we headed back to our car and spent the next 7 or 8 hours driving around the park. It was really amazing as we would run across new animals every 15 or 20 minutes, all within 20-30 ft of the car. We came across zebras, giraffes, wildebeasts, bush backs, etc. We also stopped at a viewing platform on a river and watched a couple dozen hippos rest in the cool water while a couple crocs took naps on the shore.

That night we took another game drive out at sunset and this time we spotted 5 more lions, 3 of them just walking down the road – male and female. We also came across a spotted hyena and saw a leopard walking down the river – though he was pretty far away and his upturned tail the only way to tell what he was.

We were tired from all the traveling and Kelly even fell asleep on the drive.

The next morning we slept in until all of 8am and spent the next 6 hours driving around the park. Our favorite part was when we got between about 8 giraffes as they fed from the tops of the local trees. We stayed there for about an hour just observing.

At around 2pm we left the park and headed back to JoBerg. I’m glad we didn’t spent any time in the actual city because it felt unsafe as soon as we got near the airport. Everybody has fences and other security devices. We stayed in a local airport “hostel” which was nice enough and they even cooked us some curry when we arrived. the next morning we were headed to Zanzibar.


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