Sunday, February 27, 2011

#472 Library Day in Cape Town

Welcome to Kelly and Mary's Library Day in Cape Town!

With no appointment, we walked right into the National Library of South Africa.   Both the library campus in Cape Town and the one in Pretoria offer reference services and reading rooms for researchers studying South Africa history.  Also, South Africa is the only African country besides Egypt that has full depository status for US Federal Government publications.

Shortly after the secret librarian handshake, we are seated with Najwa, the principal librarian, at the reference desk who is eager to tell us about her library and about her city.

Next up on our library tour is the new home of the Cape Town Public Library.

Mike gave us a tour of the recently renovated city library, courtesy of the Carnegie Corporation of New York.  Architecturally, the library space is a terrific example of reusing an old building for a higher purpose.   Here 55,000-70,000 library users arrive each month to use the internet, to take workshops for job seekers (Mike's specialty), and to check out books.  Eight librarians plus assistant librarians manage all that traffic.   

If you're coming to Cape Town, be sure to include these 2 libraries on your list.  And if you have time, stop by the National Library's Centre for the Book and tell us all about it. 

Yours in library land,

Friday, February 25, 2011

#471 Walking on the Table

A few months ago our friends were dancing on the table.
Sam and Shannon, we're thinking of you and your family now as we're walking on that same table.

Yours in happy memories,
Kelly (and Mary)

Thursday, February 24, 2011

#470 Africa's Most Beautiful Garden

Take an immaculately tended botanic garden in a unique climate zone supporting one of Earth's most diverse plant populations and squeeze the garden against Cape Town's Table Mountain backdrop.
This is Kirstenbosch Garden donated to the people of South Africa by Cecil Rhodes, the funder of the Rhodes Scholarships.
Our botanic day of fun began with a walk through the Stone Pines.
The succulant garden was other-worldly.
Cycads were dinosaur food.
Kirstenbosch grows acres of cycads.
But a highlight for me was the familiar tree nestled among the cycads that seems to grow everywhere we've lived and everywhere we travel, ginkgo biloba.
Yours in finding a familiar face in a strange crowd,

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

#469 South from Cape Town

Definition of a short drive: Anything south from Cape Town along the 30 mile peninsula.
Definition of a beautiful drive: Anything south from Cape Town along the 30 mile peninsula.
Our list of Top 10 Drives in North America is unchanged, but Chapman's Peak Drive along the Atlantic Coast of Africa exhibits the kind of exceptional beauty that merchandisers believe spur humans to buy things, so they film commercials here

Our destination was Cape Point at the end of the peninsula, and we made it.
Along the way we saw penguins.
Baboons and ostrich live here too.
Yours in packing a lot into a short beautiful drive,

Sunday, February 20, 2011

#468 Hello Cape Town!

It's good to be in calm sunny Cape Town.

After a day's windy weather delay, the MV Explorer slipped between the narrow concrete portals marking the entrance to Cape Town's Victoria and Alfred (yes, Alfred) harbor.
When John Muir arrived in Cape Town aboard the SS Windhuk (yes, Windhuk) in 1912 he wrote "No town that I have ever seen has so wonderful a background"

Ninety-nine years later, Cape Town's same background of Table Mountain, Lion's Head, and Signal Hill do not disappoint.

Yours in following John Muir first to Manaus and now Cape Town,

Friday, February 18, 2011

#467 Flexibility, Safety, and Semester At Sea

Things change quickly at sea.

Semester At Sea travelers are wise to remain flexible. Our first two SAS voyages included mid-trip itinerary changes. During Fall 2006 typhoon Shanshan intervened so we skipped a port. Summer 2008 we were on our way to Istanbul when bombings there resulted in our unexpected visit to Alexandria instead.

Now on Spring 2011, outside forces again intervene. We arrived at the entrance to Cape Town harbor yesterday right on time. But rough seas prevented the local pilot from boarding our ship and guiding us into the harbor. Now we’ve circled the harbor for 24 hours waiting for improved conditions and our harbor entry remains at the local pilot’s discretion. Safety really is a priority on Semester At Sea.
Yours in being patiently flexible,

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

#466 The Kindness of Ghanaian Strangers

Friendly.  That's how I describe the people we met in Ghana.

Here's one example.  Driving down a narrow dirt road toward a remote coastal town we came upon a gaping mudhole. 
We surveyed the options, hit the gas, and sunk deep into the muck.  Tires spinning, we were stuck.  We all hopped out and pushed, but we made no progress.  Then two local ladies approached with baskets regally balanced on their heads and babies cradled tightly against their backs.  "We will get you help", they offered calmly.  Shortly an excited crowd of young boys came trotting down the road and jumped energetically into the muck engulfing our van.  While two boys pawed the glop from in front of our tires, others collected dry dirt and stones using their shirts to carry the cargo back to the scene.  Another boy hacked palm fronds with a machete and piled the rough greenery under our tires.  Shortly our van was back on solid ground and we all celebrated.

Yours in appreciating the kindness of friendly strangers,

Monday, February 14, 2011

#465 Nautical Reading

Life on the ship is Busy, with a capital B!

But when I can break away from the library and from all the evening programs, I choose to do some fun reading.  Would it shock you to learn that I gave this some thought last fall?  It's true.  I brought a few 'nautical' books with me, mostly downloaded to my handy Kindle.

The River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt's Darkest Journey by Candice Millard
Jane Austen's Sailor Brothers by J. H. Hubback
Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson
The Cruise of the Dazzler by Jack London
The Cruise of the Jasper B by Don Marquis
The Witch by the Virginia author and my namesake, Mary Johnston
Cruises in the Sun by my uncle Kent Curtis


Right Ho, Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse - not at all nautical, but Wodehouse makes me laugh out loud.

Yours in nautical reading,

Saturday, February 12, 2011

#464 Ghana's Coastal Forts

In 2009, President Obama visited the Ghanaian coastal forts where Africans were imprisoned  from the 15th to the 19th centuries in order to supply the Atlantic slave trade. 

The president said "It reminds us that as bad as history can be, it's also possible to overcome."  And he said he hoped the visit would show his daughters that far outside their "blessed" upbringing, "history can take very cruel turns."  

His words of wisdom are now more meaningful to me having visited these somber landmarks with Semester At Sea.

Fort Appolonia at Beyin: 
  Fort Groot Fredericksburg at Princess Town (1683):
  Fort Groot Fredericksburg slave dungeon:
Fort Groot Fredericksburg slave dungeon:
Fort Metal Cross at Dixcove (1693):
Fort Metal Cross door of no return:
Yours in believing "as bad as history can be, it's also possible to overcome",

#463 Dry Season Water

February in Ghana is dry season.  But today was all about the water.

We floated down a long canal through marsh grass and jungle...
into a lake...
to visit the Nzulezu water village, a tentative UNESCO World Heritage Site.
On our return trip I bailed water from the leaky canoe
then Mary and Lisa walked the beach where locals pulled in long fishing nets.

Yours in H2O,

Friday, February 11, 2011

#462 A Hot Start in Africa

John Muir called Africa the "Hot Continent".  After our first day on the ground in equatorial Africa, we agree with John. 

Our hot Sunday walk through Takoradi's central market circle (the town's hub and spoke layout is Washington DC-like) put us face-to-face with enormous snails, live crabs, scalded pig's feet, guinea fowl, and fish in all possible forms. No photos allowed.
Clearly Sunday in Takoradi was all about the churches.  Familiar hymns like "Rock of Ages" drifted through open pointed-arch windows into bustling courtyards.  The local ladies do love to dress up for church and once services were over, they loved having their pictures taken.

Yours in enjoying a hot African start,

Thursday, February 10, 2011

#461 Busy, busy library

The library has been a whirlwind of activity!

With a research project required in the Global Studies course for all 600 students, they have been making good use of the materials on board, as well as the UVA library databases.

We've also been busy with a physical inventory of every library book, DVD, CD, and map.  That means using a barcode reader to scan EVERY item.  Because our library catalog resides on the shipboard intranet, the success of our project relied on a responsive network.  So we started our work each day at 0600 (that's 6 AM for you landlubbers) before the students and everyone else on board start to use the intranet.  Library student workers even volunteered for the early (before 0800) shift and enjoyed the work.  We placed my laptop on a cart, attached the barcode reader, and walked up and down the aisles.  We completed our inventory project while we were sailing the River Amazon so we didn't need to negotiate any rough seas.  

Our fabulous library team is made up of 11 student assistants and Nedra Peterson (on the left in our team photo below).  Nedra is the director of the library at Woodbury University in Burbank, CA and is a natural shipboard librarian.  In addition to her outstanding library skills, she is flexible, good-humored, and thinks fast on her feet.  She's blogging her experiences at Librarian Afloat.

Yours in exciting library busy-ness,

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

#460 Greeted in Ghana

The folks in Takoradi, Ghana greeted our arrival with native dancers.

Perhaps word of our earlier greeting in Manaus, Brazil preceeded us across the Atlantic.

Yours in comparative greetings,

Sunday, February 06, 2011

#459 Neighbors again

We've enjoyed fabulous neighbors through the years.  Now our worlds collide on Semester At Sea. 

Theresa and I started our computer programming careers on the same day - working for the Technical Services Division, Phillips Petroleum Company in Bartlesville, OK - and we lived a couple of blocks apart on Cherokee Avenue.   Little did we know that three decades later, Theresa, her husband Paul, and I would be sailing around the world together.  (See Theresa's blog.)

When the NCAA took us to Indianapolis, our next door neighbors welcomed us warmly to the Crossroads of America.  Dick and Dorane are Semester at Sea veterans and are the folks who first told us about the program back in 2003.

We are thrilled to be together again with all of our neighbors and officially celebrated our reunion with carne de sol and sardine pizza at Scarola's Restaurant in Manaus, Brazil.

And we continue to celebrate each day as we are all neighbors on the MV Explorer - fourth deck, port side.

Yours in loving the neighborhood,

Thursday, February 03, 2011

#458 Remembering Uncle Lillard

When we set out to travel around the world, I think about my Uncle Lillard who lived around the world. 

In 1954, Uncle Lillard was hired by Voice of America, then the U.S. Information Service and Foreign Service.  Despite suffering from polio, his assignments took him (and my aunt and 4 cousins) to India, Nigeria, Burma, Vietnam and Malawi.  

Yours in remembering my cool, diplomatic, adventurous uncle,

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

#457 Blackwater

I grew up on the banks of the Blackwater River in Missouri.

The Blackwater was not black but muddy brown and the source of the river's name is lost to history.

Having just spent time on Brazil's black river, the Rio Negro, I was pleased to see a rare sight on the tourist map, a river that's not colored swimming pool blue, but black.

Yours in map accuracy,